House of Lords
Tuesday 28 February 2023
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Oxford.
Death of a Member: Lord Pendry
My Lords, I regret to inform the House of the death of the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, on Sunday 26 February. On behalf of the House, I extend our condolences to the noble Lord’s family and friends.
Lindisfarne Highly Protected Marine Conservation Area
To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the potential impact of the proposed creation of the Lindisfarne Highly Protected Marine Conservation Area on the fishing community and the local economy of Holy Island.
My Lords, the Government have consulted on a proposal to designate five pilot highly protected marine areas. The Secretary of State announced this morning the Government’s decision to designate three of these sites. The Lindisfarne site will not be taken forward. A Written Ministerial Statement has been deposited in both Houses.
Very timely, my Lords. Fishing and wildlife have coexisted around Holy Island since the days of St Aidan in the 7th century. The proposed Lindisfarne highly protected marine area would have destroyed the small-scale, well-regulated lobster fishery, which provides essential employment for island families. Does the Minister, who has taken a close interest in the matter himself, which I welcome, agree that the welcome decision not to go ahead with the plan helps Holy Island to remain a working community as well as a wonderful place of pilgrimage and tourism?
The noble Lord’s knowledge of this area is, of course, understood, and he is absolutely right. This was a meaningful consultation that sought the views of people from all sectors that affected the area, and it was deemed not right to take it forward as a highly protected marine area. It is, of course, a marine conservation zone. It has at least 850 species and a very valuable benthic population of seagrass in certain parts, and it is an extraordinary neighbourhood for tourists as well as people who exploit it in a sustainable way. We are now progressing designating other sites and making sure that we continue to listen to local people as well as conservationists, and that we get this right.
I was going to stand up today and congratulate the Government for actually doing something right for once. They were going to establish five of these highly protected marine areas. Do I understand that they have dropped two plus Lindisfarne, including Farnes Deep? What exactly is happening, and why are the Government so lackadaisical about something so important?
When Michael Gove was the Secretary of State, he asked me to chair a panel of scientists and others to look at whether we should have highly protected marine areas as part of our suite of marine protections. The conclusion of the embarrassingly named Benyon review was that we should, and that it was vital to do this—but we had to do it in the right way. We recommended that five pilot sites be created, and that we should consult and learn from the lessons of not only this but the implementation of the Marine and Coastal Access Act about a decade ago, when we came across the same problem with what were then called reference areas. We will now take forward at least two further sites as part of the pilot project, so the noble Baroness will be reassured that we will have at least five pilot sites, and then we will continue to grow this. I could extol the virtues of highly protected marine areas exhaustively, but I cannot in the time allowed to me in this Question.
My Lords, are the Government concerned about the very large supertrawlers —foreign owned, very often—that are now starting to fish particularly off the west coast of the United Kingdom?
Trawler activity on our seabeds is often incompatible with marine conservation. We want to make sure that while we are helping our fishing industry prosper in the new world in which we live, we are also mindful that what legitimate British fishing interests on these islands want is a rising biomass. That requires us to have marine conservation running alongside productive fisheries. The actions of some international vessels coming into our waters is of course of concern when they are breaking the rules, and we have available very strict enforcement policies.
My Lords, I warmly congratulate the Government on getting two things right in two days.
I am lost for words.
My Lords, I declare an interest in that the word “Lindisfarne” appears in my title. When this marine area was proposed, which would have caused a lot of the difficulty that the noble Lord, Lord Beith, talked about, he and I and the vicar of Lindisfarne consulted the people extensively. I was quite surprised that some locals thought that, by taking the title Baron Sentamu of Lindisfarne in the county of Northumberland, I had brought a curse to the island, so I am very glad that this afternoon I can go away without cursing anybody.
As it is a conservation area, will the same energy be put into ensuring that birds that come during their breeding season, particularly terns and others, and then go to north Africa, will continue to be protected? Secondly, the ferns on St Cuthbert’s, particularly the little one, are being eroded by global warming. What further work will the Government undertake to ensure that we do not lose those ferns?
The noble and right reverend Lord’s knowledge and understanding of this area and his support for the people who live there are appreciated. I had a letter from his successor, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York, as well as letters from monks and many others, so I applaud the Church for its involvement in the consultation process. On his wider point, I entirely accept that there is an ongoing need for greater scientific understanding of what is going on. The value of our oceans in sequestering carbon is immense, and our understanding of blue carbon is increasing but not fast enough. In this area, some very valuable seagrass is deteriorating because of climate change and other factors, and we want to make sure that we are preserving it and, where possible, increasing it, because of its value to the environment.
My Lords, I agree with the praise heaped upon the Vicar of Holy Island, Sarah Hills, and the fishing community, which has done a wonderful job in standing up for its community. The Minister mentioned that lessons were learned from this review. What lessons were learned to help protect island communities doing sustainable fishing, such as those on Holy Island?
It is a generalisation, but by and large local inshore fishing is much the most sustainable and we want to see it encouraged. It delivers most for our coastal communities, and the sense of place, the sense of community it brings to those areas benefits not just them but the vast numbers of people, including myself, who regularly go on holiday to places like Bamburgh and know that part of the world. It really is important that we listen to those voices, that we help them to ensure that their fisheries continue to be sustainable, and that we increase the biomass in the seas so that not only they but future generations can fish them productively.
My Lords, the first three highly protected marine areas have been designated, as the Minister said. One is in Allonby Bay, near me, in Cumbria. While I absolutely support marine conservation and the importance of these sites, Maryport Town Council has been in touch because it is concerned about the impacts on an area that has been struggling. I am aware that the Secretary of State said that the decision takes account of the needs of Maryport harbour, so what assurances can the Minister give to local fishers at Maryport marina that they will have government support to counteract any negative social or economic impacts of the decision?
We amended the boundary of this site to reflect precisely the points raised by the noble Baroness and will continue to work with local people, particularly fishers, to do this. In the course of my review, we looked at highly protected marine areas around the world, and where they work best, their greatest supporters are the fishermen, because they see flowing out of them increased quantities of fish. These are areas where fish spawn and shoal at different times of year. The benefit of that to fishermen outside those areas, if we get this right, will be enormous. That is what we want for fishermen in that area.
My Lords, are our seas safe to fish in, given the amount of pollution this Government and the regulators are allowing the sewerage companies to pump into our oceans?
We want to continue to make sure that our marine areas achieve good environmental status, as we set out in our marine strategy. That involves dealing with plastics, litter and the quality of water flowing from land into the sea. It is at the heart of all our policies and we will work towards achieving it.
In the light of what the noble Lord has just said, will he look at the predicament of fishing in Whitby, just down the coast from Holy Island, where there has been the terrible death of all the crustaceans—lobsters and crabs—decimating the fishing industry in North Yorkshire and south Durham?
We are looking very carefully and determinedly to find a solution to this. The noble Lord will know that we commissioned our chief scientific adviser, Professor Henderson, to lead a panel of 10 experts to look into this, including the maintenance dredging going on there, the dredging around the new freeport and the pathology we can find from the dead crabs that have been washed up. It is regrettable that we have yet to find a reason for it, but that does not mean we have stopped looking. We are using the expertise not only in Defra and its wider agencies but in other areas of academia to try to find out what caused this serious problem.
Eurostar St Pancras: Border Control
To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they will take to increase the flow of passengers through the border control at the Eurostar terminal at St Pancras station.
The United Kingdom operates juxtaposed immigration controls on the Eurostar routes. Therefore, our immigration checks are carried out prior to departure from the stations in France, Belgium and the Netherlands. Passengers disembarking on arrival at St Pancras are not routinely subject to any further checks. French border checks take place outbound at St Pancras as part of the juxtaposed controls agreement.
I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer—as usual, blaming the French for everything. Eurostar says that, whoever’s fault it is and at whichever end, it is losing 30% of its traffic because the frontier controls are not working properly, four years after Brexit started. Is it not about time that the British and French Governments got their act together to allow people more free movement without being held up for hours and hours at St Pancras, Paris, Lille and Brussels?
I simply do not recognise the noble Lord’s characterisation. Border Force has deployed in Paris e-gates which, in the last 12 months, have processed more than 1.2 million passengers. The service standard of a wait of no longer than 25 minutes for Border Force officers has been maintained throughout that period. There are no delays which are the fault of Border Force.
My Lords, in the interests of increasing passenger flow and in the spirit of co-operation, would it not be possible to agree a single, jointly manned border control?
As my noble friend will recall, the agreement at the time of the implementation of the Channel Tunnel was an international one between the United Kingdom and the French Republic. The agreement was that we should have controls in the way that we do. As I say, they work well, and the arrangements are successful.
My Lords, can the Minister say why Eurostar at St Pancras has not been made a designated port for CITES? If a decision has been made, will it be reviewed? This was a particular and reasonable ask from the music sector which would be, or would have been, very helpful. At the moment, UK musicians touring in Europe need all the help they can get.
St Pancras does not have infrastructure to process CITES goods. There is no red lane or counter, and no lock-up for detained goods. There is no need to overhaul the infrastructure at St Pancras to become a designated Border Force port for these purposes, but, of course, I am open to keeping the matter under review. The noble Earl can write to me, and I am sure we can look at this.
The Minister says he does not recognise the difficult situation of going through the Eurostar terminal. As a declaration of interest, I often have occasion to do that, so I see for myself what it is like. The infrastructure both there and at Eurotunnel was built at a time when there was, and on the basis that there would be, completely free movement of citizens between the UK and the EU. Looking ahead, is the Minister aware that the EU, at some stage, wishes to introduce fingerprinting for people who travel from the UK through Dover, Eurostar or Eurotunnel? What plans are the Government making to deal with that, considering the additional time that this is going to take?
I thank the noble Viscount for raising that important point. We anticipate that future digitisation, both in the EU system and in our own electronic travel authorisation scheme, will accelerate the rate at which people can cross the border. We are implementing infrastructure in Paris which will be able to accelerate the rate at which people can pass through our e-gates.
The Minister seems remarkably complacent in his answers. I invite him to travel more frequently on Eurostar to see the reality of the situation. Looking forward, the new EES will be accompanied next year by the European Travel Information and Authorisation System, or ETIAS. That will cost us €7 each to visit EU countries, as well as introducing new systems that require fingerprints. Can the Minister tell us what preparations the Government are making to expand capacity at border control for these more comprehensive checks and to raise public awareness of the new requirements?
As the noble Baroness will be aware, the European scheme requires people in advance to obtain these authorisations and to deposit the biometrics. It is not anticipated that this will cause delays at the border at St Pancras, as far as I am aware. As I say, for the reasons I gave to the noble Viscount, the anticipation is that increased digitisation will lead to faster use of e-gates.
My Lords, I was very interested in the Minister’s answer to the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, and the recent answer regarding digitisation at ports. Does the Home Office intend to update the biometrics strategy, which was last updated in 2018, given some of the challenges with future-proofing these technologies and keeping up to date with AI and other technologies?
I can confirm to my noble friend that the Home Office takes seriously its duties to review the ethics of the biometrics that are retained. That is definitely on our radar as we progress the future border improvement scheme and the increasing use of digitisation to accelerate the rate at which people pass through ports and airports.
My Lords, will the Minister be kind enough to do a bit of homework so that in three weeks’ time, when answering my Question on the Order Paper, we might have a detailed appraisal of the real challenges that will exist on the back of the questions that have just been asked?
I of course differ from the noble Lord on the quality of the research carried out by my officials: I am satisfied that I have correctly answered the questions.
My Lords, on speeding things up, is there any truth in the rumour that the Government want to deal with the asylum backlog by requiring applications in writing in English, using online translation tools? If so, is the Minister aware that where complex details and evidence on trafficking, for example, are machine translated, the frequency and severity of errors in this unregulated field is notoriously high, and should not be used without human oversight, such as the provision of professionally qualified public service interpreters?
I am afraid that that question is a very long way from the Question about steps to increase the flow of passengers through the border control at Eurostar, and the Companion is quite clear on this topic. If the noble Baroness wishes to ask questions about this, she must do so in the correct way.
Is the Minister aware that it is not just at St Pancras that these extra checks are causing problems? Eurostar trains have not stopped at Stratford International or Ebbsfleet International for some time and, according to the train company, there is no prospect of their doing so because of the extra delays caused by these checks. Does the Minister regard the fact that people living in those areas must travel to St Pancras to get to Paris, Brussels or anywhere else as a triumph of Brexit, or shall we just put it down as something that the Foreign Office is really not conscious of in the first place?
I thank the noble Lord for that question. He is of course right that Eurostar trains no longer stop at those intermediate stations to take international passengers. I am not sure there is any reason from the Border Force perspective why they have not been reopened; as I understand it, these are matters for the train operating company. I am happy to look into the matter further, but that is the only answer I can give at this time.
My Lords, the Minister has given some very optimistic answers today, and I hope he is correct. What if he is wrong?
I am sure the noble Lord will bring me back to answer questions about it.
My Lords, the simple fact is that, yesterday, we saw a great achievement by the Prime Minister in the Windsor agreement. If there are further problems for Eurostar being able to operate up to capacity, does not the Minister think that there is now a better chance of getting a negotiated agreement with the French and other Governments on this issue?
I certainly agree with my noble friend. It is clear that we have an ongoing dialogue with the French on many issues, particularly in the department for which I appear. I entirely agree with what my noble friend says.
Heat and Buildings Strategy: Gas Boilers
To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of progress on their Heat and Buildings Strategy, published on 19 October 2021; and whether they have any plans to change the date of 2025 for banning the installation of gas boilers in new-build homes.
My Lords, the Government have made good progress towards their target. Between October 2021 and November 2022, 240,300 measures were installed through Help to Heat schemes. The building regulations will continue to set a performance-based standard rather than banning specific technologies. However, to ensure that new homes are carbon-zero ready, we plan to ensure that the future homes standard is set at a level that will effectively preclude new homes being built with fossil fuel heating.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer and draw attention to my membership of your Lordships’ Environment and Climate Change Committee. I note that in 2020 the Government brought forward, in a very welcome way, the date for phasing out new petrol and diesel cars from 2035 to 2030, which has had a significant positive effect on that market. Has further consideration been given to bringing forward to 2030 the present date of 2035 for prohibiting the installation of new gas boilers to further encourage the rapid development of low-carbon domestic heating?
I can correct the right reverend Prelate. We have not set a date of 2035 for prohibiting the installation of new gas boilers; we have said that this is our aim but, crucially, it will depend on the availability of cheap alternatives for people to heat their homes with.
My Lords, the overwhelming evidence is that hydrogen will never work in domestic heating. Will the Government stop their trials of hydrogen villages and concentrate their efforts where hydrogen really can make a difference?
The noble Lord is right to an extent. At the moment, hydrogen heating for homes is an unproven technology, which is why we need to carry out trials and research to ascertain whether it is a viable technology. In the meantime, we know that heat pumps and electrification work and are operable technologies, which is why we support them.
My Lords, I remind my noble friend the Minister that there are millions and millions of terraced houses throughout the United Kingdom. It is absolutely impossible for them to have heat pumps. Against that situation, would it not be much more sensible to ask the gas industry to produce, in the interim, new boilers that are less difficult in relation to zero carbon? In addition, the point that was just made about hydrogen seems equally relevant to me.
I am afraid that I do not agree with my noble friend. It is perfectly possible for heat pumps to be used in terraced properties. The thing about the UK is that there is a multiplicity of different property types and flavours; not all solutions will be appropriate for all properties, so we need to look at a number of options. We also need to continue to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of gas boilers. In whatever scenario, there will still be millions of gas boilers fitted in existing properties in the next few years; there is more that we can do to improve existing efficiencies.
My Lords, one of the main reasons given for the relatively low take-up of heat pumps is that there are not enough skilled engineers to install them. What work is being done to retrain existing gas boiler installers so that they can install this new technology, speed up installation and help us meet our carbon targets?
The noble Baroness makes an important point. We are rapidly increasing the number of available skilled installers. I have opened a number of schemes in both the public sector and the private sector. In September we launched the home decarbonisation skills training competition, a £9.2 million fund for training people who work in the energy efficiency, retrofitting and low-carbon heating sectors. Of course, the industry itself is also investing in training capacity; for example, Octopus Energy is investing £10 million in a new training centre and Ideal Heating has announced a new £1 million training centre near Hull. So there is a combination of public and private sector investment in this area.
My Lords, as a further incentive for people to change their energy sources, will the Government give consideration to an energy-saving stamp duty under which energy-efficient homes pay an adjusted lower rate, with a rebate paid to new home owners who improve the energy efficiency of their home within two years of purchase? Will they also consider reintroducing the landlord’s energy saving allowance, which used to encourage landlords to undertake energy-efficiency measures but was abolished in 2015?
The noble Baroness will be aware that these are matters for the Chancellor. As a Minister, I have long observed not getting into predicting taxation policy. I will certainly pass her suggestions on to the Chancellor.
My Lords, further to the questions from the right reverend Prelate and my noble friend Lord Naseby, I was involved in raising funds to refurbish our rectory. The church insisted on putting in a heat pump; because of the nature of the property, it cost nearly £40,000 just to insulate it in order to make the heat pump work efficiently. Heat pumps are not suitable for all buildings, which is why it is essential that we look for an alternative.
I partly agree with my noble friend. It is a good thing that the rectory was insulated anyway, whatever kind of heating was installed in it. Heat pumps obviously work best in well-insulated properties, but you can now get high-temperature heat pumps that work in all scenarios. I agree with my noble friend that, as I said earlier, there is a multiplicity of property types and different technologies will work in different properties.
My Lords, from the evidence that it received, the Environment and Climate Change Committee, of which I was a member at the time, concluded in its inquiry on the boiler upgrade scheme that a shortage of relevant skills is a major barrier to the take-up of the boiler upgrade scheme and low-carbon heat. The microgeneration certification scheme, which certifies whether companies are capable of fitting renewable heat products, gave evidence to the committee that the three-year duration of the scheme and
“the delayed release of the market-based mechanism to support heat pump growth”
“provide sufficient long-term certainty to grow the sector and encourage retraining.”
Despite this investment in training, does the Minister agree with the MCS that a long-term policy of decadal length is required to create a stable policy landscape to encourage investment in training? If he does, what do the Government intend to do about that?
The noble Lord will be aware that the next Question is on the boiler upgrade scheme; his question might perhaps have been more appropriate there, but I agree with him. The Answer I gave earlier shows what we are doing to invest in upgrading existing skills. It is a long-term job over decades, as the MCS correctly said. I was at a reception with the MCS last week, talking to it about this very issue.
I agree with the Minister in his statement that there is a multiplicity of solutions for decarbonising heat. One very promising technology is the use of heat loops, or networked ground source heat pumps. These are much more efficient than even air source heat pumps and are an excellent technology that we should be trialling, perhaps instead of hydrogen.
I am aware of the noble Baroness’s scepticism about hydrogen—we have discussed it a number of times. I agree with her about ground source heat pumps. There are some great, innovative UK companies developing them and we support them under the boiler upgrade scheme.
My Lords, the Committee stage of the Energy Bill started in September 2022, and we still have not reached Report. Is this delay down to the Government adopting the Labour Party’s suggestions in Committee, which would make targets of the future homes standard and ban the installation of gas boilers in new homes? I guess from the Minister’s response so far that this is not the case. Can he say what is causing the delay?
I am sorry to tell the noble Lord that it is nothing to do with the Labour Party’s policies. My responsibilities do not extend to predicting the business of this House. I am sure that the Chief Whip has taken careful note of the noble Lord’s comments.
My Lords, permitted development rights are still insisting that heat pumps are sited a metre away from the boundary of properties. Given the Minister’s welcome commitment to heat pumps and to getting these new homes with low-carbon solutions, what plans do the Government have to update PDR to ensure that heat pumps can play the role that we need them to?
One of the factors of the UK’s planning system is that different interpretations are given by different local authorities. I suspect that certain Members on the Opposition Benches would criticise us if we dictated to local authorities how they should implement their own planning policies. Clearly, we need to work with them. As I said earlier, there is a huge range of different areas and property types. Some local authorities are quite permissive in what they will allow and some are not, but we continue to work with them to make sure that they are abreast of all the latest guidance.
Domestic Heat Pumps: Budget Underspend
To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the reasons for the underspend in the annual £150 million budget to install domestic heat pumps and other low-carbon alternatives to gas boilers.
My Lords, despite it being a challenging year for the energy sector, provisional data from Ofgem shows that we have received 14,100 applications so far. Industry has reacted positively to the scheme during its first year, with suppliers developing competitive offers alongside the grant. The Government recently launched a targeted marketing campaign to increase public awareness. We will consider options such as increased marketing, as well as keeping grant levels under close review.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer. We know that heat pumps are the only show in town today that can deliver low-carbon domestic heating cheaply and quickly. In 2022, a whopping 20 million heat pumps were installed across 16 EU countries, yet our Government fall short time after time in delivering even the basics needed for success, such as home insultation measures, a skilled workforce and improved public awareness. What plan do the Government have to move their woeful current rate of under 10,000 in almost a year on the boiler upgrade scheme to their target of 600,000 a year by 2028? Without a plan, the target is pie in the sky.
The noble Baroness obviously did not listen to the Answer that I gave her, because I just said that we have received 14,100 applications for the scheme. But this is not the only scheme by which heat pumps are installed. There are those that are installed by the private sector, and they are already starting to be installed in many new properties. A range of our other schemes—the social housing decarbonisation fund, home upgrade grant, et cetera—also support the installation of heat pumps.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, will participate remotely.
My Lords, with heat pump technology plagued by misinformation, can the Government not sponsor a network of privately or commercially occupied exhibition homes with air source heat pumps installed, where potential investors can be advised on the efficacy of their installation and the need for accompanying measures of draught and insulation control, without which they are ineffective and a waste of money? A well-designed installation will give 3 to 4 kilowatts of heat output per kilowatt of mains supply. That is a good return.
I agree with the noble Lord’s figures on the efficiency of heat pumps. He will find that there are a number of show properties around the country already; a lot of the installers or manufacturers already have showrooms demonstrating the technology for prospective purchasers.
My Lords, I declare an energy interest, as in the register. Further to this and the last Question, do the Government accept that, with their full commitment to future renewables, the removal of all gas heating and cooking, and millions of new electric vehicles, we will see an enormous need not only for more generating plant but, more importantly, for a completely new electrical transmission system nationwide? It is estimated that the burden on the transmission system will increase 400%, when it is already at 100% and overloaded. Do we have the plans in place to cope?
My noble friend makes a very good point: huge investment is required to both upgrade and reconfigure the transmission grid. We are moving away from a system based on point loads to a much more diversified system of renewables, et cetera. The point is valid. Billions of pounds are being invested in the grid and we have a plan to upgrade it. It is worth saying that there will be ongoing demand for gas; it will be declining, but we will still be using it.
My Lords, we have just heard claims that are often made about heat pumps—that they generate four to five times the energy you put in. That is only in ideal circumstances, typically where the outside temperature is 15 degrees and the water temperature is about 38 degrees. The reality is that you get out about two and a half times the energy you put in. That is a good result, but not if you are expecting four to five times. I worry that these unrealistic claims of real-life performance may undermine consumer confidence and reduce the uptake of heat pumps. Can the noble Lord please ensure that real-life performance is always made clear and included in the MCS database?
The noble Lord makes a very good point. Performance will vary depending on the temperature outside. It is also worth saying that heat pumps have been installed extensively across Europe, including in countries which typically have much lower ambient air temperatures than the UK does, such as Norway. But his point is valid: we need to make sure that people are given accurate information.
Would the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, be a little less pedantic than his noble friend Lord Murray? Since the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, mentioned Ofgem in his initial reply, could he explain why Ofgem wants us to pay more for all our heating, despite the wholesale cost of gas reducing? What are the Government going to do about this?
I thank the noble Lord for a question not at all related to heat pumps. He makes a valid point: the price cap has been reduced in line with the reduction of wholesale prices. At the same time, there is a gap in funding because of government support. We have—the taxpayer has—been paying about one-third of people’s energy bills through the winter. That support is unsustainable in the longer term and is starting to be withdrawn, but I am sure the Chancellor is looking at this very closely.
My Lords, is it not fair to say that implicit in the last two Questions is the rather disappointing uptake in the number of homes putting in heat pumps? I declare that I put in a gas boiler recently and got change from £5,000. Have the Government done any work on the point raised by my noble friend Lord Forsyth on the cost for the average punter to change their home? The reality is that the markets determine what people put in. We need to look at the actual cost of installing a heat pump. If we imagine a scenario where 10% of new builds have heat pumps and the retrofit programmes go in great guns, what would it cost to install one of these things? Have we got research? If the Minister cannot answer me directly at the Dispatch Box, will he please write to me with a detailed response?
I can answer my noble friend directly: we have done lots of research on these matters. I will give him a couple of examples of existing offers. British Gas has a starting price for an air source heat pump of £2,999 and Octopus Energy is offering one for £2,500 including the upgrade grant that we are offering. It obviously depends on the circumstances of the property. There are huge number of variable factors, such as how many radiators you need—whether your existing radiators can be reused will depend on their size. There are a lot of different factors to take into consideration, but his point is ultimately valid, in that we have to make sure that the prices of heat pumps come down over time. As consumers get more used to them and volumes go up, I think that they will.
My Lords, I request a similarly detailed answer from the Minister on the costs of the hydrogen trials. As he will know, I do not support this way of moving forward. However, had we taken the same approach to heat pumps, ground source heat pumps in particular, how much would it have cost us per household for 2,000 homes? How much are we spending per household on the hydrogen trials?
As the noble Baroness is aware, we have two potential trial villages at the moment. We will make a decision later this year on which one will be selected, assuming that we get the powers to do so in the Energy Bill. We are still looking very closely at the costs of the trial. They are still to be determined, so I cannot give her an answer yet. The two gas networks are looking at the costs as we speak.
My Lords, in addition to the underspend highlighted in the Question by the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, about £2.1 billion remains unspent of the £6.6 billion promised in the Conservative manifesto to be used on energy efficiency and decarbonisation of heat. The think tank E3G puts this down to a lack of effective policies on domestic insulation and decarbonisation. Can the Minister say if and how the Government intend to deliver on that manifesto promise?
The noble Lord will have to have a little patience and wait for the Chancellor’s spending announcement. As I have said before, there has been no lack of government commitment in this area: we are spending £6.6 billion over this Parliament, and we have already had another £6 billion committed by the Chancellor for energy-efficiency schemes from 2025. It is going well.
My Lords, I draw my noble friend’s attention to the Swaffham Prior Heat Network—
I gave way last time.
My Lords, one of the reasons for the so far disappointing uptake of the welcome boiler upgrade scheme is the lack of consumer awareness. Even the Minister’s own figures from what was BEIS said that 80% of people have little or no awareness of heat pumps. He mentioned that there will be further marketing: my understanding is that this will be ads on search engines and social media. Does he really believe that £300,000 spent is sufficient for the scale of the challenge and to make this welcome scheme work?
It is certainly a good start. I was talking to officials about it earlier today. It started only in the middle of January and has already driven about a 62% increase in traffic to the GOV.UK website that provides information about heat pump offers. As the scheme moves into its second year, we will move into what further marketing activity we can do.
I will go back to the question from my noble friend, who I believe was going to ask me about the Swaffham Prior scheme. For those in the House who are not aware, Swaffham Prior is a village in Cambridgeshire. I suspect that it was in his constituency—
Anyway, I have visited it, and it is a great example of a community coming together to install heat pumps and a domestic heat network, supported by government funding. It is an excellent project and is going extremely well. I give my congratulations to Cambridgeshire County Council and Swaffham Prior on implementing it.
Bishop’s Stortford Cemetery Bill [HL]
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Bill read a second time.
Nuclear Regulated Asset Base Model (Revenue Collection) Regulations 2023
Motion to Approve
That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 15 December 2022 be approved. Considered in Grand Committee on 22 February
Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order 2023
Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase Order 2023
Benefit Cap (Annual Limit) (Amendment) Regulations 2023
Motions to Approve
That the draft Orders and Regulations laid before the House on 16 January be approved. Considered in Grand Committee on 22 February
Northern Ireland Protocol
My Lords, I shall now repeat a Statement made in the other place.
“Mr Speaker, before I begin, I know the whole House will join me in paying tribute to Betty Boothroyd, who passed away earlier yesterday. She was a remarkable woman who commanded huge admiration and respect as the first female Speaker of this House. She was as firm as she was fair, and she presided over many historic moments in this House, among them the debates on the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. Her passion, wit and immeasurable contribution to our democracy will never be forgotten.”
My Lords, although those were the words of the Prime Minister yesterday, if I may break off, the House has already made it clear that I speak for the whole House in saying how much we in this House agree with those words from the Prime Minister about our late and much- loved colleague.
“And, Mr Speaker, let us also send our very best wishes to Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell and his family. He is a man of immense courage, who both on and off duty has devoted himself to the service of others. This House stands united with the people and leaders of all communities across Northern Ireland in condemning those who are trying to drag us back to the past. They will never succeed.
With permission, I would like to make a Statement on the Northern Ireland protocol. After weeks of negotiations, we have made a decisive breakthrough. The Windsor Framework delivers free-flowing trade within the whole United Kingdom. It protects Northern Ireland’s place in our union, and it safeguards sovereignty for the people of Northern Ireland. By achieving all this, it preserves the delicate balance inherent in the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. It does what many said could not be done: removing thousands of pages of EU laws and making permanent, legally binding changes to the protocol treaty itself. That is the break- through we have made. Those are the changes we will deliver. Now is the time to move forward as one country, one United Kingdom.
Before I turn to the details, let us remind ourselves why this matters. It matters because at the heart of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement and the reason it has endured for a quarter of a century is equal respect for the aspirations and identities of all communities and all its three strands. But the Northern Ireland protocol has undermined that balance. How can we say the protocol protects the Belfast/Good Friday agreement when it has caused the institutions of that agreement to collapse? So, in line with our legal responsibilities, we are acting today to preserve the balance of that agreement and chart a new way forward for Northern Ireland.
I pay tribute to: our European friends for recognising the need for change, particularly President Von der Leyen; my predecessors for laying the groundwork for today’s agreement; and my right honourable friends the Foreign and Northern Ireland Secretaries for their perseverance in finally persuading the EU to do what it spent years refusing to do—rewrite the treaty and replace it with a radical, legally binding new framework.
Today’s agreement has three equally important objectives: first, allowing trade to flow freely within our UK internal market; secondly, protecting Northern Ireland’s place in our union; and, thirdly, safeguarding sovereignty and closing the democratic deficit. Let me take each in turn.
Core to the problems with the protocol was that it treated goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland as if they were crossing an international customs border. This created extra costs and paperwork for businesses, which had to fill out complex customs declarations. It limited choice for the people of Northern Ireland and it undermined the UK internal market—a matter of identity as well as economics. Today’s agreement removes any sense of a border in the Irish Sea and ensures the free flow of trade within the United Kingdom.
We have secured a key negotiating objective: the introduction of a new green lane for goods destined for Northern Ireland, with a separate red lane for those going to the EU. Within the green lane, burdensome customs bureaucracy will be scrapped and replaced with data sharing of ordinary, existing commercial information. Routine checks and tests will also be scrapped. The only checks will be those required to stop smugglers and criminals. Our new green lane will be open to a broad, comprehensive range of businesses across the United Kingdom.
I am pleased to say that we have also permanently protected tariff-free movement of all types of steel into Northern Ireland. For goods going the other way, from Northern Ireland to Great Britain, we have scrapped export declarations, delivering, finally, completely unfettered trade. The commitment to establish the green lane is achieved by a legally binding amendment to the text of the treaty itself. That is fundamental, far-reaching change and it permanently removes the border in the Irish Sea.
Perhaps the single most important area of trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland is food. Three quarters of the food in Northern Ireland’s supermarkets comes from the rest of the United Kingdom, yet the protocol applied the same burdens on shipments from Cairnryan to Larne as between Holyhead and Dublin. If it was implemented in full, we would see supermarket lorries needing hundreds of certificates for every individual item, every single document checked and supermarket staples such as sausages banned altogether—more delays, more cost, less choice.
Today’s agreement fixes all this with a new, permanent, legally binding approach to food. We will expand the green lane to food retailers, and not just supermarkets but wholesalers and hospitality, too. Instead of hundreds of certificates, lorries will make one simple, digital declaration to confirm that goods will remain in Northern Ireland. Visual inspections will be cut from 100% now to just 5%. Physical checks and tests will be scrapped unless we suspect fraud, smuggling or disease, so there will be no need for vets in warehouses.
Of course, to deliver this we need to reassure the European Union that food imports will not be taken into the Republic of Ireland, so we will ask retailers to mark a small number of particularly high-risk food products as ‘Not for EU’, with a phased rollout of this requirement to give them time to adjust. More fundamentally, we have delivered a form of dual regulation for food, the single biggest sector by far for east-west trade and one of the most important in people’s lives.
Under the protocol, retail food products made to UK standards could not be sold in Northern Ireland. Today’s agreement completely changes that. This means the ban on British products such as sausages entering Northern Ireland has now been scrapped. If it is available on supermarket shelves in Great Britain, it will be available on supermarket shelves in Northern Ireland. We will still need to make sure that goods moved into Northern Ireland do not risk bringing in animal and plant diseases, but that is clearly a common-sense measure, never opposed by anyone, to prevent diseases circulating within the long-standing single epidemiological zone on the island of Ireland.
That brings me to the treatment of parcels. If the protocol were fully implemented, every single parcel travelling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland would be subject to full international customs. You would have needed a long, complex form to send every single parcel, even a birthday present for a niece or nephew, and you could only have shopped online from retailers willing to deal with all that bureaucracy, with some already pulling out of Northern Ireland. Today’s agreement fixes all this. It achieves something that we have never achieved before: removing requirements of the EU customs code for people sending and receiving parcels. Families can, rightly, send packages to each other without filling in forms, online retailers can serve customers in Northern Ireland as they did before and businesses can ship parcels through the green lane, all underpinned by data sharing by parcel operators, with a phased rollout and time for them to adjust.
There is no burdensome customs bureaucracy and no routine checks. Bans on food products: scrapped. Steel tariff rate quotas: fixed. The tariff reimbursement scheme: approved. Vet inspections: gone. Export declarations: gone. Parcels paperwork: gone. We have delivered what the people of Northern Ireland asked for and the Command Paper promised: we have removed the border in the Irish Sea.
However, to preserve the balance of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, we also need to protect Northern Ireland’s place in our union. The Windsor framework is about making sure that Northern Ireland gets the full benefit of being part of the United Kingdom in every respect. Under the protocol, in too many ways that simply was not the case. Take tax: when I was Chancellor, it frustrated me that when I cut VAT on solar panels or beer duty in pubs, those tax cuts did not apply in Northern Ireland. Now we have amended the legal text of the treaty so that critical VAT and excise changes will apply to the whole of the United Kingdom. This means that zero rates of VAT on energy-saving materials will now apply in Northern Ireland. Reforms to alcohol duty to cut the cost of a pint in pubs will now apply in Northern Ireland. Because we now have control over VAT policy, we can make sure that the EU’s plan to reduce the VAT threshold by £10,000 will not apply in Northern Ireland, nor will the SME VAT directive that would have brought huge amounts of EU red tape for small businesses.
We are also making subsidy control provisions work as intended. Already, just 2% of subsidy measures in Northern Ireland fall within the scope of EU approvals under the protocol. Nevertheless, today’s agreement goes further, addressing the so-called reach-back of EU state aid law by imposing stringent new tests. For the EU to argue that we are in breach of its rules, it would now have to demonstrate that there is a real, genuine and material impact on Northern Ireland’s trade with the EU. That is a much higher threshold than the protocol, limiting disputes to what the 2021 Command Paper called
‘subsidies on a significant scale relating directly to Northern Ireland’.
We have also protected the special status of agriculture and fisheries subsidies in Northern Ireland, which will be completely outside the EU’s common agricultural policy. All of which means that the problem of reach-back is fixed.
As well as tax and spend, the UK Government have a responsibility to protect the supply of medicines to all their citizens, but our ability to do that was constrained by the protocol. The biggest problem is that drugs approved for use by the UK’s medicines regulator are not automatically available in Northern Ireland. Imagine someone suffering with cancer in Belfast seeing a potentially life-changing new drug available everywhere else in the UK but unable to access it at home. When the current grace period ends in 2024, the situation will get worse still: expensive and burdensome checks on all medicines, companies having to manufacture drugs with two completely different labels and supply chains, and pharmacies needing to check every package with complex scanners. When 80% of Northern Ireland’s medicines come from Great Britain, those frictions pose a serious risk to the supply of medicines to the people of Northern Ireland.
To fix this, today’s agreement achieves something unprecedented: it provides dual regulation for medicines. The UK’s regulator will approve all drugs for the whole UK market, including Northern Ireland, with no role for the European Medicines Agency. This fully protects the supply of medicines from Great Britain into Northern Ireland, once again asserting the primacy of UK regulation. The same medicines, in the same packs with the same labels, will be available in every pharmacy and hospital in the United Kingdom. Crucially, dual regulation means that Northern Ireland’s world-leading healthcare industry, which brings much-needed jobs and investment, can still trade with both the EU and UK markets. This is a landmark deal for patients in Northern Ireland. It is a permanent solution that brings peace of mind.
The protocol also banned quintessentially British products going to Northern Ireland. When people wanted to import oak trees to mark Her late Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee, the protocol stood in their way. It suspended the historic trade in seed potatoes between Scotland and Northern Ireland. If implemented, it would create massive costs and bureaucracy for people travelling around the UK with their pets, disrupting family life and our family of nations. That is why today’s agreement will lift the ban on shrubs, plants and trees going to Northern Ireland. It lifts the ban on the movement of seed potatoes, particularly important for Scottish businesses. We will deliver that by expanding the existing UK plant passport scheme.
When it comes to pets, we have made sure that people from Northern Ireland will have completely free access to travel to Great Britain. If you are a pet owner travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, just make sure that your pet is microchipped and then all you will need to do is simply tick a box when booking your travel. Whether it is lower VAT rates, lower beer duty, jubilee oaks in garden centres, seamless travel with pets, seamless trade in seed potatoes or the seamless supply of cutting-edge medicines, all that is now available for everyone everywhere in the United Kingdom.
The Windsor framework goes further still, safeguarding sovereignty for the people of Northern Ireland and eliminating the democratic deficit. Fundamentally, the protocol meant that the EU could impose new laws on the people of Northern Ireland without their having a say. I know that some Members of this House, whose voices I deeply respect, say that EU laws should have no role whatsoever in Northern Ireland. I understand that view and I am sympathetic to it, but for as long as the people of Northern Ireland continue to support their businesses having privileged access to the EU market, and if we want to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland—as we all do—then there will be some role for EU law. The question is: what is the absolute minimum amount necessary to avoid a hard border?
Today’s agreement scraps 1,700 pages of EU law. The amount of EU law that applies in Northern Ireland is less than 3%, and the people of Northern Ireland retain the right to reject even that 3% through next year’s consent vote. However, that consent vote is about the whole protocol so it cannot, by its nature, provide oversight of individual new laws. It does not address the No. 1 challenge to sovereignty made by the protocol: the ability of the EU to impose new or amended goods laws on Northern Ireland without its having a say. To address that, today’s agreement introduces a new Stormont brake.
The Stormont brake does more than just give Northern Ireland a say over EU laws; it means that it can block them. How will that work? The democratically elected Assembly can oppose new EU goods rules that would have significant and lasting effects on everyday lives. It will do so on the same basis as the petition of concern mechanism in the Good Friday agreement, needing the support of 30 Members from at least two parties. If that happens, the UK Government will have a veto. We will work with the Northern Ireland Assembly and all parties to codify how the UK Government will use that veto.
Let me tell the House the full significance of this breakthrough. The Stormont brake gives the institutions of the Good Friday agreement a powerful new safeguard. It means that the United Kingdom can veto new EU laws if they are not supported by both communities in Northern Ireland. Yes, it is true that until now the EU had refused to consider treaty change; we were told that it was impossible and that EU negotiators would never consider it. The Stormont brake has been introduced by fundamentally rewriting the treaty—specifically, the provisions relating to dynamic alignment. That is a permanent change. It ends the automatic ratchet of EU law and, if the veto is used, the European courts can never overturn our decision.
The EU has also explicitly accepted an important principle in the political declaration. It is there in black and white that the treaty is subject to the Vienna convention. This means that, unequivocally, the legal basis for the Windsor Framework is in international law. I would like to thank my honourable friend the Member for Stone for his support in negotiating this point. It puts it beyond all doubt that we have now taken back control.
Mr Speaker, from the very start, we have listened closely and carefully to views on all sides of this debate. I am grateful to many Members of this House, the communities of Northern Ireland, and the voices of business and civil society for putting forward their suggestions. I want particularly to thank the Northern Ireland business groups that I have spoken to. I hope in today’s agreement they recognise that we have addressed their concerns. We are delivering stability, certainty, simplicity, affordability and clarity, as well as strengthened representation for the businesses of Northern Ireland.
I also want to speak directly to the unionist community. I understand and have listened to your frustrations and concerns, and I would not be standing here today if I did not believe that today’s agreement marks a turning point for the people of Northern Ireland. It is clearly in the interests of the people, and those of us who are passionate about the cause of unionism, for power-sharing to return.
Of course, parties will want to consider the agreement in detail, a process that will need time and care. There are, of course, many voices and perspectives within Northern Ireland, and it is the job of the Government to respect them all, but I have kept the concerns raised by the elected representatives of unionism at the forefront of my mind, because it is their concerns with the protocol that have been so pronounced.
What I can say is this: our goal has been to ensure the economic rights of the people of Northern Ireland under the Act of Union and Belfast/Good Friday agreement, placing them on an equal footing with the rest of the UK with respect to tax, trade and the availability of goods. We have worked to end the prospect of trade diversion, removed any sense of a border for UK internal trade, removed routine customs or checks for goods destined for Northern Ireland, removed thousands of pages of existing EU law and introduced a UK veto on dynamic alignment through the Stormont brake. We have created a form of dual regulation, where it works and is needed the most, in sectors such as medicines and food retail. We have delivered unfettered access to the whole UK market for Northern Ireland’s businesses, and we will take further steps to avoid regulatory divergence in future. We have secured a clear EU commitment and process to manage future changes with a special goods body.
All of this means that Northern Ireland’s businesses have continued access to the EU market, as they requested. It means we have protected the letter and the spirit of Northern Ireland’s constitutional guarantee in the Belfast agreement, with the Stormont brake creating an effective cross-community safeguard. There are two distinct economies on the island of Ireland, and that will remain the case. Today’s agreement puts it beyond all doubt that Northern Ireland’s place in the internal market and the United Kingdom is fully restored.
I want to conclude by directly addressing the question of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill. As I and my predecessors always said, the Bill was only ever meant to be a last resort, meant for a world where we could not get negotiations going. As the Government said at the time of its introduction, our
‘clear preference remains a negotiated solution’.
Now that we have persuaded the EU to fundamentally rewrite the treaty text of the protocol, we have a new and better option.
The Windsor Framework delivers a decisively better outcome than the Bill, achieving what people said could not be done and what the Bill does not offer. It permanently removes any sense of a border in the Irish Sea. It gives us control over dynamic alignment through the Stormont brake, beyond what the Bill promised. The Bill did not change a thing in international law, keeping the jurisdiction of the ECJ and leaving us open to months—perhaps years—of uncertainty, disruption and legal challenge. Today’s agreement makes binding legal changes to the treaty itself and is explicitly based on international law. Unlike the Bill, it is an agreement that provides certainty, stability and, crucially, can start delivering benefits almost immediately for the people and businesses of Northern Ireland.
Of course, the House would expect to be informed of the Government’s updated legal position on whether there is a lawful basis to proceed with the Bill, so I am publishing it today. It says that, because we have achieved a new negotiated agreement, which preserves the balance of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, the original and sound legal justification for the Bill has now fallen away. In other words, neither do we need the Bill, nor do we have a credible basis to pursue it. As such, we will no longer proceed with the Bill, and the European Union will no longer proceed with its legal proceedings against us. Instead, we will pursue the certainty of a new way forward, with the Windsor Framework.
Let me remind the House of the full breadth and significance of what we have achieved today. We have achieved free-flowing trade, with a green lane for goods, no burdensome customs bureaucracy, no routine checks on trade, no paperwork whatever for Northern Irish goods moving into Great Britain and no border in the Irish Sea. We have protected Northern Ireland’s place in the union, with state aid reach-back fixed, the same tax rules applying everywhere, vet certificates for food lorries gone, the ban on British sausages gone, parcel paperwork gone, pet paperwork gone, garden centres now selling the same trees, supermarkets selling the same food and pharmacies selling the same medicines. We have safeguarded sovereignty for the people of Northern Ireland, with the democratic deficit closed, the Vienna convention confirmed and thousands of pages of EU law scrapped. With the Stormont brake, we have safeguarded democracy and sovereignty for the people of Northern Ireland.
That is the choice before us. Let us seize the opportunity of this moment—the certainty of an agreement that fixes the problems we face, commands broad support and consensus, and offers us, at last, the freedom to move forward together. That is what the people of Northern Ireland deserve; that is what the Windsor Framework delivers. As a Conservative, a Brexiteer and a unionist, I believe passionately, with my head and my heart, that this is the right way forward—right for Northern Ireland, right for our United Kingdom. I commend it to this House.”
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement—that was quite a feat of endurance. He should be grateful that we have a time limit today; the Prime Minister was on his feet for over two hours yesterday.
I also thank the Minister for his comments about Betty Boothroyd—the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd. So many Members of this House will have memories of her that we cherish and enjoy sharing. I can hear her voice today: I remember answering the phone and hearing her opening words, “Now listen, luvvie”—and of course I would. As sad as we are at her passing, we can only celebrate a long life, well lived. We look forward to the opportunity to commemorate her and share our stories with a smile.
It is with real sadness that I echo the comments about the shocking and cowardly attack on PSNI Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell. The impact on him, his family, his friends, his colleagues and all who know him is devastating. For DCI Caldwell and his family, life may never be the same again. For his colleagues and the community he serves, this is a stark reminder that there remain a few who do not share their commitment to peace. The most moving, emotional and, in many ways, uplifting scenes that I saw on TV this past weekend were of the people of Omagh—a town that suffered so much—standing united to proclaim, “No going back”. They represent the people of Northern Ireland. The immediate and unequivocal joint statement from Sinn Féin, the DUP, the SDLP, the Alliance Party and the UUP was, in so many ways, a manifestation of how far we have come since the signing of the Good Friday/Belfast agreement in 1998. The shooting of DCI Caldwell is a reminder of just how crucial it is to continue working together to uphold peace and support Northern Ireland’s institutions.
When the people of Northern Ireland overwhelmingly endorsed the Good Friday agreement, the UK Government took on responsibility as a joint guarantor, so a key question for many of us, when the protocol was negotiated and signed by then Prime Minister Boris Johnson, was its compatibility with the agreement. We knew it could never be perfect, but we also recognised that the assurances given by Mr Johnson that there would be
“no forms, no checks, no barriers of any kind”
on goods crossing the Irish Sea post Brexit were not based in reality. Who can forget his flamboyant promise to an audience of Northern Ireland businesspeople that they should call him if anyone tried to get them to complete a form? That was not just wrong; the lack of honesty was disrespectful to those who had raised legitimate concerns.
The solution to the problems was never going to be the aggressive approach of, in effect, tearing up an international treaty that the Prime Minister and Ministers had negotiated and signed. Not only would it not work but it would signal to the world that the UK could not now be trusted to keep its word. That is a dangerous position to be in when we have to negotiate post-Brexit trade deals.
It is no surprise that, during our long and at times passionate debate on the Second Reading of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, the key questions from across the House were: why were Ministers not at the negotiating table trying to resolve legitimate outstanding issues with the protocol, rather than standing at the Dispatch Box trying to defend the unilateral tearing up of that binding international treaty? Why were the Government not engaging effectively with unionists’ concerns? Why were they not listening to businesses about the need for common sense, clarity and honesty? Why did the Government negotiate and sign the treaty, given its failings?
On a recent visit to Northern Ireland with Keir Starmer and Peter Kyle, businesses had a common message for us. They had different concerns about the protocol, but they all wanted to make it work and they all had suggestions of how, through negotiation, changes could be made that would minimise problems. My party has always said that if the Prime Minister were serious about negotiating a deal with our partners in the EU, we would back him. So we welcome the Prime Minister’s Statement and the publication of the Windsor Framework announced by Mr Sunak and President von der Leyen. It proves that the complex legal and trade issues are best resolved through diplomacy, not unilateral action or headline-seeking bluster. We welcome the Prime Minister’s change of approach.
We also welcome that Mr Sunak has now, as part of the agreement, finally committed not to proceed with the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill. We will never know how much sooner this new framework could have been agreed if the time and energy put into that Bill had been used instead to focus on negotiations from the beginning.
The noble Lord heckles me from a sedentary position. I suggest that he should apologise to those who have had to deal with these negotiations to change the protocol that he supported. Had he not—
No, I am not giving way. I am not prepared to give way to the noble Lord who tried to heckle me from a sedentary position. He will have the opportunity to ask questions later. If he wants to heckle, he should understand that people respond to heckles like that. We just do not know—
No, I am not giving way, and he should not heckle. He should behave in this House; he has been here long enough.
How much sooner could this new framework have been agreed if the time and energy put into the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill had been put into negotiating the framework? The outline of a deal has been clear for months. Business organisations have been crying out for certainty for even longer, not only because of short-term stock issues or the burdens of additional paperwork but because the uncertainty was creating systemic problems on the ground. A lack of clarity on trade terms, both within the UK internal market and with the EU, was extremely challenging to those seeking to attract investment into Northern Ireland’s economy.
As the detail of the agreement is examined, debated and challenged, we urge the Prime Minister to be honest about the compromises that have had to be reached —compromises made in the best interests of Northern Ireland and the UK as a whole.
When arguing against the protocol, a key issue raised by the DUP, as we heard in yesterday’s debate on the Northern Ireland executive formation Bill, is the democratic deficit caused by the protocol. Those concerns must be understood but, as my noble friend Lord Murphy of Torfaen, who has considerable experience on this issue, asked the House yesterday, is there not a bigger democratic deficit in the people of Northern Ireland not having a functioning Assembly or Executive? Crucial decisions are either not being taken or being taken by civil servants rather than Ministers. Meanwhile, the people of Northern Ireland are not being served properly in the face of a cost of living crisis affecting the entire UK. If we are making the case that the Good Friday agreement is undermined by the protocol, we must understand that the absence of those political and related institutions is also breaching the agreement.
The tone of DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson’s comments yesterday, when he said he would examine the detail of the new framework, is welcome, as is the Prime Minister’s commitment to giving Northern Ireland’s political parties the time and space for their own deliberations and to address any points raised. This new agreement should provide a path through the political stalemate and towards the restoration of power-sharing, even if that is not immediate. In this 25th anniversary year of the Good Friday agreement, I hope we can move forward in a spirit of co-operation rather than seeking more negotiations.
The Windsor Framework will not in isolation solve all Northern Ireland’s problems, nor completely reset the UK’s relationship with the EU. Beyond the protocol, the Government are pressing ahead with the revocation of vast swathes of retained EU law at the end of this year. Such a step would likely have implications for the trade and co-operation agreement, which relies on minimum standards in several areas. We accept that the Government want a framework for replacing retained EU law and that we need to establish the future status of laws carried over from our time in the European Union.
However, having sought the Windsor Framework to provide certainty for businesses in Northern Ireland, it is counterintuitive to create uncertainty for businesses across the whole UK by introducing a regulatory cliff edge at the end of this year. Surely it is illogical, impractical and reckless to allow potentially important pieces of law to fall off the statute book by default because a department lacks the capacity to identify and rewrite them in the next 10 months. Perhaps the Leader can help me on this. Was it discussed with the Commission President yesterday? Can he now look again at our common-sense and pragmatic approach to review the process of existing retained law?
In conclusion, this important deal may not be perfect, but it represents a significant step forward. In welcoming it, we should pause for a moment to consider the wider context. For the past six and a half years, the at times toxic debate around Brexit, both in Parliament and in the wider country, has cast a shadow over our politics and civic debate. One of the worst aspects has been that the expression of any doubt about the process, let alone the outcome, has generated abuse and false accusations of not respecting the referendum. At the very outset of our debates, I said that the process and delivery of Brexit should not be led by those who had no doubt, because it is through doubt that we have challenge. It is through challenge that we have scrutiny and through scrutiny that we get better decisions and better legislation. The Prime Minister’s Statement is an admission that the Government made mistakes in negotiating and signing the protocol, and that there was a lack of honesty. We welcome today’s Statement. As we move forward, this should be an opportunity to reset our politics.
My Lords, I too thank the Leader for repeating this very long Statement. My principal emotion on hearing that an agreement had been reached and on reading the documentation was overwhelmingly one of relief. I suspect that this feeling is shared on a widespread basis across the House. For months the wrangling over the protocol has taken up a huge amount of time and political capital. It preoccupied your Lordships’ House with the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill and acted as a blockage to constructive engagement between the UK and the EU on a range of other issues that had absolutely nothing to do with the protocol itself.
The Windsor framework represents an outbreak of common sense on both sides and it should bring great relief to many in Northern Ireland who were worried about the practical costs of the previous trading arrangements or what they saw as threats to the Good Friday agreement. The Prime Minister and other Ministers involved in securing this agreement are therefore to be heartily congratulated on achieving it. It would perhaps be churlish to point out, however, that the only reason all this effort was needed, and that all the contortions required to get to today’s position were necessary, was the deeply flawed original agreement, an agreement enthusiastically supported at the time by those who have now fundamentally renegotiated it. So I shall not dwell on that point today.
On the actual contents of the agreement, the only aspect which raises an immediate warning flag to me is the Stormont brake. If it is indeed used in only exceptional circumstances, that is one thing; but if it came to be used regularly, it could in itself lead to serious instability and uncertainty. I know that this issue is of particular concern to my colleagues in the Alliance Party. Having had an initial brief meeting today, they have asked to see the Prime Minister again to discuss this in detail. I hope the Leader can give me an assurance that the Prime Minister will not now simply be spending a lot of time with the DUP but will equally meet with the other parties in Northern Ireland to discuss any outstanding issues they might have.
In the short term, however, yesterday’s agreement will bring relief for many people in Northern Ireland and will hopefully, one would have thought, lead to a rapid resumption of the Northern Ireland Executive. This, though, is entirely down to the attitude taken by the DUP. We have heard much from them about the democratic deficit caused by the protocol, but as the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, pointed out, the democratic deficit caused by the continued absence of an Assembly is surely even more pressing for the daily lives of the population in Northern Ireland. To make an obvious point, if the Stormont brake is to rectify the democratic deficit, there needs to be an operational Administration in Stormont to pull it, so I hope the DUP will now allow the Assembly to function once again without further delay.
Beyond this, we need to use this outbreak of civility and the commitment by the Government and the EU to, in the words of the Command Paper,
“a positive, constructive relationship as partners”
to serve as a reset of our overall relationship with the EU, so that we can begin to mitigate some of the other costs of Brexit. It is, for example, welcome that the EU is now prepared to unblock the UK’s participation in the Horizon programme. This is long overdue, and I hope the Government grasp this opportunity with both hands, but this should surely be only the start. If it were possible, following the precedent of this agreement, to remove many of the costly barriers to trade with mainland Europe itself, there would be an even greater benefit for the economy as a whole than sorting out the protocol. If, for example, much of the red tape created by the TCA could be removed, small businesses, fishermen and farmers could trade with the EU at much lower cost. With a spirit of good will, the problems facing travelling artists could be mitigated, the lack of comprehensive financial services arrangements could be rectified and the many remaining issues on immigration between the UK and EU could be addressed in a serious manner.
This agreement offers the prospect that, if the EU believes that the UK is acting in good faith and can be a reliable partner, we can make progress across a much broader range of issues. Reaching agreement on the Northern Ireland protocol is a good start, but there is a lot more to do.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness and the noble Lord for the manner of their responses and the broad and deep welcome, I felt, they gave to the great and distinguished efforts made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and the other parties in the negotiation—any negotiation needs two parties—in getting to this place. I will take back to the Prime Minister those very positive comments.
I do not wish to put anybody in any kind of box or to say that anyone will be responsible for anything at this time. This is a moment of opportunity but, as the noble Lord said, it is right that all parties be given time and space to reflect on the details of what has been placed before Parliament, not only the Command Paper but the detailed text alongside it. I will not challenge anybody at this Dispatch Box to do anything, although obviously we would all agree that the restoration of the institutions in Northern Ireland is a high priority and in the interests of its people.
I can give the noble Lord the assurance he asked for: not only are we committed to providing a proper say for Stormont in the joint committee process and will codify the process around the Stormont brake in domestic legislation, but we will engage in detail with the political parties in Northern Ireland, not just one set, on the best way to enshrine a meaningful say for Stormont in the scenario where the UK Government are deciding whether or not to veto a completely new rule being applied under Article 13.4. Those conversations must go on.
The House always indulges itself in criticising my right honourable friend the former Prime Minister. I must put on the record that, but for him, we would never have left the EU, as the public requested in a referendum. We should also remember that the Northern Ireland protocol, with all its imperfections, was born of a situation where a majority in both Houses were seeking to frustrate that. However, I agree with the sentiment expressed by the noble Baroness in her very statesmanlike response that we should leave these matters behind us.
On the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, we will have to leave it to future memoir writers to know the motivations of the people who came to the negotiating table, or not. I am not as certain as others might be about whether the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill had an effect or not, but I do not believe it is a fruitful subject for debate. To repeat what the Prime Minister has said and I have said from this Dispatch Box on a number of occasions, the important thing is that His Majesty’s Government—and Her Majesty’s Government, as they were in those days—always preferred agreement and negotiation as the way forward. For whatever motivation and reasons, that negotiation has been undertaken in good faith and has delivered this framework agreement, which will hopefully secure the prosperity of Northern Ireland, the key aim of us all.
I do not know whether the retained EU law Bill, about which I was asked, was discussed yesterday. Obviously, the Government intend to proceed with the Bill, but I was present on the Front Bench to hear some of the discussions on the first day and will continue to listen to your Lordships’ House. I hope that we make reasonable progress in considering it.
I thank noble Lords for their response. I agree with those who have said that good relations between us and all our allies and neighbours is in our interests and theirs. On the basis of this agreement and the remarks made across this House, I hope we can now move forward in that purposive and positive spirit.
Many matters between the UK and the EU remain in cold storage: Horizon, as the noble Lord, Lord Newby, said; the agreement to have co-operation in financial services regulation; and, indeed, the 24 committees that exist under the trade and co-operation agreement, which today are operational but are not truly operating to the benefit of all 500 million people concerned. Could the Minister say what has been agreed with the European Union about the speed of the thaw—the speed with which these things can be started up—now that we are set on a new track of a relationship?
My Lords, I have only just served out breakfast to your Lordships’ House, so I am not going to describe when we might reach dinnertime. I think that the intent and aim is there that we should proceed constructively. Indeed, the Windsor Framework envisages not consent mechanisms but mechanisms for consideration and discussion of some of the aspects of the agreement going forward. Nor am I going to speculate on specific instances or committees. I repeat that, in these difficult times, when we face peril and violence in eastern Europe among other things, we hope that the earnest and the spirit that the Prime Minister and the President of the European Commission both put on the table will be fruitful in many ways.
Would my noble friend agree that the unionists in Northern Ireland are sensible to want a full analysis from the lawyers before they decide whether this is something they can implement? However, all of us can agree that the Prime Minister has achieved a major step forward. This is infinitely superior to what was in the protocol and validates his decision to ignore those who wanted to make a temporary and transitional arrangement permanent and implement it in full, as so many on the other side of the House did. Was not the Prime Minister right to follow Teddy Roosevelt’s advice and negotiate with a quiet voice but carrying a big stick?
My Lords, that last remark takes me back to the memoir writers. We shall see whether the big stick played its part. As I said—I am grateful to the noble Baroness opposite for also saying this—it is absolutely right and reasonable that all parties in Northern Ireland should look very carefully at the text and the details that the Government have laid out. That is why we have sought to lay out a detailed text in co-operation with the European Union. Of course this is better than the Northern Ireland protocol. I am delighted that that is the case, and I clearly agree with what my noble friend said on that point.
My Lords, this is an occasion for bringing the House together rather than dividing it, given the importance of this issue. For my part, I have no hesitation in congratulating the Government and all the Ministers who were involved—including those on the Front Bench—on what I think is quite a stunning success. As the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said earlier, two successes in two days is quite a record at the moment.
I would merely make a couple of comments on the Stormont brake. The first is that it is a major step forward in negotiations with the European Union but, as I understand it, it can work only if there is an Assembly sitting, as has been said. Effectively, not to have that Assembly sitting snatches defeat from the jaws of success and allows the EU to impose anything it likes. I know that our colleagues in the DUP will be considering this, and that is one of the aspects they will wish to look at. I will say no more on that. The second point is that the brake is a sort of sudden, 100% brake—a veto —even if the Assembly is sitting. Is there not a mechanism for allowing consultation prior to a brake being used, or prior to the EU bringing in legislation? If there is the possibility of that, could we look at what mechanism we might have for discussing this?
I thank the noble Lord for his opening remark, from his long personal perspective of service. That is why I said I did not want to put anybody in a box on this occasion; I think time, space and consideration are extremely important.
As far as the brake is concerned, the noble Lord is of course right to say that it will need the Stormont Executive to be in place. We believe that this agreement could mark a turning point for Northern Ireland and potentially puts power back into the hands of the people of Northern Ireland, where it always should be and should have been, and a restored and functioning Executive are important. To repeat, it is now for the parties to decide how they want to move forward with that mechanism. The advantage of the brake over what we had before is that it can be applied to points of detail, provided they have a significant impact, potentially, on the people of Northern Ireland; whereas, with the protocol, it was all or nothing, throwing a lot of stuff out. Within the process of the brake, which I am sure will be carefully examined over the coming days and weeks, there are various points for discussion and scrutiny.
My Lords, the crucial question is whether or not people in Northern Ireland are to continue to be denied equal status, democratically and constitutionally, with our fellow country men and women, and the resultant consequences for separation and economic divergence from the rest of the United Kingdom.
Overnight, we have had greater analysis and some of the unhelpful exaggeration around the deal has been stripped away. For accuracy, can the Leader, for whom I have great personal respect, confirm to what extent Northern Ireland will continue to be governed by EU laws and subject to EU legal jurisdiction for large parts of our economy, for which no consent has ever been sought or given? Can he confirm how many of the 300 areas of EU sovereignty in Annex 2 to the protocol will be removed? He talked about pages being removed, but how many of those areas will be removed? On the Stormont brake—it is important to remember that this is still, as I understand it, subject to negotiation—can he confirm that, as currently set out, it does not give the final say or block to the Northern Ireland Assembly, even on a cross-community vote, but can be overridden by a Minister here and will leave us subject, in terms, to retaliatory measures against the United Kingdom as a whole by the EU?
My Lords, on the last point, as the noble Lord has set out, clearly the initiative comes from the request, which is consonant with the existing petitioning system that action should be taken and then that matter discussed in the joint committee between the two Governments. It would be the British Government who would operate the veto, but that would be a very open process. Obviously, I cannot commit future British Governments, but one would expect that, in those circumstances, the British Government would give the very greatest weight to the points that have been put forward by the Stormont Assembly.
As for as the range of EU law, I will have to write to the noble Lord on the specific number of instruments, but, as the Prime Minister set out very clearly, about 1,700 pages of EU law will be removed. The Statement was absolutely honest that about 3% of EU law provisions will remain in relation to goods and the matters covered by the protocol, but I submit that some of them, for instance, relate to the single electricity market on the island of Ireland. These are matters where Northern Ireland itself gains a great deal from being within the all-Ireland and wider single market, and Northern Ireland businesses have argued for it. I must repeat that we are talking about 3% here, as against 97% removed.
It was very kind of the noble Lord to speak kindly of me, and I have equal respect for him. I urge him and his colleagues to reflect and think carefully in the future, and realise that there may be some aspects where it may be to the advantage of all the people of Northern Ireland for that 3% to stay. But on the other areas, the Statement is absolutely clear, and this is an important treaty change—I repeat, a treaty change—that what will apply to so much in this framework now is not EU law but international law governed by the Vienna convention.
My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for the Statement. I welcome the progress made in the Windsor Framework because it will lead to a reduction in Brexit friction and lead the way forward for those in Northern Ireland who are interested in consensus and prosperity. Does he agree that there should now be a restoration of the political institutions in Northern Ireland, notwithstanding the concerns around the Stormont brake? We should also consider the fact that 56% of the people of Northern Ireland voted to remain in the European Union and support the protocol because of its provisions on dual access. Can he provide the House with an assurance that dual access to both markets, which is required by businesses in Northern Ireland, will continue? Further, can he provide clarification in relation to the Stormont brake? Who will trigger the process, what will that process contain, and what will constitute the need for such a triggering of the process?
My Lords, as set out in the Statement, I say that the brake will come from the Assembly and, as with the petition, from 30 MLAs; however, it will have to come from more than one party, as in the current arrangements. Obviously, the intention of the framework is not to deny Northern Ireland access to the market in the rest of the island of Ireland. Indeed, for some industries, there is great dependency on trade across the border; that is inherent in the small part of the trade and co-operation agreement that I was discussing with the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull. We hope that openness to the Republic of Ireland in respect of the market and trade in it will be preserved in this agreement; however, the fundamental point is that the agreement also addresses our UK internal market and strips down unacceptable barriers to east-west trade, which have rightly caused concern and regret in Northern Ireland.
My Lords, this is an ambitious and far-reaching agreement with a great deal of material that will need to be digested and carefully analysed; the Northern Ireland protocol committee, which I have the honour of chairing, will start on that shortly. Can the Minister assure us that, now that an agreement has been reached, the Foreign Secretary will give evidence to our committee and therefore help us in the inquiry that we are about to start? Secondly, on behalf of the committee, I wrote to the Foreign Secretary last Friday on the supply of medicines to Northern Ireland. I argued that the falsified medicines directive might be disapplied and, for example, that single packs of medicines should be available throughout the United Kingdom. Yesterday’s announcement suggests that this has all been agreed. Can the Minister confirm that? Does he agree that a letter sent on Friday and a positive reply received on Monday represent a remarkably quick turnaround, even by the high standards of your Lordships’ House?
The noble Lord should not ask for too much; he cannot ask me to control the Foreign Secretary’s diary, but I will certainly let the Foreign Secretary know about the great interest of the noble Lord and his committee, whose work I very much value, in that matter, but I cannot commit to him in any way. Although I think it invidious to single out individuals I say that, in addition to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland have both played an enormously distinguished part in bringing about these arrangements. As we laid out in the Statement, we believe that we now have a situation where we will have a single medicines pack for the whole of the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland. To supply to Northern Ireland, business will need to secure approval for a UK-wide licence from only the UK’s MHRA and not the EMA as well.
My Lords, I am a big admirer of Northern Ireland and its people, having served there for some years. Does my noble friend agree that those who argue that they now want Northern Ireland to be treated and governed in exactly the same way as the rest of the United Kingdom are quite wrong? On the contrary, does not the Windsor Framework confer or confirm an enormous advantage on the people of Northern Ireland and the economy of Northern Ireland which will give them great gain and benefit in the future? All that is needed now is for the people of this nation with the most devolved and established parliament of its own in the United Kingdom to get together and make that parliament work.
My noble friend is right. There are certainly advantages which this framework enables to continue in north-south access and north-south trade. However, I repeat that there is the corollary, which was neglected and which the UK and the EU have addressed in this agreement, of obstruction to east-west trade. I agree on the institutions, but I stick by what I said at first. I am not going to put anybody in a box. It is reasonable that all those who have suffered and considered and laboured in very difficult years across many decades—indeed, I go back to the time when my noble friend was a Minister—reflect and examine the documents before us.
My Lords, I welcome the Statement. However, we should pause and remind ourselves that there were two parties in this negotiation. Justifiably, the House has already been generous to the Government. We should show similar generosity to the European Union, without whose concessions this agreement would not have been reached.
I believe that I had sought to do that, my Lords.
My Lords, I am trying to be as fair as possible and get as many people as possible in. Can we hear from my noble friend Lord Cormack, followed by the noble Lord, Lord Hain?
My Lords, I salute the courageous persistence of the Prime Minister in achieving this for our country. Will my noble friend make another appeal to those who represent the people of Northern Ireland in the Northern Ireland Assembly? Surely they should seize the opportunities that my noble friend Lord Howell talked about a second ago and meet. This is not perfect, but it is the right way forward.
My Lords, it is in the nature of any agreement, particularly one that is ultimately successful, that there must be some element of compromise. However, I will not add further to what I have said, which was the right position. We wish to see restitution of the institutions but that must come, like everything else, from and for the people of Northern Ireland.
My Lords, I congratulate the Prime Minister on achieving an agreement which frankly has far surpassed all expectations. Can the Minister comment on those rather intemperate instant reactions that we have seen from some in his own party, and indeed from Northern Ireland, which are almost saying that Northern Ireland should not remain within the single market? The logic of that would be that the external customs frontier of the European Union would be across the island of Ireland and would be a hard border. They should come clean on that if that is what they really mean.
My Lords, I always think it is good to reflect before speaking; being at this Dispatch Box does not always give you that opportunity, but I agree with what the noble Lord said. It is also the case, and again I repeat myself, that trade between the north and south is important to business and to the life of the island. The best thing for the people of Northern Ireland and the whole of the United Kingdom is prosperity, which is assisted by free and wide trade. I hope that this agreement contributes to both north-south and east-west trade.
My Lords, I think that concludes the time for questions, unless the House decides otherwise.
My Lords, can I just appeal to the House to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey?
Thank you, my Lords. This is a hugely optimistic Statement from the Prime Minister and understandably, because it makes things so much better than the protocol did. But sometimes optimism can be taken back when the detail is examined. I have a specific question for the Leader of the House. Yesterday in Parliament, and in an article today for the Belfast News Letter, the Prime Minister stressed the importance of the Acts of Union. That is welcome, but the agreement is lacking a legal text and the Command Paper is lacking further explanation on how the Government plan to lift the subjugation of the Acts of Union in domestic law. Could the Minister tell me what actual steps will be taken in domestic law to release the Acts of the Union from their present subjugation, as said by the Supreme Court? In the absence of legal provisions to remedy the effect of Section 7(1)(a) of the 2018 Act on the Acts of Union, all references in the world to our foundation and constitutional situation will mean nothing.
My Lords, we believe that the framework we have put forward is consistent with the Act of Union in its fullest sense. In my personal opinion as a unionist, that is a vital text. On the noble Baroness’s specific questions about how we will take this forward and what action might be taken, I will write to her, if she will allow me, as part of the ongoing discussion. If there are any worthwhile observations, I will put that in the Library.
I am sorry; time is now up.
The following Act was given Royal Assent:
Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Organ and Tissue Donation) Act 2023.
Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill
Committee (2nd Day)
Relevant documents: 28th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, 25th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 13th Report from the Constitution Committee. Scottish Legislative Consent withheld, Welsh and Northern Ireland Legislative Consent sought
Clause 1: Sunset of EU-derived subordinate legislation and retained direct EU legislation
7: Clause 1, page 1, line 4, at beginning insert “Except for the Motor Vehicles (Wearing of Seat Belts by Children in Front Seats) Regulations 1993 (S.I. 1993/31),”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment excludes the Motor Vehicles (Wearing of Seat Belts by Children in Front Seats) Regulations 1993 from the sunset in Clause 1. The Regulations protect children from serious injury or death in vehicle accidents.
My Lords, this group includes four pieces of transport-related retained EU law, simply to illustrate how fundamental it is to our own protection, both physically and as consumers, with compensation and assistance when things go wrong.
There are many regulations from our 40 years of EU membership that I could have chosen because they have reduced death and injury on our roads. In Amendment 7, I focus on the 1993 regulations on the wearing of seat belts in the front seat of cars by children. These regulations were a consolidation of earlier ones that, in 1983 and 1989, had gradually enforced seat-belt wearing for children.
There are also detailed EU-derived regulations on child car seats, specifying designs by height and weight. Children are not just small adults: they are proportioned differently, their bones are not fully formed, their skeletal structure does not protect their internal organs in the same way, and their necks and heads need greater support. Child car seats reduce the chances of a child’s death in an accident by nearly half, in comparison with them wearing a regular adult seat belt.
I hope that the Minister will clarify that the Government have absolutely no intention of reducing car safety standards for children, but this example illustrates that one person’s deregulation is another’s lifesaver. These regulations have been developed over many years. It is 40 years since the introduction of compulsory seat belts, but it was recently possible for our Prime Minister to be so unaware of their importance in saving lives that he was happy to record a video sitting in a moving car without one. Even today, around a quarter of car occupants killed in road accidents are not wearing seat belts. In the case of young men, it is a third of deaths.
Noble Lords cannot take for granted that our Government will want just to maintain existing regulations. We also need to look at the need to upgrade them. The Bill incorporates a fundamental principle that there should be no increase in regulatory burdens. That is clearly at odds with higher safety standards on seat belts and child seats. We received a letter in the last few minutes from the Minister that states quite clearly that the Government’s definition of “no additional regulatory burdens” means that one can upgrade one aspect of a regulation but, overall, within an SI, there can be no increase in administrative burden. As technology moves on, that will be jolly difficult with something such as seat-belt wearing.
Amendment 24 refers to the Road Vehicles (Approval) Regulations 2020. These ensure that new cars, buses and goods vehicles comply with high standards of safety and environmental protection. If these regulations were to be revoked on 31 December, those vehicles would not be able to be registered from 1 January next year, thus stifling the development of new vehicle design and greater efficiency.
The recently published GB type approval scheme would be revoked before its mandatory application date of 1 February next year, wasting two years of government/industry collaboration. The key point here is that the subsequent lack of environmental and safety regulations would immediately strike at the competitiveness of UK vehicle manufacturers and retailers. New entrants to the market would not be required to meet current high standards, and there would be no requirement for further improvement. Will the new GB type approval scheme be considered a new regulatory burden and, hence, revoked before it even starts?
Furthermore, there is now a package of 50 new measures planned for adoption in the EU this summer. To compete internationally, our auto manufacturing industry needs to keep up with the best. Before Brexit, the UK would have adopted that package as a matter of course. What plans do the Government have to mirror those standards in UK law? Everyone using our roads deserves the safest possible vehicle with the lowest possible emissions, and that is what these new EU regulations are about.
Amendments 8 and 9 are a sample of the various regulations that set out consumer law on air travel and holidays, including airlines’ liability requirements in the event of accidents, loss or damage to baggage, and disabled passengers’ rights to assistance. Amendment 8 deals with compensation for cancelled or delayed flights. The importance of these rights was underscored last summer as aviation struggled to recover from the pandemic. Regulation EC 261/2004 establishes common rules on compensation and assistance for passengers. Clearly, common rules are important in an international industry.
Amendment 9 is on the Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations 2018, which modernise previous protections for customers buying package holidays. They broaden the scope to include so-called linked travel arrangements, reflecting the way that many of us now buy our holidays online. Package holidays transformed the international holiday market, opening it up to a much wider customer base, but its success relies on customer confidence that the company offering the package, to which you pay your money, will take responsibility for the whole set of arrangements, pass on your money to hoteliers, purchase the flights and rescue you from disaster when something goes wrong. The volcanic ash cloud of 2010 illustrated the importance of this type of arrangement. In December, Mark Tanzer of ABTA, the largest travel trade body, said that:
“The protections afforded by these regulations are essential to maintaining consumer confidence”
and that the
“sunset deadline … has the potential to destabilise the travel industry.”
I am especially looking forward to examining exactly what the Minister says in response to Amendments 8 and 9, because last year the Department for Transport consulted on plans to reduce customer rights to compensation for internal flights. Can the Minister confirm whether the department is proceeding with this plan? It will, of course, be fully in line with the principles of reducing the regulatory burden that underlie this Bill, but it would damage consumer confidence in domestic airlines.
When I last looked, there were 424 pieces of Department for Transport-related law on the dashboard to be considered by the end of this year. In a world of rapid technological change we should spend our time upgrading our legislation, not retreading the past. The Department for Transport is already puffing along behind the rest of the field, unable to keep up with world leaders.
For example, the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee identified a 20-year delay in transposing maritime legislation on to our statute book. Since the Brexit vote, the output of our auto manufacturing industry has halved. Time and again, manufacturers have stressed that to remain competitive they have to go to the countries that are most technologically advanced, and integration with the large EU market is a key factor. Following the same rules is an obvious part of that integration.
There are 4,000 pages of aviation legislation buried in the dashboard. They enable our airlines to fly and our aerospace industry to sell its planes. These industries do not want this legislation dismantled. They want it updated in a regular and timely manner. Until recently the UK has been a leader in setting high environmental and safety standards in aviation, which have been the bedrock of so much investment in the UK.
These are just four examples from the 424 pieces of Department for Transport-related EU legislation. I look forward to the Minister’s response and to the rest of the debate.
My Lords, I support Amendments 7 to 9 and 24 in this group, signed by me and my noble friend Lady Randerson, who gave an excellent speech setting out very serious points on these issues.
During the last Committee session, a number of serious points were raised. Aside from the unmitigated chaos that sometimes emerged on the Government Front Bench, there were three major, standout learnings. I make no apology for retreading them slightly because they apply to this and some other groups of amendments that we will debate. The Minister himself described British law as a “mishmash” of UK and EU-derived laws that operate together. That point, made by many of your Lordships, is also our point: how can you change one part of the mishmash without it having an effect on everything else?
Many of us raised the element of case law—the legal interpretation of the Minister’s mishmash. Last week highlighted the vital point that even assimilated law, essentially the same as the EU-derived law it replaces, loses the case law that was built around it to date. The Government seem not to have found a way of porting legal interpretations to new, assimilated laws under this Bill. We await further details of the Government’s plans from the Minister, as promised.
As my noble friend said, we got a letter from the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, some moments before we arrived here; some of us were already in here when we received it. It sheds some light on some of the other points that I was going to raise. The first is around the dashboard. There was complete confusion as to the status of this dashboard and when a definitive list of the retained EU law covered by this Bill would be published or available. We now have clarity. The dashboard
“presents an authoritative catalogue of retained EU law, not a comprehensive list of retained EU law.”
Can the Minister explain what an authoritative catalogue is in relation to a comprehensive list?
If, as the Minister describes it, it is “not a comprehensive list”, we are back to square one. When will we get a comprehensive list of all the laws covered by this Bill—and how long before the end of the period when these laws are automatically revoked? At the moment there seems to be no intention to publish an authoritative list, so we will never know some of the laws that are going to be revoked. We suggest that any such list should be tabled in Parliament, and there are a number of amendments coming up that will seek to achieve that change.
The third point that is also addressed in the letter is the status of Clause 15 and how regulatory burden is to be measured. Is it law by law, or will there be some net figure across a group of laws? As my noble friend pointed out, it was suggested from the Front Bench last week that it was going to be all of them, but now we hear that the laws are going to be divided up by SI, and each SI bundle will be allowed to have ups and downs as long as the net total is no more than the Government’s calculation of what a regulatory burden is.
It is still not clear to me how you calculate or rate a regulatory burden. How do you weigh a burden on two people versus a burden on 3,000 or 3 million? How do you rate one burden that saves lives against another that merely enforces a less life-saving regulation? The noble Lord, Lord Callanan, promised a letter about this issue, with worked examples. We look forward to that letter and to those workings. I do not know whether noble Lords remember maths exams where you had to show your workings, but this is definitely a situation where the Government have to show their workings.
There was one further point in the letter regarding the product safety review, which the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, responded to. In a sense, safety is one of the issues in this group. The noble Baroness stated that that review would be published later this spring. That is welcome, although it is about a year later than we were expecting. Can the Minister confirm that that is the case and perhaps give us a clear timetable for how the product safety review might come to your Lordships’ House and then be put into effect, given the nature of the Bill, the regulatory burdens that we have just been talking about and the point that my noble friend Lady Randerson made?
Last week the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, said from the Front Bench:
“I would say that the sunset was introduced to incentivise departments to think boldly and constructively about their regulations and to remove unnecessary regulatory burdens”.—[Official Report, 23/2/23; col. 1821.]
I request to know—I believe there was a request last week as well—what guidance departments are receiving when it comes to regulatory burdens, how they will be calculated and what is expected of them.
As long those these three questions remain open, it is impossible for any Minister to stand at the Dispatch Box and say that the Government will maintain this or that law and this or that regulation. Quite obviously, it is not in the Government’s gift. All retained laws, even the assimilated ones, are open to interpretive change. In any case, we may never have a definitive list of all the laws that will be changed or revoked until it suddenly happens, and we do not yet know what constraints Clause 15 actually puts on the changes and amendments that will happen to those laws that are amended. This uncertainty is as true for this group as it was for the previous ones that we have debated so far.
Given the Minister’s excellent brief, I am not going to focus on specific areas, but I would like to talk about non-compliance. Speaking today, the Lord Privy Seal said, with regard to the Windsor Framework, that
“we will take further steps to avoid regulatory divergence in future”.
Very good—so what further steps to avoid regulatory divergence will there be in this regulation? This specifically points in the exact opposite direction to the direction signalled by the Lord Privy Seal not an hour ago. Could the Minister please explain how those two particular things are squared?
Various UK Ministers have committed to ensure that the operation of the Bill does not jeopardise international and environmental commitments—we will be talking about the environmental ones shortly—but, as a matter of law, these statements provide no real reassurance or protections. One area that I come back to is manufacturing in the automotive sector. I am on the executive of the All-Party Motor Group, so it is something I know something about.
The automotive industry is subject to a large number of sector-specific regulations, as well as many cross-sector business regulations. These are held across several government departments. The critical regulatory framework underpinning the industry and its huge economic contribution must not be put at risk—but that is what could happen, as my noble friend Lady Randerson alluded to. There needs to be a concerted process of detailed work to make sure that we do not accidentally end up in non-compliance, with our industry unable to access external markets because of deliberate or accidental regulatory divergence. That requires of course the Government and the industry to understand the scope, function and potential interdependency of all legislation in scope of the Bill. Can the Minister confirm that those talks will open up with that industry, and indeed other industries where this will become an important factor in whether these businesses can make things in this country and export them to the European Union?
Regulatory reform and development should occur in a managed way, with clearly defined road maps and priorities. Even a potential extension to June 2026 under the Bill is extremely challenging in any timescale to try to do that managed process. It needs proper regulatory reform on a scale that requires industry consultation and real scrutiny. So can the Minister confirm that this is understood and that proper consultation with industry will open up?
Once again, this group of amendments illustrates the complexity that the Bill brings to just one facet of our life and national livelihoods. Once again, it gives the lie to Mr Rees-Mogg’s declaration that this is a technical tidy-up. This is not tidy.
My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, for her expertise in this area. I intend to speak not as an expert in transport at all but as somebody who goes on holiday and flies to places in Europe. I would like to know whether I am going to be able to claim compensation next year if my plane is delayed or my luggage is lost.
As all noble Lords will know, European Union regulation 261/2004 gives us rights to compensation, care, assistance and information in case of cancellation, involuntary denied boarding or delay. Has that continued as a right that we all have as air travellers? It is retained EU law and it continues—this bit is from Google—“for the foreseeable future”, which presumably in this case means October, December or whenever, to give passengers the same rights that they previously had.
Many noble Lords will remember those rights being introduced, because you can get a reasonable amount of money in compensation and it is fairly straightforward to claim it. This
“includes rights created by past EU case law (such as the right to compensation for delay created in the controversial Sturgeon case), which will continue to bind lower UK courts”.
I mention that because it raises the question which the two noble Lords who have already spoken asked: what happened to case law in this case?
I suppose one question is: what does the travel industry have to say about this? ABTA and Which? have certainly said that they are very concerned about it. What do we do when we are booking our holidays in 2024? Thousands of flights and millions of people are affected by this regulation and what happens to it. I know that the Minister will not be able to say whether this is in or out, because the Government are not telling us that. But it is worth saying, as ordinary consumers, that this is a matter of some concern to us.
I chose to speak on these amendments because I want to talk about the reality of the Bill, which is best exemplified here, rather than later when we will talk about the environment, when I will talk as chair of the Climate Change Committee.
First, I want to understand how a Conservative Government could produce the Bill. As far as I believe, in the Conservative Party we believe in continuity and evolution rather than revolution. Evolution means that you take what you have and improve it; you do not throw it out hoping that you will have time to put something else in its place. The point that the noble Lord, Lord Fox, made about case law is crucial here. If you do not retain all that you want, you do not retain the case law, so you do not know what it is that you are doing. That is a very un-Conservative thing to find oneself doing.
The second issue, as a Conservative, is that I do not understand the explanation about regulation. As things are defined in this letter many of us have just had, it suggests that all regulation, by its nature, is somehow wrong. We have a regulation which says that you drive on the left-hand side of the road. That is a sensible regulation. It would be a mistake to cast it into doubt. There are many regulations which are essential for civilised life. Indeed, you cannot imagine civilised life without regulation. Conservatives, I thought, believed in civilised life. Therefore, regulation is an essential part of that.
When you come to judge regulation, you do not judge it by its weight or the number of phrases or words; you judge it by how effective and appropriate it is, how much it fits the present, and how it grows out of the past. If you are a Conservative, that is what you do. I believe there are many who think differently, but as a Conservative that is how I think of regulation.
We are now told that the regulation burden must not be increased. I do not mind that—if we define “burden”. It does not seem to be a burden to have to drive on the left-hand side of the road. That seems to be a necessity.
Perhaps my noble friend could address the amendment he is talking to specifically.
I hope the Committee agrees that I am addressing the amendments.
I am talking about the left-hand side of the road and the first amendment is about motor vehicles. The second one is dealing with the rules of the compensation system for passengers. I say to my noble friend that this is a series of amendments to draw attention to the fact that the Bill does not follow a sensible programme of defining “burdens”. We have just had a letter about it, and I intend to talk about that letter. The fact of the matter is that this is not a sensible way of defining “burdens”. “Burdens” should be defined by whether they are a burden or not.
I come to the examples here. It is inconceivable that the Government will remove the requirement for a child to wear a seat belt, so why do we have to consider it at all? Why do we not accept that we should keep many of the things that we have? We have now thrown into doubt a whole detailed series of regulations that, if I may say so, will not be changed. But we do not know that, and we do not know which ones will be changed. We are now suggesting that this discussion will be conducted by civil servants and, in the end, Ministers.
My noble friend is making a serious point—namely, that we do not know the identity of the regulations that will be in doubt. But the point here is that, if you do not know the identity of the regulations, you cannot consult the stakeholders, which is a very serious deficit.
It is a very serious deficit. I will apply it to this amendment, as my noble friend the Whip insisted. I have chosen this amendment because it is so obviously true that the Government will not change that requirement, so why do we throw this into doubt? Why do we say to civil servants that they have to go through all this in a very short period of time, including requirements that we will not change? As chairman of the Climate Change Committee, I am aware that almost all departments are struggling to do what they have to do anyway. If we add this, they will do it rather than what they ought to do—and what I, as chairman, am desperate for Defra, for example, to do—because this has a sunset clause.
We talked about the regulations that might fall off after the sunset and those that might be thrown out by a Minister, but the last part of the letter that the noble Lord referred to also says that
“the powers in the Bill could be used to preserve, extend and reform retained EU law”,
and then that:
“Anything preserved will be subject to clauses 3-6 of the Bill which repeal retained EU interpretive effects”.
What does the noble Lord think about that? Even when a Minister says that we will keep a law or regulation, does everything that has built up, in terms of case law, get thrown out?
I almost dare not go down that line because it has been suggested that what I have been saying is not applicable to these amendments. I think it is applicable, and we have to talk about this principle if we are to discuss the Bill properly. On what the noble Lord rightly put forward, all this throws everything into doubt, and it is very un-Conservative. I have never known a Conservative proposal to throw aside all the interpretation that has grown up over the years, because that is exactly what life is about: learning through the years. Citing the fact that it happens to be interpretation of European Union laws is to ignore the history. We have been a member of the European Union, and we are no longer; I am sorry about that, but I am one of those who wants to draw a line underneath that and behave sensibly from now on. I do not want this appallingly reactionary approach, which says, “Because it’s got ‘EU’ on it, there’s something wrong with it”. Let us consider it properly and separately.
So if we are not going to get rid of the first point about motor vehicles and seat belts for children, let us therefore have a different way of doing it. Let us decide that we will have a reform of the laws in general and that we will bring before this House proposals for what those changes will be in a timetable which is sensible and which the House can deal with. Therefore, we would not do the last non-Conservative thing, which is so outrageous as to be almost inconceivable: taking the power over law from Parliament and giving it to Ministers. I can think of nothing less Conservative than that.
Let me put it like this: we are not even giving it to these Ministers; we are going to give it to whichever Ministers are there—and they may not be the same lot. All I want to say is that no Conservative in my knowledge of history has ever proposed that the decision on something as important as, for example, children wearing seat belts shall not be our job in this House and in the elected House, but the job of Ministers alone.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Deben, and I support every word that he said. I too will react to the letter we got minutes before we started this Committee debate—if I am allowed to do so without an intervention from the Government Front Bench. My noble friend Lord Fox referred to how the letter says that the dashboard
“presents an authoritative catalogue of retained EU law, not a comprehensive list of retained EU law”.
So I hope that the Minister, in her response, can give us a precise explanation of the difference between “authoritative catalogue” and “comprehensive list”, because, for my part, I cannot really understand how it can be authoritative if it is not comprehensive.
I suggest to the noble Baroness that this is about the Government allowing themselves wriggle room.
I could not possibly comment on any wriggle room that the Government are giving themselves. However, because there is some justice in what the noble Viscount has said, I still want an explanation on the record from the Minister of how it can be authoritative if it is not comprehensive. Indeed, it cannot be authoritative at the moment because we know that it is still in the process of being added to.
When is a catalogue not a list?
Yes, indeed, when is a catalogue not a list? It would be really helpful if the Government could explain that.
The noble Lord, Lord Deben, referred to how this is not a Conservative Bill because it is revolutionary. Yesterday, I found myself using the adjective “anarchic”, because the Bill is revolutionary and anarchic; we have an anarchist revolution from a Conservative Government, which is quite an interesting development. Another way of putting it is that it is a complete mess.
It is a chaotic mess. They are making it up as they go along. We understand that officials are not only still dabbling around desperately trying to find EU law but thinking about what to do with each instrument once they have found it—whether it should be junked, preserved or altered. That is an odd way of putting the cart before the horse. Why was the Bill ever submitted if there was no idea of what was going to happen to EU law? I will add to my adjectives: the Bill is higgledy-piggledy and all over the place.
Finally, I wanted to raise another point for the Minister to answer. I am grateful to George Peretz KC for raising this point. We will come back to Clause 1 in future groups, but it is entirely relevant here to raise it. The definition of EU-derived subordinate legislation that is to be sunsetted in Clause 1(4) is
“any domestic subordinate legislation so far as … it was made under section 2(2)”
or another provision of the
“European Communities Act 1972, or … it was made”
“implementation of EU obligations”.
But one problem is that sometimes an SI was made partly under Section 2(2) of the ECA and partly on another legal basis. Are those all going to be, whether this list is authoritative or comprehensive, or when it is finally arrived at—
There is also the problem of gold plating. I was very familiar with that when I was in the Ministry of Agriculture. Very often, officials did more than was required by the European Union. At that point, one has the interesting question of whether it is EU law or ours.
Absolutely. George Peretz refers to the bits of an SI that were not made to implement an EU obligation. Do they remain as what he calls “bleeding chunks”, because of the “so far as” caveat? He calls them Frankenstein SIs, which may or may not make any sense as law. If an SI has been partially made to implement an EU obligation, will it be on the catalogue or list or whatever?
In a meeting yesterday I mentioned one problem, and I shall mention it here now. I had a Liberal Democrat colleague in the European Parliament, Chris Davies, who consistently raised the question of what were called in the jargon “correlation tables”. What that meant was traceability—being able to see how EU law was being implemented in all the member states. That had various advantages, and one advantage that it would have now is that we would not have hundreds of civil servants scurrying around Whitehall who should be doing more important work than trying desperately to find out what is retained EU law, because the EU measure being implemented is not cited in the SI or even in primary legislation.
That is one problem that we have now—and I will repeat an example that I have given before, which is something that I know something about. The Extradition Act 2003 implemented the European arrest warrant. You will not find the term “European arrest warrant” in the Act, which just referred to Part 1 and Part 2 countries for extradition. Part 1 was broadly about European arrest warrant countries, but an ordinary person opening up the Extradition Act would not have had a clue that it was implementing the European arrest warrant. So I am afraid that successive Governments have made a rod for the back of the present Government, and all those poor civil servants, and the National Archives and everybody else who is being dragged into this absurd exercise.
There has been a failure for a variety of reasons, one of which is the gold plating. There would be some dusty project in a Whitehall drawer somewhere, and then an EU measure would come along that was a wonderful vehicle for it. They could never justify to Ministers putting it through in a Bill, so they thought, “Aha, nobody will notice. When we implement it through Section 2(2), we’ll blame the EU or we’ll kind of hide it among all this stuff”. So I am afraid that chickens are coming home to roost with regard to the 4,000 or however many thousand measures. We do not know what is in the scope of this Bill. More importantly, all the people out there in the real economy—the businesses, the trade unions, consumer organisations and travel firms—do not know what EU law they are going to be continuing to operate, and that frankly is a disgrace.
My Lords, I return to the by now infamous letter, which I too opened a few minutes ago. As the noble Lord, Lord Fox, said, when we talked about regulatory burden we asked for some worked examples, because it is only when you have the worked example with the actual numbers—maths homework—that you can actually see how it is going to operate. When I opened the letter, I thought for a moment it was a spoof, because it says:
“There is no definition of regulatory burden in the Bill, as … such a definition could unnecessarily constrain departments”.
It also says—this is helpful—that decisions about the regulatory burden
“will take place on a case by case basis and it will be an ‘in the round’ consideration that encompasses the vector of considerations in clause 15(10).”
If that is the worked example then, my God, we need a bit of help. I hope that when we get the real letter, rather than a spoof letter, it will actually tell us how this trade-off between a bit more regulation there and a bit less regulation over here is going to work.
My Lords, I think we could debate this for much longer. I do not believe in conspiracy theories but I definitely believe in the cock-up theory of history, and this is certainly one of those cases. When I was thinking about how to respond to the debate, I decided that the subject matter of these amendments is vital, because it is about confidence—the confidence of business, the confidence of consumers—and people knowing what the law will be. And not tomorrow; they want to know what is going to happen next year. These are businesses that rely on planning one or two years ahead, and possibly more. One thing I realised is that we have constantly used Committee to seek clarity and a better understanding of what is behind this.
Take aviation, for example. My noble friend raised a question about booking holidays. We know what the EU regulations provide for, and people have some confidence in that. When we left the EU and we had the Bill that kept retained law on the statute book, the travel industry did not face a cliff edge then; everyone understood that continuity was important.
By the way, I am not a Conservative, as the noble Lord will know. I call myself old-fashioned new Labour, and that is exactly what this is about. Sadly, we have a situation here where I do not think that the Government know what they are doing. I think this should unite us all, across the Benches, whether you are a Brexiteer or a remainer—those are debates we have had in the past. On this legislation, we should all be united about its impact.
Aviation is an important industry, and it has already suffered huge consequences. It relies on the confidence of the people who book their holidays, and they are certainly not getting that. One of the things I did before we came down was to read Aviation Consumer Policy Reform, the consultation that the Department for Transport issued last January. It took it a long time to assess the responses to that consultation, and then we got the summary in July. There has been no idea since July about what the department is going to do about that, although all the indications are that the protection that is being offered through EU regulation will not apply to domestic flights—the sorts of protection that we get. A business or consumer will be thinking, “What does this Bill really mean?” They hear Ministers saying that we will keep the good bits, but when they look at the practice of the Department for Transport they cannot be filled with confidence. It is just crazy.
Let us turn to the letter, because it is really important. I assumed that this Government knew what they were doing when they published this Bill and that each department would have the responsibility for examining the regulations within its responsibility and thinking of the way ahead. That is not the case. What examination is taking place? This letter says that the National Archives is doing a search of what regulations exist. I suspect that it has done a word search and come up with all the regulations with “EU” in their titles. There has been no proper analysis by a department. Can the Minister—he is shaking his head—tell us what departments have properly examined that dashboard? What are its implications? We do not know whether it is an exhaustive list or what it will or will not include, and we are stuck with a timetable that is impossible for departments to meet. We also have that description of how this list and dashboard have come about.
On the regulatory powers, as the noble Lord mentioned, the letter says:
“It will be for the relevant Minister or devolved authority to decide if they are satisfied that the use of the power does not increase the overall regulatory burden in a subject area.”
It is absolutely crazy. I do not understand what that will mean. What are the implications for the transport and aviation industries? Tell us what the implications are. It seems as though, if we keep that benefit of retained EU law, we will lose something else in the aviation industry. Do not book your holiday next year because you do not know what will be protecting you. That is what the Government are saying to the people of this country and it is totally unacceptable.
At the end of the letter, which we got as we started this discussion in Committee, we read about the preserved law and what is retained. As the noble Lord, Lord Deben, said, we have a history of legal regulations that have been interpreted by our courts—no one else—and they have agreed case law that has been established. Now the Government are telling us that they will keep that EU regulation but all that history and continuity that has been built up will be thrown out of the window. It is like year zero. What are we talking about? Is this the way to introduce and maintain laws? This is not the way that this country has done it.
It is absolutely appalling that the Government have produced this Bill without any idea of its consequences. They have not thought it through, and it should be thrown out by all sides.
My Lords, I am sorry to intervene at this point. I think everybody on my side knows that I do not like this Bill and that I have amendments later to discuss the general principles that apply to it. Therefore, I am rather disappointed that those who have put forward amendments in Committee on specific exemptions from the sunset clause, such as on package travel and linked travel arrangements and the issues of assistance to passengers denied boarding and cancellation or long delay of flights, et cetera, do not seem to have made a case at all on the specifics of their amendments. Am I wrong, or is it not right that in Committee we deal with specific amendments and make the justification for them, and then deal with the principles when amendments that contain discussion and arguments on the principles come up?
I hear the noble Lord, and I just want to clarify that I did speak to the specific amendments, because I was talking about transport and travel. I am particularly concerned about the impact that the Bill will have on the tourism and aviation industry, which has suffered a lot. I was talking about why we need to ensure continuity and stability in a market that has been affected. The problem is that without being very clear that we are going to keep that EU regulation to protect this industry, people cannot have confidence in booking their holidays for next year; some people book it even further in advance than that. That is why I am talking to the specifics here. However, we cannot ignore the fact that when we are talking about the specifics, we have had a letter literally presented to us that throws even more doubt on what the Government are doing. That is why we need to make that general point.
Just to add to that, I say to the noble Lord that if he reads back through Hansard, he will see that my noble friend Lady Randerson dealt specifically with all four of those amendments in detail. I believe that that was not a very fair assessment of her contribution.
My Lords, I shall start on a slightly different note by sharing in the tributes that have been made to the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd. She was a real inspiration for young women like me at the time who were learning to contribute to public life in different ways.
Turning to this group, we have already made it clear during this Committee stage that the Bill is an enabling Bill. The measures in it, including the sunset, will provide for the UK and devolved Governments to review and then preserve, amend or revoke their retained EU law as they see fit. There is no inherent need for policy or legislative exclusions to the sunset in the Bill. To respond to my noble friend Lord Deben, I feel comfortable with what we are doing as a Conservative and as someone, as he knows, who understands regulation. We will be making our legislation more appropriate, updating it where necessary, improving the quality and getting away from gold-plating as appropriate—while maintaining, as I said, necessary protections.
Can the Minister explain to us what a sunset enables? Surely it restricts rather than enables.
A sunset gives us an idea of the timing of the measures. It has precedent elsewhere. We have brought forward the Bill, and I think it has great value, because we are now looking across the board at the 3,700 regulations that are the subject of this debate.
Just to finish my point to my noble friend Lord Deben, he will remember from his own time in Brussels, which was extensive, as was mine—we were sometimes there together—that some of the regulations that were made could be improved, with others preserved and extended. To respond to what has been said, each department is carrying out a review of its own regulations and will do so responsibly. The National Archives has come in, if you like, as a cross-check, as it retains the Government’s regulatory records. EU law, as we all know, goes back to the 1970s, so to bring the National Archives in and make sure that we look at its records to add to the list seems to me to have been a very sensible thing to do.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, is right to say that it can be useful to look at examples and that we should move on to transport and try to clarify things there. As my noble friend Lord Kirkhope said, we should try to tackle specifics, so let me turn to Amendment 7, which I think is in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, but was spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson—no?
It is in the name of my noble friend Lady Randerson.
Before the noble Baroness turns to the specifics, would she deal with the general point that has been made? Does she regret that a letter which can be described only as obfuscatory, tautological gobbledegook was delivered to Members of this House about an hour after this debate started? How can we honourably be expected to digest that letter in particular if this House is treated in that way?
I think my noble friend sent the letter to try to be helpful, following the discussions that were had on the first day of Committee. I hope that others will look at the letter at leisure. I am sure there will be further discussions and debates in Committee, so if I may—
My noble friend was kind enough to mention me and our work together in the European Union. We have now read this letter; evidently, we are to do something which we would never have done in the European Union. In other words, we are going to decide what will remain on the basis of whether there is room, in weight, for the legislation on seat belts for children, as compared against other legislation. That is what this letter means. It is not surprising that we have moved into a rather wider explanation, because what my noble friend and I did in the European Union we are now doing totally differently here.
I do not think it was entirely different. As I recall, in those days we were trying to cut red tape and regulatory burdens being imposed by Brussels. We will come to Clause 15, where I think the regulatory reference appears, in due course.
I would like to make progress, because we have lots of amendments to get through today, and return to Amendment 7, which I think the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, was sponsoring. To make a general point on motor, in reviewing our retained EU law, the Government will make decisions in the best interests of UK citizens, and the Motor Vehicles (Wearing of Seat Belts by Children in Front Seats) Regulations will be no exception. I agree that this is an essential element of our law, and one that we intend to retain and to assimilate into UK statute.
The seat-belt wearing requirements are crucial to the safety of our roads; we are agreed on that. We know that even though seat-belt use is high, it still represents a disproportionately high impact on the number of deaths and serious injuries on our roads. The noble Baroness gave a figure for those who were killed not wearing seat belts which was very arresting. Therefore, this law is clearly still necessary.
Very much to the point the Minister is making, because seat-belt legislation is 40 years old, there is a bit of a lacuna in the law—which is out of step with other similar road safety law—in that not wearing a seat belt is not something for which you get penalty points. There are strong calls to update the legislation to ensure that you get penalty points for failing to wear your seat belt. Would the noble Baroness judge that this would be considered by the Government as increasing the regulatory burden?
Of course, we need to keep things up to date. As part of our consideration of a call for evidence on road traffic offences and their policing, we are considering testing proposals to make not using a seat belt an endorsable offence. Not everything in the world of regulation is being done in this Bill. I hope I can reassure the noble Baroness that work is continuing and is important. The UK was instrumental in the development of these regulations, and they are compatible with our policy objectives that recognise road safety as a key objective for this Government. I am trying to go through these areas and give an appropriate answer. For this reason, rest assured that we have no intention of removing—
The Minister says that it is self-evidently right that we should give that guarantee now that the law on seat belts will be retained, and that she can give a cast-iron guarantee on that today. I genuinely do not understand why she cannot do the same for workers handling asbestos, for example, which seems equally important. On what basis is she making that judgment: that she can give that guarantee, which is very welcome, on seat belts but not on incredibly important health and safety legislation derived from the EU—and, indeed, case law —that workers rely on?
My Lords, I hope your Lordships will forgive me. I have put my name down to the Clause 1 stand part debate and various other things, but I have a family crisis and I have to go. I just want to make a few brief points a little out of sync.
My noble friend Lady O’Neill—a highly intelligent woman—just said to me that this is the most chaotic debate she has ever heard in this House. This House is being expected to have a serious debate on individual amendments that are terribly important: seat belts for kids, aviation and so on. The problem with the Bill—as pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Deben, whom I support 100% in what he said—is that there is nothing in it. There is no information in it. There is a wholesale sunset clause and wholesale referral for Ministers to decide what to retain, what to reform and, if so, how, and what to do with each and every policy area covered by this enormous Bill. As for the idea that Clause 1 should stand part, it seems fairly obvious to me that you cannot just sunset all this at the end of the year, but that clause makes way for Clause 15, where the wholesale referral of all matters to Ministers is set down.
I have appealed, and I will just say it once more, and I will not say it again, I promise—forgive me, your Lordships—that I hope the Government will have the self-respect to withdraw the Bill, go away and do the work that needs doing, because an enormous amount of work needs to be done, and then bring back a Bill which can be debated by Parliament. I just want to make again the constitutional point: Ministers have consistently said, during the passage of the Bill in 2018, the memorandum to this Bill and so on, that the purpose of this Bill and what became the 2018 Act was to shift policy-making power from the EU to the UK Parliament, to make the UK Parliament central to our policy-making. The Government have not done what they say they want to do; they have transferred all power to Ministers. I therefore appeal to Ministers to do what they apparently want to do. I do not expect the Labour Party to intervene on this: I feel this is a matter for the Government, and I just say, “Please, Government, do what I think you all know you need to do”.
I think the noble Baronesses for their interventions and understand their depth of feeling. I should explain that this is a framework Bill, and it has been presented as such. The regulatory process will be gone through, and this House will then get a chance to look at the SIs.
I follow up the impassioned speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. We were given a very good example yesterday of what to do with a lousy Bill. Why cannot we follow that example today?
The noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady, mentioned asbestos as another example, and of course we dealt with that area yesterday: we have been going carefully through in a reassuring manner. I have been trying, in this transport debate, to respond helpfully where I am able to do so. I feel that this is not being appreciated, so I shall try to make some further progress.
I assume the Minister is about to move off Amendment 7 and on to Amendment 8. Before that, could she explain to us, in the context of the letter we have received, a point about a single instrument, as referred to in Amendment 7, increasing the regulatory burden? The letter says that,
“it will be possible for a single instrument made under the power … to increase the regulatory burden, so long as this increases offset by a decrease of regulation in the same subject area.”
What is the scale of the subject area in relation to seat belts for children? For example, do all the amendments in this group fall into the same subject area, or are there subdivisions within it? If not, this letter, which was supposed to be helpful, is meaningless.
I think exact groupings of the regulatory area will be a judgment for the relevant Minister. The letter was trying helpfully to point out that there was the possibility of some increase in burdens in some areas, provided there were compensating decreases, because what we are trying to do, following our exit, is to implement regulations that work better for the UK, while maintaining our high standards. People seem to have forgotten that there can be problems with regulations.
I am two sentences behind the Minister in what she says permeating my consciousness, but on this business of the regulatory burden, how will we know and where will the discussion take place about the Ministers weighing up comparative regulatory burden—the apples and pears—and coming to a conclusion about what can be increased, enhanced and improved and what must go as a result? As she said, we will see statutory instruments for changes but, for things that simply drift away, get amalgamated and disappear, where do we see them and how do we judge whether the Minister has come to a good decision about comparative regulatory burden?
To make progress, I should make it clear that Clause 15 is the main clause and that there are a number of amendments on that group, on which we can no doubt have a longer discussion, but I should like to make progress on transport.
I understand the noble Baroness’s impatience, and she has been very generous and helpful. Did I hear her just a few moments ago, in response to an intervention, say that in each and every case, once a ministerial decision has been taken, the statutory instrument being repealed or amended will come to this House—which I assume means it gets the approval of this House and the House of Commons? How does the Bill provide for that in each and every decision, because it seems at the moment to give an enormous amount of ministerial discretion in its text? How can she guarantee that Parliament will have the last say over repeals and amendments in every case?
There is a sifting process. The regulations will come to this House. There will be some that people are entirely happy with, because they will be taking EU law and, perhaps, changing a date that is out of date. There will be others that are to be extended. There will be others where there is substantive change, where it is necessary to have consideration and debate.
So it will not be the negative procedure in every case?
And there will presumably be some that the Government are going to abolish altogether, in which case, nothing will come to this House: we will never have the chance to express a view.
In fairness, the noble Lord is right: there is the scope for some sunsetting, but the direction of travel has very much been—
I seek clarification. Is it the case that Parliament can or cannot amend an SI?
The Government cannot amend an SI but they can debate one. We will debate these arrangements in our debate on a future group.
The question was whether Parliament can amend an SI, not whether the Government can amend an SI.
I think the Minister confirmed that Parliament cannot amend an SI. We can block an SI.