My Lords, as I have said on previous occasions, the question of trust is important and it takes two sides to create trust. As I set out in the speech in Lisbon to which the noble Baroness previously referred, there are a number of things that the EU has done that have not necessarily been conducive to building trust either, but we need to move on from that and generate new momentum to try to reach agreement on a revised protocol. On the question of SPS regulations, the difficulty is that free trade agreements are not the only reason why you might wish to evolve your own agri-food regulations, and indeed the EU has evolved its own autonomously since the start of 2021. Where there is divergence it is for that reason, not because of anything that we have done.
My Lords, they have not all met yet, although they have largely met. I think four of these committees still have to meet this year, then the trade partnership committee, and then we hope for another meeting of the Partnership Council before the end of the year. The agendas for specialised committees are published on GOV.UK for those who are interested. So the programme has well begun and we expect to complete a full round by the end of the year.
My Lords, on 14 September I announced a pragmatic new timetable for introducing certain controls for goods imported from the EU to the UK to give businesses more time to adjust. These controls will be introduced in two stages, on 1 January and 1 July. The Government continue to support all businesses trading with the EU in all sectors, including by putting in place additional staffing, comprehensive guidance for businesses and funding infrastructure to ease border processes.
My Lords, it has of course been an extraordinary year to 18 months economically. We have been dealing with a pandemic of unpredictable quality, and it is very clear that there are global strains on supply chains and other aspects of the business environment. That is why we do not apologise for taking this series of pragmatic decisions to respond to the evolving situation. We have no plans to evolve these changes further, and the money that businesses have already spent in dealing with the situation will have been well spent.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend the Earl of Kinnoull. The appointment of a dedicated sub-committee on the protocol was a welcome and important step, and it is an honour to chair it. Its appointment has enabled the House to take advantage of a formidable range of experience in Northern Ireland affairs in your Lordships’ House, much of which is around us today. I am delighted that many members of the committee will be speaking in this afternoon’s debate.
The sub-committee’s membership includes strong and divergent views, both on the constitutional status of Northern Ireland and on the protocol itself, yet we were united in our determination to agree a report unanimously and by consensus. We did not consider that our task was to argue for or against the protocol itself, but rather to scrutinise its operation in an objective and evidence-based manner. That is what we have tried to do, and we hope that that gives added force to our conclusions.
The report takes account of evidence given to the sub-committee by the Minister. We were very grateful to hear from him, and we trust that he will be willing to appear before us again in the future. The report also takes account of oral and written evidence from business, community and civil society representatives, political parties in Northern Ireland, academic and political experts, and the Irish and EU ambassadors in the UK.
The report is billed as an introductory report by the protocol committee, which first met on 21 April. It endorses the six key elements of the committee’s remit, as set out in the Liaison Committee report: document-based scrutiny of new or amended EU legislation within the scope of the protocol; scrutiny of the implications of relevant domestic UK legislation and policy for Northern Ireland; scrutiny of the Northern Ireland-related work of the governance bodies established under the UK/EU withdrawal agreement; monitoring the protocol’s political and socioeconomic impact on Northern Ireland; reviewing the impact of Brexit and the protocol on the UK/Irish bilateral relationship; and developing interparliamentary dialogue in relation to the protocol, including with the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Irish Oireachtas.
I emphasise in particular the importance of the committee’s scrutiny of EU legislation as it applies to Northern Ireland. We are no longer able to examine draft legislation round the EU’s council table, so parliamentary scrutiny of the legislation that will affect Northern Ireland really matters. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Frost, for recognising the importance of comprehensive and comprehensible explanatory memoranda.
Chapter 2 gives an account of the negotiation and implementation of the protocol and of developments since it came into force on 1 January. The committee identified five interlocking problems or failures by the Government or the EU that have contributed to the tensions that have arisen: lack of transparency about what was agreed; lack of readiness, notwithstanding the best efforts of business, for the protocol’s provisions to be implemented; lack of balance and understanding of the protocol’s impact, in particular on Northern Ireland’s relationship with the rest of the UK; lack of flexibility in the application of the protocol; and a lack of trust between the two sides.
Chapter 3 sets out the economic impact of the protocol. The initial negative impact of the protocol in the first weeks of its operation had many causes and was more limited in scope than some media reports would have us believe, but businesses were undoubtedly hindered by the lack of clarity in advance about the protocol’s operation. The long-term impact of the protocol on trade flows is not yet clear, but there are early signs of a growth in north/south trade. On the other hand, businesses told us of repetitive and disproportionate new logistical processes for goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. We heard serious concerns about the impact of the expiry of the grace periods and the absence of mitigating measures, and fears that businesses in Great Britain will withdraw from the Northern Ireland market because of the actual or perceived administrative burden of the protocol. Yet we also identified potential economic benefits under the protocol, given Northern Ireland’s unique access to both the UK and the EU single markets, including as a destination for foreign investment. However, political stability is a prerequisite if such benefits are to be fully recognised.
Chapter 4 sets out the political and social impact of the protocol. We acknowledge the destabilising impact of first Brexit and then the protocol on the political situation in Northern Ireland and on the delicate equilibrium encapsulated in the Belfast/Good Friday agreement as questions of borders and identity have once more come to the fore. We heard about the concerns of the unionist and loyalist communities that Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom has been undermined by the protocol. Yet the unrest and sense of alienation in loyalist communities has several deep-seated causes, and there are also deep concerns over the democratic deficit at the heart of the protocol whereby significant aspects of EU law apply to Northern Ireland without its consent. While that deficit can be mitigated, it cannot be eliminated. This is a difficult issue, to which the committee will return later in the autumn. We also stress the importance of meaningful engagement by both the UK and the EU with the people and communities of Northern Ireland, including women and young people who have felt sidelined in discussions so far.
Chapter 5 of our report considers mitigations and solutions. We called on the UK and the EU, in a renewed spirit of urgency, partnership and trust, to agree practical solutions to ensure the proportionate application of the protocol in order to meet the commitment that it should impact as little as possible on the everyday life of communities in both Ireland and Northern Ireland. Business leaders and others proposed over 20 practical mitigations, including a UK-EU SPS veterinary agreement. We also called for measures to maximise Northern Ireland’s influence both within the UK and with the EU, and stressed the key roles to be played by the Northern Ireland Executive and the intergovernmental institutions established under the Belfast/Good Friday agreement.
Some witnesses argued that the disruptive effects seen since the protocol came into force already justify the use of the safeguarding mechanism in Article 16. Others argue that any unilateral action by either side had destabilising political and economic consequences. In any event, Article 16 is not a means to abandon the protocol, and is a measure underpinned by an obligation to continue dialogue to resolve the issues of concern. It would surely, therefore, be preferable for both the EU and the UK to seek to identify mutually acceptable solutions.
Our report also acknowledged the principled opposition of many in the unionist and loyalist communities to the protocol and the alternatives that some of them have put forward; yet, for many nationalists and republicans, the protocol is a necessary and the only means to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. We stressed that the UK and the EU had an obligation both to consider alternatives and to work together to seek resolutions within the protocol.
Our report was agreed a matter of hours after the Government’s Command Paper was published on 21 July. It does not therefore take account of the Government’s specific proposals. The committee’s intention is to scrutinise the Command Paper and the EU’s response in the coming weeks as talks between the two sides continue and, we hope, make progress. In that context, I note the Minister’s announcement last week that the current arrangements for the protocol will continue and that the grace periods will be rolled over, and the European Commission’s response that no new infringement procedures will be opened for now. We all hope that this opens the way for constructive discussions between the UK and the EU, but the gap between the two sides remains large. The cliff edge has, if you like, been replaced by a slippery slope.
What updates can the Minister give us today on the discussions that have taken place since the Command Paper was published? How long can those discussions realistically continue? What assurance can he provide that the opportunity that this breathing space has provided will not be wasted and that both sides will explore the room for compromise that will be necessary if agreement is to be reached?
I finish by reiterating the final conclusion of our report:
“addressing the issues of conflicting identity that first Brexit, and then the Protocol, have brought to the fore seems for the moment an insoluble problem. That was also true of the political situation in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. But through a slow and painstaking process led by political leaders in Northern Ireland and successive governments in London and Dublin, the peace process took root and flourished, leading to the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and the subsequent steps towards a power-sharing arrangement … This process took time, patience, dialogue, and most of all trust. The same is true in addressing the problems that Brexit and the Protocol present for Northern Ireland. There is therefore an urgent imperative for all sides to make concerted efforts to build trust by recommitting themselves to that process of dialogue, repairing the damage caused to relations across these islands during the past five years, in the interests, as the Protocol rightly acknowledges, of communities in both Ireland and Northern Ireland.”
I thank the noble Lord for his intervention. The issue of what the European Union did or did not do at the end of January deserves a bit of comment. There are two aspects to this. The first is the question of Article 16: was it triggered or not? In a way, obviously, the intention is as important as the fact. It is our view that it was triggered, however briefly. It was certainly the intention to do so. The second aspect of what the EU did in January—the reason why Article 16 was used—sometimes gets less comment. It intended to use it to put in place a process across the land border on the island of Ireland, something that for the previous five years we had been told was impossible, undesirable and disastrous. That is as much why this struck and changed the debate so much as the very fact of Article 16.
On the second point, if we were to use Article 16, it would obviously be open to the EU to consider countermeasures if it wished. I do not want to get too far down the hypothetical road, but it is obviously a possibility. Of course, there has been a good deal of analysis of that. We would have to see what the situation was in those circumstances, but everyone has an interest in avoiding needless deterioration of trade and needless further economic difficulties for either side, at a time when supply chain and trade costs are so significantly raised already. That will obviously be a matter for the European Union, and we have to take it as such.
To return to my flow, regarding where we are in talks at the moment, we have had a series of technical discussions with the EU and continue to do so. These have been quite helpful, but they are nevertheless talks about talks; they are not yet a process that gets to the fundamentals, and we need to get into that. We must get into something more substantive as a matter of urgency.
A real negotiation does not mean the EU coming up with its own plans for solutions within the framework of the existing protocol and presenting them to us, take it or leave it. To be honest, I have been a bit concerned by a couple of the comments I have heard from Commission representatives in recent days, which seem to suggest they might be considering that way forward. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, picked up the comment by Maroš Šefčovič the other day, when he said:
“A renegotiation of the protocol … would mean instability, uncertainty and unpredictability in Northern Ireland.”
Unfortunately, we already have all those things in Northern Ireland. The question is: how do we move on from them? I do not take Commissioner Šefčovič’s words as a dismissal of our position. I take them as acknowledgement of it, but also as a fairly clear indication that there is more to be done. I urge the EU to think again on that point and consider working to reach genuine agreement with us so that we can put in place something that will last.
I am conscious of time and will wind up quickly. The negotiations need to begin soon. I will not put a timescale on that, but it needs to be urgent as the situation is urgent.
Finally, I would urge the Commission to be sensitive to the situation in Northern Ireland in its actions. The EU has a treaty with us, and as my noble friend Lord Moylan made very clear, that does not make it a part of the Government of Northern Ireland. We are very happy to receive representatives of the Commission in Northern Ireland at any point, so that they understand the situation there, but I gently suggest that they should be cautious in coming to public judgments about the situation, or suggesting it is for the EU itself to decide how to resolve it. I do not think that will make the situation calmer; it will make it more difficult.
The situation we face is complex and challenging, self-evidently, but there is still a real opportunity for us both to find durable arrangements. That is our intention and our wish, and that is where we will be putting all of our effort in the next few weeks—in arrangements that can win the confidence of communities in Northern Ireland. We are ready to seize this opportunity and we urge, as strongly as we can, the EU to do the same. Bold action is needed to build a new, sustainable consensus. Once again, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to the debate, and I look forward to continuing it, as I am sure we will, in many different fora in the future.
My Lords, it is clear that the balance we have in the protocol is not working at the moment, and I have explained why on many occasions. The issue raised by the noble Lord is one reason why we think changes to the governance arrangements in this protocol are so important. It simply does not fit with the reality of the situation to have laws imposed and policed by institutions outside the UK territory and subject to the judgments of courts that are not courts of the UK. If we can agree that—I recognise that it is a significant point—I think we will find some of the problems raised by the noble Lord beginning to melt away.
My Lords, where there are trust problems between us and the European Union, they stem ultimately from the issues that we have on the protocol. I agree 100% with the noble Lord that we must try to nip that in the bud and stop it getting in the way, in a durable way, of the rest of the relationship. The issue of Gibraltar that he raises obviously is a dispute about a different issue. There are analogous elements, but it is important to keep these things separate. The mandate that the EU agreed yesterday does seem to be problematic in a number of ways, as my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary made clear yesterday. But I do not think it makes sense to connect one thing with another. We deal with each of these issues on its own terms and try to proceed in a constructive way.
My Lords, I welcome the report of the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop. It addresses very important issues and makes serious recommendations, including on the need to improve intergovernmental relations in the United Kingdom. Your Lordships’ committee dealing with common frameworks, of which I am a member, has recommended improvements to the IGR system, and the Government themselves, as we just heard, are making certain changes, but we need much more radical change to the way in which the Governments in Cardiff, Belfast, Edinburgh and London work together.
We now live in a very different constitutional world. The British political landscape has changed dramatically and, during the past year, having to deal with Covid, more and more people are now conscious of devolution in our country. The First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, has this week spoken of the need to reform the union. He is right. There must be British Government recognition of the new picture.
When I was a territorial Secretary of State, many in Whitehall adhered to the maxim “devolve and forget”. This will no longer work. There must be mutual respect between the partnership of nations in our country. We should have an independent system to deal with disputes between those Administrations. Your Lordships’ House could play a significant role in representing the different parts of our country.
Flags and United Kingdom Government offices in Cardiff and Edinburgh will not strengthen the union. Only a wholly new approach will work. I want the union to survive and prosper. It will remain only if we seriously reform it.
My Lords, I promised my noble friend Lady Fraser that I will not break into any song—I will not talk about particular songs. If I did, it would clear the House more quickly than the timetable for this debate, which, for the record, was not chosen by the Government. I take the opportunity once again to thank the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, for bringing about today’s debate, which has been fascinating, informed and informative. I thank all those who have spoken in it.
Here, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, with whom I often agree, that the House of Lords does have a part to play in this. It may seem odd, but my personal view is that I welcome the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, from a standpoint with which I profoundly disagree and from a party that wishes to separate Scotland from the United Kingdom. In some ways, it is a great pity that the SNP refuses to take part in the whole of our Parliament.
Having reviewed the report of the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, it is clear that the UK Government are, in our judgment, proceeding not only in the spirit of his recommendations but, for the vast majority, to the letter of his recommendations, particularly as we try to conclude the intergovernmental relations review, which I hope we will do soon. The process of joint working and the production of the new intergovernmental relations structures are testament to the approach of this Government, and we should be confident that this augurs well for the new system as it emerges.
There has been a somewhat Manichean tone to the debate that everything the United Kingdom does or intends is undesirable and with bad intent, and that everything done on every other side is legitimate. However, there is a balance and an understanding. The Government recognise the need to create a more equal, transparent and accountable system for inter- governmental relations, to improve collaboration between all the United Kingdom Government and the devolved Administrations on matters of mutual interest. That is the way to benefit citizens of the whole of the United Kingdom.
As the Government continue their programme of work to strengthen the United Kingdom, the recommendations of the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, have, where they did not already coincide with our thinking, been integrated into the approach. In some areas, we have gone even further than some recommendations suggested, with an ambitious, departmental-led set of arrangements. This has already seen the Government Communications Service establish a new union hub, which is well placed, as many noble Lords have said, to remind people of the many clear benefits of our strong family ties.
I agree with my noble friends Lord Howell of Guildford and Lord Hannan and the noble Lord, Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale, who said, in their different ways, that the United Kingdom is so much greater than the sum of its parts. This Government are steadfast in their commitment, based on due respect for all, to protect and promote the combined strengths of our United Kingdom, building on our common values and hundreds of years of partnership and shared history. Our collective strength is as a family of nations working together.
The importance of the broad shoulders of the United Kingdom Government, in supporting the whole country, means we are better able to tackle big problems, from defending our borders to fighting cyberthreats, to delivering the furlough scheme to protect our jobs and being the first to secure the vaccine. We believe, as so many of your Lordships who have spoken do, that this collective strength will be more important than ever, as we work to recover from the Covid emergency.
I come to the challenge that was laid down by the noble Earl in what was, I agree, a brilliant and incisive opening speech. He asked why it has taken more than three years to get the current draft and when the process will be concluded. One would always wish to go faster, but developing a package that best reflects each Administration’s view can only be the result of detailed, joint analysis by the United Kingdom Government and the devolved Administrations. The UK Government wish to reconcile competing views, explore external perspectives and ensure all points have been fully considered before concluding. As the Prime Minister indicated at the summit on Covid recovery on 3 June, the UK Government stand ready to resolve the remaining issues, agree processes and conclude this review. Following the elections in Scotland and Wales, discussions on the review have resumed, and the UK Government would like to conclude the review and implement its findings as soon as possible.
As part of the transparency commitments announced last year, which the noble Earl welcomed, we committed to making regular statements to Parliament on the IGR, including appearances before relevant committees when requested; I pay tribute to various committees of your Lordships’ House, including the Constitution Committee, Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee and others. The UK Government deeply value the core principles of transparency in intergovernmental relations, recognising that accountability and effective parliamentary scrutiny of the Government’s participation in these structures will support Administrations to work together effectively.
We announced our transparency commitments in November 2020. In line with those commitments as undertaken, we published our first quarterly transparency report on the IGR in March this year. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, was a bit acerbic about that, saying that it was “smuggled out”; it was published at the due time as promised. We are due to publish the second report this month. I say to the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, that a report will be laid annually in both Houses of Parliament by Command Paper. This will collate the key information from the quarterly reports and will also include any written or service-level agreements reached between the UK Government and devolved Administrations over the reporting period, with due background information and a list of ministerial appearances before parliamentary committees. As the noble Earl will know, it is a matter for the usual channels, but he said that it was likely that such a report—I agree with him on the importance of that report—would attract some interest in your Lordships’ House.
There has been, as usual, a range of disparaging comments about my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. I am not sure where that really takes anybody—perhaps it subscribes to myths that serve those who do not wish to keep our kingdom together. The Prime Minister is deeply committed to strengthening the union and I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, that his visiting all parts of our kingdom is counterproductive. Our aim is to create a more regular rhythm of engagement and embed a culture of collaboration across all levels of government. As set out in the progress update on the review, the Prime Minister has committed to a formal annual meeting with First Ministers, which will sit alongside countless other interactions and discussions. As we take note of the review today, we should remember that inter- governmental relations are just one part of the system for engagement. For example, following the recent elections, as we have heard in the debate, the Prime Minister immediately sought to welcome the new First Ministers and organise a summit, which I believe was a very positive step.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor—whose outstanding work I would always praise—said, common frameworks and the UK internal market will be underpinned by strong overarching intergovernmental structures. The common frameworks are important. Intergovernmental structures will facilitate consultation between Administrations at the political level and, where, necessary, provide a route to escalate cross-cutting issues and resolve disputes. The intergovernmental relations proposals complement the existing structures, including dispute avoidance and resolution processes in place for the common frameworks and the UK internal market at departmental level.
Of course, I join those who have praised the work of my noble friend Lord Dunlop and the value of his review. The Government are in the process of implementing, or have already implemented, the vast majority of his review’s recommendations. We do not see the recommendations as a separate area of work, as many coincide with existing thinking and they are core to our overall programme of work to strengthen the union. There are some areas where the Government’s thinking has evolved since my noble friend Lord Dunlop delivered his report, but his report has always shaped and influenced the way that we are responding.
As demonstrated in the recent progress update on the IGR, much more of the intergovernmental relations review is agreed than is left to complete. The outstanding issues are set out in square brackets in the progress update, as a number of noble Lords observed. While noting that international relations is a reserved matter, the UK Government recognise that their international activity has an impact on devolved responsibilities; this is true where the implementation of international arrangements requires policy changes in devolved areas. In areas relating to international relations where there is a clear mutual interest for both the UK Government and the devolved Administrations, a ministerial discussion will be tabled on this through the relevant department’s interministerial group that oversees that policy area; this includes a forum specifically for trade. For cross-cutting issues and those related to 2021 events where the UK is taking a global leadership approach, the UK Government have proposed that engagement on international issues could also take place through specifically created interministerial groups or at a time-limited interministerial committee. In terms of present engagement, my noble friend Lord Frost is the Minister responsible for the UK’s new relationship with the EU, and he is working with the devolved Administrations on these matters.
On the machinery of government, I am pleased to highlight that all departments across the Government have made structural changes that will help to ensure UK-wide issues are properly considered and sit at the heart of policy-making. Every United Kingdom government department has, for example, made a member of its board and a non-executive director responsible for co-ordinating work across all parts of the United Kingdom. As has been stated in the debate, a Second Permanent Secretary has been appointed within the Cabinet Office to lead on the union and constitution. Senior leadership within the territorial offices continues to represent the unique circumstances relevant to each nation. A new Cabinet committee has been set up to deal with union matters. As has been said, one of the recommendations of my noble friend Lord Dunlop was indeed to create a new ministerial post: a Secretary of State for intergovernmental and constitutional affairs. Day-to-day responsibility for constitutional integrity falls to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office, who has—I think all would acknowledge—great authority within the Government. But, individual Secretaries of State also have a critical role in representing the distinctive voices and interests of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in Whitehall and in Cabinet.
The Cabinet Office will also continue to lead work to enhance civil servants’ devolution capability, and it works with other government departments—in partnership with Civil Service HR and the devolved Administrations—to improve devolution knowledge, skills and networks across the UK Civil Service. I think the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, made important remarks on this. Devolution and intergovernmental working are being embedded into core Civil Service talent programmes, strategies and Civil Service Learning.
The noble Lord, Lord Dodds, understandably spoke about the Northern Ireland protocol. Its purpose is to uphold the Belfast agreement and the gains from the peace process, but it must be implemented in a way that respects this. This means respecting the delicate balance between the interests of all communities in Northern Ireland and the economic and cultural links between east and west as well as north and south. We are committed to making the protocol work, but for it to be sustainable it must be given effect in a pragmatic and proportionate way. It is difficult to see how it could be sustainable, and command consent across the community, in the purist way it has been operated. The UK is engaging constructively with the Commission on the many issues that are having a real impact on people’s lives and livelihoods and has put forward a range of proposed long-term solutions. We are pleased that we have agreed a sensible extension on chilled meats; it shows that we can make progress, though we still need to agree a permanent solution there. It should be clear that this is just one of a wide range of challenges posed by the protocol that we need to address.
We have taken both note and stock of this Government’s active commitment and committed actions to improve intergovernmental relations. The report by my noble friend Lord Dunlop has been a considerable driving factor of the ambitious and wide-ranging programme of reform that this Government, led by the Prime Minister, pursue. We offer our thanks for the report, and we look forward to your Lordships’ continued scrutiny of and interest in the intergovernmental relations review: a more equal, transparent and accountable system for intergovernmental relations in our island.
My Lords, we are very pleased that the trade and co-operation agreement has entered into force and that its governance mechanisms are operational. This includes the partnership council, which met for the first time on 9 June. There are of course some outstanding issues between the UK and the EU, notably as regards the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol. Although we want to improve the situation, realistically, things may remain bumpy for a little time. We continue to engage constructively and pragmatically with the EU as a sovereign equal.
My Lords, as I mentioned, the governance mechanisms of the trade and co-operation agreement are now operational. The specialised committees will meet in the weeks and months to come. As this process gets going and the teams get into contact and discuss the issues, I am sure that matters at this level of detail will improve. The best way of improving the level of trust between us would be to engage in a pragmatic negotiation on the Northern Ireland protocol. If we can find solutions there, I am sure that things will greatly improve.
My Lords, now that the trade and co-operation agreement has been ratified, its committees and other bodies can indeed begin their work. None has met so far, but we will agree the date for the first meeting of each of those bodies with the EU shortly. We expect most to meet before the summer break. We also expect to fix a date for the first partnership council meeting, which is likely to be in the first half of June.
My Lords, I agree that it is extremely important that all the bodies created under the trade and co-operation agreement should meet and work effectively. I can assure the noble Lord that there has been no lack of activity between me and my EU opposite numbers and our teams during this period, but I agree that it will produce stability when the committees are working properly. We will do everything we can to ensure that there is good transparency about meetings and what is discussed.
My Lords, we are of course very supportive of the dialogue between this Parliament and the European Parliament. We supported these provisions in the TCA. I am aware that discussions are taking place between parliamentarians here and Members of the European Parliament in Brussels. I look forward to briefing the House in due course on how those discussions will be taken forward; it is important that they now move forward quickly.
My Lords, I am aware that officials from my department are in discussion with officials from the noble Lord’s committee. Our intention is that our proposals for scrutiny arrangements for the partnership council will mirror those for the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee as far as possible. This includes routine oral and written updates to committees, ministerial Written Statements before and after meetings, and the sharing of provisional agendas. We will also share meeting agendas for the specialised committees. Of course, this is a broad agreement, and many Ministers and committees will be involved in its scrutiny. We wish to take that forward in the most constructive way possible.
My Lords, I am happy to speak briefly to the amendments moved by my noble friend Lady Bowles. I am grateful to her and to my noble friend Lord Sharkey for their expertise both in drafting the amendments and in explaining in detail why it is important for the Government to consider the points behind them.
As a member of the EU Financial Affairs Sub-Committee and, until last month, of the EU Services Sub-Committee, for the last four years, I have been involved with scrutinising the financial services sector. Nobody should doubt the importance of this sector to the UK economy; it is worth reminding people of that, even though this is a technical amendment. I will not rehearse the statistics on the share of the economy, jobs, tax revenues, the balance of payments and so on. Apart from that, it is also the lubricant of the whole economy, and when it goes wrong, a few people make a fortune but most people suffer—some severely.
The regulation of the sector has been subject to the scrutiny of this House and, importantly, as has already been mentioned, the resources of the European Parliament, with British MEPs taking the lead in many instances. My noble friend Lady Bowles was one of the most distinguished of them in that department. Yet the financial crash was the consequence of light-touch regulation and there are concerns that this Bill may be creating a framework for similar mistakes. Certainly, without effective accountability to Parliament there is a danger that regulators might—intentionally, but more likely otherwise—allow financial services to be regulated in ways that could put individuals’ pensions and savings at risk and prejudice the viability of businesses, especially SMEs.
Outside the European Union, it is more important than ever that financial services regulation is effectively scrutinised. Without the resources of the European Parliament, we need a dedicated committee, with the necessary resources and expert support, to ensure that regulation is understood and fit for purpose. We all know that the Government want flexibility in the post-Brexit age in order to compete globally. Of course, that is not wrong in principle, and the sector repeatedly argues that its ability to do so will depend on transparent and effective regulation, because that is what gives confidence to the users of financial services. Get it wrong and, as we stand alone, it could have disastrous consequences.
I also support the argument that requiring financial regulators to engage with Parliament as part of the process of implementing regulation is not obstructive. It actually serves the regulators’ and the Government’s interests much better, because it ensures a better understanding of their purpose and helps highlight whether or not there may be consequences which had not been thought through and which could have negative implications for the sector.
By positive contrast, if the Government, regulators and Parliament can work together as partners, we can consolidate and enhance our world lead. We have been one of the most important financial sectors in the world and we all want that to remain the case, but we have created a challenging and difficult circumstance for ourselves. If we get this wrong, we could suffer a great deal. We need to get it right and it is important that the Government acknowledge that these amendments are designed to support the regulators and the Government in ensuring that our financial sector still has the confidence of the world market it seeks to serve, and is not subject to a closed, unconsulted, unscrutinised form of regulation that, without intention—or maybe with intention, if some Ministers wish to push it—could compromise the integrity of the sector. That will serve nobody’s interests, and I hope the Government recognise that.
My Lords, Amendments 18, 19 and 20 seek to create obligations for the regulators to report to Parliament on what their policies are and what rules they intend to introduce or change. Amendment 18 is the simplest, Amendment 20 is the most prescriptive and Amendment 19 is somewhere in the middle.
These three amendments are all rather strangely worded as undertakings from regulators. Amendment 20 almost implies that it is not taken as a given that there will be a principle of openness and sincere co-operation in assisting a relevant select committee in the conduct of any inquiry. As a member of the EU Financial Services Sub-Committee, and later the EU Services Sub-Committee, I can say that we have often examined senior officers of the two regulators and it has never even crossed my mind that they would not apply a principle of openness and sincere co-operation in giving their evidence.
These three amendments refer to the provision of undertakings from regulators and cover the whole of their activities and rule-making, which is rather too broad and gives the impression that Parliament will act in a direct supervisory role. They do not specify, moreover, how and in what form the undertakings will be given to Parliament.
Contrary to the experience of the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, the Economics Secretary has been willing on, I think, two occasions in the past year to speak to the EU Services Sub-Committee and has, as far as I know, been very willing to accept the committee’s invitation. Under the excellent chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe, who is in her place, the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Bennachie, and I have struggled with these issues and put in a considerable number of hours thinking about them. That experience has certainly informed my remarks today.
Amendments 37A, 45 and 48 seek, similarly, to establish a formal basis for parliamentary scrutiny of the regulators in the exercise of their new rule-making powers under the Bill. I rather prefer Amendment 37A, in the name of my noble friend Lord Blackwell, because that does not require prior parliamentary approval, which would tend to undermine the independence and authority of the regulators.
Amendments 45 and 48, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, and others, are much more prescriptive and beg the question as to precisely how a “relevant” committee of each House, or indeed a joint committee of both Houses, is to be charged with scrutinising proposals. These amendments compromise too much the regulators’ ability to exercise their powers, and there are at present no parliamentary committees that could effectively perform these duties with sufficient resources.
I very much hope the Minister will tell your Lordships the Government’s proposals as to how parliamentary scrutiny of the regulators’ exercise of the delegated powers should be carried out and how they think the present committee structure will be able to cope with that.
My Lords, I very much agree with the noble Lord that we have great opportunities on the world stage after Brexit. This year the G7 summit and COP 26 meeting are among the most important. Of course, we seek to co-operate with the EU and its member states in whichever way is most appropriate.
My Lords, I have, of course, read the full and thoughtful report produced by the noble Earl’s committee, which was published on Monday, on this question and many others. We think that it is right to establish the Government’s arrangements fully when the treaty is fully in force and ratified on both sides, which we hope will be very soon.
My noble friend makes a very good point. The protocol was designed to deal with the very complex reality to which he alludes. It needs to be implemented in a way that takes account of all the strands of the Good Friday agreement—east-west as well as north-south—and enables cross-community consent for those arrangements to be sustained. That means that the smooth flow of trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland needs to be preserved, as well as an open border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
I thank the noble Earl for his question, and I look forward to appearing before his committee again in the near future. We have been working through the joint committee mechanisms since the beginning of the year and before. The measures taken last week were operational, technical and temporary. We informed the Commission of those through the appropriate channels and at the appropriate level before the decision was made public.
My Lords, the position of businesses and the impact on them are obviously something that the Government monitor and watch with concern. My right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has told Vice-President Šefčovič that our focus must be on making the protocol work in the interests of people and businesses in Northern Ireland. As to the last part of my noble friend’s question, I do not resile from, indeed I support strongly, what the Prime Minister said in the other place yesterday.
My Lords, this is an ongoing process and obviously, as the noble Earl will know, my right honourable friend sent a further letter to Vice-President Šefčovič this week embracing a wide range of matters that we believe need to be addressed. However, I certainly agree with the noble Earl’s original remark that cool heads are required in this situation.
I am grateful for the noble Baroness’s support for the approach that I have outlined. On her specific question, I cannot give a commitment on that at the Dispatch Box now, but I will repeat what I have said to the House: other workstreams on constitutional review will be announced in due course.
My Lords, the noble Lord makes a very important point. Looking at the colour of our hair, he and I should declare an interest in this matter. We need to extend understanding and use of technology, and access to it, but equally I urge all organisations, including banks, to remember that for many people a personal service is not only a matter of choice but a matter of necessity.
My Lords, I do not believe that this thin agreement—as the noble Lord, Lord Maude, called it—with the EU is in the long-term interests of this country. But I will support the Bill this evening, because the only alternative would be the worse chaos of a no-deal departure.
The British people will discover in the months ahead that this agreement will produce an avalanche of restrictions, bureaucracy, extra costs and delays. As that reality sinks in, at least this deal provides a platform on which to start the long process of building back a closer partnership in the years ahead.
I have two brief comments on the substance. The agreement on security and justice provides for a closer association with the EU than I, for one, had feared. I welcome that. But the principle underlying all the complex detail is that the UK will no longer have direct, real-time access to the EU databases and systems which have become so important for British policing, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, just explained. We heard in the Lords EU Security and Justice Sub-Committee that British police had consulted the SIS II database over 600 million times in 2019. In future, they will have to request information from the SIS II database, with all the delays that will entail.
Access to some of the other databases for fingerprints, DNA and passenger name records looks at first sight to be easier, but the overall loss will be significant. I cannot understand how it can be claimed that Brexit will make us safer. The question is rather: how much loss of capability will there be? What will be the operational impact of slower and more cumbersome processes, and more police officers tied up in front of computer screens making requests to the EU? Your Lordships’ EU Security and Justice Sub-Committee will hold an inquiry into this in the new year and will report to the House.
Briefly, my view is that the decision not to continue participation in Erasmus is short-sighted and mean-spirited. Erasmus gave life-enhancing opportunities to many thousands of students from the UK and across the EU. Less well-known is the fact that it also enabled vocational and adult education colleges and schools, many in disadvantaged areas, to set up joint projects with counterparts across Europe. It lifted the admin burden of organisers, which allowed smaller organisations that did not have the resources to arrange projects. I am deeply sceptical that a UK scheme, starting from scratch with the funding envisaged, will come anywhere near replicating the transformational impact Erasmus has had on so many lives. I hope this decision to leave Erasmus will be reviewed at the first opportunity.
My Lords, having spent many years in your Lordships’ House on the Opposition Front Bench with responsibility for foreign affairs following my time in the Foreign Office long ago in the days of Francis Pym, I have always found it possible to combine a passionate interest and attachment to what the Prime Minister recently called the history, security, values and geology that bind us to our friends in Europe with an economic belief that the current European project, which is still in transition, will ultimately face challenges and possible failure on economic and then political grounds. I have always believed that we are better as a close friend and ally on the borders of the EU than one of 28 member states principally tied to the economic and political constraints within it.
Accordingly, I congratulate the Government and the negotiating teams on both sides, and associate myself with the 17.4 million people, including myself, who voted for Brexit and began the process that has led to the passing of this historic Bill. I believe the surprising strength of this deal will in time lead other member states carefully to consider their membership of the European Union.
The Bruges speech in 1988 was the turning point for many of us in government in the 1980s. We can now end the 30 years and more of fractious debate and often exhausting misdirected political energy and demonstrate increasing certainty for business after four and a half years of uncertainty. This Bill—this return to national sovereignty—comes at a time in our history when the establishment pillars of 20th-century Britain are also being challenged as we rightly move to a more meritocratic society where we must level up.
Today, we have loosened and restructured unequivocally the political ties of interstate integration. In 2021 there will be a growing awareness of the importance of entrepreneurship, productivity, competitiveness and opportunity in a global market—themes that will need to resonate as loudly in the boardrooms and on factory floors of UK-based companies as they will be reflected in the increasingly unfettered corridors of Westminster and Whitehall.
However, I temper my optimism with a recognition that, as has been said, this future relationship Bill is ultimately a tool—not an end in itself, but a new beginning, capable of unleashing this country’s potential and above all its people. In using that tool in the Bill before us, I regret the use of Henry VIII powers, which are widely evident in this Bill and which permit the Government to avoid parliamentary accountability and scrutiny with, as became known after the Statute of Proclamations in 1539, a swift flick of the quill that leaves spilt ink on otherwise excellent parchment.
That said, with unfettered optimism and determination, the Prime Minister has delivered, but what above all should be remembered is that Parliament today approves the Bill. The PM should be congratulated. Today is a historic day and a most welcome opportunity that cannot and should not be taken for granted. It must be grasped to be successful.
We now come to the 30 minutes allocated for Back-Bench questions. There are 18 speakers listed. I appeal to all noble Lords, out of courtesy to one another and to the House, to be extremely brief. I am sure that the Minister will also be succinct.
My Lords, I am a poor and feeble plant, but by standing here I am seeking to assist scrutiny. I understand the broader thrust of the question from the noble Earl, but he will also understand that arrangements for the scrutiny of government across the board by committees in your Lordships’ House is not a matter for the Executive. It is matter for your Lordships’ House and it is not for me to declare. As far as my ministerial responsibility is concerned, I am ready to appear before whatever committee, and this House, at any time that is requested.
My Lords, I do not agree that the United Kingdom is imploding. That is unhelpful talk. No political party in this country wishes to actively and swiftly break up the United Kingdom, except the one that I have mentioned. There is important co-operative work going on which will continue in full respect of the devolution settlement. We should all, in all parties, subscribe to that, as the noble Lord, Lord Caine, said.
My noble friend raises an important point and I can certainly reassure him that the Government remain committed to the Belfast/Good Friday agreement in its entirety, including all three strands; east-west is vital, as he says. We are delivering on our unequivocal commitment to deliver unfettered access, and I hope very much that noble Lords will reconsider their obstruction of the legislation on that subject.
My Lords, the noble Earl raises an extremely important point. I cannot go into matters that are, as he implies, under active discussion, but we have certainly committed to an intensified process of engagement with the EU to resolve all outstanding issues such as this, which includes securing flexibilities for trade from GB to NI. That is particularly important for supermarkets, where we have been clear that specific solutions are required. The recent joint letter from the First Minister and Deputy First Minister reflects how important that issue is for Northern Ireland, and we will continue to work closely with the Executive to get a solution to this problem.
My Lords, we now come to the 20 minutes allocated for Back-Bench questions. I ask that questions and answers be brief, so that I can call the maximum number of speakers.
My Lords, a Written Ministerial Statement was issued. I am sorry if the noble Earl feels that more could and should be said. I always enjoy my engagements with him. The Statement referred to a number of matters discussed in the joint committee on 19 October. In addition to that, if he wants, I can be more helpful: the committee discussed work on the establishment of a list of individuals to sit on an arbitration panel, as required under the WA. Both parties are progressing work to establish a list of suitable arbitrators. As the noble Earl knows, it was agreed to have a further meeting of the committee in November, and other work will continue in the interim. The discussions are obviously ongoing, and I know that he understands, and I respect that, that there are some constraints on what one can share at a time of active talks.
My Lords, that was a massive contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and a tremendous catalogue of the disadvantages that we will face. Monsieur Barnier reflected recently that the demands of the UK so far as concerned the road haulage sector—for this purpose, that includes short-sea shipping—were too close to the existing Common Market rights without meeting any of its obligations. I want to concentrate on road haulage because it is so essential to our economy and so vulnerable to any disruption.
What Monsieur Barnier said should have sounded warning bells, meaning we should prepare ourselves for a no-deal Brexit, particularly in the light of the steadily worsening relations with the EU and the rhetoric emanating from Downing Street, to which the noble Lord, Lord Hain, drew our attention. Business is not prepared for a no-deal Brexit and the likely disruption of supply chains affecting both food and production lines, which are dependent on just-in-time delivery.
Whatever Michael Gove is saying, the effect on the UK economy is potentially calamitous and awful. When the noble Lord, Lord True, replies to the debate, I wonder whether he will be a little less opaque than usual, not brush those real issues aside, and confirm that the Government will have a new freight management system before we leave the EU. That certainly is not the view of the logistics industry, which we heard this morning. Those people were mostly warm supporters of the Government’s wish to leave the EU and feel angry that matters are now in some sort of limbo. Any special permits likely to be available will in no way be sufficient to meet demand. We heard in a debate on Monday that there were bilateral agreements on the way, that there would be more permits, and that there would be a need for further negotiations. None of that bluster, if I can call it that, actually faces up to the fact that we are in a desperate situation.
Since the UK has been involved with Brexit, the EU has been developing a new mobility package, which it published at the end of July and which impacts on freight transport access and access to the profession. Of course, the UK was not a party to those negotiations, but have the Government made any assessment of the impact of the new arrangements on the UK?
Assuming a worst-case scenario now—I am afraid that we have to—enormous lorry parks will be necessary for goods to await clearance. How large will those semi-permanent additions to local landscapes be? How will local planning consent be required to establish them, or will the Government simply ride over local wishes and dump them on unwilling localities that they choose? Will such facilities incorporate places for people to sleep, service lorries, refreshment and trans-shipment facilities? Who will pay for all this? It is a lot of money. In other modes of transport, it is usual for the operator to build his own facilities. Ship operators build their own ports. Train operators build their own stations. Bus operators build their own bus stations. But these facilities are likely to be very large impositions on neighbourhoods. I want to know how they will be policed, as I fear that they will be centres of totally unregulated crime, affecting both goods and people.
Those are a few of the problems on which the House, and more particularly the logistics industry, wants answers.
My Lords, it is a privilege for me to follow the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, on whose committee I serve and which—before I joined it, I must hastily add—has done so much to clarify the position in relation to Northern Ireland and other aspects of the negotiation. I thank the Minister for his clear and courteous introduction to this debate.
So many of the points I would have wished to have made have already been made, but I shall take three as briefly as possible. First, on the inclusion of the devolved Governments, I do not believe it is too late, even at this 11th hour, for there to be more involvement of the devolved Governments in the formulation of the final strategy and in the final negotiations. What has happened in the past few days in relation to co-operation on Covid-19 has, without doubt, been beneficial to the whole of the UK. Why not do this in respect of the UK negotiations? It is a sad conclusion to say that what has happened to date is wholly inadequate—as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, so eloquently pointed out—judged, as people should be judged, by deeds rather than words.
Secondly, it is important to move forward in a way that produces a good long-term relationship while respecting the sovereignty of the United Kingdom. A positive future relationship with the European Union is, without doubt, in the interests of the UK and throughout the EU. I make one point regarding the development of the law. We live in a world that in my current day-to-day experience is, despite the effects of the pandemic, becoming more global than ever. Online meetings and discussion fora have driven globalisation, dialogue and interaction at a faster and more inclusive pace over the past six months, and I think it is inevitable over the next six months. It is so easy to contribute worldwide without having to travel and yet to make the points powerfully at meetings, conferences and negotiations. Moreover we have seen how data is ever more easily transmitted, which is driving and building an even more valuable market quite apart from progress in digitalisation. This means that the law must develop apace. To date, the UK has exercised a considerable degree of influence in the development of the laws that underpin trade, commerce, including trade in data, and other aspects of the digital economy and our financial and professional services. We are currently leaders, and this is hugely beneficial to the UK. From the new year, we will be on our own. In relative terms we must accept that we are a small-sized player, and in such circumstances our reputation and integrity will be central to our continued ability to punch above our size. Apart from integrity and reputation, we need close working relations in order to drive forward legal development. What matters is that we have in place a good structure for legal development and also regulatory co-operation, supervisory arrangements and the management of data, which are allied to it. The City’s suggestion of a memorandum of understanding is well made and entirely consistent with sovereignty, however you may wish to describe it. Relying on unilateral actions, such as the equivalence decisions, is not the way forward in our globalised world.
Our ability—and this is the third point that I wish to make—to move forward and build our position for the future must be done on good, sound legal foundations. It is a common experience for a lawyer that people disagree about the meaning of agreements, even those that may have been made only a short while before. I was not entirely surprised that there might be disagreements about the meaning of the Northern Ireland protocol or difficulties in working it through, but we agreed it. In such circumstances, what is expected is that the parties try to resolve their disagreements through provisions such as those in the protocol and the withdrawal agreement, and if they cannot resolve it by agreement, they do what litigants always do, and that is use the dispute resolution mechanisms. If a quicker decision were needed than through the mechanisms contemplated in the agreement, then modifications would be proposed. That regularly happens when a dispute arises that needs urgent resolution. I see no reason why the current dispute could not be resolved in a matter of a month or more. If the British Government believe that they are right, why not propose that?
Therefore, it is very difficult to understand why that obviously right course was not followed. However, what is entirely understandable is the resignation of the two expert leading government lawyers, Sir Jonathan Jones and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, who carry the highest degree of respect in the profession and have so expertly advised and helped the Government throughout this period. In following what is required, you uphold the rule of law and you comply with the law. As the Civil Service Code reminds us, complying with the law is an essential aspect of integrity. What you do not do is deliberately break an agreement or threaten it. Many have spoken powerfully about that, and I need say no more about it or about the consequences, but there are due consequences for the areas about which I have spoken.
First, the rule of law, our adherence to it and respect for it, is central to our position in the world and our leadership in the development of the law and those other areas of commerce and trade underpinned by the law: financial and professional services and the digital and data economies. That is central to our future, and we do ourselves enormous damage by pursuing the current course. Secondly, we need agreements with the EU and others for the future. Who wants to deal, or at least deal on good terms, with those who break or threaten to break agreements rather than have recourse to dispute resolution? I very much hope that the Minister will be able to explain, as the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, has already asked, why we are not pursuing that course.
My Lords, unfortunately, I could not hear absolutely clearly. I will say, first, that the advertising campaign will certainly be directed to both businesses and individuals. The right reverend Prelate makes the wise point that specialist advisers will be available to help; it will not be simply a question of looking at a website, although I think the government website is to be commended.
My Lords, the noble Earl rightly says that Northern Ireland is on a separate track and governed by a separate protocol. Discussions are ongoing, as I think he knows. There will, as I told the House, be further information later this month. I take note of the points he makes about the timescale. The Government are well aware of the need for clarity and proper dispatch in carrying this forward.
My Lords, I do not agree that there will be a difficulty. The announcement suggests that Mr Frost will take up his appointment around the end of August, and, as the noble Lord said, there will be a period of handover. Mr Frost will remain chief negotiator for the EU talks until agreement is reached, or until they end. That will remain his first priority. As I have already said, he will also be ready to answer to Select Committees of the House in that period.
My Lords, I will preface my answer by saying that some noble Lords will have seen the name of my noble friend Lord Forsyth on the speakers’ list. It is not that he has not turned up; he suffered a close family bereavement, and I know that all noble Lords who may be asking themselves why he is not here will understand that.
The noble Viscount’s question was framed in a manner about the cultural, social and instinctive links that the United Kingdom has with other European nations. Some of those have been institutional links of different sorts, while others have been links that are not in any sense political. I am personally committed, as are the Government, to maintaining the closest possible cultural and societal links between the nations of Europe. The question is what institutions are required to secure that. I submit that the European Union is not one of them; other institutions and arrangements are currently still under consideration.
My Lords, I shall not go into specific dates regarding the text. We have published texts at appropriate stages of the negotiations. We have said—and the Prime Minister said again at the high-level meeting—that October is too late for us to get serious. If I remember, those were his words. I think that the intensification in the negotiations will help us to answer the noble Earl’s question and others.
The status of Northern Ireland under the protocol is well known and often discussed. Northern Ireland will effectively be operating within the EU single market but also within the internal market of the United Kingdom. The arrangements that we have put in place are envisaged in the protocol but, at present, the details of their implementation are under discussion.
My Lords, I do not know about klaxons; I have always found them rather unpleasant. The United Kingdom Government regard Northern Ireland and its people as equal in every way to the rest of the United Kingdom and thus deserving the same privileges and the same attention. I can assure the noble Earl that whatever problems there have been with Covid—we all recognise the need to deal with them—we have engaged, we are engaging and we will engage on the principles and the practicalities of making these systems work, and indeed making them work for the benefit of the people of Northern Ireland. At all stages, we will respect the Good Friday agreement and the need to carry the consent of parties on both sides of the sectarian divide.
My Lords, Question Time is not the moment for a debate on sovereignty. I must say I think the noble Lord probably used some much firmer language than Mr Frost in his diplomatic career occasionally. One of the issues is a sense that the EU wishes to exercise influence and authority within this country after the end of transition. The noble Lord quoted Latin the last time he spoke. I commend to him the wise advice of the Emperor Augustus, “consilium coercendi intra terminos imperii”—that is, a power should stay within its own fixed bounds. On issues such as the so-called level playing field, the jurisdiction of the ECJ and fisheries, we are asking the EU to recognise that the UK has chosen to be an independent state.
My Lords, I do not think there is any distinction between the two. The Government wish to see good relations between this Parliament—both your Lordships’ House and the other place—and other parliaments around the world, including the European Parliament. But it remains the Government’s view that while we are of course supportive of dialogue between parliamentarians, it is for your Lordships and those in the other place to determine how they wish to engage; it is not for a Government to bind this and future Parliaments to a particular methodology by a treaty.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, for all he has done to lead the European Union Committee with such skill and dedication. However, I note that aiming to “win friends and influence people” does not seem to be the UK’s strategy in its current negotiations with the EU. We hear that the Government almost seem to want them to fail, with lasting damage on both sides.
Leaving the EU with no deal, or an inadequate deal, is the next major crisis we may face. We could not stop a pandemic hitting the United Kingdom; we can stop the damage that would result from crashing out of transition on 31 December. At the height of this pandemic, surely the Government must extend the transition period.
As this report indicated, so long ago now, we need to relearn how to work constructively with our neighbours, with whom we share the closest approach to global challenges. With Trump in the White House and China increasingly dominant, the EU must play a major global role. As Sir Ivan Rogers pointed out, we will need to do more than ever before to make our new relationship work. That will need engagement from the very top.
We have another global crisis threatening us: climate change. A vaccine will not take that away. The Government have said that they wish to work with the EU on issues such as this. We used to maximise our influence by leading in the EU; now, we need to ensure that we are at least involved. That will be a difficult, but essential, task.
This report laid out some of the ways in which we can stay informed and engaged. I hope that it does not fall on deaf ears.
My Lords, we must consider this report in light of the global pandemic. Decisions about our future relationship with the EU must be informed by Covid-19, recognising our international interdependence rather than being driven by ideology. Our European neighbours remain our friends and allies. This must continue for the sake of all, and especially for vulnerable children.
Concluding talks by the deadline under present circumstances will be very challenging. I am particularly concerned about the impact on refugee children and our continued co-operation with European nations through the Dublin Regulation. Can the Minister outline the Government’s plans to ensure separated asylum-seeking children in Europe continue to be reunited with family members in the UK, whatever happens to negotiations?
I am anxious too about the impact on vulnerable children who are already here. The success of the EU settled status scheme may be compromised by the pandemic. Local authorities have a duty to apply for their looked-after children. However, the Children’s Society found that just one in 10 of local authorities’ looked-after children has been awarded status. Considering Covid-19, what assessment have Her Majesty’s Government made of the feasibility that all looked-after children will have applied to the EUSS by June 2021?
We must consider whether we can achieve a new, fruitful, negotiated relationship with the EU by December under current constraints. Will the Government set out criteria against which Parliament can evaluate the progress of negotiations? Do the Government accept that any trade deal must be negotiated by October at the latest if it is to be ratified before the deadline? At this time, when businesses are facing significant economic uncertainty, we must be mindful that these negotiations are an additional source of concern.
My Lords, I am not going to follow the noble Lord into considering history; otherwise, one could go back further and further into how we got into the 2008 crisis and so on. The thing we must do now is to go forward and look forward. I cannot at this virtual Dispatch Box anticipate what the Chancellor will do in managing the economy as and when we come out of this crisis, but it is this Government’s firm resolve to level up, as the Prime Minister has repeatedly stated. Indeed, in in this crisis, as we know, additional resources have been given to local authorities and the social care sector. Of course, I understand, accept and share the spirit of the noble Lord’s remarks, if not following him in every detail.
My Lords, I, too, welcome the Statement and join in the expression of appreciation of everyone who is working so hard during this unprecedented public health challenge. However, I want to raise a question about the future of the acquisition and delivery of PPE. We are very aware that in the past few weeks, this has not been conducted as efficiently and effectively as everybody would like, including Ministers. However, we know that with the Spanish flu there were two further peaks. Can the Government assure us that by this autumn, we will have sufficient and robust supplies of PPE that meet the right standards from the HSE’s perspective? Looking at the Statement and the four teams that are working together, many people, including me, do not quite understand where the noble Lord, Lord Deighton, who is co-ordinating the manufacture and distribution of PPE locally, will link in with those four teams. We could, of course, become completely self-reliant as a country on PPE, which may be something we want to think about in the longer term. I would be very happy to have a virtual meeting to discuss this further if it is appropriate.
PPE is of course of fundamental importance. If anybody in the country did not realise it at the start of this crisis, it is fully understood now. Ministers have always understood it. We had a large stockpile. Great efforts will continue to be made to ensure that our front line has sufficient equipment. I note the points that the noble Baroness made about the experience of Spanish flu, and I would certainly be interested in talking to her about it on another occasion, but I must reiterate that the Government are 100% committed to securing a stable and safe supply of PPE now and in the future.
Following on from the noble Lord, Lord Laming, I want to explore the needs of local authorities a bit further. Councils of all political persuasions are very concerned about the considerable shortfall in the funding they need—for example, to prevent the failure of private sector social care provision. Will the Minister join me in urging the Government to meet this large and urgent need for additional funding—over and above, I have to say, what has already been provided to local government during this crisis?
My Lords, I regret that the sound was not very good for my noble friend’s question. I certainly caught her concern for farmers, and I take that point; my right honourable friend George Eustice has been addressing that matter. I am sorry that could not catch the other parts of her question, but I will ensure that she gets a written reply.
That is the point I am trying to make; this should have been answered in the report. It does not matter where it comes from. Whether our closeness to the EU makes any difference to our relationship with it is questionable. The problem is that we have had the nerve to vote in favour of leaving the EU. Therefore, the EU must redefine the position of a country that leaves so that it can mete out special treatment to that country and somehow discourage others from leaving as well. This report should have addressed these issues. Does it make any difference whether or not a country is close to the EU? Does the size of trade make any difference? I agree that our trade with the EU is probably greater than that with the United States, but the United States does a massive amount of trade too. Nobody is asking for a level playing field with the United States, and they would be told where to go if they tried. We should be questioning these things, as I hoped the report would. Perhaps the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, can tell me why this was not included in the report.
The document that I am reading says that this statement was made on 18 February. That is quite a distance from 3 March, when the report went to the printers. I question whether you can reach a decision as a committee unless you have taken evidence. The whole business of whether how close you are to the EU counts or whether the size of your trade is a determinant factor is surely something that the committee can make its mind up about without taking evidence.
We could go on arguing about this indefinitely. However, the noble Earl is rather underestimating the intellectual abilities of his committee if it cannot reach a conclusion on this relatively simple issue without taking evidence. I will move on to the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter.
I very much welcome the committee’s intention to look at Northern Ireland. For some time, the Government said of the Irish border that it would all be all right on the night and we should not worry about it. They then conceded that there was something to worry about—and the agreement protects the open border, provided it is maintained. But there is still considerable denial about de facto checks and a virtual border in the Irish Sea. I very much welcome the committee’s intention to look at that.