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, 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 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 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, 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 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, 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 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.
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.
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.