Debates between Lord Bruce of Bennachie and Lord True during the 2019-2024 Parliament

Mon 1st Feb 2021
Mon 26th Oct 2020
United Kingdom Internal Market Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage & Committee stage:Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords

Devolved Administrations

Debate between Lord Bruce of Bennachie and Lord True
Thursday 16th September 2021

(2 years, 10 months ago)

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Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, as a proud and passionate native of Scotland, my noble friend brings pertinent facts before your Lordships’ House. I cannot answer for the actions of the Scottish Government, but I say to them—and indeed to everybody—that now is the time not to stoke divisions but to focus on what unites the people of Scotland and all of us around the rest of the United Kingdom.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD)
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My Lords, setting aside the anti-British obsession of the SNP, do the Government not recognise that post-Brexit legislation has left all the devolved Administrations concerned that the Government are taking powers back from them and are seeking to take United Kingdom decisions using English Ministers as the final buttress? Does he recognise that that approach is not acceptable and not consistent with his opening remarks?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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No, my Lords. I do understand that there have been rhetoric and statements about this. I repeat what I said to the noble Baroness opposite: the Government are deeply committed to strengthening the union. Part of that, obviously, is showing full and appropriate respect to our partners in the devolved Administrations. I think that, when your Lordships come to see the outcome, it will be understood that the new intergovernment relations protocol and approaches will fully reflect that mutual respect.

Covid-19: Co-ordination with Devolved Administrations

Debate between Lord Bruce of Bennachie and Lord True
Thursday 8th July 2021

(3 years ago)

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Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I understand the concern of the noble Lord and many citizens of the United Kingdom about the future and how we move forward. The Prime Minister made a considered statement last week and will make another statement on Monday about the next steps forward as he sees them. Throughout the crisis we have been more aligned than we are apart. There have been scores of calls between the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the First Ministers in the three Administrations.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD) [V]
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Ideally, devolution allows for divergence across the nations and co-operation to deal with common interests and issues. That has been demonstrated throughout the pandemic, but Great Britain is an island with open borders and right now Scotland has the highest infection rate in Europe. The two main hospitals in the Grampian health board area—the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary and Dr Gray’s Hospital in Elgin—along with Raigmore Hospital in Inverness are on black alert dealing with only urgent and emergency cases as a result of catch-up for non-Covid, increasing Covid admissions and staff shortages because of Covid and isolation rules. Will Ministers across Governments work to ensure that as we move to lift restrictions we do so in a co-ordinated way that avoids the chaos and confusion that might otherwise occur?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, there has been extraordinary support from the United Kingdom Government to the devolved Administrations, Scotland not least, both financial and practical. Indeed, I believe the UK Government have provided around 55% of tests in Scotland. However, I return to the fundamental point. I shall not comment on the performance of the devolved Administrations as I do not think that is appropriate, but they have devolved authority to act on public health within their borders.

Covid-19: Vaccination Passport

Debate between Lord Bruce of Bennachie and Lord True
Wednesday 24th February 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

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Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I note the noble Lord’s enthusiasm for ID cards, but it was not shared universally either in Parliament or outside. I am certainly not going there on this issue.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I understand the frustration of the travel, hospitality and leisure industries that want to get their businesses up and running as quickly as possible. However, does the Minister accept that there are some concerns? The first is that with the rollout of the vaccine continuing over the summer, many young people, including students who want to study overseas, may be excluded from the chance to travel. Is there not a risk that the demand for passports, if they were introduced, could create a bureaucratic logjam that could interfere with the vaccine rollout and may unhelpfully aggravate the arguments over which vaccines are the most effective?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I hope very much that that is not the case. The Government’s objective is to see a safe and sustainable return to international travel for business and pleasure. To achieve this, my colleagues in the Department for Transport will be leading a successor to the Global Travel Taskforce. It is important that we work towards that objective.

Dunlop Review

Debate between Lord Bruce of Bennachie and Lord True
Monday 1st February 2021

(3 years, 5 months ago)

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Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is second to none in his commitment to reinforce the United Kingdom and to carry that work forward. So, almost by definition, he is acting constantly every day in line with the aspirations of the Dunlop report.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD) [V]
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My Lords, sadly, the Prime Minister shows scant understanding of or respect for devolution. At the same time, the First Minister is obsessed with an independence referendum ahead of pandemic recovery but has no coherent or credible plan for how to achieve it. Is not this the moment to publish the Dunlop report and set out how the UK can move forward as four nations working together? How can we have confidence that the Government are implementing the report if they do not publish it?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I have asked for a little patience from your Lordships’ House, but it will have been noted that you are asking for an early publication. What I would underline is what I said before: that we are working positively with the devolved Administrations in many of the areas covered by Dunlop, particularly to establish new intergovernmental structures. The Prime Minister has established the union policy implementation committee—a Cabinet committee to ensure that the Government’s priorities in relation to the United Kingdom are delivered—and work is going on.

Northern Ireland Protocol: Implementation Proposals

Debate between Lord Bruce of Bennachie and Lord True
Thursday 19th November 2020

(3 years, 8 months ago)

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Lord True Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord True) (Con)
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My Lords, the Government are committed to ensuring that businesses and communities are ready for the end of the transition period. I am sorry to hear of the remarks reported by the noble Lord, but our intensive programme of engagement with industry continues at pace. The Business Engagement Forum has now met 20 times since May, and this month the Chancellor of the Duchy formed a UK-wide business readiness task force. We have also made considerable progress on the provision of guidance, publishing over 25 pieces of sectoral guidance for businesses moving goods between Northern Ireland and GB in recent weeks.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD) [V]
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Yesterday’s Statement in in the House of Commons was a bravura performance, but completely out of touch with reality. Is it not the case that any small business in Northern Ireland planning for Brexit is faced with a nightmare of distraction, with few hard facts on which to base any decisions? The five essential steps on InterTradeIreland pose detailed questions on the supply chain, customs, people and data, to which answers are not available. If you ask your supply chain, they do not yet have the answers; if you ask customs, neither do they, and so on. When will the trader support service be in a position to deliver to businesses that register? Does the Minister accept that, given the continuing uncertainty, services in support of the trader support service will be needed for years to come?

Union Capability: Dunlop Review

Debate between Lord Bruce of Bennachie and Lord True
Thursday 19th November 2020

(3 years, 8 months ago)

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Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, the Government believe in devolution. The individual devolution settlements and their effectiveness have been appraised on a range of occasions, in the last 20 years. The Prime Minister, quite rightly, drew attention to the threat posed by the SNP to the unity of our kingdom.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD) [V]
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I have no doubt that the Dunlop review will be well informed and constructive, but I echo the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, that the Government must address this issue urgently, given the Prime Minister’s recent remarks and the almost universal opposition expressed to almost all aspects of the UK Internal Market Bill. Does the Minister accept not only that we need clarity now to secure the devolution settlement, but that there is a case for a constitutional convention that respects devolution and achieves a collaborative approach to UK decision-making, rather than unilateral decisions by the UK Government?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, good contacts exist between the UK Government and devolved Administrations. I recently reported to the House on the positive development in the review of intergovernmental relations. I assure the House that the Government take these matters seriously. The Prime Minister has set up a Cabinet committee for union policy implementation to support the delivery of policies that sustain our union.

United Kingdom Internal Market Bill

Debate between Lord Bruce of Bennachie and Lord True
Committee stage & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Monday 26th October 2020

(3 years, 8 months ago)

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Read Full debate United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 View all United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 135-II Revised second marshalled list for Committee - (26 Oct 2020)
Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD) [V]
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I shall not detain the Committee for long but the Minister came up with the example of flour. I think that as the Bill progresses we can all dream up examples of hypothetical possibilities. However, the question that arises from that example is: why should we not follow the principles and dispute resolution model of the common frameworks? Indeed, as the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, said, where are the gaps that cannot be filled by the common frameworks? Why do the Government need to take such extreme powers for fast Executive action when, in nearly all these cases, the problem will emerge over time? Everybody agrees that if legislation is required, we should have it, but the Government seem to want to take powers in anticipation of unknown challenges. Therefore, why cannot the principles and model of the common frameworks be the basis on which these cases are taken forward and disputes resolved?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I should have acknowledged the very thoughtful speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Bruce and Lord Stevenson. I hoped that I had made clear that the common frameworks process would continue. I was asked to give an example of how circumstances might change in the future and how matters that need to be addressed might arise. The emergence of an unregulated new technology might be another example. However, I think it is better that we address these questions in the further discussions that we might have.

So far as pace is concerned, the transition period ends at the end of the year and there is a need to provide a climate of certainty for business when the EU system falls away. Therefore, I do not resile from the fact that it was necessary and sensible for the Government to bring proposals before Parliament to address the post-31 December situation.

Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission

Debate between Lord Bruce of Bennachie and Lord True
Tuesday 16th June 2020

(4 years, 1 month ago)

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Lord True Portrait Lord True
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My Lords, I have the privilege of coming to this Chamber to hear the views of Members from all sides of the House; I do that, of course. We will continue to promote the United Kingdom’s interests and values, including freedom of speech, human rights and the rule of law.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD) [V]
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Given the stress of the combined impact of Brexit and Covid-19 on the devolution settlements, may I urge the Government to consider how a federal constitution could share fairly the powers, resources and decision-making allocated to and shared between the devolved Administrations and local authorities?

Lord True Portrait Lord True
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My Lords, I know that that is a long-time aspiration of the noble Lord’s party but I cannot add further to what I have said about composition, focus and scope.

Northern Ireland Protocol

Debate between Lord Bruce of Bennachie and Lord True
Thursday 21st May 2020

(4 years, 2 months ago)

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Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD)
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My Lords, given the duplicity of the Government, the Northern Ireland protocol has all the semblance of damaged goods. In particular, the repeated denial that it would involve the need for any new UK customs declaration or checks is revealed as the hollow sham that it always was.

In his Statement yesterday, Michael Gove tried to play this down, but the White Paper cannot be gainsaid. It says that

“there will be some limited additional process on goods arriving in Northern Ireland ... There will be no new physical customs infrastructure ... We will however expand some existing entry points for agrifood goods to provide for proportionate additional controls.”

It also says in relation to

“Belfast Port, Belfast International Airport, Belfast City Airport and Warrenpoint Port”

that:

“Expanded infrastructure will be needed at some of these sites for the purpose of agri-food checks and assurance ... we expect to request additional categories of commodities at Belfast Port, and to designate Larne Port for live animal imports ... further designations may also be required at other existing sites.”


This is a clear change of a radical nature. What costs and delays does the Minister expect it to cause? It cannot be done without time being taken to deal with these matters.

The Government choose to refer to the withdrawal agreement as a “deal” when it is no such thing; it is an agreement on the terms of withdrawal. When it suits, they choose to rely on the political declaration, although this is only a declaration of intent and needs to be judged against the backdrop of the Government preparing for a no-deal Brexit and, frankly, blaming the EU for it.

The Government also seek to present the protocol as temporary, dependent only on a vote of the Northern Ireland elected representatives to abandon it after 2024. In reality, it puts Northern Ireland in the unique position of effectively remaining in the EU single market and the UK customs union—a privilege which many businesses in Great Britain would no doubt love to have. Again, the Government seek to downplay the importance of cross-border trade to the Province, yet it is worth over £5 billion and for some businesses may be their chief revenue and profit earner.

If they import components from the UK and process them before exporting to the Republic, they will be liable to tariffs. This will present them with a clear difficulty. It will involve extra bureaucracy and require them to fill out import and export forms and train and possibly recruit extra staff and maybe use agents. All this will add substantial costs. The White Paper says that HMRC will provide help and guidance to businesses, but this is to help deal with a situation they currently do not face. This will come at a cost, so will the Government cover that cost?

The Government make great play of the benefit of lower tariffs that they hope to negotiate at some unspecified future date. Of course, while I appreciate the benefits of free trade, if this comes at the expense of tariff barriers with the EU, the net benefit may be at best limited and possibly negative. It may also be that we accept imported goods of lower standards, such as food products from the United States. This could compromise domestic producers in Northern Ireland. It is not a one-way street.

Depending on what agreement is reached with the EU, the dynamics of trade between the Republic, Northern Ireland and Great Britain could change. This would make issues of customs controls much more live. An incentive for Northern Ireland to become the bridge between the EU single market and the rest of the UK would clearly require more transparent customs controls, especially if there were divergence on tariffs and regulations.

The Government’s refusal in this context to consider an EU presence in Belfast raises questions of trust. Trust will be achieved if there is a comprehensive and mutually beneficial free trade deal. If there is a hard or no-deal Brexit, it is hardly surprising that the EU and the UK will look at each other with suspicion. There are many more questions than answers from this White Paper. As it stands, it does little to build trust with either the EU, the Republic or the business community of Northern Ireland. I hope the Minister can reassure all those bodies that it is being pursued in good faith and is entirely consistent with both the spirit and the letter of the agreement the Government signed with the EU.

Lord True Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord True) (Con)
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I thank both noble Lords. I had noted down to say that the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, had always been constructive in his responses, but I was a bit disappointed when he opened by accusing the Government of duplicity. The Government have been clear from the start that they will stand by their obligations under the protocol. The fundamental issue here is that the protocol exists to ensure that the progress the people of Northern Ireland have made in the 22 years since the Good Friday Agreement, which we all support, is safeguarded and maintained. That means, as both contributors from the Front Benches opposite acknowledged, that this matter must be dealt with delicately, recognising the interests of both groupings within Northern Ireland and addressing both the lawful and reasonable desire of the European Union to protect the single market and the UK’s requirement to protect our own internal market and the inalienable place of Northern Ireland as part of the UK customs territory.

I will try to answer some of the questions raised. I do not want to be diverted by the role of the outstanding Sherpa, Mr Frost. I repeat my comment about the criticism made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, of his role, which she acknowledged and repeated today. Mr Frost is the appointed representative of the Prime Minister in these negotiations. I understand that he will come with the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster next week to give evidence and be accountable to your Lordships’ House.

I think it would be fair to say, diplomatically, that the response was not entirely enthusiastic from the parties opposite. The noble Baroness spoke about border checks. We are in the business not of border checks, but of light-touch administrative arrangements that will enable and facilitate trade. It is in the interests of both parties in this negotiation. It is a negotiation and discussion on how we will implement the protocol, not how we will renegotiate it. It is not in the interests of anybody to see a heavy-handed system. Indeed, Monsieur Barnier himself said that it is important that the procedures of the protocol should be as easy as possible and not too burdensome, in particular for smaller businesses. I agree with that and I am sure that noble Lords opposite do.

The noble Baroness rightly asked about business. Many businesses want clarity. I assure her that there have been extensive discussions and consultation with business, but as she will know, the Government are now moving forward as we go into this stage of discussion to establish a business engagement forum on the protocol. We will set out details shortly, but it is obviously important as it goes forward that we draw on the experience of businesses in sectors right across Northern Ireland. The interests of business are fundamental. Again, I hope that the European Union and the United Kingdom would agree in implementing this that the burdens on business should be as light as possible and that neither party should demand excessive burdens.

The noble Baroness asked about unfettered access. I assure her that there will be unfettered access. That is the objective and intention of Her Majesty’s Government and we intend to legislate to achieve that for goods from Northern Ireland to the rest of the United Kingdom.

As far as smuggling and abuse of the system is concerned, such practices go on at present. They are normally addressed by market surveillance and effective, targeted action. I am sure that market surveillance will continue in the unlikely circumstance that the noble Baroness posits of some mass attempt to subvert legitimate trade.

We intend this to be a light-touch approach. The noble Baroness and the noble Lord were both sceptical on this matter. The forms that the noble Baroness referred to will be processes administered electronically and will be light-touch in action. We will be negotiating and discussing how those matters will be implemented in the joint committee and specialised committee, which were set up under the protocol to provide just these sorts of discussions.

The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, referred to the Government setting great store by the matter being temporary. A provision for consent was agreed by both sides and in consultation with parties on both sides of the border in the original protocol. The capability exists for the representatives of the people of Northern Ireland to alter the situation in four years if they wish to do so, but that matter is entirely for the Northern Ireland Executive and is not being pressed, as was implied in the Statement. Time will see. I hope that we will find an effective way of operating. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, that Northern Ireland will remain part of the United Kingdom’s customs territory and that bureaucracy will be kept to a minimum.

The noble Lord asked about the idea of an EU office in Belfast. Without wishing to be contrary, I have pointed out in this House that, in the context of wishing to maintain and protect the Good Friday agreement, a physical building of that sort might not be the most light-touch operation, but the British Government of course acknowledge their responsibilities within the protocol to satisfy everyone that the protocol is being complied with. If I might say so, the Belfast office is becoming a little bit of a totem on the side of those who wish to say that Britain is not acceding to its responsibilities. I remind your Lordships that such an office was not provided for in Article 12 of the protocol. How matters are implemented will continue, I hope, to be discussed constructively in the joint committee.

The Government are very grateful for the positive response—rather more positive than we have heard so far—from many people in Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Executive, our friends within Europe and many in the Republic of Ireland. They see the Government’s document as a reasonable, sensible and measured one, on the basis of which we wish to seek a sensible, balanced, workable and practical way forward. It is in that spirit that we will pursue discussions in the next few weeks.