There have been 47 exchanges involving Lord Duncan of Springbank and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
|Tue 8th December 2020||Prohibition on Quantitative Restrictions (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 (Grand Committee)||1 interactions (21 words)|
|Wed 18th November 2020||United Kingdom Internal Market Bill (Lords Chamber)||5 interactions (162 words)|
|Wed 17th June 2020||Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill (Lords Chamber)||3 interactions (34 words)|
|Wed 20th May 2020||Weights and Measures Act 1985 (Definitions of “Metre” and “Kilogram”) (Amendment) Order 2020 (Lords Chamber)||3 interactions (28 words)|
|Mon 10th February 2020||Smart Meters (Lords Chamber)||16 interactions (596 words)|
|Fri 7th February 2020||Domestic Premises (Energy Performance) Bill [HL] (Lords Chamber)||5 interactions (1,701 words)|
|Thu 6th February 2020||Climate Change (Lords Chamber)||3 interactions (2,568 words)|
|Wed 5th February 2020||Greenhouse Gas Emissions (Lords Chamber)||20 interactions (681 words)|
|Tue 4th February 2020||Post Office: Prosecution Powers (Lords Chamber)||18 interactions (672 words)|
|Tue 28th January 2020||Business Confidence (Lords Chamber)||13 interactions (401 words)|
|Mon 27th January 2020||Horizon 2020 (Lords Chamber)||22 interactions (628 words)|
|Wed 22nd January 2020||Gift Vouchers (Lords Chamber)||18 interactions (693 words)|
|Mon 20th January 2020||European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill (Lords Chamber)||16 interactions (3,749 words)|
|Thu 16th January 2020||Northern Ireland Executive Formation (Lords Chamber)||24 interactions (2,729 words)|
|Wed 15th January 2020||Climate Change: COP 26 and Civil Society (Lords Chamber)||16 interactions (630 words)|
|Tue 14th January 2020||Nuclear Power: Emissions (Lords Chamber)||20 interactions (666 words)|
|Tue 14th January 2020||European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill (Lords Chamber)||22 interactions (2,560 words)|
|Thu 9th January 2020||Fracking (Lords Chamber)||22 interactions (710 words)|
|Wed 8th January 2020||Creative Industries: Research and Development (Lords Chamber)||14 interactions (534 words)|
|Tue 7th January 2020||Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019: Section 3(5) (Lords Chamber)||10 interactions (3,264 words)|
|Tue 5th November 2019||Thomas Cook (Lords Chamber)||14 interactions (2,483 words)|
|Thu 31st October 2019||Extinction Rebellion (Lords Chamber)||20 interactions (603 words)|
|Thu 31st October 2019||Northern Ireland Budget Bill (Lords Chamber)||20 interactions (2,400 words)|
|Thu 31st October 2019||Northern Ireland (Extension of Period for Executive Formation) (No. 2) Regulations 2019 (Lords Chamber)||6 interactions (688 words)|
|Thu 31st October 2019||Historical Institutional Abuse (Northern Ireland) Bill [HL] (Lords Chamber)||7 interactions (372 words)|
|Tue 29th October 2019||Net Zero Carbon Emissions (Lords Chamber)||22 interactions (646 words)|
|Tue 29th October 2019||Brexit: Workers’ Rights (Lords Chamber)||13 interactions (1,030 words)|
|Mon 28th October 2019||Northern Ireland: Devolved Government (Lords Chamber)||16 interactions (463 words)|
|Mon 28th October 2019||Historical Institutional Abuse (Northern Ireland) Bill [HL] (Lords Chamber)||8 interactions (1,909 words)|
|Mon 28th October 2019||Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019: Section 3(5) (Lords Chamber)||8 interactions (2,137 words)|
|Wed 23rd October 2019||Freedom of Establishment and Free Movement of Services (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (Lords Chamber)||30 interactions (3,426 words)|
|Wed 23rd October 2019||Electricity Supplier Obligations (Excluded Electricity) (Amendment) Regulations 2019 (Lords Chamber)||7 interactions (1,157 words)|
|Tue 22nd October 2019||Post Offices: Cash Withdrawal Services (Lords Chamber)||18 interactions (426 words)|
|Mon 21st October 2019||Frequent Flyer Airmiles Schemes (Lords Chamber)||22 interactions (572 words)|
|Thu 17th October 2019||Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019: Section 3(5) (Lords Chamber)||10 interactions (3,241 words)|
|Mon 7th October 2019||Product Safety, Metrology and Mutual Recognition Agreement (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (Lords Chamber)||14 interactions (2,041 words)|
|Tue 1st October 2019||Irish Border: Checks and Customs Arrangements (Lords Chamber)||23 interactions (973 words)|
|Mon 30th September 2019||Insolvency (Amendment) (EU Exit) (No 2) Regulations 2019 (Lords Chamber)||14 interactions (1,391 words)|
|Thu 26th September 2019||Gas Tariffs Code (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (Lords Chamber)||12 interactions (1,546 words)|
|Thu 26th September 2019||Statutory Auditors, Third Country Auditors and International Accounts Standards (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (Lords Chamber)||9 interactions (1,392 words)|
|Thu 26th September 2019||International Climate Action (Lords Chamber)||16 interactions (3,584 words)|
|Wed 25th September 2019||Spending Round 2019 (Lords Chamber)||3 interactions (1,070 words)|
|Wed 25th September 2019||Spending Round 2019 (Lords Chamber)||4 interactions (3,144 words)|
|Mon 9th September 2019||Nuclear Power Stations (Lords Chamber)||22 interactions (843 words)|
|Mon 9th September 2019||Northern Ireland (Ministerial Appointment Functions) (No. 2) Regulations 2019 (Lords Chamber)||6 interactions (1,024 words)|
|Mon 9th September 2019||Report Pursuant to Sections 3(1), 3(6), 3(7), 3(8), 3(9) and 3(10) the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 (Lords Chamber)||6 interactions (6,316 words)|
|Mon 9th September 2019||Report Pursuant to Section 3(11) of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 (Lords Chamber)||1 interactions (22 words)|
(2 months, 3 weeks ago)Grand Committee
(3 months, 1 week ago)Lords Chamber
The Minister cast doubt on warnings about the impact on devolution. Has he looked at opinion polls in Wales tracking support for independence? That is a country that only 20 years ago very narrowly accepted devolution. It is a country that voted for Brexit, and one that is governed by a Labour-Lib Dem coalition—two unionist parties. You can see in that country the clear feeling about the way in which this Government are behaving.
Break in Debate
[Inaudible.]—perspectives have offered support to what these amendments seek to do. Picking up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack—sitting on my own in my little room, participating virtually—I too very much regret that it has not been possible for us all to join together in the Chamber. I see the value of the points he was making about introducing some more lively spirit among those in the Chamber, so there could be a real atmosphere of debate, which even remotely we would be able to enjoy.
I listened very carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord True, said. He expressed his position, as always, very clearly in careful language. I think, on a fair reading, that the clauses in Parts 1 and 2 are more absolute in their effect than he was making out, and I do not accept the criticisms that he makes of the amendments’ effect. Of course, I do not claim that the amendment I have put forward is a final solution; there was always an option open to the Government. If they thought the amendments could be improved upon or altered to meet some of the points that the Minister made, that could have been done—but there was no such offer forthcoming from him, for reasons that I understand.
The question was whether the devolved nations should continue to be free to develop and apply market policies within their devolution mandate which have secured agreement under the common frameworks process, or whether that freedom should simply be brushed aside, as the Bill really seeks to do. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that this Government regard devolution as an inconvenience that can simply be ignored when they want to. I regret that very much indeed. I am a unionist and I believe in the union and all that it stands for, and all the values that I hope it will continue to give us in future. But I am afraid we see here an uncompromising, careless and centralist style of government, which divides our United Kingdom into pieces at a time when harmony is most needed. That has no place in our democracy.
I know that the Minister will reflect very carefully on what has been said today, and I hope that he will do his best to persuade those at the heart of government to think again, but what he has said in his reply leaves me with no alternative. I seek to test the opinion of the House on my amendment.
(8 months, 2 weeks ago)Lords Chamber
My Lords, I thank the Minister for rearranging his diary to enable us to complete Committee stage so quickly, the Whips Office for similarly reorganising things so that we can get on with it and, last but not least, the staff of the House for the work they have undertaken, particularly since we kept them here rather later than should have been the case yesterday evening. I am very grateful to them all, particularly my noble friend the Minister, who sat patiently and courteously through a very long and quite testing time yesterday.
I ask my noble friend the Minister’s help in just one thing, which concerns my blood pressure: could he possibly ask his Bill team, when they prepare his speaking notes, not to say, “The Bill is needed because of the pandemic”? The Bill is not needed because of the pandemic. Half the Bill is needed because of the pandemic, and if we were dealing only with that half, we would have been done and dusted and home in time for tea yesterday. As we unpicked and unpacked the Bill yesterday afternoon, we saw how much consideration still needed to be given to the bit of the Bill that has nothing to do with the pandemic. If he could just make that change to his speaking notes, it would do wonders for my blood pressure and, I suspect, for that of many other Members of your Lordships’ House.
Amendment 57 is designed to remedy a gap in the oversight and regulation of pre-packs. I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, for her support on this amendment. I know that my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe, whom we will hear from later, probed in a similar way with Amendment 60, which we touched on yesterday afternoon.
During that debate, my noble friend the Minister said that pre-packs were a valuable tool in the insolvency toolkit. He is right that they are valuable but they are open to abuse, which is why I pressed for the House to have a chance to debate pre-packs in a separate group of amendments. First, the treatment and regulation of pre-packs is a loose end in insolvency law and practice. It has been so for 20 years; indeed, it has been a very loose end for the past six years. Secondly, at the margin, if pre-packs continue to grow unregulated, it will undermine the use of moratoriums, which are a much more carefully controlled and regulated way of dealing with company insolvency. Why go through all that if you can go to a pre-pack and therefore, in that sense, undermine the purposes of this Bill?
For those who have come late to the party, I have a few sentences on how pre-packs work, using an example of how the position can be abused. Directors decide that a company is no longer able to trade solvently and will shortly become insolvent. The probable reason is because the company has taken on a lot of debt from previous bad decisions. There are too many creditors and the bank is owed a great deal of money. However, within the company, there is an operational piece that the directors think can be salvaged, so they decide that they will make an offer for that operational piece, without the debts. They approach an administrator and say, “This is what we’d like to do.” They make a nominal offer—maybe only £1 or a similarly trivial sum.
The administrator then takes it on. He or she must decide that this is a fair offer, so it is usually advertised in the paper—usually on a Monday in the Financial Times. If noble Lords look at the Financial Times on a Monday, they will see businesses for sale; those are mostly pre-pack transactions. If no competing offer has been made by the Thursday, the administrator has tested the market and this is therefore the best available offer. The pre-pack can then be completed and the business rises like a phoenix from the ashes of the old, often being run by the same people who got it into trouble in the first place—but, of course, without all the creditors, who have been sloughed off along the way.
As a concept, pre-packs have considerable political appeal. Governments, local Members of Parliament and councillors can trumpet the fact that their actions have saved, say, 200 jobs. However, no one counts the jobs lost or the financial damage done to suppliers, to other firms locally or, indeed, to the Pension Protection Fund, whose position and role was carefully debated yesterday afternoon in relation to moratoriums. Indeed, the Minister kindly sent us an email this morning indicating that the Pension Protection Fund will have a particular place in moratoriums. So what we have is a superficially attractive mechanism but one that, in many cases, because of counterfactual information that you cannot gather, causes more harm than good.
For a number of years, other Members of your Lordships’ House and I pressed Governments of all political persuasions not to be seduced by the attractions of unregulated pre-packs. To their credit, the coalition Government under Vince Cable recognised the problems and set up a review, which was carried out by Teresa Graham and backed by research from the University of Wolverhampton. Six years ago, her 2014 report was accepted by the Government.
Among the report’s recommendations was the establishment of what is known as Pre-Pack Pool Ltd, a company with access to a pool of experienced businessmen who could give a view on whether a proposed pre-pack was fair. They could reach one of only three conclusions: that a proposed transaction was reasonable; that it would be reasonable if changes were made; or that it was unreasonable. The pre-pack pool was established and remains self-funded through charging £800 for each opinion it gives. However—this is the critical weakness in the edifice—reference to it was optional. The results have therefore been entirely predictable. Who wants to pay £800 if they do not have to? The more ruthless and one-sided your proposed pre-pack is, the less likely it is that you will want to refer it to the pool. This device therefore rewards the good guys and does not catch the bad ones.
Now the pre-pack pool is on the edge of collapse. It had only 10 referrals this year, according to an article in the Times. If it collapses, the last vestiges of independent third-party regulation of pre-packs will disappear. Amendment 57 seeks to remedy this problem by making it compulsory to obtain an opinion from the pre-pack pool that a proposed pre-pack is not unreasonable. As my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe pointed out in her remarks yesterday, the Government had the power to make referrals mandatory under the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015 but that power has now lapsed. I imagine that she will wish to use her Amendment 60 to review that decision and see what else can be done to reinstate that power.
Finally, I referred in my opening remarks to the possible damage to the flagship change in this Bill: the moratorium. No one—but no one—will prefer to undertake a highly regulated mortarium if they can get away with a virtually unregulated pre-pack.
The potential abuses of pre-packs have long been identified. They were reported on by an inquiry set up by the Government and solutions from that inquiry were accepted by the Government six years ago, yet still nothing has been done. By contrast, we are now rushing through a series of entirely new, untested and potentially controversial changes to our insolvency laws while leaving this loophole unblocked. My amendment closes the loophole and provides for proper regulation in this area.
My noble friend the Minister has an open goal. I hope that he will put the ball in the back of the net. If not—somehow I suspect that he will not—will he tell the House whether the Government are prepared to see the pre-pack pool collapse? No ifs, no buts; if the Government are to bring forward legislation at some point in the future, as is the hallowed phrase, what will we do about the pool in the meantime? I urge him to give a yes or no answer so that we can have some confidence in the way this matter is being tackled through the department’s policies. I beg to move.
My Lords, I metaphorically rise to support Amendment 57 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, and to speak to my very similar Amendment 61. Both relate to pre-packs.
The Minister said yesterday that pre-packs are
“a useful tool that allows businesses and jobs to be saved.”—[Official Report, 16/6/20; col. 2092.]
I do not think that anyone disagrees with that. Equally, few disagree that pre-pack deals with related parties involve clear conflicts of interest and raise serious transparency concerns—speaking of which, I can now see noble Lords, which is a great benefit. Indeed, at Second Reading the Minister directly recognised these concerns.
The 2014 Graham report, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, very clearly set out its findings that related party pre-packs often involve limited, if any, marketing and on average achieve worse outcomes for creditors. There is truth in the perception of creditors being dumped while directors sail on unharmed with their phoenix company.
The Pre Pack Pool was created in 2015 to introduce an element of independent review into connected party pre-packs. The hope was that this could be a voluntary process, but, sadly, this has not worked; only around 10% of pre-packs have been referred. I am afraid this confirms my slightly cynical view of how the insolvency industry works in practice. The Government had the power to fix this, as we have heard, under the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015, but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, pointed out, this expired two or three weeks ago.
I was initially tempted by her approach, as set out in Amendment 60—which, incidentally, should have been in this group—simply to reinstate the power to regulate. However, the Government did not use that power for five years, so I have limited confidence that they would do so in another year. Anyway, as we debated yesterday, this Bill already has more than enough powers to regulate.
The Minister said at Second Reading that:
“If strengthening of professional standards and the existing regulation do not deliver increased creditor confidence in connected pre-pack sales, the Government will look to bring forward further legislation.”—[Official Report, 9/6/20; col. 1728.]
That was very welcome, but fixing this issue is more urgent than that, given the current situation, and, frankly, it is already clear that professional standards and existing regulations are not working. Yesterday, the Minister praised the ethical and professional standards of the insolvency industry, saying that we should rely on those for independence and so on. That is touchingly naive—that might be the first time anyone has described the Minister in those terms.
Just last week, there were three high-profile pre-packs to related parties, which attracted a high degree of negative publicity. Only one was referred to the pool. Sadly, there are likely to be many more in coming months. Surely the Minister agrees that we should make sure these happen more transparently? As the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, has pointed out, we may lose the Pre Pack Pool altogether if we do not take action. It wrote to the Minister to say that it is not sustainable under the current voluntary approach. The industry is also in favour; R3 has said that it would like to see action.
Making referral of connected pre-pack sales to the Pre Pack Pool mandatory in this Bill seems the obvious solution. It is very simple and could start working immediately; no new bodies need to be created and there are no material costs involved. Everything needed already exists. The Pre Pack Pool takes a very light-touch approach and can act quickly, so I strongly urge the Minister to include a clause to this effect in the Bill. It may not be enough in the longer term and we should continue to monitor pre-packs, but making referral mandatory would at least improve transparency with no material cost or complication. It would be very helpful if the Minister could give us his views on the usefulness of the Pre Pack Pool—whether he agrees it is unsustainable on a voluntary basis and whether he thinks it matters if it ceases to exist.
There is one subtle difference between my Amendment 61 and Amendment 57 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson; mine says simply that a connected pre-pack deal cannot go ahead until it has been referred and the Pre Pack Pool has reported. The noble Lord’s amendment is more robust, saying that the report must also be positive. I would be happy with either approach. We need to improve transparency to prevent creditors being unfairly dumped, however we do it.
(9 months, 2 weeks ago)Lords Chamber
My Lords, I also thank the Minister for the clarity of his opening remarks. I welcome this change. I am going to disagree with the previous speaker and some of the others, because I believe that there is an interesting nuance to this measure and its context that goes way beyond the debate around the metric system versus imperial.
In fact, it is true to say that Britain and British scientists and thinkers have played a key role in developing the metric system, with the likes of Kelvin and, more recently, Kibble, who developed some of the techniques that have led to the current definitions that we are discussing today. Undoubtedly, in future the accuracy that this change will bring will be of great benefit in many fields: astronomy, quantum physics, computing and telecommunications, as well as more generally in business.
To me, this measure starts to potentially exemplify a positive trend towards decentralising control. No longer will we need to reference a lump of metal in Paris; we can actually develop our own understanding of these measures in laboratories in Britain. I am therefore saddened that the Explanatory Note says that we have to align with Europe in order to develop these standards. We were part of developing this system, so I do not think we necessarily need to reference any other country. In my view, we need to be able to make our own decisions, especially with Brexit, sovereignly about what measures we want to move forwards, and if our choice is to align with international standards then that should be our choice.
I have a question for the Minister: until recently there were apparently only two laboratories in this country that had the instruments to do these measurements. I would be keen to know whether there are more labs that have been equipped, resourced and encouraged to make these measurements on a regular basis around the country, so that we can decentralise even away from London or wherever we take our national standard from, and local communities, local scientists and manufacturers of weight and measurement instruments can actually develop these standards in accordance with the natural norms of the Planck measurement and so on.
I welcome this move and, while I would not say that it is necessarily about internationalism, although it is good to have common standards for trade, I would encourage the Government to give us clarity in the coming months and years on how we will develop our own sovereign decision-making on this. For example, will future decisions on changes are made to this system and others fall under the purview of chief scientists?
(1 year ago)Lords Chamber
My Lords, anecdotally at least, the system does not seem to be working as well as originally envisaged, particularly with connections to suppliers and moving smart meters when changing suppliers. Given that we are all paying for this with a supplement to our energy bills, could my noble friend assure us that we are getting value for money?
The Minister’s predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, wrote to me about this in July 2019. He said that the 13 largest energy suppliers had submitted plans to cover the rollout for 2019-20 and that,
“underpinned by a strong evidence base, plans are now in place and define binding milestones that those suppliers will be held to account against in 2019 and 2020.”
Just 18 months since the legislation was passed and seven months since I received that letter, the binding milestones that were in place seem to have gone off again and the target they would have to reach by the end of 2020 has been delayed by four years to the end of 2024. Does the Minister agree that public confidence in the smart meters programme has been badly damaged by the delays and failure of government policy? Can he say what the Government’s current estimate is of how much each household will benefit if and when they get a smart meter 2 that works and is operable? Finally, on a scale of one to 10—popular in the Labour Party these days—how confident is he that households and businesses will have a properly functioning smart meter installed by the end of 2024?
My Lords, the Minister will be aware that many energy customers discover, on switching energy providers, that their smart meter no longer works with their new provider. Will the Minister tell the House what measures the Government have taken to require energy providers to replace existing non-compatible smart meters, which they seem very reluctant to do? What proportion of installed smart meters are currently estimated to be non-functioning as a result of lack of compatibility?
Break in Debate
I hope that my noble friend is not losing too much sleep over this, because the prefix “smart”, as far as government policy is concerned, is being questioned across the nation. For example, on reading meters, if we have not educated the last three generations to be able to do a simple multiplication calculation to work out what something times something will mean every quarter, we have seriously failed. Does my noble friend agree that, if people do not understand that to save electricity and gas in their household they simply have to wash on low temperatures and turn the light off when they leave the room, the better policy would have been to have installed slot meters? There is nothing like that to concentrate the mind if you think the electricity is going to go off.
Is the Minister aware that, although I am not as smart as I used to be, I am still very suspicious of companies whose main aim is to make profits for their shareholders, when they phone or send messages telling you that you are going to save a lot of money by doing what they are doing? Is it not the case that, in almost everything they do when they say that, they are trying to tie you down so that you do not move to another supplier?
My Lords, I have tried to have smart meters installed both in London and in Wales. In both cases, when the installers arrived, they found that the combination of the meter’s design and the layout of the space made it impossible to install. Would it be possible to consider whether meters could be not just smart but flexible?
(1 year ago)Lords Chamber
My Lords, like many other noble Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Foster, for securing today’s debate.
This Wednesday, the charity National Energy Action held the Nation’s Biggest Housewarming. While many noble Lords will have attended enjoyable housewarming parties over the years, this event was a bit different; it aimed to highlight all those living in fuel poverty and the importance of having access to a warm, dry, safe home, something I am sure all noble Lords believe in. Therefore, I welcome the Bill’s timely Second Reading, which allows us to shine a light on the NEA’s work and the important issue of fuel poverty. By creating energy-efficient homes, we can tackle both this and the climate crisis.
The noble Lord, Lord Foster, rightly stated that it is all well and good setting high standards for new homes, but improving the energy efficiency of existing homes and housing stock must take priority. I think we all share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Deben, that homes being built today will not surpass the energy efficiency and future net-zero targets that are only a decade and a half away. That seems bizarre. My noble friend Lord Whitty clearly outlined the three factors that lead to fuel poverty: household income, expensive bills or tariffs, and the fabric of the building. As he said, we must aim to solve all three factors together.
With a few weeks left of winter, it is shocking to think of how many people remain cold in their own homes up and down the country. The noble Earl, Lord Erroll, talked about the choice to wear a jumper. To be fair, he was not talking about fuel poverty but about the properties of people in his area and their choice to put on a jumper, but for many it is not a choice. They cannot afford to heat their homes. They do not choose to put on a jumper or jacket to stop damp coming into the house; they have to do it to stay warm.
According to uSwitch, around 3.5 million UK households live in fuel poverty and are unable to adequately heat their homes. It also found that 1.6 million of these households choose between warming their homes and putting food on the table. The picture is particularly bad in Scotland. Last month, the Scottish Government published figures which showed that 619,000 homes were in fuel poverty in 2018. One in 10 was in extreme fuel poverty. Clearly, this is one of the many areas where the SNP has failed, and its new target of eradicating fuel poverty in 20 years is not nearly ambitious enough.
The worst consequence of this is winter deaths, on which the UK has one of the worst rates in Europe. According to a 2018 study by the NEA, 36,000 deaths over the previous five years could be attributed to conditions relating to living in a cold home. A further 17,000 people are estimated to have died as a direct result of fuel poverty. The NEA has called these deaths “preventable and shameful”, and I could not agree more. Fuel poverty can and must end; it should be addressed together with moving towards net zero.
Turning to energy efficiency, as we have heard, decarbonising heat is a massive challenge for any Government, but it is one we must meet if we are to keep global heating way below the two-degree increase. According to the Committee on Climate Change
“It will be extraordinarily difficult to hit 2050”
“without a plan in place for heat very quickly.”
Most homes have natural gas-powered boilers, which need to be replaced by electric or hydrogen boilers. Better insulation and more efficient appliances are other avenues to cut emissions and cut bills. The UK FIRES’ report Absolute Zero also stresses how real investment in heat pumps is needed. These are already well established in many other countries, yet heat pump installation remains at very low levels in the UK. Do the Government propose any significant expansion in that area?
The broad aims of the Bill are therefore welcome—I say “broad aims” for the very reason that the noble Lord, Lord Foster, mentioned: the Bill’s reasonableness. It would ensure that the properties of those living in fuel poverty have a minimum EPC band C rating by the end of 2030, and would force the Government to publish and implement a strategy to deliver on these targets. The Bill would enable the Secretary of State to require mortgage lenders to provide information on the energy performance of properties and new requirements concerning the energy efficiency of new heating systems installed in existing properties. As well as this, the Bill would make it a legal requirement for the Government to ensure that as many homes as possible are improved to EPC band C by 2035. However, Labour has called for us to move faster, and for almost all the UK’s 27 million homes to have the highest energy efficiency standards by 2030.
Ultimately, we are discussing this Private Member’s Bill because the Government are not doing enough on fuel poverty. Astonishingly, fuel poverty was not mentioned once in either the Conservative manifesto or the Queen’s Speech. That is despite the Government’s welcome consultation on the fuel poverty strategy, which closed last September. When will a response from the Government be published, and when will they publish their energy White Paper?
The Government have committed to spending £3.8 billion on insulating 2 million social homes, and £2.5 billion on retrofitting 200,000 fuel-poor households. While this is welcome, the spending commitment for social homes is far less than what is needed to fully retrofit a property, and a full retrofit will be offered to only a small fraction of the 3.5 million households in the UK living in fuel poverty. There is also no additional funding for most households. How do the Government plan to cut emissions and bills for the many? Labour has called for the Government to fully fund the retrofit of every low-income property in the country and provide interest-free loans to enable able-to-pay households to do that. We would also introduce a zero-carbon homes standard for all new homes.
In conclusion, everyone has the right to live in a warm and safe home but, sadly, this is not reflected in reality. Both the UK Government and the Scottish Government need to do more to alleviate and get rid of fuel poverty. Excuse the pun, but a lot more energy needs to be put in to eradicate both climate problems and fuel poverty.
Will my noble friend give way on that point? Can he assure me that in 2025, the new standards will come into operation on any house that is under construction, and not wait for people to have fulfilled their planning period; otherwise, it will not be 2025—as history tells us, it will be 2029?
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this interesting and informative debate. Inevitably, many of the issues raised are in a sense outwith the Bill, but will have to be addressed if the Bill is to go forward. For example, the noble Lord, Lord Best, raised the need for financial carrots to deal with issues in the private rented sector. He rightly raised the importance of rural-proofing, an issue he knows I am very passionate about following the work we were able to do in your Lordships’ Rural Economy Select Committee. Of course, it is wonderful to have the support of the noble Lord, Lord Deben. The House may recall that about two years ago, he spoke after me in a debate and began his contribution by saying how great it was to follow the noble Lord, Lord Foster, who always reminded him why he is not a Liberal Democrat. I am delighted that on this occasion, I have his full support.
He rightly raised, as did other noble Lords, issues about not just existing housing stock, which the Bill deals with, but the vital importance of getting it right for new housebuilding and the need, as others, including my noble friend Lord Teverson, said, to address Part L of the building regulations. I just say to the noble Lord, Lord Deben, that his history is slightly wrong in respect of zero-carbon homes. In fact, the policy was introduced—I played a small part in it as a Minister—during the coalition. It was George Osborne and the Conservative Government who removed that policy in 2016. Let us hope that in the strategy referred to by the Minister, zero-carbon homes will be coming back in.
Issues to do with listed buildings were raised, as was the need to revise the EPC, and the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, and others talked about the fuel poor. Various charities are doing excellent work to help them, but we need, above everything, for the Government to be doing far more. It is worth reflecting, as it was mentioned, that if we are to move to low-carbon electricity, if no support is given, the average house bill will go up by £200 per annum, placing an even bigger burden on the fuel poor in particular, so that needs to be addressed.
Of course, I am disappointed with the Minister’s response. I am delighted that the Government will have a clear road map and that there will be a set of strategies to deal with the various issues in the road map. But, frankly, it seems to me that nothing in the Bill can be cutting across what the Government plan to do. It provides in statute legally binding dates by which certain things should be achieved—things that the Minister has admitted are exactly what will be in the strategy. The difference with not putting that in legislation is that it does not provide your Lordships’ House and the other place with the means to hold this and future Governments to account in achieving what noble Lords have demonstrated we desperately want.
I say to the Minister that I am bitterly disappointed and warn him that in that light, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, will be, as she said, nagging him for a very long time to come—a fate that I suspect he would not wish. Nevertheless, I beg to move.
(1 year ago)Lords Chamber
This has been an excellent debate on the imperatives of climate change. I start by thanking my noble friend Lord Browne of Ladyton for initiating the debate and throwing down the challenge with the report entitled Absolute Zero by UK FIRES, a research collaboration of five British universities. I also welcome the noble Lord, Lord Oates, to his party’s Front Bench.
The report is an excellent critique, with a fresh look at what must be achieved to reverse climate change, set against the parameters outlined by the Committee on Climate Change in its advice to government on achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. The vast span of these reports is reflected in the number of speakers today, and I thank all contributors for their thoughtful remarks.
It is also interesting to reflect on a third report called Zero Carbon Britain, recently published by the Centre for Alternative Technology, an educational charity dedicated to researching and communicating positive studies for environmental change.
The obvious realisation is how far behind the pace the Conservative Government are. They need to move forward from standing on the shoulders of the giants of the climate change transition movement, especially when they have reversed policies, cut programmes and cancelled projects in the 10 years they have been in unfettered power. Back in May 2019, the Committee on Climate Change reported:
“Current policy is insufficient for even the existing targets.”
That refers to the target of reducing emissions to 80% below the baseline of 1990 by 2050. The committee repeatedly points out that the Government are not even on track to meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets.
The pace of climate change is quickening. The policy reports from the IPCC and others are piling up, and the Government are dithering. The UK now has the challenge of a net-zero target by 2050. The Government are yet to set policies to achieve this. They have secured COP 26 in Glasgow and are waking up to how vital it is for the international community to begin to make rapid progress on climate change action, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, said in their remarks.
The Government must reset the dial after the weekend’s debacle and demonstrate determination by getting on with the agenda, publishing the long-overdue White Paper and the road map across all technologies and sectors of the economy. A wonderful achievement would be for the world leaders to sign up to announcements at the conference to bring international aviation and shipping within the scope of measures to combat climate change.
The international aspects and politics of climate change were reflected in the remarks of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford and my noble friends Lord Lipsey and Lord Soley. New disasters can trigger conflicts in fragile settings, while climate-related disasters already displace 25 million people annually.
The importance of this report, so ably introduced my noble friend Lord Browne, is that it suggests a further, more ultimate objective. Over time, as progress is made, new horizons, possibilities and imperatives for further progress materialise. If the Government’s pace of response does not speed up, more will have to be achieved with more urgency. It will be a huge challenge even to meet the necessary parameters of the new net-zero legislation, which must be interpreted as a mere staging-post that will have to be replaced with better horizons even before these targets can be reached.
The second message of this report is that plans should build on existing and experienced technologies to be reliable, rather than expecting untried, theoretical technologies to come to the rescue. My noble friend Lord Browne calls this mindset “techno-optimism”. As advised by the CCC, the Government cannot reliably build on carbon capture utilisation and storage as achievable in time when they have not set up any trials or projects that could get the technology going.
That does not mean that the Government should not embark on this and other technologies: all will be needed to power past milestones set by targets such as net zero. The energy mix will change and advance. For example, the UK, a coastal state, has yet to make much progress on tidal power.
The comparison of net zero and the absolute zero of this report, coupled with realistic assessments of timing achievements, is startling. While it calls for incremental change, the report challenges the Government, business and the general public to make strategic change a priority. As the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, told us, the Stock Exchange and the CBI are already responding to investments set by environmental, societal and governance goals. Further returns to companies, pension funds and investors are being shown to be consistent with this new measure.
All sectors of the economy are assessing their future risk registers with climate change in mind. This includes their employees. As members of the public, they too want to be able to add their contributions through supporting renewable schemes. In this regard, I congratulate the Government on introducing the smart export guarantee scheme for solar PV and other technologies last month.
All speakers highlighted the extent of the challenge that societal changes will make to people’s everyday lives. It was hugely disappointing that the Conservative Government scrapped Labour’s zero-carbon homes. Energy efficiency of homes still remains a huge challenge after the failure of the Green Deal. Citizens Advice said that 92% of survey respondents would be happy to make their homes more energy-efficient to ensure that the UK meets its net zero targets, and 60% of them suggested that they would need support to do this. Some 79% said that they would be happy to change the way they heat their homes; of these, 76% also suggested that they would need some help. This is 60% of all homes—that is, 17 million households.
Still requiring insulation, improved lighting efficiency and a ramping up of the introduction of heat pumps, buildings account for roughly 34% of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK. My noble friend Lord Whitty reminded us that the Government have all the powers of persuasion through incentives and the tax system, as well as the stick of regulation. In this regard, mayors, local government and councils also have their roles to play. All needs to be bold on the huge challenge of decarbonising heat—a once-in-a-generation challenge, perhaps the biggest since North Sea gas.
While the UK has made progress on adapting and changing sources of power generation, especially through renewables and nuclear, it is way behind on transport, currently the largest source of emissions, which regrettably rose between 2013 and 2017. The Absolute Zero report argues that all transport must either be electrified or phased out. The report also sensibly calls on the Government to focus on scalable technologies and stop giving out mixed messages with contradictory actions. All forms of transport are still works in progress, including aviation and shipping.
To the public, Britain’s railways have been a shambles since the Government’s privatisation agenda, yet the challenge is to integrate not just the UK’s disparate rail network but that of the continent. There is no reason why rail journeys cannot replace all flights where journey times are less than five or six hours, including check-in and other time-consuming activities; travellers can already reach their destinations by rail and cut out these polluting flights. This is a new perspective on the requirement for high-speed rail.
The breadth of topics and areas covered by this report is extensive. It is impossible to do justice in the time available to all the important points drawn out by our speakers today. Climate change sets the parameters within which the Government need to keep up with policies that focus on reducing this one global threat. My noble friend Lord Reid set out the responsibilities of government. The Government need to make headway; they need to respond with ambition, tenacity and encouragement, and this cannot be soon enough. The challenge is to stop polluting the planet. No one can pretend that it will be easy.
My Lords, I knew when I secured this debate that it would be a good one. It is a privilege to be a Member of this House, where so many noble Lords know so much and are so willing to share that knowledge. It has been a pleasure to listen to so many interesting and informative speeches and I have learned from them. In thanking all noble Lords who have contributed, including the Minister, whom I will come back to in a moment, I hope they will forgive me if I do not engage with individual points; I intend to reflect on the debate.
At the outset, I said that I hoped to generate a debate. I will be true to that. I have the benefit in UK FIRES of some of the best minds in the country to reflect on what was said and to advise me. To some degree, because of reactions that I would not have had otherwise to the debate, they can fact-check some of the things that have been said. I will respond in detail and encourage UK FIRES to publish that on its website. It has an open-portal website that invites conversations. If I cannot persuade Parliament to open such portals, I will continue this debate in that way, if noble Lords will permit me, and they can engage further.
I thank the Minister, who did not let me down. He made a spirited defence of techno-optimism. He gave us comprehensive lists, which he will be held to, of the Government’s aspirations—the things they will do and the challenges that, if not met, will have bad consequences that will have to be engaged with. I will do my best to keep him to them and he will thank me for it.
I will try to encourage the scientists to have a wee bit more political sensitivity. It is important that they have a bit of political sensitivity, but I shall say, “Everything that I want you to do, I want you to do against the standard that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford has challenged his diocesan parishioners with.” I will ask them not to worry about us and not to worry about the difficulties that other people will have in living up to what they need to do. I will ask them just to place care for the earth at the top of their agenda.
(1 year ago)Lords Chamber
I thank the noble Lord for his Answer. I have Claire O’Neill’s letter here and, quite honestly, it is such a rich source of information on the process so far that I do not really know where to start. I just say that so far I have seen nothing from this Government in terms of vision or strength of purpose that will actually deliver what they are promising by November. I wonder where they are going to get those ideas and vision from.
Is it not important that the Government set out a clear plan? For example, in the motor industry, people need a long lead time for production. To suddenly discover that hybrids will not be allowed and that the date has been brought forward makes things extremely difficult. Surely the Government have to work with manufacturers and give clarity, because these things cannot be achieved overnight.
Break in Debate
My Lords, COP 15 back in 2009 was organised by the Danish Government in Copenhagen. It was chaotic and Denmark suffered humiliation globally—I must put it as strongly as that. We do not know who is leading for our country, there are question marks about the location and we are supposed to be chairing the conference partly with Italy, so there are many unknowns. My question is simple: do the Government understand that if they do not get this right and the conference is chaotic, this country will be humiliated on the global stage?
My Lords, I have a straightforward question. We have made good progress on decarbonising our electricity, but 50% is still generated using methods that produce carbon dioxide. While we are doing that, everything using electricity, including of course electric cars, will still emit carbon dioxide. When do the Government plan to completely decarbonise electricity generation, what combination of nuclear and renewables will be used, and can they give us a guarantee that the lights will not go out when the wind does not blow and the sun does not shine?
My Lords, as we move from heating by gas to heating by electricity, will my noble friend bear something in mind? As you move north, it gets colder, heating bills are higher and incomes are lower, so those bills make up a higher proportion of people’s incomes. Heating by electricity costs four times as much per thermal unit as heating by gas. Does he think that people in the red wall voted to quadruple their heating bills?
My Lords, given that millions of homes, schools, hospitals and factories in this country are heated by gas and discharge carbon dioxide, what timescale have the Government set for the necessary changes to be made, and who is going to foot the bill?
My Lords, can my noble friend assure the House that the devolved Administrations will be officially represented at the conference in Glasgow? Can he also give us some idea of when a chairman will be designated? My noble friend would be an admirable candidate, as would my noble friend Lord Goldsmith.
(1 year ago)Lords Chamber
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that Answer. Last year, the Post Office had to settle litigation brought by 555 sub-postmasters at a cost to it of nearly £60 million. The Court of Appeal described the Post Office as treating sub-postmasters
“in capricious or arbitrary ways which would not be unfamiliar to a mid-Victorian factory-owner.”
The judge at first instance held that a Post Office director had set out to mislead him. How can such an organisation possibly conduct its own prosecutions when it cannot command the trust of the courts or, indeed, of the country?
My Lords, this is far more than “unfortunate”; it is a shocking story of obfuscation, cover-ups and downright abuse of sub-postmasters—the face of arguably the most trusted brand in this country—by the most senior people running it, yet they were able to do this because they had the power to conduct their own prosecutions with no independent assessment of the case for the defence or the prosecution. Can I therefore I join the sub-postmasters in asking the Government to review this and other issues that this sorry case has thrown up through a full, independent public inquiry?
My Lords, as the Minister responsible at the time, I was uneasy because it involved claims of dishonesty by apparently honest citizens. I therefore advised the Post Office to take outside legal counsel to try and get at the truth. Now that we have reached the present stage, what arrangements for compensation have been, are still being or will be made for those affected?
My Lords, there are a number of points to pick up on, but I will focus on the £60 million. How much of that will the sub-postmasters themselves receive? My understanding is that, unlike in many other cases, the legal fees have to come out of that £60 million, which is one of the reasons for the settlement. Some clarification of how much the sub-postmasters themselves will receive would be welcomed by all.
My Lords, what action are the Government going to take against the people who were running the Post Office when all this was going on? Have they just been moved to another job and got promotion, or will some action be taken against them? As other noble Lords have said, people have died, committed suicide and lost their businesses.
My Lords, a large corporate organisation such as the Post Office can always point to the fact that it has changed its ways and things will be better in future. Some of these people have lost their lives; £12 million compensation does not seem enough. In fact, no financial compensation would seem enough. Is the Minister satisfied that these people are getting due recompense?
(1 year, 1 month ago)Lords Chamber
Does my noble friend the Minister agree that such a dramatic increase in business confidence would normally be expected to be followed by an increase in capital investment in those businesses, an increase in employment and general improvement in the standards of the economy?
My Lords, it is not all sweetness and light, as the noble Lord would wish us to see. The report to which the Question refers also carries a health warning, which the Government should listen to. I am sure the Minister will have read it carefully and will have a response, but can he give specific answers to the core points raised later in the report, which goes on to state:
“the sector is not yet out of the woods in terms of performance, which means that this optimism could prove to be short-lived unless the government … help address underlying issues holding back manufacturers”?
The list is long, but it includes addressing skills shortages and improving productivity. We have been told to expect government action on sustainability and climate change—indeed, we are anxiously waiting for that—but what practical steps will the Government take to address skills shortages and to increase productivity, which is now more than 30% behind that in the US and around 10% to 15% behind that in Germany?
My Lords, the Minister is right to be slightly more cautious than the questioner on the status of this data, because I am sure that he knows that the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, for example, will publish its monthly statistics on Thursday. Undoubtedly, although we do not know what the numbers will be, they will be massively less than the record numbers for what they were able to build in this country some time earlier. Given what the Chancellor has said about regulatory alignment, how much confidence or optimism can the automotive industry have that its supply chains will still be operating this time next year?
My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that this news from the CBI is very welcome and proof positive that it has been consistently wrong in its predictions of gloom and doom arising from our decision to leave the European Union? Is it not the case that that confidence has come because of the leadership provided by the Prime Minister?
Break in Debate
(1 year, 1 month ago)Lords Chamber
My Lords, I am slightly disappointed by the Minister’s response. Given the Government’s correct ambition to double R&D spend by 2027, in a post-Brexit UK would he agree that we should seek an association agreement with Horizon Europe? Given that the withdrawal agreement has been signed, can he outline the negotiation timetable for our participation in the Horizon programme so that universities can begin to plan research for 2021 and beyond?
My Lords, the Minister has made clear the position on Horizon 2020, but the position on Horizon Europe is exercising the minds of researchers in this country. The proposed budget is about €100 billion. Can the Minister guarantee that, whether or not we are inside that deal, research organisations in this country which would have benefited will continue to benefit by at least as much as the share they would have got from Horizon Europe?
My Lords, my noble friend may be anticipating that Horizon Europe’s budget, as it is discussed in the year ahead of us, may well be less than €100 billion. There are many stories suggesting that it will be in the region of €88 billion to €90 billion. The question then is whether in the course of the months ahead we should be seeking participation in Horizon Europe on the basis that the funds that we provide—I think we have provided about 11% of the funds of Horizon 2020—would be additional to what the European Union commits from its own budget, thereby getting Horizon Europe potentially back to €100 billion in total.
My Lords, will the Minister give a really clear assurance that, when the negotiations on the next relationship between the UK and the EU start in March, the British Government will put on the table their desire to co-operate with the Horizon programme and their proposals for doing so? The new programme may not yet have been funded but you can bet it has been negotiated.
My Lords, to the best of my understanding, British scientists and institutions frequently lead on these collaborations. There has been a significant concern that, although those institutions might be allowed to participate in the future, their opportunities to lead will be greatly diminished. That means that leading scientists who always want to be part of the lead group will seek other opportunities.
Has my noble friend noticed that a lot of the perfectly reasonable questions that he has addressed have been trying to second-guess what will happen in the negotiations. Surely, now that we are leaving the EU, we will be able to co-operate with our friends and neighbours across the channel on all these programmes, including Horizon.
Quite rightly, we hear a lot about the importance of collaboration with our European friends. I have not done the calculation but there must be about 150 countries that are not within the European Union. How do we manage to collaborate on scientific and other matters with those countries?
My Lords, one reason for our strong science base is our life sciences. The Minister will know that part of that depends on the interrelationship with the pharmaceutical industry and the investment that it puts into R&D. If we are to be non-aligned with the EU, many new drug developments in the UK will be at risk, because no company will want a licence in the UK before obtaining a European licence. Is that being factored into the discussions in relation to the European Medicines Agency and our own MHRA?
(1 year, 1 month ago)Lords Chamber
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the case for (1) prohibiting expiry dates on gift vouchers, (2) requiring retailers to notify purchasers of any expiry dates, and (3) requiring retailers to publish the proportion of vouchers sold that are not redeemed.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that helpful Answer. How many noble Lords are aware of people with date-expired gift cards at home, people whom the Competition and Markets Authority defines as vulnerable consumers, perhaps elderly or with learning difficulties? Will the Government consider emulating Ireland’s Consumer Protection (Gift Vouchers) Act 2019? That mandates a minimum five-year expiry date for all gift vouchers, and for the expiry date to be clearly communicated to the consumer on the voucher, not just in small print on the receipt, which is usually held by the purchaser.
Is my noble friend aware that for those of us who are grandparents, gift vouchers are a very useful gift which the receiver can choose what they do with? Would it not be impossible for the retailer to indicate to the consumer when they buy the gift voucher exactly when it expires? I declare an interest, having a daughter who runs a very successful cookware shop. I cannot see how, when she is serving customers, she would have the time to emphasise on each occasion a gift voucher is purchased that it has an expiry date.
My Lords, given that it is possible to make changes so that there can be clearer identification regarding the voucher, the purchaser and the person who receives it, is it not possible to develop a system in which we can try to persuade better corporate responsibility, so that if in fact a voucher is not redeemed its cash equivalent is paid to a charity?
My Lords, although unexpired and unused, my One4all gift card that was originally worth £40 is now worth only £25.60. I discovered in the small print that each month after 18 months an inactive balance charge of 90p is deducted from the card. Other owners of the cards have described this as a scam and, not surprisingly, 68% of users have given them the lowest possible rating on Trustpilot. I am not asking for the Minister’s sympathy, but can he at least tell us who makes the rules that enable that to happen and say whether they should be changed?
As a former retailer, I remember debates about the accounting treatment of these vouchers. However, I want to make a different point concerning competitiveness. Often vouchers are for British stores, but a modern move is to give people vouchers for major US internet retailers. I worry that, if we were to bring in new regulation, that trend might be encouraged and some of our smaller retailers that we try to shop at would be affected.
My Lords, I looked in my wallet before coming to this debate and noticed that I had two gift vouchers from Christmas. I am not quite sure what they say about me: one is for Greggs, the bakers, and one is for Waterstones. Nitecrest has estimated that 98.6% of gift vouchers are spent within the first year, but since the market for gift vouchers is worth around £6 billion, that means that about £84 million is not spent within the first year. Do the Government know what proportion of people who fail to spend their gift vouchers come from low-income households? If they have the answer to that, what measures, if any, are they looking to take to help support consumers and customers?
My Lords, I refer to my interests in the register. Has the Minister considered the position when vouchers are purchased in good faith from organisations that promise experiences of various sorts, but when the recipients of those vouchers try to redeem them they find there are specific circumstances in which the experience has to take place, be it skydiving—not something that I personally wish to indulge in, in consideration of the security of everyone below—or whatever bizarre thing people might wish to do? Has the Minister considered whether there should be some expectation on those selling these vouchers that they are genuinely redeemable?
(1 year, 1 month ago)Lords Chamber
My Lords, I have an apology to make to start with: I am so sorry that Wales sent Henry VII and Henry VIII through to Westminster to impose the sorts of powers that are now being used in the way they are. Henry VIII was also responsible for the Acts of Union, and I am sorry about that as well.
With regard to Wales, quite clearly these powers are being drawn up in a way that is, at best, cack-handed and, at worst, causing immense reaction in the National Assembly. It is no overstatement to say that Members across party divides in the National Assembly are seething about these powers being brought forward. It follows two years of discussion and debate about fears of a power grab, with powers being taken away from the National Assembly, and indeed possibly from the Scottish Parliament—no doubt Scottish Members of this Chamber can speak up for themselves on the situation there, although I must admit that I have heard very few Scottish voices in these debates. However, as far as Wales is concerned, there is real fear that, in areas such as agriculture and on the question of the single market and the purchasing power of the Assembly, powers may be taken back. That might be done on the pretext of their being necessary for the UK single market, or possibly for other reasons.
Given that there has been co-operation in Wales across party boundaries to make sure that the settlement we have is worked out in a sensible way and progressive additional powers have been given, and, by and large, that successive Governments in Wales have worked in collaboration with Governments in London, for this clause to be put forward in this way is, frankly, not acceptable. The Government of Wales Act could itself be amended, or even overturned. How on earth can these powers be necessary when there are other ways of achieving the objectives the Government may have in the context of international treaties, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, mentioned a few moments ago?
I beg the Government to look again at this. They are stoking up unnecessary conflict between Cardiff and Westminster. There may well be areas where we will have conflict and differences of opinion, so, for goodness’ sake, do not do it gratuitously. I ask the Minister to look seriously at this again and, if he cannot accept these amendments, to bring forward amendments on Third Reading to deal with this situation.
Before the Minister sits down, could he possibly give some illustration of the kind of provisions for which he and his officials feel it would be necessary to use these very extensive powers that cannot be done under the various sections of, for example, the Government of Wales Act, to which we have referred? Can he give some assurance about what they are? Are they merely technical issues or are they further? It seems extraordinary that, when there are these detailed powers and it is asserted that they are insufficient, no illustration can be given as to why they are necessary.
Before we finish this, I understand that the Minister cannot foresee all the issues that might arise, but what mechanism is there to ensure that, the moment something comes up that will clearly involve the specific competencies, responsibilities and regulations held by the Government of Wales, the Welsh Government will be involved from the outset—however much behind the scenes—and will have early warning that something might be coming down the road and that the Henry VIII powers might be used? The track record to date is not very reassuring.
I thank the Minister, but he is struggling. I have three points to make.
First, this is political. The Minister knows jolly well that he should be making these amendments, and No. 10 is telling him that he cannot. He must have heard from across the House that there are serious concerns about two elements. One is regulation-making powers, and the other is this very important one concerning Wales in particular, as we have heard from the Welsh accents today. A Government who had not been told by No. 10 to make no changes would have made some changes, and I regret that the Minister finds himself in that position. His answers are, frankly, inadequate. He says that this is all going to happen in 2020, but if I am right—and I look to be reassured that I am—there is no sunset clause on these powers, so we are not just talking about this year. We are talking about powers going well into the future.
As the Minister has heard, there is deep concern in your Lordships’ House about the Henry VIII powers and the ability to amend an Act and bring matters such as criminal offences or setting up public bodies which otherwise could be done only by an Act of Parliament. We have heard concern from the noble Lords, Lord Tyler and Lord Howarth, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, who used the word “unacceptable.” She said that there are no curbs on these powers. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, took us back to Magna Carta—before my time—and the importance of things such as taxation not being done by ministerial fiat; and that is what we are being asked to give here. That is one side of it. As the noble Lord, Lord Beith, said, keeping that boundary between what Parliament can do and what a Minister can do is key.
The second aspect is Wales. Maybe it is because the Minister is Minister for Northern Ireland and Scotland but not for Wales—or, he is indicating, for only a little bit of Wales—that he does not understand. He has the father of Welsh devolution here, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris. It is worth hearing about how it was implemented and about the trust, or lack of trust, at the moment. Here we are, a day before the Government ask Wales to give its legislative consent to this Bill, being told that the Government want to do things without the consent of Wales because of some spurious things that Section 109 does not go far enough on— although we have not heard examples—or because the international direction is not covered, even though the protocol is an international obligation. The most regrettable thing is that the Minister is saying, “Take me out: do this by a vote,” because he will not bring back an amendment at Third Reading. That is the sign of a closed mind. I regret that.
I am not, sadly, going to test the opinion of the House, but I leave the Minister with the words of warning from, I think, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge: test us on this, and we will vote down those affirmatives. That would be much more serious in the long term for the way government works, and I really do not advise that. But for the moment, I beg leave, with great sadness, to withdraw the amendment.
Break in Debate
My Lords, it has been a very good debate, not least because this is the first time in decades that we have heard in this Chamber from both nationalist and unionist representatives in the House of Lords. It is also many years since they have agreed—and that is good. I am delighted to say that we will support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, because it sums up the position of unanimity in Northern Ireland. It sums up the point referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Empey, that every single business organisation, commercial organisation, trade union and politician in Northern Ireland believes that the substance of these amendments is correct.
It is a matter of mere hours since the Northern Ireland Assembly—happily back again this week—this afternoon passed a Motion declining legislative consent to this Bill, largely because of the issues that we are now debating. That is very unfortunate. On the points made by noble Lords regarding the decision of the Prime Minister and the Government not to accept any amendments at all, I suspect that this has caused the Northern Ireland Assembly to do what it has done. I am sure that that is not the Minister’s view, but he has to do what he has to do. The Government have a majority of 80 and the power to do what they want; but whether they have the right to do that is quite another thing, certainly with regard to Northern Ireland.
However, should we find that the amendment is not agreed to, Annexe A to the New Decade, New Approach agreement published last week says that the British Government commits that
“we will legislate to guarantee unfettered access for Northern Ireland’s businesses to the whole of the UK internal market, and ensure that this legislation is in force for 1 January 2021. The government will engage in detail with a restored Executive on measures to protect and strengthen the UK internal market.”
So, we hope that the Government will revisit this. We will look at the strength of feeling in Northern Ireland. We will be able to look again in the course of the next nine months or more; indeed, when the trade deal is being negotiated, we will look very carefully at the implications for Northern Ireland as they have been outlined today.
Before concluding, I will make one final point in relation to the previous debate on devolution. We now have three functioning devolved Administrations in the United Kingdom. I am not convinced that the Government have understood the significance of that change in the political landscape. Yes, of course we have to implement this Bill, because the people have agreed by referendum, and now by election, for it to happen. But, at the same time, the Government should do this in co-operation with the devolved Administrations and Parliaments.
There is no evidence that this is happening. Worse, if the Welsh Senedd, or Assembly, decides soon not to give legislative consent to this Bill, as is likely, then Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast will all have declined to support it. That is not good. It is not good for democracy or for our leaving of the European Union. So I look forward to some interesting comments from the Minister on how he can assuage the concerns that have been raised at this afternoon. This is one of the most important issues affecting Northern Ireland—its economic, commercial and business future. We all look forward to listening to him.
With the leave of the House—as I was called away just after the speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, and therefore missed part of the debate—I want to put a simple question to the Minister. Does he not yet realise that he is the unfortunate victim of the Prime Minister’s propensity to promise people that they can have their cake and eat it? In short, he promised that there would be unfettered access between the British mainland and Northern Ireland and that there would be unfettered access between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. It does not take a genius to work out that that promise means that there will be unfettered access between the United Kingdom and Europe—which is impossible to achieve if we leave Europe. Would it not be better now to admit that, however hard they try, this will not happen? Otherwise, the disappointment in Northern Ireland will grow into disillusion and the disillusion will grow to bitterness, and that is where our problems will start.
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This is a great and considerable achievement, and I place on record the Opposition’s congratulations, in particular to the Secretary of State, Julian Smith, who has done a fabulous job. He has worked at this extremely hard and in great detail. He really is to be commended for the energy and commitment he has put into achieving this. I also congratulate the Tánaiste and Foreign Minister of Ireland, Simon Coveney. After all, the two Governments brokered this deal with the others whom we must congratulate: the political parties in Northern Ireland, together with the civil servants, headed by Sir Jonathan Stephens, and the others who have made this a reality.
I have personal experience of talks in Northern Ireland. They are never easy. Over the past three years, I and others have been taunting the Minister about the slowness of progress in Northern Ireland, but the Statement brings us great hope. As I said, I congratulate him and his Secretary of State on it.
Some questions arising from the Statement still need to be answered. On the financial settlement, the Minister will be aware that the Deputy First Minister and the First Minister have both written to the Prime Minister with some questions on the £2 billion that the Minister mentioned. He knows, of course, that £1 billion of that is a result of Barnett consequentials that would have come to Northern Ireland anyway. Of the remaining £1 billion, I think that £250 million was planned to come as a result of the deal between the DUP and the previous Government. Can the Minister tell us whether, in his view, all the commitments in the settlement will be dealt with by that £2 billion?
A rather novel institution is also being created: a joint board between the Northern Ireland Executive and the United Kingdom Government. I have not seen this at all in 20 years of devolution, where spending has been subject, if that is what the case is, to a board that represents the reserved powers of the Government here in Westminster and, in this case, in Belfast. Perhaps the Minister could elaborate on that.
We have of course been discussing Brexit in this House for some days. Only yesterday morning, we looked at the issue of Brexit and devolution. I am glad that there will now be a Northern Ireland Executive at the table dealing with the negotiations over our leaving the European Union. However, I hope that, bearing in mind that debate yesterday, that presence at the table will be meaningful and that the Government will actually listen to the Northern Ireland Executive, as I hope they will listen to the Welsh Government and the Scottish Government as well.
One of the central parts of this agreement, of course, is cultural and linguistic matters. I am sure that the Minister would agree, being a Scotsman, that the Scottish and Welsh Governments would be more than happy to help the new commissioners in their jobs to ensure that we deal with these issues.
One thing that really is pleasing in the agreement is that there is now a constitutional and legal mechanism, which I hope will be dealt with pretty quickly, that means an Assembly and Government cannot collapse in the same way they did three years ago. This mechanism will ensure a greater guarantee of stability for those institutions in Northern Ireland.
Despite the questions I posed to the Minister, I congratulate him and the Government on a really great breakthrough.
My Lords, we on these Benches certainly welcome the Statement and the fact that the Assembly is up and running and that a new Executive have been formed. It has been a long time coming, but it is welcome. I guess that a buzz of activity will now return to the corridors of Stormont.
There can be little doubt that last year’s elections, for local government and the European Parliament and the general election, have contributed to this outcome. The people of Northern Ireland have made it clear, not only in switching votes away from the two largest parties but in what they told candidates of all parties, that they were fed up with the failure and intransigence of their elected politicians and wanted them to get back to work. They will now need to do so. However, it surely behoves all the parties to give priority to making up for lost time, commitment and resources on the fundamental issues in Northern Ireland.
For example, the figures for the health service in Northern Ireland are truly shocking and would be utterly intolerable if they were apparent on the mainland. The fact that nurses have been reduced to striking because of the of absence of a pay settlement—a strike that is unprecedented—is surely a demonstration of how dangerous the state of things has become. So it is welcome that priority has been given in the Statement to resolving the dispute and delivering pay parity. But I am sure that people, especially those in need of treatment, will want to see a rapid improvement in the delivery of healthcare.
The crisis in education is also serious. Most schools are in deficit and are having to appeal to parents for funds to provide the most basic of services and equipment, including such things as toilet rolls. On a positive note, having visited the Magee campus of the University of Ulster, I very much welcome the £45 million ring-fenced capital resource funding for a graduate-entry medical school and hope that, with agreement, this will go ahead. The university has said consistently that it is poised and ready to do so.
For us, it is particularly good to see our Alliance colleague Naomi Long take up the post of Justice Minister in the Executive. We offer her our heartfelt congratulations. Naomi has been a Member of the House of Commons and a staunch defender of the rule of law. She has often put her personal safety at risk to stand up to criminal and paramilitary elements in Northern Ireland. She will be a committed and effective Minister, and we wish her the very best in her new role.
I particularly welcome the news that integrated schools, such as Cliftonville Integrated Primary School and Glencraig Primary School, will receive a share of the £45 million school enhancement programme that has been announced. The community in Northern Ireland benefits greatly from educating children together. These are great examples of schools where children of different religions, traditions and cultures are welcomed and treated equally. I have visited integrated schools and can see the positive environment they create. Can the Government provide more information on steps that will be taken to improve community relations in Northern Ireland and how they will work with the parties to ensure there is a genuine shared future for all? The Secretary of State made clear that this was not just about getting the Assembly back but trying to move forward to a more positive future.
As the Northern Ireland protocol unfolds and Brexit moves into a detail phase, it is of course welcome that the people of Northern Ireland will have a voice and a seat at the table. But the challenges are immense, new funding is essential and we must avoid backsliding into the old ways. Can the Minister explain how the proposed UK Government-Northern Ireland joint board referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, will operate, who will be on it and what its authority will be?
In conclusion, we all welcome a fresh start. We do not underestimate the challenges of restoring normality or dealing with Brexit but sincerely hope that, rather than just a “New Decade, New Approach”, this will stick and deliver for the people of Northern Ireland and the UK for the long term, and that we will not face the prospect of a collapse of the Executive and Assembly again.
My Lords, as somebody who spent the best part of two and a half years working on this agreement, I warmly welcome the Government’s Statement today and congratulate them on their tremendous achievement in restoring devolved government in Northern Ireland. Like other noble Lords, I also commend the work of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I know from long experience how much effort has gone into this, not just from the current Secretary of State but from his immediate predecessors. Indeed, the text of the agreement reached last weekend is to some of us strikingly familiar.
I have a couple of questions. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that this agreement and financial package finally afford us the opportunity to put the political paralysis of the past three years firmly behind us and to start to build a brighter, more prosperous future for Northern Ireland? Does he agree that devolved power-sharing government is the surest foundation for the governance of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom?
Finally, on the point raised about the joint board by the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, I spent many years in the Northern Ireland Office. If there is a department that is sometimes guilty of “devolve and forget”, it is the Northern Ireland Office. So I welcome the establishment of the joint board as a very positive development.
I echo the congratulations that I made fulsomely in my speech during the withdrawal Bill on Tuesday evening. Is this executive joint board a form of conditional devolution? I do not necessarily ask that critically, because the Northern Ireland Executive have had a record of not making tough decisions. Being in government involves choices and, sometimes, tough decisions. I speak from 12 years of my own experience in government. For example, I introduced water charges before we got the settlement of 2007. They were very unpopular and acted as a spur to the agreement we got. They were immediately abolished by the new Executive, which deprived the water industry of the capital investment and finance it needed to modernise, and the consequences are to be seen. Also, combined water charges and household taxes in Northern Ireland are half the average across England, Scotland and Wales. They need to raise more of their own revenue.
My Lords, I do not disagree with anything that has been said about the agreement and I am pleased to see a working Assembly once again. However, it concerns me as someone who was involved in the Belfast agreement that we appear to have had an inefficient Administration while the Assembly was not in place. We have not resolved the RHI issue, and it is important that we do. It is impoverishing farmers, in so far as we have not had equality on it with the rest of the United Kingdom or, indeed, with the south of Ireland. When will that be resolved?
Further to that, it appears to someone who was involved in 1998 that the Irish Government have been allowed to infringe strand 1 of the agreement. I hope that the Minister can address this. Moreover, why has nothing been done to discipline those responsible for finding money under the counter and paying £10,000 to someone who claimed to be annoyed by the Queen’s portrait hanging in their building? I advise the Minister, with respect, that those issues cannot be brushed under the carpet as they have been year after year. If we are to have a successful Assembly, we need a degree of openness. That starts with government here at Westminster.
My Lords, like other noble Lords I welcome the Statement. The Minister has come to this House on a number of occasions with negativity on Northern Ireland. This is a very positive Statement, and I and my party see it as a new beginning for Northern Ireland. After three years we now have a working Assembly and in particular an Executive made up of the five main parties in Northern Ireland. We have Ministers elected by the people of Northern Ireland and accountable to them, which is vital.
Yes, this Executive will face many challenges; there are huge challenges out there, but I have no doubt that they will face them with good will, whether in health, education, economic development or investment. I have no doubt whatever that they will do what they can to represent all the people of Northern Ireland. This Executive can show a lead to the people of Northern Ireland on how both communities in every community can live in peace and harmony. That is what this Executive need to be about.
I welcome the funding coming with the package. I know there may be some questions as to whether it is new money or from the Barnett formula or whatever, but it must be welcome. I also welcome, at long last, the £45 million of capital ring-fenced for the medical school in my own city of Londonderry. This has been ongoing for some time and I welcome it very much. I know that many, if not all, of the politicians in this city will welcome what has been achieved. I pay tribute to the Minister, his officials and the people who were at the coalface of getting this agreement over the line; after several weeks, several hours and several days, we got there. This whole House and the other place should welcome this agreement in moving Northern Ireland forward.
My Lords, I too welcome this very much, but I hope that the Government have learned lessons. You do not just sign a peace agreement and then forget about it. The Good Friday agreement continues to need daily work from all the people involved. Also, we should have learned from the last three years that if a Government look as though they are favouring and making a particular relationship with one party, as against working with and treating all parties equally, which the Good Friday agreement said that both Dublin and London should do, those parties then have no incentive to get back together and really make sure that they run affairs and are accountable for how things are run in Northern Ireland. I hope that the Government have learned those lessons and that we can all work to make sure that we do whatever we can to support and enable that Executive to work.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend warmly. Does he acknowledge that some important unfinished business has been taken forward in your Lordships’ House in the absence of the Executive? In particular, I refer to what I call the Hain initiative on providing proper compensation for those who suffered so much during the years of anguish and trouble. Can he assure the House that there will be no further impediment to implementing those measures?
My Lords, I say as one who participated in the establishment of these institutions that they should never have been collapsed in the first place, but I am glad to see them returned.
However, I draw the House’s attention to the part of the Statement that says that this deal was accepted by the main parties
“as a basis to re-enter devolved Government.”
That is not true. This is not an agreement. It is a government Statement and a Statement of the British and Irish Governments collectively. It was shoved into our hands at 8.30 pm last Thursday. We had never seen a number of the matters contained in it before. Our participation in the Executive is based exclusively on our rights under the Northern Ireland Act 1998, whereby our position in the Assembly is related to our electoral support. We have taken on the health portfolio, which I have drawn to the House’s attention on many occasions because it is in such a terrible state. I hope that we will succeed in that endeavour but I want to make it clear that, for instance, we have never seen the legacy proposals and this business of 100 days before—and we do not accept the legacy proposals. We never have. We have argued against them since Stormont House in 2014.
However, there are many good things in the Government’s Statement. There is potential. But do not create the impression that everybody accepts everything that is in this paper—we do not. It would be unfortunate if we clouded people’s thinking into believing that that is the case.
Nevertheless, we are there because we want to solve the problems that I and others have brought to the House’s attention time and again, such as the disgraceful state of affairs in our health service and many of our other public services. We will play as positive a role as possible but we will not be tied down to a Statement by two Governments containing provisions of which we had no knowledge and over which we had no say.
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My Lords, I congratulate the Government on achieving this agreement. It represents a good news day. Some of us have not had a good news day for many years, so it is a nice thing. I want to raise an issue that I have raised with the Minister before, but it is particularly relevant in the new context. Can he get the Home Office to approach the Health Minister, I think, and get Northern Ireland to agree to take some child refugees? It has told me that it will; I am assured by both Belfast and Derry that there is a willingness to do this. Can the Government please initiate that process?
My Lords, I add my voice to the warm welcome for the restoration of the devolved institutions in Northern Ireland and for a common programme for government that focuses on the priorities of the people of Northern Ireland. Does my noble friend agree that, to achieve better results, the Executive need to operate in less of a departmental, siloed way and adopt a greater sense of collective responsibility, which I hope will be reflected in a reformed and strengthened Ministerial Code?
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I thank the Minister for his Answer, but people now accept that civil society has a very important role to play. The location of Madrid was agreed at the last minute, but the fact that there was so little civil society engagement led to its failure. Therefore, I do not feel very reassured by the Answer that the Government are really on the case with this. When we signed up and bid to host COP 26, did we agree to anything—in the way that a country hosting the Olympics agrees to enhance sport in schools—such as making the understanding of climate change more available to everyone?
My Lords, I congratulate the Government on getting COP 26 in Glasgow. It is a great thing for the country. It is also important because of the climate emergency which the other place has declared. I was pleased to hear the Prime Minister say in October that there would be a cabinet committee for climate change, to ensure that it was across Government. How many times has it met under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister?
I congratulate my noble friend on the United Kingdom lowering its CO2 emissions from 2% to 1% of the world’s output, but meanwhile, worldwide net emissions of CO2 have gone up. Are we not in great danger of meeting 2050 with no net CO2 emissions only for worldwide CO2 emissions to have gone up, because the Chinese and Indians will have continued to build coal-burning power stations?
My Lords, rather in contradiction to what was said in an earlier question, the Government are woefully slow, as the House debated last June, in coming forward with policies and measures to meet new emissions targets—starting with the fourth and fifth carbon budgets, which are not being met, and including bringing international aviation and shipping emissions within the scope of the Paris Agreement. The Government’s White Paper is already at least nine months beyond its promised date. Would not the best way to encourage debate on these issues be to get on with these essential tasks and provide real leadership?
My Lords, may I, as someone from Edinburgh, welcome the fact that the conference is to be held in Glasgow? Will the Minister encourage his colleagues to ensure that as many as possible of the international conferences to be held in the United Kingdom are held outside London—in Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool, as well as in Edinburgh and Glasgow? Will he also do everything he can to ensure that both Edinburgh and Glasgow remain part of the United Kingdom? I am sure he will.
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. COP 26 gives this country the opportunity both to show leadership and to showcase achievement. However, welcome though the commitment to net zero in 2050 is, does the Minister agree that by the time of the Glasgow meeting we need a sector-by-sector detailed road map of how we will actually achieve that target?
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. Our current nuclear fleet is approaching the end of its working life and only a single new station is being built. We need much more than that to provide additional zero-carbon firm power and reduce the risk of not meeting net zero by 2050. Does the Minister agree that a key means of doing this at least cost is to focus on replication: building a number of the same design to learn lessons and gain efficiencies, rather than using a wide range of designs, as per the previous strategy? Can he confirm that the Government are prioritising a decision on the financing of new nuclear to enable the industry to move forward?
My Lords, I welcome the Minister’s statement strongly in support of civil nuclear power. It is quite obvious to most people—not to everyone, I know—that we are never going to meet our carbon targets without a significant contribution from nuclear energy. For the first time in a generation we have the opportunity now, at Sizewell C, to use the learning curve and replication of design and construction to bring down costs and possibly the timescale involved in building the second nuclear power station, much more than the last Labour Government did, I must say—to my regret; I do not know about theirs. I hope the Minister will persuade his colleagues that we need to expedite these developments.
My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend’s brief really reflects the full position. After all, Hinkley is now £3 billion over budget and delayed by a year or two, Wylfa has been suspended, Moorside has been abandoned, and the Chinese and French are struggling to raise finance for Sizewell C. It is not a very good picture. Should we not be focusing rather more on prospects for small modular reactors, which can be built much more quickly, and perhaps more cheaply, and might make an even bigger contribution when it comes to global climate change, which is the real problem?
My Lords, I think all your Lordships will welcome the fact that an energy White Paper is going to be published. This country has lacked a joined-up strategy on energy for many years. Can the Minister confirm that this White Paper will include not only generation of all kinds but the storage of energy and the flexible, or more flexible, distribution of energy? Clearly those will be key in how we go forward.
My Lords, nuclear energy is obviously essential to enabling us to combat climate change, as my noble friend Lord Cunningham just said, but what are the Government doing to enable the public to move away from the other fossil fuel, gas, which is so widely used in domestic heating?
My Lords, the Wylfa project on Anglesey has been suspended, as we have heard. Would my noble friend agree that it is clear that Governments will need to invest in new nuclear? Will the Government look at promoting that project with Hitachi through a government commitment to invest sovereign capital, thereby reducing the cost of capital and offsetting some of the risk?
I will make one or two observations, if I may. I accept that it is plainly the obligation of the United Kingdom Government to take steps to implement their international obligations—the justification given by the Minister in his summing up yesterday evening. It is also right that there may be circumstances in which changes to the devolution legislation are needed. But there are ways of doing this, which have been admirably explained.
This Henry VIII clause is extraordinary because it enables the Government not merely to amend the Act but to repeal it. I cannot conceive that anyone who was drafting this with a degree of sense would ever have thought the Government would repeal the Act. When you look at the wording—it is quite useful to look at wording—this has been drafted without any regard to the realities of a union Government. This clause is manifestly deficient in that it goes way beyond anything that could conceivably be needed, even if you ignore the argument about the precedent being set.
The Government should think again. There are proper ways of doing things. I respectfully ask them to see whether they can come back with something different, or, at the very least, explain fully what they intend to do—what consultation they intend to carry out—before they repeal the Act. It is difficult to see how you would ever think that the Act needed to be repealed. One must always recall that the union of England and Wales was brought about by Henry VIII. It would be an extraordinary irony if a Henry VIII clause was used to begin the undermining of that union.
Is the Minister therefore saying that the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee is incorrect? Paragraph 9 of its report notes that Clause 41
“contains a Henry VIII power for a Minister of the Crown by regulations to repeal or amend any Act of Parliament … Such regulations are made pursuant to the negative procedure.”
I am afraid that that does not answer the points noble Lords have made. It is not so much that the powers are needed for Northern Ireland, but there should be restrictions on them. I am sorry, because the Minister is normally brilliant at the Dispatch Box and very well briefed. However, had he read Amendment 15 he would have seen what we were trying to write in by restricting those powers, such as not undermining the Government of Wales Act. He would have understood that we were not questioning that some of the powers will be needed for Northern Ireland—we will come to that in a different debate—but the way they have been set out in this clause. Unlike Clause 18, which I quoted, Clause 21 does not have the restrictions on those powers that exist in the other clauses in the Bill or, indeed, in the 2018 Act.
Our concern remains. It is good to have a northern voice. Most of us here are Welsh or from the West Country, where we feel this very strongly. The Minister is saying that these powers were not designed to undermine devolution and that the intention is not to use them that way, but that is not good enough. When something is put in an Act of Parliament, it is a power. No matter that it is not intended to be used that way, the power is there. As the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, said, there is already another way. Although I cannot see that the Government of Wales Act would need to be altered for Northern Ireland, if it does there is a perfectly good way of doing it. Denying the restriction, whether it is new criminal offences or anything like that, which exist for all the other Henry VIII powers, is very hard to substantiate, simply because it is to do with Northern Ireland. Not accepting that the other devolution settlements should be in any way accessible to these powers is unsatisfactory. As other noble Lords have said, even the word “repeal” is like waving a red flag at the way these powers could be used.
Having heard from the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, my noble friend Lord Howarth, the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, I hope that the Minister might look again at the wording of these amendments and understand why we have real worries about them. Perhaps he would be willing to meet before Report. Otherwise, it will be necessary to try to circumvent these powers in a way that happens elsewhere, but not in relation to the Northern Ireland protocol. I leave the Minister with that thought and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
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My Lords, I should like to speak before the Minister responds. I want to make a few brief remarks, not least on what has already been said. In Northern Ireland we are continually lectured and told, “If you could only speak with one voice, how different things would be.” However, we speak as one voice tonight. We speak not only politically, but for the business community, and I include all those who have spoken on this matter.
I know that the Minister is a listening man, but I want him to go a step further and implement the proposed changes. The noble Lord, Lord Hain, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, the noble Lords, Lord Bruce and Lord Empey, my noble friend Lord McCrea and others have said very clearly what Northern Ireland expects. We must be allowed to function as a country and as a trading partner with the rest of the United Kingdom.
There is no doubt—and those who do not agree with my politics at all have clearly outlined—that what we are being told by the Prime Minister is one thing, but actions always speak louder than words. We need the Prime Minister, the Government and the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Duncan, to take on board very clearly that there are serious issues at stake here.
It is ironic that one part of the United Kingdom will have a border with the rest of the United Kingdom. How can that ever be right? Even common sense will tell us that that is not functional; it will just not work.
It has already been stated that Northern Ireland’s economy is built on a multiplicity of small businesses—those which employ and engage fewer than 10 people. That is what our economy is built on; that is the backbone of our economy. We do not disparage the large companies that bring massive employment to our shores, but it has to be said clearly, and I do not exaggerate when I say it this evening, that those small businesses are watching every move, because their future is at stake—not only their future, but that of many homes.
It is no secret that wages in Northern Ireland are lower than those in other regions of the United Kingdom. Many families struggle. Many are in the poverty trap. Many live on the margins, as I call it. Are they not deserving to be treated equally? Is there not a strong case for saying that we need to look at this again? As my colleague and noble friend Lord McCrea has said, there is an ocean of difference in the meaning of the word “may” as compared to the word “must”, which the noble Lord, Lord Hain, has asked to be put in. You have an option if you may; you do not have that option if you must.
I concur with those who have said that this is not in any way a wrecking attempt. We know where we are in the whole Brexit debate. We know where we were in relation to Brexit. This is not a last-gasp, desperate attempt to do something over the Government. This can be implemented very easily and respectfully. I associate those remarks with the amendment in my name and the names of my three colleagues. We have absolutely no difficulty in supporting the amendments that have been tabled, and I trust that there will be no difficulty in supporting our amendment. It is there for the right reasons; there is nothing sinister about it. We are absolutely sincere. I plead with this House and with the Government to take it sincerely, because there is so much at stake.
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