My Lords, we seek co-operation between the elected authorities in the United Kingdom. That also involves co-operation with local authorities. But it is part of devolution that the decisions to which the noble Lord has referred are made by the devolved Administrations. That is the fact of the law.
My Lords, there were strong signals, which were to be welcomed, from the Prime Minister and Ministers earlier in the summer when the Prime Minister called a meeting with the First Ministers to discuss “build back better” and the economic recovery following the pandemic. That was followed by similar statements from the Chancellor, who I think on a visit to Scotland said that he was going to try to support an economic recovery for the whole of the United Kingdom and involve everybody in that approach. What have been the practical outcomes of those discussions, and will there be further discussions to ensure that, given the tax and economic powers that now exist at different levels of government in the United Kingdom, everybody is pointing in the same direction for economic recovery?
I thank the noble Lord, as always, for his constructive question. At the Covid recovery meeting in June, which the Prime Minister instigated, all present agreed to finalise the new system for inter- governmental relations. We are now exceedingly close to that—we are in a position to conclude the work—and I tell the House that the Prime Minister has written regarding another such meeting in October.
My Lords, the noble Baroness raises an important point. I agree that every effort should be made to improve the standards that we have now. The more that appointments reflect the ethnic diversity of our country, the better, and I will certainly take the spirit of her comments back to my colleagues.
My Lords, going through the list of all the non-executive directors appointed to the different government departments, I was perturbed to see so many Members of your Lordships’ House—not just from one side but from other sides, too—and so many others who had recently been Members of Parliament. I wonder whether there is a constitutional issue here around the scrutiny role of Members of your Lordships’ House in relation to Ministers, and the scrutiny role of non-executive directors on departmental boards performing a different function. Should there perhaps be some rules that do not allow Members of your Lordships’ House to serve in these roles and that set a time limit from leaving Parliament for former MPs as well? There is a real conflict between the scrutiny roles in these two Houses of Parliament and the scrutiny role of an NED, and the Government might want to look at that.
My Lords, the noble Lord, as ever, raises a thoughtful and interesting point. I do not follow him entirely, because I believe that it is the essence of your Lordships’ House that it contains people of enormous experience—past and current—whose input into our public affairs is to the benefit of the country generally. I will reflect on what he said. Obviously, in relation to leaving time before taking up an appointment, in the current circumstances, no one ever leaves the House of Lords until they retire at the very end of their days.
My Lords, the national science and technology council is to be a new Cabinet committee which will provide strategic direction on the use of science and technology as the tools to tackle great societal changes, level up across the country and boost prosperity around the world. Membership of Cabinet committees does not typically include members of the devolved Administrations, but we will continue to engage with them as work goes forward.
My Lords, as a former mathematics teacher, I welcome any new initiative that boosts science and technology. In another former job, as First Minister of Scotland, I created the role of Chief Scientific Adviser to the First Minister of the Scottish Government in 2006. There is a considerable opportunity here for the Governments across the UK to work together for maximum benefit in this new initiative. I therefore urge the Government to include on the agenda of the next economic recovery summit—if the Prime Minister’s recent summit was not just a one-off gimmick—this initiative for a new science and technology council, maximising co-operation across the UK with universities, government advisers and other scientists.
My Lords, I am very grateful for what the noble Lord has said and the general welcome he has given. I pay tribute to him for his own work. I can certainly assure him that, for example, the role of the new technology adviser covers a breadth of issues that necessarily make it a UK role, but the office for science and technology strategy is expected to engage regularly with chief scientific advisers and officials on how science and technology are being deployed across the United Kingdom. This will and does include the chief scientific advisers and officials in the devolved Administrations.
I absolutely agree with my noble friend. That is the commitment of the Prime Minister, and I have every hope that it will be the commitment of the other First Ministers and leading Ministers involved. Our nation gained enormously from the resources of the United Kingdom, including financial, Armed Forces, co-operative, technical and scientific ones. That lesson has not gone unnoticed by people in every corner of these isles.
My Lords, I hope that the calling of this summit by the Prime Minister is a signal of a change of approach, and a signal that we are about to see a new era with a better balance of respect and co-ordination across the four nations of the United Kingdom. Given the economic responsibilities of the devolved Governments in relation to tax, the environment, climate change, skills and so on, will the economic recovery be top of the agenda at this summit? Also, will the summit be followed up by another event, with the Chancellor ensuring that the devolved Governments are fully integrated into the UK’s economic recovery following Covid-19?
My Lords, let us begin where we begin—with the forthcoming summit. I am grateful to the noble Lord for welcoming the Prime Minister’s initiative. I agree with what the noble Lord said about the fundamental importance of economic recovery. Again, repeating what I said earlier, I am sure that everyone in all parts of this kingdom will put their shoulders behind it.
My Lords, the Government have developed an ambitious agenda for the UK’s G7 presidency, which focuses on building back better for all. The Prime Minister will welcome the leaders of the world’s leading democracies in June to address shared challenges, from beating coronavirus and tackling climate change to ensuring that people everywhere can benefit from open trade, technological change and scientific discovery.
My Lords, I hope that today we are all celebrating President Biden’s decision to sign up again to the Paris Agreement on climate change. I hope that the Government recognise the critical importance of the G7 summit, building towards COP 26 in November and decisive action on climate change. Do the Government also recognise that the best global businesses are crying out for leadership on the sustainable development goals, the framework that provides us with the opportunity to genuinely build back better? Will the Government ensure that those goals are on the agenda for the G7?
My Lords, certainly, one of the key declared aims of the G7 presidency is tackling climate change and preserving the planet’s biodiversity, as I stated. I can certainly tell the noble Lord that we very much welcome the prospect of bringing the COP 26 UN climate conference to Glasgow, to Scotland, in November and will be working on the important agenda that the noble Lord outlines.
My Lords, the Government are developing an ambitious agenda for the UK’s G7 presidency, focusing on our people, prosperity and planet. We will seek to build off the G7’s shared values as democratic and open societies to address the key health, economic and climate challenges of the day and build back better for all.
My Lords, I am certain that I speak for noble Lords on all sides of your Lordships’ House when I express my disappointment at the resignation of the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg. She has been an excellent Minister who has done an incredible power of work, particularly for women and girls around the world, and enhanced Britain’s reputation as she did so. We are disappointed that she has left the Government.
In 2005, I felt an enormous sense of pride at Gleneagles in Scotland as the UK used our leadership of the G8 summit to bring the world together, to unite the world and ensure that there were increased and accelerated commitments from G8 leaders and others to help those living in extreme poverty. Is it not shameful that in 2021, the Government will use the months ahead of the G7 summit in the UK to do the exact opposite and, like the worst kind of playground bully, after a year in which a pandemic has reminded us of the interdependence of our world, to pick on the most vulnerable and break a promise to the poor?
My Lords, I share the noble Lord’s tribute to my good friend and noble friend Lady Sugg. The Government are committed to supporting international development and helping the world’s poorest people, as we have shown already in 2020, hosting the world’s biggest ever summit to raise funding for vaccinations in the poorest countries, and we continue to commit to supporting developing nations against the coronavirus problems.
My Lords, the issue with the US is slightly wide of the Question, but I assure the noble Viscount again that engagement with business is ongoing, has been ongoing and will develop further in light of the new proposals. The Government have been grateful for the welcome from many representative bodies in industry to the engagement that has taken place so far.
My Lords, while the legislation on the new borders is clearly reserved, the implementation of the work on these new borders will involve interaction with the devolved Governments, particularly in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Might the Minister like to reflect on the way in which communication and the co-ordination of decisions, particularly during the emergence from the peak lockdown period, has deteriorated between the central UK Government and the devolved Governments? Can he give us any reassurance that lessons have been learned and that, as we move into this new phase of borders for the UK, that the relationship will be more transparent and effective?
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Governments to coordinate a United Kingdom-wide approach to relaxing the restrictions in place to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
My Lords, the UK Government have worked closely with the devolved Administrations throughout this crisis. There have been discussions between Ministers and officials, and this engagement will continue. [Inaudible.] Citizens in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should follow the equivalent guidelines issued by their respective Administrations.
My Lords, the diversity of decision-making between the four nations of the UK, in particular regarding health, is an integral part of the devolution settlement and is to be welcomed, not criticised. However, the diversity in communicating public information has been woeful at times during the 12 weeks of this lockdown. To the best of my knowledge, there have been no joint simultaneous statements by the Prime Minister and the three First Ministers, and no joint simultaneous parliamentary or Written Statements by the Health or Business Ministers during this whole period. Will the Minister, on behalf of the Government, give a commitment to try to do better than this as we move out of lockdown and try to avoid a resurgence of the virus next winter? Can we ensure that, even where there are differences, we communicate with clarity why they exist, and ensure that each part of this United Kingdom knows exactly what the rules and regulations are in its area?
My Lords, with apologies to the House, I will repeat the Answer I gave earlier. The United Kingdom Government have worked closely with the devolved Administrations throughout the crisis. There have been frequent discussions between Ministers and officials. This engagement will continue. As we set out in our road map to recovery, the virus may be spreading at different speeds across the United Kingdom, and measures may need to change in different ways and at different times. Citizens in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should follow the equivalent guidance issued by their respective Administrations.
My Lords, the divergence of decision-making during this lockdown period is something to celebrate, not criticise. It is an integral part of the devolution settlement and has made for better decision-making for each individual health service and other aspects of government in the four nations. However, at times, the public communication of those decisions has been woeful. The lack of co-ordination between the public announcements of the four Health Ministers and the four Business Ministers—and even between the Prime Minister and the three First Ministers—has created confusion and, occasionally, distress in the four nations. I urge the Minister to give a commitment on behalf of the Government to seek to improve this co-ordination of public information, communication and explanation as we emerge from lockdown and try to avoid a second spike or a resurgence of the virus in the winter.
My Lords, I understand the point that the noble Lord makes. He is right that there is a devolution settlement and that these matters are devolved. Clear communication to citizens has been a priority throughout the crisis. We have tried to make clear, and have made clear, which measures apply to citizens in each of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, including through making this explicit in UK Government guidance.