Debates between Lord True and Lord Wallace of Saltaire during the 2019 Parliament

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Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill

(2nd reading)
Debate between Lord True and Lord Wallace of Saltaire
Tuesday 30th November 2021

(4 days, 13 hours ago)

Lords Chamber

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Cabinet Office
Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
- - Excerpts

My Lords, I take issue with the repetition of the phrase “tried and tested” by the Minister and others to defend prerogative power. The British people, the Minister declared, lived with the previous system for centuries. For several of those centuries, this country was at best semi-democratic. In the 17th century, as the noble Earl, Lord Leicester, reminded us, Chief Justice Coke stoutly defended the rule of law against the royal prerogative. Parliament’s resistance to the royal prerogative led to civil war and the execution of the king, followed 40 years later by the expulsion of his second successor and the invitation to his Dutch son-in-law to become king instead. Our 18th century political system was highly corrupt, with bribery and patronage underpinning government. I hope that that is not a tried and tested system to which anyone would like to return us.

Reform in the 19th century made for higher standards and greater democracy, almost always against the entrenched resistance of the Tory party. Throughout the past 400 years, as the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, remarked, the whole history of Parliament has been the transfer of powers from the monarch to Parliament. I challenge the Minister to list for the House the occasions on which Parliament has legislated to restore prerogative powers.

Two new reports from committees of this House have expressed deep concerns relevant to this debate. The Delegated Powers Committee last Thursday published a report called Democracy Denied? The Urgent Need to Rebalance Power Between Parliament and the Executive. It said that parliamentary democracy is

“founded on the principles of … parliamentary sovereignty, the rule of law and the accountability of the executive to Parliament … The shift of power from Parliament to the executive must stop.”

The report of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, in parallel, is entitled Government by Diktat: a Call to Return Power to Parliament. It declares:

“A critical moment has now been reached when that balance”—

between Parliament and the Executive—

“must be re-set: not restored to how things were immediately before these exceptional recent events”—

by which it means Brexit and Covid—

“but re-set afresh”.

Both of these committees remind us that limited government—or liberal democracy—depends on checks and balances among three constitutional actors: Parliament, elected and representing the people; the judiciary, safeguarding the rule of law; and government, wielding executive power.

In the exceptional circumstances of 2017 to 2019, both Theresa May and Boris Johnson claimed to represent the will of the people against Parliament: direct democracy, with the leader speaking for the masses against the elites. The noble Lord, Lord True, has faithfully repeated their claim, adding on several occasions that the December 2019 election showed decisively that the Government do speak for the people—if necessary, against Parliament—having won 43.5% of the popular vote.

Lord Hailsham many years ago warned that the UK’s constitutional arrangements allowed for an effective “electoral dictatorship” between elections, with executive power escaping parliamentary scrutiny and judicial oversight. What we have glimpsed in the past four years is the shadow of authoritarian populism breaking through the conventions of our unwritten constitution. Michael Gove argued in the Commons Second Reading debate on this Bill that Parliament in 2019 was

“frustrating the will of the people”—[Official Report, Commons, 6/7/2021; col. 789.]

which he believed a new Prime Minister—who had scarcely appeared before Parliament since taking office—nevertheless authentically represented. The will of the people is the cry of populist demagogues, not of constitutional democrats.

I re-read last week the 2019 report by the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, for the Constitution Society: Good Chaps No More? It denounces the willingness of our current Prime Minister to break the rules and misrepresent evidence in his first months in office. He says:

“A key characteristic of the British constitution is the degree to which the good governance of the United Kingdom has relied on the self-restraint of those who carry it out … If general standards of good behaviour among senior UK politicians can no longer be taken for granted, then neither can the sustenance of key constitutional principles.”

Sadly, good behaviour by senior politicians cannot be taken for granted, so I say to the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, that codification is therefore needed. As the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee has just put it, we now need a reset, not a restoration of the previous status quo.

The noble Lord, Lord True, has defended the Government’s abandonment of their manifesto promise of a broader approach to reform through a constitutional commission. He told the House the other week that he also opposed piecemeal reform. So now he is supporting a piecemeal reactionary Bill—a Bill that restores prerogative power and weakens the judiciary. I look forward to hearing how he manages to defend that.

The Select Committee on the Constitution reminded us that

“prerogative powers are an exception to the sovereignty of Parliament.”

Successive reports from committees of both Houses over the last 20 years have noted that the direction of travel has been to reduce the extent of prerogative powers, and to extend parliamentary oversight. This Bill would reverse that direction.

We will therefore attempt to amend this Bill. We will support the replacement of Clause 3 by a requirement for an affirmative vote in the Commons before the Prime Minister requests a Dissolution. We will also seek to include a parallel requirement for this before Prorogation. Moving the Second Reading in the Commons, Michael Gove made it entirely clear that Clause 3 had been included because of the Supreme Court’s decision on Prorogation in 2019. Lord Sumption indicated in his evidence to the Joint Committee that the Prime Minister

“was effectively attempting to rule without Parliament”

for as long as possible. That surely brings the issue of Prorogation within the scope of this Bill.

We will wish to gain assurances from the Government —and here I strongly agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton—that a draft revised version of the Cabinet Manual will be published before this Bill becomes an Act, and will be presented to the appropriate committees of both Houses for review, as has been strongly recommended by her Select Committee. The Cabinet Manual provides a directory of our constitutional conventions—if you like, a shadow constitutional document.

We will also wish for assurances on a revised version of the Dissolution Principles, which should also appropriately cover the process of government formation. The draft principles and conventions on confidence, Dissolution and Government formation on pages 61 to 65 of the Joint Committee report are far better and fuller than the one-page sketch that the Government provided.

The Joint Committee draft also wisely deals with the issue of Government formation in the event that an election does not produce a single-party majority. Opinion polls over the past six to nine months have consistently shown between 25% and 30% of voters supporting parties other than the Conservatives or Labour. This suggests that the result of the next election might well be again a Parliament without a single-party majority. Any form of future proofing, as others have said, would therefore need to take this into account. I recognise that the Conservatives will attempt in the Elections Bill to bias our electoral system further to their advantage, but it is still possible, despite their huge advantages in funding and office, that they will not retain power.

We have just witnessed a well-managed change of government in Germany, during which the outgoing Government stayed in office for eight weeks after the election, while three parties carefully negotiated a detailed agreement as the basis for a stable coalition. We may need to develop a similar approach here and should anticipate the likelihood of its occurrence.

Since we are discussing some fundamental issues of democracy, I will add a further question for the Minister. In 10 days’ time, the President of our most important democratic ally, the United States, is convening a virtual summit of democracies to discuss the challenges and dangers that they now face, to which several noble Lords have referred. The UK sees itself as one of the world’s oldest democracies, yet the Government have so far said nothing about this summit: whether they plan to take part, which Minister will lead, and what we might contribute. Will the Minister provide this House, before 9 December, with a Statement on what part, if any, the Government plan to play in President Biden’s summit of democracies? We should never take democracy for granted: it needs to be defended.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, indeed we should never take democracy for granted—although I have noticed over the years, with advancing age, that whenever the party on those Benches is resoundingly defeated at any election, whether by the Labour Party or the party on these Benches, it cries “Populism!”, “Foul!”, “Unfair!”. We have just heard an extraordinary suggestion that an ideal constitution would involve months and months of negotiation, presumably involving the Liberal Democrats, probably on a statutory basis. I have to say that I do not think that that is a way forward that would commend itself to many in this House.

It has been an outstanding debate, and, of course, I must congratulate my noble friend Lord Leicester on his outstanding maiden speech. All of the House found it entrancing: it was deeply rooted in history, traditions and a sense of place, cherishing the best of our past and showing a love and knowledge of the environment. It was also so forward-looking in embracing new technologies and ideas for the future. My noble friend said he liked a challenge. Well, I think we will all relish the challenge that he set out, based on the charm and wisdom that he displayed. By the way, at the age of four I wanted to see a spoonbill and I still never have seen one. That is not a request for an invitation, but I congratulate him on bringing those birds back to these shores.

Also in preamble, I was asked by somebody, possibly the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, to apologise for the 2011 Act. Actually, like my noble friend Lady Noakes with whose speech I much agreed, I was no enthusiast for the 2011 Act. Indeed, I remember coming out of a victorious local election campaign in Richmond in 2010—I will not say who the defeated party were—to be telephoned by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, who said that he had been summoned to a meeting of the Shadow Cabinet to approve negotiations for coalition, which included some of the ideas that we have heard today. I was not entirely enamoured of that. In fact, if you look in the Division lists on the ping-pong on that Bill, you will not find my name. I was a very new Member of the House, but that was my first mini revolt; I rather fear that one or two others followed. I do not commend that behaviour to my noble friend Lord Leicester, but I will not apologise for the 2011 Act, because, I repeat, it was a political experiment. Some, like the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, have said that it was a political expediency. That is correct; hopefully your Lordships will accept that it should be gone and gone swiftly.

We have had a very informed debate on an important constitutional Bill. As I had expected, we have had a large number of insightful speeches based on your Lordships’ varied expertise and experience. I will try to answer as many points as I can. I was sorry that one or two of the speeches suggested that there was an authoritarian approach behind this Bill—I think I even heard the word “fascist” at one point, which is not a helpful word to play at political opponents. That was certainly not the Government’s intention or an approach that I would ever commend from this Dispatch Box. On the other hand, I have been very grateful for the support of many of my noble friends; for example, my noble friends Lord Strathclyde, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, Lady Pidding and others.

I was slightly discouraged by the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, casting a fly over the House on the matter of Prorogation. In my humble submission—I used to look at Bills to see how I could amend them to cause trouble for the party opposite over many years—it does not look to me from the Long Title that Prorogation should come into this Bill. I emphasise that the Bill is not, and was never intended to be, about Prorogation. The Government made it clear at the time that they were disappointed with the judgment on Prorogation but, in the event, the Supreme Court noted that its decision rested on the case’s exceptional facts. What we have in this Bill is not in relation to that Prorogation issue, and the Government will not support attempts to bring that procedure into scope. We should concentrate on the matters before us.

I was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, and my noble friend Lord Hayward about the 25-day election period. It has not been the main subject of debate, but I know that it is a matter of concern to many. I can say that the Government wish to retain the 25-day working period. This was acknowledged; we have made that clear. We believe that any reduction would have adverse effects on all those involved in elections: political parties, electoral administrators and, most importantly, the electors. As both noble Lords said, modern elections are complex operations, including postal and overseas voting. The Government’s position is that we should retain the current system. I hope that we will not detain ourselves too long on that question in this Bill as, obviously, we will have a larger Bill on elections coming forward.

Many referred to the constitutional conventions and principles that lie alongside the Bill. My noble friends Lord Norton of Louth and Lord Bridges of Headley were wise to advise against too much codification; in that, I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. I note the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, about the Cabinet Manual, which I will take away. I can offer her no specific response in advance beyond what I have said to your Lordships before.

Conventions are important. If the Bill revives the prerogative powers to dissolve one Parliament and call another, as we believe, then prerogative powers will once more be governed by convention. As I said in my opening speech, it is critical that there is a common understanding of how they will operate. I have no doubt that we will have valuable discussions on those matters.

I was asked to address a question about whether the prerogative can be revived—a point raised, from different perspectives, by a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane; indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, asked for an example. I do not particularly want to go back to the 17th century. The centuries that I was referring to were rather more recent, but I would think that 1660 was a fairly significant example of the royal prerogative being revived.

The Government are confident that the prerogative powers can be revived but, as was said by a number of noble Lords, to make express provision to do so is the intent and effect of Clause 2. The Government believe there is a sound legal basis for this position. The courts have said that a revival of prerogative powers is possible. For example, the Supreme Court said in the first Miller case:

“If prerogative powers are curtailed by legislation, they may sometimes be reinstated by the repeal of that legislation, depending on the construction of the statutes in question.”

That was put more strongly in the case of Burmah Oil when Lord Pearce in 1965 observed that, if a statute that restricts the prerogative is repealed, then

“the prerogative power would apparently re-emerge as it existed before the statute”.

This would be subject to words in the repealing statute, as was referred to in the GCHQ case.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, reminded us, the Joint Committee reserved its position on this question but concluded that the Bill is sufficiently clear to give effect to the Government’s intention of returning to the prior constitutional position. As the former First Parliamentary Counsel Sir Stephen Laws said in evidence to the Joint Committee, this academic debate is a “red herring”. He said that it

“is perfectly plain that the intention of the Act is to restore the situation to what it was before the 2011 Act, and therefore the law will then be indistinguishable from what it was before”.

Of course, many noble Lords on all sides, as I readily anticipated, raised important points about Clause 3. I will address them briefly, although my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern was quite right to say that these matters will need to be probed and discussed in depth in Committee. I think there is general consensus in the House on that, to which I accede, and I look forward to those discussions.

We believe that the clause is necessary and proportionate, for the avoidance of doubt, and will preserve what I still contend, with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, is the long-standing position that the prerogative powers to dissolve one Parliament and call another are non-justiciable. Prerogative powers to dissolve are inherently political in nature and, as such, we maintain, are not suitable for review by the courts. Certainly, that was the view as expressed by Lord Roskill in the GCHQ case in 1985, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, reminded us. The courts are not the place to determine whether Parliament should be dissolved on one date or other.

This clause seeks to underline that position. The Independent Review of Administrative Law in March noted that Clause 3 can be regarded as a “codifying clause”, which

“simply restates the position that everyone understood obtained before the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 was passed”.

Several noble Lords questioned why the clause is necessary at all, if the recognised position is that prerogative powers are non-justiciable. I hope that what happened to my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham does not happen to me in my ministerial career: finding that everything I do is reversed, although that has happened to me in other contexts. I hope that I will be able to reassure him that, in our judgment, the clause is necessary to take account of the direction of travel in case law, and has been drafted carefully in recognition of, and to address, that fact.

Over the years since the GCHQ case, some other prerogative powers previously considered non-justiciable have been held by the courts to be justiciable. So, the purpose of this clause in this case is to be as clear as possible about the no-go sign around the Dissolution and calling of Parliament. It is carefully drafted, respecting the message from the courts in Cart that only

“the most clear and explicit words”

can exclude their jurisdiction. Therefore, while the Government agree that the revived powers of Dissolution are non-justiciable, we are making provision to confirm and preserve this position for the future.

Noble Lords, including the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, made reference to the judgment of the Supreme Court in respect of the review of the scope of prerogative power to dissolve Parliament. The Government have drafted Clause 3 with regard to case law, including Miller II. It is a proportionate response that seeks to put beyond doubt that Dissolution is not a matter for the courts. The independent review on administrative law noted this judgment, and the distinction it draws creates the potential for the courts to circumvent no-go signs currently mounted around the exercise of prerogative powers. The Clause seeks to make it clear that, in the context of the Dissolution and calling of Parliament, the no-go signs should not be subverted in this way. The democratically elected House of Commons is constituted as a clear expression of the will and judgment of the public, and the ability of the electorate to judge the record of the Government and their decision to call an election as well. That is the continued safeguard which protects Parliament.

Some noble Lords spoke of a concept of an improper Dissolution or an abuse of Dissolution. That concern is misplaced. There are a number of sufficient and appropriate restraints in our constitutional arrangements. First is the convention that the sovereign should be kept out of politics; this in itself is a powerful deterrent to making any improper request. Nevertheless, the sovereign may in exceptional circumstances refuse a request to dissolve Parliament. The noble Lord, Lord Beith, had some important and interesting reflections on this point. I too would like to know the answer to his question about 1974.

That is not all. In response to the report by the FTPA Joint Committee, we have amended the Bill so that the statutory election period will be triggered automatically by the Dissolution of Parliament. This will ensure that the theoretical possibility of a Dissolution without an ensuing election period is eliminated. The Government of the day must be able to command the confidence of the elected House. Unduly and unnecessarily delaying the calling of a new Parliament would negatively impact on the authority of the Government. Control by the Commons of tax and expenditure is a further compelling necessity for any new Government to call a new Parliament as soon as possible. One final test is the common sense of the electorate. Any attempt by a Government to manipulate the system would be clear to the electorate, and that Government would be punished in an election.

Many noble Lords—the noble Baroness opposite, the noble Lords, Lord Newby, Lord Grocott, and Lord Thomas of Gresford, my noble friend Lord Lansley, the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, and many others—suggested that there should be a role for the House of Commons in approving a Dissolution. I anticipate that we will discuss this issue at some length in Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, with his great experience, offered important cautionary notes here. I found the analysis of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, as clear as it was compelling, and I agreed with his analysis. The Government disagree with that approach: reviving the flexibility of the previous system undermines the entire purpose of the Bill. The creation of prescriptive statutory arrangements represented a significant departure from our previous constitutional arrangements, eroding the flexibility that is an essential part of our democracy.

The evidence is before us. My noble friend Lady Stowell set this out very clearly: we have to see the broad picture. The experience of the 2011 Act demonstrates that statutory systems can perpetuate political instability. The reality was skated over by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, in his speech. He said that under the model he proposes, the Prime Minister in 2019 could have had an election three times and had a majority. He forgets the reality of those times. I hope he is never the man with the three cards on Westminster Bridge. The reality is that the Labour Party did not want an election at the time. They could avoid it by simply sitting on their hands, which would not have been possible. The Labour Party could still have avoided an election, even under his proposal.

When the 2011 Act is repealed, it will be vital that the link between confidence and Dissolution is restored in order that critical votes can again be designated as matters of confidence which, if lost, would trigger an early election. Therefore, the House of Commons will continue to play a key role. The claim by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, that this debate was a battle to prevent the rigging of the membership of the Commons was a very odd characterisation of the Bill’s central intent, which is to prevent interference with the remittance of great political questions to the people—to allow them to choose their elected representatives. I remind noble Lords that the Joint Committee gave this matter detailed consideration and a majority—I respect the alternative opinions—concluded that the House of Commons should not retain a say over Dissolution. Finally, as my noble friend Lady Pidding reminded us, the other place considered and dismissed amendments to enable it to retain a statutory role. I very much hope that your Lordships will not “go there”, as they say, but I suspect I may be disappointed.

Noble Lords have suggested that the Bill limits the accountability of the Prime Minister. I must agree to disagree with that too. There have been and will remain two vital checks, which again have been widely forgotten by many who have spoken in this debate: the House of Commons and the electorate. It was not the case that under the prerogative system, the Commons was unable to hold the Executive to account. The Bill restores the position whereby a Government hold office by the virtue of their ability to command the confidence of the House of Commons. In that respect, the House of Commons will continue to play a key role. Yes, a Prime Minister will once again be able to call an election at a time of his or her choosing, but elections are an expression of democracy. I believe in democracy. As the Joint Committee put it,

“ultimately elections ensure the electorate—the ultimate authority in a democratic system—has the opportunity to exercise its judgment.”

Again, any attempt by a Government to manipulate the system, as we have seen in recent history, would be likely to be punished.

I thank all those who have spoken for their valuable contributions. I will read Hansard extremely carefully and reflect on the many important and challenging things that have been said. I am pleased we have had such a stimulating debate, which has attracted so many of your Lordships. I look forward to being at the service of your Lordships in the period between now and Committee, and indeed, through the whole passage of the Bill. When we are here, my door will always be open. I met a large number of Members prior to today’s debate, and I look forward to further opportunities to engage and, I hope, persuade. I am sure we will continue to have lively and robust discussions as we take this important Bill through its remaining stages. I believe there is broad consensus for repeal of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, and I commend this Bill and the way it is accomplished to the House. I beg to move.

Hereditary Peers: By-elections

Debate between Lord True and Lord Wallace of Saltaire
Wednesday 10th November 2021

(3 weeks, 3 days ago)

Lords Chamber

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Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I regret that I do not agree with my noble friend. He will know that the position of the Government is that we do not favour piecemeal reform and that overall reform needs careful consideration.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
- - Excerpts

My Lords, the role and composition of a second Chamber would be appropriately discussed by a constitutional convention. The noble Lord may recall that his party’s manifesto promised us the establishment of a constitutional convention, which should appropriately be on an all-party basis. The Government appear to have abandoned that. Will the Minister pledge to argue with his colleagues that they should reconsider it?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, again, we have discussed this before. I have made clear in this House and the Government have made clear that the proposed groundwork of the commission is being carried forward in separate workstreams—for example, the Faulks review on judicial work. We have decided to pursue this through separate workstreams.

Ministerial Code

Debate between Lord True and Lord Wallace of Saltaire
Tuesday 9th November 2021

(3 weeks, 4 days ago)

Lords Chamber

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Cabinet Office
Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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No, my Lords.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
- - Excerpts

My Lords, I am sure that the Minister is fully briefed on the report last week from the Committee on Standards in Public Life. Paragraph 2.25 says:

“It is clear to the Committee that the degree of independence in the regulation of the Ministerial Code … falls below what is necessary to ensure effective regulation and maintain public credibility.”

Do the Government accept this criticism and, if so, are there plans to strengthen the independence of the adviser on ministerial interests?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I have partly answered that, in saying that the Government are obviously considering all the very important and thoughtful reports that have been presented on these matters in recent weeks and months. We take matters of ethics extraordinarily seriously, as I believe every Member of your Lordships’ House does, on all sides. I give an assurance to the House that we will come back with a Statement on these issues in due course.

Government Departments: Non-Executive Directors

Debate between Lord True and Lord Wallace of Saltaire
Wednesday 8th September 2021

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber

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Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what professional expertise and qualifications they look for when appointing non-executive directors of Government departments.

Lord True Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord True) (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, departmental non-executive board members are appointed by the Secretary of State following the principle of selection based on merit. The majority of roles are advertised on Her Majesty’s Government’s public appointments website. The corporate governance code for central government departments states that appointees shall be

“experts from outside government … primarily from the commercial private sector, with experience of managing large and complex organisations”.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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The Minister will be aware of the comments that the Committee on Standards in Public Life made in Standards Matter 2. Paragraph 88 states:

“However there is an increasing trend amongst ministers to appoint supporters or political allies as NEDs. This both undermines the ability of NEDs to scrutinise the work of their departments, and has a knock-on effect on the appointments process elsewhere.”

Does the Minister accept that criticism and does he also accept the strong recommendation of the Committee on Standards in Public Life that the appointments process for non-executive directors of government departments should be regulated?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, the Government obviously respect the recommendations in any report from the Committee on Standards in Public Life, and we will consider and respond to those recommendations in due course. I believe that talent is not confined to people of a single political opinion. Therefore, I do not follow the noble Lord in the implication that anybody who has ever supported the Conservative Party should be disqualified from one of these roles.

National Insurance Numbers: Electoral Register

Debate between Lord True and Lord Wallace of Saltaire
Thursday 22nd July 2021

(4 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber

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Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con) [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords, we will have many hours to discuss these matters on the Elections Bill. Time is short now, but I reject the view that that Bill is anything to do with voter suppression. I think the Labour Party has adopted a position on that which is contrary to the overwhelming view of the public that voter ID is sensible. So far as automatic registration is concerned, I can only repeat that the Government have no plans to introduce it.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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My Lords, one person’s forced registration may be another person’s citizens’ rights. When I was the Lords’ Minister in the Cabinet Office, some years ago now, government digital experts were discussing the greater integration of local and central public data and the idea that digitisation might well extend to the electoral register. Is that still on the cards? Is this something that we may expect to be covered, either positively or negatively, in the Government’s digital strategy paper, when next it appears?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I have indicated that the Government do not see attractions in producing a single national electoral register or centralised database. It is one of the aspects of our position that we should not move forward to automatic registration, and there are others. I have to disappoint the noble Lord on that score.

Security of Ministers’ Offices and Communications

Debate between Lord True and Lord Wallace of Saltaire
Tuesday 29th June 2021

(5 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber

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Cabinet Office
Lord True Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord True) (Con)
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My Lords, on private emails, government guidance is that official devices, email accounts and communication applications should be used for communicating classified information. Other forms of electronic communication may be used in the course of conducting government business. Each Minister is responsible for ensuring that government information is handled in a secure way. The specific quantitative points the noble Baroness raised I cannot respond to at this point. But, in answer to another of the noble Baroness’s questions, the official information held in private email accounts is subject to FoI.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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My Lords, the government guidance seems to be not entirely clear. When Ministers are using private emails for official business, does this mean that their officials, including their own private offices and Permanent Secretaries, have access to these or are they outside the regard of civil servants? Can we be sure that CCTV is securely held? Are private contractors engaged in this? Is the technology—hardware and software—also secure or is some of it procured from, for example, China?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I apologise to the noble Baroness opposite for not answering the question on CCTV, which was a lapsus memoriae—we are not supposed to use Latin, but it was. As I understand it, the Department of Health is looking into the specifics here. It constitutes a leak and is a serious matter with security implications. I can tell the House that our understanding is that this is certainly not a covert camera, nor is there a general policy of such cameras across Whitehall. As far as the question of emails is concerned, Ministers will have informal conversations from time to time in person or remotely, but significant contact relating to government business from such discussions should be, and is, passed back to officials. That would be in line with the relevant guidance on information handling and security. The Cabinet Office has previously published guidance on how information is held for the purposes of access to information. We obviously review this from time to time. I would expect all Ministers to seek to conform to the guidance.

Constitution Inquiry

Debate between Lord True and Lord Wallace of Saltaire
Monday 14th June 2021

(5 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber

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Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, the Government will continue to apply the law of the land until the law of the land is changed.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the commitment to constitutional integrity and the absolute sovereignty of the UK Parliament comprise a piece of legal purism which I think the Government would criticise if the European Commission displayed such a tendency. Does the Minister recognise that the commitment to absolute UK sovereignty was what led to the division of Ireland? Does he not accept that insistence on it with regard to Northern Ireland and Scotland now is likely to lead to further division?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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No, my Lords, I do not agree. We currently have a constitutional settlement in which there are reserved and devolved matters. I think we all believe that devolution has benefited the United Kingdom, and the Government’s priority—as the priority of all of us should be—is to make that work in amity and with commonality, as we were reminded earlier.

Size of the House of Lords

Debate between Lord True and Lord Wallace of Saltaire
Tuesday 18th May 2021

(6 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber

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Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness that the role of the Official Opposition is extremely important, and new Peers have been appointed —the Prime Minister has nominated people to the Labour Party Benches. Indeed, I had the great privilege of hearing the maiden speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, only last week.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD) [V]
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My Lords, may I follow the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith? The Labour Party acted with great restraint in the first 11 years after the 1999 reforms. It was six years before there were more Labour Peers than Conservative, and at the end of the Labour Government there were only 26 more Labour Peers than Conservatives. We now have 83 more Conservative Peers than Labour, almost as many as there are all other party Peers. Do the Government intend to respect the convention that no group should have a majority in this House or do they intend to carry on appointing more until they approach an overall majority?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, the Conservative Party has only about 33% of the seats in the Lords, which obviously is way short of its share of the vote. This House has always benefited from negotiation and balance. However, there is a fundamental principle of our constitution that the Queen’s Government must be enabled to carry on, and everybody watches very closely the relationship between this House and the House of Commons.

Ministerial Code

Debate between Lord True and Lord Wallace of Saltaire
Tuesday 27th April 2021

(7 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber

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Cabinet Office
Lord True Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord True) (Con)
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My Lords, I assert again the importance of the Ministerial Code, which, as the noble Baroness said, is the responsibility of the Prime Minister of the day. The fact is that Ministers remain in office only for as long as they retain the confidence of the Prime Minister, whose constitutional role means that the management of ministerial appointments is his and is separate from the legislature. On the general running interest that there appears to be in the refurbishment of the Prime Minister’s flat, the costs of the wider refurbishment have been personally met by the Prime Minister. As has been said, the Government have been considering the merits of whether works on parts, or all, of the Downing Street estate could be funded by a trust, and this work is ongoing.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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My Lords, the Statement refers to Britain as a “robust democracy”. We have done without a written constitution because we have rested on the honour and good conduct of our Ministers and, above all, our Prime Ministers. Can the Minister name any other constitutional democracy, or any other democracy in the world, in which the Prime Minister decides on the rules of ministerial conduct and appoints his own independent adviser without checks and balances from the justiciary or his legislature? Should we not now have to move towards an explicitly constitutional democracy, or risk drifting towards a people’s democracy?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I am rather old and to me “people’s democracy” conjures up the old eastern bloc. I am interested in high-quality, high-integrity government. The Ministerial Code is the foundation of that. But I must repeat to noble Lords, as I did to the noble Baroness opposite: the constitutional reality is that the appointment of Ministers is in the hands of the Prime Minister of the day. The Government are not considering a change to that position.

Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014

Debate between Lord True and Lord Wallace of Saltaire
Thursday 22nd April 2021

(7 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber

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Cabinet Office
Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I make a practice at this Dispatch Box of not throwing stones, and I think everyone in every party should be cautious about throwing stones. In response to what the noble Baroness said—I am sorry that she is in her place, but it is good to see her—on the question of in-house lobbyists, it is true that the Government did not pursue that in 2014. There are issues involved. It obviously will be considered currently. Such an approach would require thousands of businesses, charities, NGOs and trade bodies to pay a registration fee of £1,000 a year to write or speak to Ministers. That could be detrimental to the public interest, but I note what the noble Baroness says.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I take my share of responsibility for the last Act. It is now clear that we have to extend further the coverage of lobbying activities. Will the Minister accept that these should include greater transparency for political think tanks, including full declaration of their sources of funding? As he will know, Conservative MPs are concerned about the Runnymede Trust. Others of us are concerned about the Institute of Economic Affairs and Policy Exchange, for example, which declare on their websites their access to Ministers and their influence over government policy.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Lord makes a further suggestion. Since 2010, with the help of the party opposite, we have brought in a statutory registration of consultant lobbyists and a new routine of regular government transparency publications on spending, salaries, contracts and tenders. We are implementing the recommendations of the Boardman review on procurement. We have banned the practice under previous Governments of quangos hiring lobbyists to lobby the Government. We have made sure that taxpayer-funded government grants are not used for lobbying purposes and have provided for greater transparency on trade unions. We have done a number of things. That does not mean that more may not need to be done. I accept that work is ongoing to consider these matters.

Elections: May 2021

Debate between Lord True and Lord Wallace of Saltaire
Thursday 14th January 2021

(10 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber

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Lord True Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord True) (Con)
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My Lords, I certainly assure the noble Baroness that the Government believe that safe and secure elections are the cornerstone of any democracy. The law is that these elections should go ahead on this date. The Prime Minister said that all matters are always under review, as they are in a pandemic. People then seemed to ride away and say that that was an indication that they would be postponed, but, as the Minister for the Constitution said in the other place yesterday, a very high bar would have to be set to not proceed with these elections. As far as her comments about returning officers, they obviously look at polling stations, but I will take note of the points the noble Baroness made. Certainly, voting should be easy.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD) [V]
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I hope I can get the Minister to add that local democracy is absolutely part of the foundation to any effective constitutional democracy, which is one of the reasons why we have to be very careful about postponing these elections further. I thank the Minister for the Statement and I thank Bradford Council for the very extensive briefing it gave me this morning on the difficulties. Can the Minister assure us that, since elections are so fundamental to democracy, as such, any decision will be taken not by the Government alone but in full consultation with all other parties contesting the elections? Given the difficulty of campaigning under current circumstances, will the Government be prepared to consider providing, for example, two pieces of free post to every nominated candidate, to make sure that parties which have more easy access to funds do not get disproportionate benefits from being able to pay for post?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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As the noble Lord knew I would, I thoroughly endorse the first remark he made. I believe local democracy is the cornerstone, and I wish that were more widely recognised. The Government will continue to engage with political parties to ensure that people are able to campaign safely and securely and to secure information. As far as his specific proposal is concerned, I will certainly make sure that that is fed into consideration.

Constitution, Democracy and Human Rights Commission

Debate between Lord True and Lord Wallace of Saltaire
Thursday 14th January 2021

(10 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber

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Cabinet Office
Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I have said that the Government are delivering the commitment in the manifesto to look at the broader aspects of the constitution in a range of separate workstreams. Obviously, this and others to be announced in due course will all reflect what the noble Baroness has said and what I have said—indeed, that is the case for those reviews that have been set up already and the cross-party Joint Committee that is looking at the FTPA.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I wish to repeat what the noble Lord, Lord Young, said in his opening question, which is that any constitutional reform needs to have broad-based support that inspires public confidence. How do the Conservative Party and its associated right-wing think tanks, eating the elephant in chunks and bending the conventions of the constitution in the way that it has in the last year, begin to deal with public alienation from politics and holding the union of Great Britain together?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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I think that on reflection the noble Lord will think that he does a disservice to those serving on the Independent Review of Administrative Law, those reviewing under Sir Peter Gross the operation of the Human Rights Act and indeed Members of both Houses on the Joint Committee when he characterises them in that way.

UK-EU Future Relationship Negotiations and Transition Period

Debate between Lord True and Lord Wallace of Saltaire
Tuesday 8th December 2020

(12 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Lord True Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord True) (Con)
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My Lords, we are all working to get a deal but the only deal that is possible is one that is compatible with our sovereignty and takes back control of our laws, trade and waters. Although an agreement is preferable, we are prepared to leave on so-called Australia-style terms. People and businesses must prepare for the changes that coming on 31 December, most of which relate to our departure from the EU single market and customs union, not the outcome of the talks.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, references to Australia and Canada deny the geography, which is that we must retain close relations across the board with our neighbours whether we are in the EU or outside it. Does the Minister have a response to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Hague, in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph? He said that no deal with our European neighbours would

“create the biggest crisis in our relations for more than a century.”

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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I repeat: we are seeking a deal. As the Prime Minister said a few minutes ago, hope springs eternal. There are significant differences. I do not agree that there would be a crisis that could not be surmounted by the British people.

Ministerial Code

Debate between Lord True and Lord Wallace of Saltaire
Tuesday 24th November 2020

(1 year ago)

Lords Chamber

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Cabinet Office
Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I would not characterise it in that particular way. The Prime Minister concluded in this case that the Ministerial Code was not breached. There was a prior case in 2012 when there was a finding that the code had been breached and the Minister also remained in office.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD) [V]
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My Lords, has the Minister read the lecture given by the noble Lord, Lord Evans, to the Institute of Business Ethics on 11 November? The noble Lord commented that

“too many in public life, including some in our political leadership, are choosing to disregard the norms of ethics and propriety that have explicitly governed public life for the last 25 years, and … when contraventions of ethical standards occur, nothing happens.”

Does the Minister agree?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
- Hansard - -

No, my Lords, I do not agree, because I do not consider that that generalised charge against people in public service is justified. I find high standards of probity among the colleagues I work with and among the people I have had the honour of opposing in the past when they were in government.

Great Britain and Northern Ireland: Access for Goods

Debate between Lord True and Lord Wallace of Saltaire
Thursday 12th November 2020

(1 year ago)

Lords Chamber

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Cabinet Office
Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, there is one way: support for the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. I trust very much that when the unfettered access provisions come back to this House, the Labour Party will support them.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, we are all aware of the extensive movement of animals across the internal Irish border and across the Irish Sea, and the extensive movement also of milk and milk products. If there is to be unfettered access across the Irish Sea, do the Government envisage that there will have to be checks at what will now become the EU’s external border? What progress, in that case, has been made towards recruiting the vets and inspectors needed to enforce the checks required there?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, work is under way, as noble Lords have raised before, in seeking to recruit vets and, in other areas of this policy, customs agents. That work is ongoing. We are hopeful that we will achieve the desired end.

Home Secretary: Allegations of Bullying

Debate between Lord True and Lord Wallace of Saltaire
Monday 2nd November 2020

(1 year, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber

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Cabinet Office
Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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The process is independent. The Prime Minister asked the Cabinet Office to establish the facts, in line with the Ministerial Code, and the Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests, Sir Alex Allan, has a role through providing further independent advice to the Prime Minister. So far as the process is concerned, I regret that I must repeat that I cannot comment on that while it is continuing.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Young, in response to a previous answer from the Minister, said that the code is an honour code, implying that it is up to the Minister concerned to take responsibility and to resign in the case of a serious breach. Last month, the Cabinet Secretary said to a Commons committee that the Prime Minister is the ultimate arbiter. That seems deeply inappropriate in the current conditions. Does the Minister not think that there is merit in the First Division Association proposal that an independent arbiter, with status outside government, should be the final arbiter in these cases?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I stated just now that there is an Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests, and that is Sir Alex Allan, who has a role. I have also studied the Cabinet Secretary’s evidence to PACAC on 22 October. He said what I have said, which is that, in the interests of all those involved in the process,

“We are not giving a running commentary on the process.”

That is a quotation from the Cabinet Secretary and I agree with him.

EU Exit: Negotiations and the Joint Committee

Debate between Lord True and Lord Wallace of Saltaire
Wednesday 21st October 2020

(1 year, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber

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Cabinet Office
Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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No, my Lords, I do not accept the one-sided strictures being heard once again in this House. The Government have proposed arrangements with the European Union that have precedents in agreements that that Union has reached with other countries of the world. The Government have asked for nothing unreasonable.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the Government are set on a Canada-style agreement. Have they studied the Canadian network of agreements with the United States, its close neighbour, which cover border controls, aviation, energy, police co-operation, common standards, road haulage and even fishing in the waters along their border? That is because it is a close neighbour. Do the Government have a strategy for somehow increasing the distance between the UK and the European continent? Or do they accept that after 1 January, we will have to start to negotiate on all these other matters as well with our new neighbours?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, the United Kingdom is a sovereign nation and has relations with every other country in the world. Of course, our relationship with our European neighbours is important and we will continue to negotiate with them, whether in this process or in whatever circumstances we find in the future.

EU Exit: End of Transition Period

Debate between Lord True and Lord Wallace of Saltaire
Thursday 24th September 2020

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Cabinet Office
Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I am not sure whether to sympathise with the Minister for having to defend a Statement with which he cannot entirely agree, to admire his loyalty in following each step the Government take towards a harder break with the EU than was ever hinted at by the Vote Leave campaign in the referendum, or to be appalled by his willingness to swallow the shifty rationalisations of the Johnson-Cummings-Gove cabal.

Yesterday in Grand Committee, the noble Lord, Lord True, attacked the European Union for challenging

“the United Kingdom’s well-established position on state aid”.—[Official Report, 23/9/20; col. GC 506.]

True or false? I asked two friends in the City if they knew what the Government’s established policy on state aid was and they burst out laughing at the idea that there is any clear policy. The interview that Lynton Crosby gave the Financial Times on Monday helped me to understand the Government’s current position. He said that

“in negotiations like this you need a little bit of crazy to keep your opponents guessing”.

I thought, “Ah, this is the art of the deal. The Donald Trump approach to negotiation—monster your opponents, talk tough, insist that they act reasonably, and either they will compromise further than they intended to or you can walk away and blame them for the failure. It is the Johnson-Trump playbook.” If the Statement is an attempt to bluff the EU into believing that we are well prepared for a no-deal outcome, it is clearly a failure. It shows that we are woefully unprepared and is an attempt to shift the blame onto business and potentially on to the French and Belgian Governments.

It has been clear to almost everyone concerned with the UK’s external trade since Theresa May’s Government decided to leave the single market that the channel ports would pose problems, except that Dominic Raab did not realise that and Boris Johnson did not bother to think about it. It was also clear that it would take well over a year to create the new infrastructure needed and to recruit and train the additional staff. Yet, here we are, 100 days short of 2021, and the Statement deplores a “lack of business preparedness”. The rest of us deplore the lack of government preparedness. The same mixture of incompetence, ideology and negligence that has marked the Government’s approach to Covid-19 marks their approach to the channel ports.

The same sweeping aside of inconvenient facts marks Ministers’ handling of the Irish border. The British Academy held its first seminar on the problem of the Irish border if the UK were to leave the EU in March 2016, attended by officials, among others. Yet the Prime Minister now claims that in October 2019, three years later, he still did not understand the complexity of the issue. The Statement refers to hundreds more Border Force staff “being recruited now”. Why were they not recruited months ago? How many of the additional Border Force and customs personnel required will be fully trained and in post by 1 January, and how many are still being recruited or trained?

The Statement refers to new technology being important. Is this now being fully tested and will it be in working order on 1 January? The Statement refers to “queues” and “associated disruption and delay” in Dover, at least for the first six months. What arrangements have been made to ensure that fresh food, vegetables and fish are not delayed beyond the point where they are spoiled, which would lead to shortages in British supermarkets? Can the Minister explain what is meant by the warning that

“if our neighbours decline to be pragmatic”

we will face the worst circumstances? Do we demand that the French and Belgians decline to enforce their own border checks because we are not ready to enforce our own? Is this the Trump-Johnson playbook again: “We are unreasonable but will pin the blame for chaos on you, unless you help get us out of the mess”?

The noble Lord, Lord True, will now defend Michael Gove’s extraordinary Statement with his weasel words about an “exit on Australian terms” and his fantasies about how a “truly sovereign state” may behave. I hope that there will come a point where the noble Lord will consider that his self-respect as a Conservative requires him not to follow Johnson and Cummings’s efforts further down the road to alternative reality and fake facts, be true to his best instincts instead and follow the principled example of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen.

Lord True Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord True) (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, there were a number of observations there, some of which could be characterised as a little wide of the Statement and perhaps a little behind the game—the game being that the British people have decided to leave the European Union. We are leaving the single market and the customs union and are preparing for that. Frankly, continually railing about this situation—as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, did with some colourful language in parts of his intervention—does not help us address some of the specific issues in this Statement. For the avoidance of doubt, I am very content with the direction of travel of the United Kingdom and this Government. Unfortunately, I cannot ease the angst of the Liberal Democrat party in that respect, but I note it. Since the noble Lord offered sympathy to me, I reciprocate.

So far as the specific questions I was asked are concerned, I hope I have made a note of most of them. If I have not, I will follow them up. The overall stance of both interventions was, “Why haven’t we done more sooner? Why are there still some uncertainties?” Obviously, there are still some uncertainties; that is the nature of a broad negotiation. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, went wide of the specifics in the Statement, as she fairly acknowledged, but much of the central, core stuff that this Statement is concerned with flows from the fact—which is not affected by whether we get a free trade agreement—that we are leaving the customs union and have to address that situation. We have already adjusted our own phasing of border controls up until July 2021 specifically to help. I note what was said about our friends and counterparties in other member states. Obviously, their policy decisions are for them, but we hope to have fruitful and helpful exchanges with them up to and through this process’s conclusion.

I was asked about Gibraltar. I assure the noble Baroness that the Foreign Office is working closely with Gibraltar and that its interests will very much be taken into account in the transition process. Next Monday there is a meeting of the withdrawal agreement joint committee, which will deal with a number of aspects.

Comment was made about the reports in newspapers about what was called the Kent access pass. It was said in newspapers that this was a border in Kent. The noble Baroness asked how this would operate. It is an approach related to road use, and it is not intended that every vehicle will be stopped. As the noble Baroness says, that would be difficult to do. The reality is that disruption will occur if vehicles without the right documentation arrive at the point of departure. The Government’s whole strategy—our conversations with the road haulage industry, the publicity campaigns we have been running and the process of “Check an HGV” and smart freight—is designed to make sure that the maximum number of haulage vehicles will have the appropriate documentation. If they enter Kent and do not have that documentation, it will be possible for that to be picked up by ANPR and other resources.

The concentration will be on the M2 and M20. The Kent Resilience Forum is looking at all aspects of movement in Kent, but it is a roads-based approach intended to reinforce the advice with an element of deterrent. The cost of the port and inland infra- structure is up to £470 million; some of that is in place. Conversations are ongoing with local authorities and local Members of Parliament about the specifics. Some of this has already been put in the public domain; more will come into the public domain shortly.

On standards, there is not a direct correlation between price and standards. Some very high-quality goods can be cheaper. One of the purposes of free trade deals, which the Statement quite rightly says will help many countries around the world, is that—this is in the history of free trade deals—they tend to lower prices. That is to the benefit of the underprivileged as well as the privileged.

Border Force recruitment is going on. I do not have the exact figures, but £10 million has been put aside to recruit around 500 more Border Force personnel and training is in progress. I will pick up the other points in the two statements after I sit down, when I see Hansard. There are various estimates of elements of the cost. I will try to help as far as I can.

This is a practical programme. There are many thousands of excellent civil servants working on it, and the Government have great confidence that Britain will be ready and able to trade from the end of the year.

Brexit: Civil Service Code

Debate between Lord True and Lord Wallace of Saltaire
Thursday 17th September 2020

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Cabinet Office
Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, the situation should not arise because, as the noble Baroness has said, the new Cabinet Secretary has confirmed that he is content for civil servants to work on the Bill and to support Ministers in their duties as it passes through the House. Civil servants are not being asked to act in a way that conflicts with the Civil Service Code. That is the position.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the Civil Service Code states very clearly, regarding integrity:

“You must … comply with the law”.

The Government’s legal position states that parliamentary sovereignty can override international agreements, but not domestic law. The withdrawal agreement was passed by both Houses of Parliament and thus became—less than nine months ago—part of our domestic law. If the Cabinet Secretary is now telling civil servants that they can disregard this part of the Civil Service Code, is it not appropriate that the Minister for the Civil Service should make a Statement to Parliament, given that the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act makes it clear that the Minister for the Civil Service is responsible to Parliament for the Civil Service Code?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, as I have said, the Cabinet Secretary has made the position clear. All civil servants are of course expected to carry out their role with dedication and commitment to the Civil Service and its core values of integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality, which are, as the noble Lord has said, set out in legislation. In my experience, every civil servant rises to that high level required. The Cabinet Secretary has said that he is content for civil servants to work on this Bill.

Parliament: Restoration and Renewal Project

Debate between Lord True and Lord Wallace of Saltaire
Wednesday 22nd July 2020

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Cabinet Office
Lord True Portrait Lord True
- Hansard - -

My Lords, the sponsor body is independent: that was the decision of your Lordships’ House and of the other place. The strategic review was announced in May by the sponsor body and it is for it to progress as it wishes. It is open to every Member of Parliament, not just the Prime Minister, to put forward their views to the sponsor body.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I understand that the Prime Minister’s letter proposing that both Houses of Parliament might relocate to York had already been sent when the Minister answered questions on this on 15 July, yet he made no reference to it in any of his replies. Was that because he was not aware of the letter or because he chose not to inform this House that the Commons might also be moved?

On 9 July, in answering questions on the ISC report on Russia, he described suggestions that the Conservative Party had received large sums from Russian donors as “wild charges”. Now that several articles in the quality press and the published ISC report have substantiated that such sums have been accepted by the Conservatives, will he withdraw that reply?

Lord True Portrait Lord True
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I think the second part of the noble Lord’s question is germane to the Question that follows; I am not sure if he has a chance to ask a question on that. The Conservative Party’s donations are declared, permissible and controlled. On the first part of his question, I stand by every word I used last week.

House of Lords and Machinery of Government: Consultation on Changes

Debate between Lord True and Lord Wallace of Saltaire
Wednesday 15th July 2020

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Cabinet Office
Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have (1) to consult relevant Parliamentary select committees about the constitutional implications of, and (2) to await the outcome of the proposed Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission to inform, changes to (a) the machinery of Government, (b) the location of their departments and the civil service, and (c) the location of the House of Lords.

Lord True Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord True) (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, the Government have committed to ensuring that the administration of government is less London-centric and to locating more Civil Service roles and public bodies out of London and into the regions and nations of the United Kingdom. No decisions have yet been taken on the form and scope of the commission on the constitution, democracy and rights. We will consult Select Committees about any relevant decisions in the normal way.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, if one wants to distribute civil servants around the country, proper devolution for England would be the best way by far to do that. The Conservative manifesto last December declared:

“we also need to look at the broader aspects of our constitution: the relationship between the Government, Parliament and the courts; the functioning of the Royal Prerogative; the role of the House of Lords”

and that they would

“set up a Constitution, Democracy & Rights Commission that will examine these issues in depth”.

Instead, No. 10 is briefing out piecemeal changes that were not in the manifesto but which only appeared in Dominic Cummings’s blog. Is Cummings’s blog now more authoritative as a guide to government policy than the manifesto?

Lord True Portrait Lord True
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My Lords, at risk to my career, I must say that Mr Cummings’s blog is not on my reading list, and I do not normally consult social media in general. However, I say to the noble Lord that the commission will examine the broader aspects of the constitution in depth and develop proposals to restore trust in our institutions and the operation of our democracy. We will consider the composition and focus of the commission carefully and will provide an update in due course.

House of Lords: Relocation

Debate between Lord True and Lord Wallace of Saltaire
Tuesday 14th July 2020

(1 year, 4 months ago)

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Lord True Portrait Lord True
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My Lords, this great House is part of a legislature, and in any consideration of its future the exigencies of parliamentary practice and procedure will always have to be considered. The Government will, of course, give careful consideration to ensuring that our Parliament continues to operate effectively.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD) [V]
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My Lords, if, as the Minister has just confirmed, the final decision is a matter for Parliament alone, can he explain the justification for the extensive press briefing last week and Michael Gove’s confirmation that this is indeed something the Government are considering? Have there yet been any assessments by the Government of how this will be taken forward? Have there been any studies either of the site in York—which has actually been vacant for some time because they find it very hard to get interest from commercial operators for it—or how this will affect the relationship between the two Houses or between Parliament and Government? If not, why not?

Lord True Portrait Lord True
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My Lords, I just said that the relationship between the two Houses and parliamentary procedure will obviously be matters for consideration. Noble Lord will know that the R&R process means that the sponsor body has to consider alternative sites for Parliament. This is a matter on which there will be further announcements in due course.

Intelligence and Security Committee: Russia Report

Debate between Lord True and Lord Wallace of Saltaire
Thursday 9th July 2020

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Lord True Portrait Lord True
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My Lords, I will not repeat what I said about the view that we take of the Putin Government’s disinformation activities. I note what my noble friend said. I hope I have told the House that a Motion will be tabled for the establishment of the committee next week, and I am sure the committee will take note of what my noble friend and others have said about the importance of publishing the report.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I am sorry that the Minister has used the term “wild charges” to describe the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. I have read in a number of serious British newspapers comments on major financial contributions to the Conservative Party in recent years by Russian oligarchs resident in London and their families. If those are wild charges, I am surprised the Conservative Party did not sue. In these circumstances, can the Minister guarantee to this House that the report will be published before we rise for the Summer Recess?

Lord True Portrait Lord True
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My Lords, I can only repeat what I have told the House. Motions will be laid for the constitution of the committee next week. It is then the responsibility of the committee to decide how and when it publishes its report. I am sure it will take note of what the noble Lord and others have said. But again, I wholly reject the charge that the Prime Minister in any way is responsible for delaying the report.

EU: Customs Arrangements

Debate between Lord True and Lord Wallace of Saltaire
Wednesday 8th July 2020

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Lord True Portrait Lord True
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My Lords, I always travel in hope, and I share the noble Lord’s aspirations. As was famously said:

“Jaw, jaw is better than war, war.”

In every aspect of this great question, all people of authority in every part of the United Kingdom share a responsibility for the overall good of the people of the United Kingdom. Certainly, I want to see good relations right across the border, and I give the noble Lord that assurance.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD) [V]
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My Lords, we are often told that effective border management requires active co-operation between states on both sides of the border. A number of recent reports suggest that the Dutch, Belgians and French are far better prepared for the new border arrangements than we are. But is it compatible with the British Government’s rather hard interpretation of sovereignty to allow French customs and passport officers to operate on British soil as they have in recent years, or, for that matter, for British passport officers and customs officers to operate on Dutch, Belgian or French soil as they also do? Does that now need to stop to defend the sovereignty of the United Kingdom?

Lord True Portrait Lord True
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My Lords, again, that is slightly wide of the Question. The treaty to which the noble Lord refers is one under which arrangements subsist between the Governments of the United Kingdom and France. That is the position. I hope we will be as well prepared as any nation.

David Frost

Debate between Lord True and Lord Wallace of Saltaire
Tuesday 30th June 2020

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Lord True Portrait Lord True
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My Lords, I do not believe that a single appointment constitutes the politicisation of the Civil Service, for which Her Majesty’s Government have a very high regard. Reform of public service was in the Government’s manifesto and we will carry out that pledge.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD) [V]
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My Lords, both the Prime Minister and Michael Gove cited President Roosevelt as the model for this Government’s approach. When I was first a student in the United States, I was invited to seminars given by three former members of President Roosevelt’s cabinet, all of whom emphasised the efforts Roosevelt made to carry cross-party support in both Houses of Congress for his New Deal. Are this Government similarly committed to building support across the parties and in both Houses of Parliament or do they prefer, as Dominic Cummings suggests, to move fast and break the conventions?

Lord True Portrait Lord True
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My Lords, this Government, who have a great public mandate, want to carry the widest possible support and, indeed, increase their support across this nation. I welcome the support given by Sir Keir Starmer to the principle of heavy investment in infrastructure, which the Prime Minister is announcing.

UK-EU Negotiations

Debate between Lord True and Lord Wallace of Saltaire
Thursday 18th June 2020

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD) [V]
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My Lords, Ministers have frequently referred to the Canadian or Australian models as “oven-ready” recipes for a deal. Can the Minister therefore confirm that our negotiators are including arrangements for the provisional application of such a mixed-competence agreement while we wait for national ratification? The Canadian FTA was signed in 2016 but ratification is not yet complete. Does he understand what the Prime Minister means by the Australian model? The Australian Government website tells me that the seventh round of negotiations on a potential agreement took place last month.

Lord True Portrait Lord True
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My Lords, I am not good at figures but I think that the Australian Government have about 29 different arrangements with the European Union. With regard to the phrase “oven ready”, I am afraid that I like cooking—something that I have enjoyed particularly during the lockdown. Turning to the central core of the noble Lord’s question, the Government are preparing for every eventuality. There is an intense amount of planning on a wide range of fronts, and I assure him that that process is continuing.

Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission

Debate between Lord True and Lord Wallace of Saltaire
Tuesday 16th June 2020

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Lord True Portrait Lord True
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My Lords, again, I cannot anticipate the composition and focus of the commission. However, I can say to the noble Lord that the Government have already presented legislation on boundaries, which is before the other place at the moment, and we have also signified that we will look at matters relating to the conduct of elections.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I welcome the Minister’s statement that the Government are taking very careful consideration of the agenda. There is a great deal of expertise on constitutional and political issues in this Chamber. Will the Minister commit to a Lords debate on the agenda and terms of reference of the constitutional commission, either before the summer or at least in our September Session, to inform the process of consideration?

Lord True Portrait Lord True
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My Lords, I had the pleasure of sitting on the Back Benches behind the noble Lord when he was on the Front Bench, and he will know that that is a matter for the usual channels to determine. For my own part, I always welcome discussion with anybody on this important matter.

Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011

Debate between Lord True and Lord Wallace of Saltaire
Monday 15th June 2020

(1 year, 5 months ago)

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Lord True Portrait Lord True [V]
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My Lords, in their manifesto, the Government emphasised the need for long-term consideration of our constitutional arrangements, as my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford said. The noble Baroness is correct that this should not be hurried. The Government will bring forward their proposals on how we should proceed in due course.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD) [V]
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My Lords, in the last few years, there has been a great deal of discussion, particularly from within the Conservative Party, about the need to strengthen the principle of parliamentary sovereignty. If we abolish the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, we will go back to a substantial role for executive sovereignty in the UK. Does the Minister accept that we cannot go backwards by abolishing the Act and that we need to strengthen Parliament’s role in organising its own meetings, terms, Prorogation and Dissolution?

Lord True Portrait Lord True [V]
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My Lords, as I said, many matters will be considered and we will make further announcements in due course. I think the noble Lord would agree that Parliament did not have its finest hour under the aegis of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act. That is why, partly to restore Parliament’s reputation, we need clear arrangements that command support.

EU: Trade and Security Partnership

Debate between Lord True and Lord Wallace of Saltaire
Tuesday 9th June 2020

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Lord True Portrait Lord True [V]
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I thank my noble friend for the question, but again, I am not going to second-guess the process of negotiations. I note that, on fish, the political declaration clearly set out that a separate agreement should be enforced in July ahead of the other agreements. The EU, on the other hand, continues to push for one single overarching agreement.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD) [V]
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My Lords, the February document that the Government published on the future relationship included a chapter on digital services that sets out that we need to

“encourage regulatory cooperation and a strategic dialogue on emerging technologies”.

I could not find this in the items for discussion in the fourth round of negotiations, nor does any progress seem to have been made on it. Are the Government hoping that we will continue to have regulatory co-operation in this very important emerging industry? As a fallback position, are they discussing with the Americans whether we will converge on American data regulation rather than European regulations if these negotiations break down?

Lord True Portrait Lord True [V]
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My Lords, the noble Lord is right: there is an international dimension to these questions. We expect foreign policy co-operation broadly to be substantial with the EU, as it is with many of our international partners, but we do not think that an institutional framework is necessary to deliver it.

EU: Plans for No Deal

Debate between Lord True and Lord Wallace of Saltaire
Tuesday 2nd June 2020

(1 year, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Lord True Portrait Lord True
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My Lords, I read with great interest your Lordships’ report on the Northern Ireland protocol. I do not agree with every judgment in it, but it was very valuable and the Government will make a response in due course. I said—I think when I answered the noble Baroness on a previous occasion—that a business engagement forum in Northern Ireland is imminent. A process of engagement with business across the country is of great importance, is ongoing and will be intensified.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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My Lords, the Minister in his first Answer said that we are negotiating on the basis of the agreement reached last October. Earlier this year, we had a number of authoritative briefings, presumably from No. 10, to say that the decisive result of last December’s general election in effect sidelined the political declaration and that we were now negotiating on what the Minister also described as a more minimalist arrangement. The political declaration talked about an “overarching” framework and a continuing security, foreign policy and defence relationship, which is a great deal more than Canada or Australia. Have we now abandoned the political declaration, or are we still, as the European Commission would like, negotiating on the basis of that agreement?

Lord True Portrait Lord True
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My Lords, we have put into law a withdrawal agreement, including the NI protocol, and that is the basis of our continuing policy. The Government have published a number of documents which have been laid before your Lordships’ House on our approach to negotiations and, most recently, on the Northern Ireland protocol. That is the basis on which we are proceeding, in good faith and hope.

Public Services: Update

Debate between Lord True and Lord Wallace of Saltaire
Wednesday 29th April 2020

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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I, too, welcome this Statement and the remarkable change of tone it contains about public sector workers used by Conservative Ministers and advisers until a few weeks ago. Last December’s Conservative manifesto, and even more the writings of Conservative advisers such as Dominic Cummings and Rachel Wolf, condemned the Civil Service as “incompetent” and wasteful, as ignorant about science and looking after their own interests rather than the public as a whole.

Happily, Ministers have now realised that civil servants and others across the public sector believe in the concept of public service, which right-wing libertarians and public choice economists have rubbished for so long. Across our entire public service, from the NHS to the police and military to Whitehall and local authorities, we have seen people rising to the challenge, moving jobs to help others, and working all hours. Many of them, we should also recognise, are far more modestly paid than their equivalents in the private sector, but they have shown their commitment and their loyalty to the communities they serve.

I am glad to see the reference to local resilience forums, and the recognition that this is a series of local crises across the country as well as a national crisis. I hope that this will persuade the Government to reverse their marginalisation of local authorities and to recognise the vital contribution that effective local government makes to a thriving democracy. I was struck when I read the section on democracy and political reform in last December’s Conservative manifesto that it contained no reference at all to local democracy. I hope that the Minister will argue for its inclusion in the agenda for the constitution, democracy and human rights commission which the Government have promised to set up this year.

The Statement expresses gratitude to

“to colleagues from the devolved Administrations for their participation and their constructive contributions to all our discussions. Those discussions have helped us to understand how the virus has affected every part of our United Kingdom.”

Can the Minister tell the House how the Government have ensured that they have understood the impact on every part of the UK, given that the large majority of the UK’s population lives in England and that there appears to have been no visible mechanism for consultation with the English regions or even with the city mayors from outside London?

The Minister mentioned that the military has now been brought in to help out with logistics but also with expanding testing for the virus. The Statement does not explain why the initial programme of testing was contracted out to a large private consultancy firm: a contract which, the Daily Telegraph has reported, was awarded without the normal tendering process. Was that because of an instinctive Conservative assumption that the private sector is always better than the public sector? The underutilisation of the first testing centres, reported and repeated difficulties with the booking system, and the apparent assumption that all care and health workers had access to their own cars and had time to drive up to 50 miles to be tested all show this to have been one of the weakest aspects of the response to the epidemic. I am glad that the military have now been brought in to expand testing. Why were they not brought in at the outset? My own experience in government, dealing with the digitisation of Whitehall, suggested that outside consultancies often charge more and deliver less.

The Statement refers also to the redeployment of a large number of civil servants across Whitehall to cope with the crisis. What other tasks of government have had to be put on hold as a result? I understand, for example, that the Government’s promised White Paper on data strategy, for which the Minister is responsible to the Lords, is now several months behind schedule, since officials had been transferred; first, to help with preparation for Brexit and now to respond to the epidemic. I understand that officials working on the Brexit negotiations have also been redeployed in response to the epidemic. Will the Minister commit to informing the House in the near future whether the team negotiating Brexit is still sufficiently staffed to handle the complex negotiations that we are engaged in or whether the demands of this emergency will enforce a change of pace if we are to avoid confusion or failure?

Finally, I welcome very warmly the Government’s tribute to

“the stoicism and steadfastness, the hard work and heroism, the compassion and commitment of those working at the front line of public service.”

We all make that tribute, and long may the Government’s change of tone continue.

Lord True Portrait Lord True
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My Lords, perhaps I may begin by congratulating the Prime Minister and Carrie Symonds on the birth of their son. It is a story of movement from near death to new life in a few weeks. I am sure that that is what we all avidly pray for for this economy and this nation as we look ahead to a way out of this crisis and to new hope.

I thank the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for their responses to the Statement and the constructive way in which they put forward their points of view, many of which I share. I endorse their admiration for all that is being done in the NHS, social care, the public services and the private sector in the face of this crisis. Naturally, I add my own respect and prayers for those people and their families who have given, literally, all they had to give. None of us, as the nation showed at 11 o’clock yesterday, will forget them.

Everyone across the land, which includes central government and, yes, local government, is doing the best they can, as fast as they can, and the most they can in these difficult times. As the noble Baroness said, there has been an extraordinary response from the public in the coming-together across the land, and long may it last.

We must not forget that some remarkable things have been achieved. I acknowledge to both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord that there have also been things that have not gone as well in every detail as all would hope. I think that it was General Moltke who said that no plan extends with certainty beyond first contact with the main force of the enemy, and Covid is a new, hidden, mutable and invisible enemy with characteristics not met before. However, I assure the House that the Government and all their agencies are working night and day to ensure that our front-line health and social care staff have the equipment they need to tackle this virus, and we have delivered more than 1,000 million items of PPE since the outbreak began, including 36 million to care homes.

I agree with the noble Baroness that transparency is important. As she acknowledged, we are moving today to bring together the different strands of statistics in relation to care homes, which will give full and proper transparency on that. Her point on BAME is very important. Work on that is under way, as the scientists have said at the daily briefings. I cannot give her a date for an outcome to the work.

Care homes are obviously a sector of enormous importance, and they have been of concern to the Government all the way through. As I have said, 36 million items of PPE have already been delivered to care homes, but it is a vulnerable section of the community where I acknowledge the need always to strive to do better.

On communications, I will take up the noble Baroness’s point; I understand it very well. I acknowledge her point on the need for the broadest co-operation if and when we move into test and trace. On publishing frameworks, I think that the noble Baroness and the House know that the Government’s position is that we have first to keep on with the effort that that public are making to contain this virus and to meet the five tests before we move forward to any release from the current lockdown provisions. As the Prime Minister acknowledged when he came back to work, over the next few days, the Government will continue to examine carefully all these issues.

On the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, I do not need any reminder of the need to commend the Civil Service. I have always had the highest respect for it and have worked with it through my life. The ideal of public service is one that I personally consider to be of the highest importance, and it is something to which I have always aspired. I assure the noble Lord that that is shared widely, if not universally, across the Government. On the importance of local authorities, I referred to the local resilience fora. Local authorities are making a great contribution. We will continue to work to improve and maintain communications with them and with agencies right across England, as the noble Lord rightly said.

I welcome what the noble Lord said about the military. Its role has been extraordinary. The Armed Forces have made a great difference and perhaps have not had as much attention in the media as they might have done, but I was grateful for what he said on that score.

So far as the redeployment of civil servants and the delay of business is concerned, there has been an impact on some aspects of government business, of course. It is right that full priority should be given to confronting this crisis, but on the noble Lord’s concerns about the negotiations towards the transition on 31 December, I assure him that a very effective team with a large number of civil servants is at work there, as was said in the recent Statement. Indeed, if he read Monsieur Barnier’s statement, he will have seen how Monsieur Barnier himself commented on the professionalism of David Frost and his team in carrying forward those negotiations. I believe that we can have confidence in that.

I hope that I have answered most of the points made. If not, I will write to noble Lords.

European Union: Future Relationship

Debate between Lord True and Lord Wallace of Saltaire
Tuesday 28th April 2020

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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My Lords, seven months ago the Government presented to Parliament the political declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship which did not talk about a free trade area, but rather about,

“an ambitious broad, deep and flexible partnership”

including

“foreign policy, security and defence and wider areas of co-operation.”

The paper presented to us by the Government in February set out a much narrower free trade agreement, as the Minister has just said. It says nothing about a wider partnership. Should we now accept that the declaration made last October is no longer a reference point for the Government’s negotiations?

Lord True Portrait Lord True
- Hansard - -

My Lords, the Government have set out their negotiating objectives before Parliament and in talks with the European Union. The Government are seeking to negotiate in good faith on the basis of those documents.

Ministerial Code

Debate between Lord True and Lord Wallace of Saltaire
Thursday 12th March 2020

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Lord True Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord True) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, many of whose thoughtful remarks struck a chord not only with the House in general but with me. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, for giving us this further opportunity to debate the Ministerial Code. I have been a Minister for less than a month; in that time, I have signed the Ministerial Code and responded three times to your Lordships on this subject. I am therefore left in little doubt that it is a matter of importance and one in which your Lordships, quite rightly, take a great interest from a position of great experience.

I will try to answer as many questions as possible that have quite reasonably been raised in the debate, but perhaps I might offer a preface. Here I echo some of the comments made by a number of those who have spoken. We must strive to secure good governance, which means that Ministers and officials work well and harmoniously together. That is the aim of effective administration, and it is from that sense of a shared objective that good decisions and implementation should follow.

I was there in 1992 when Prime Minister Major agreed to publish the Questions of Procedure for Ministers. I suspect that some of us on the political side probably gave similar advice to the noble Lord. However, we must not overdramatise; we must recognise the issues that we have to address, some of which have been raised in this debate. In general, however, the quality of governance in this country—I do not accept, as some noble Lords put forward, that a dramatic new kind of cowboy Administration have come in—and the standards are extraordinarily high, and we do not serve good governance by denying that or overdramatising the situation. I was asked whether I wanted to defend the indefensible: I do not think that I am defending the indefensible when I say that governance generally operates well, and the Ministerial Code is part of that.

When an Administration change and when a new Prime Minister comes in, it has always been the case that there is a challenge. I remember talking to the noble Lord, Lord Butler, two days before the change of administration in 1997, saying to him, “Here you are at this stage of your career; a change of Government will present a great career challenge.” The noble Lord quite rightly relished that. Of course, we all know that history proved that a new Government came in and I am sure that the Conservatives said some of the same things about the incoming Blair Government as are being said today.

That takes me directly to the point made about the position of Mr Cummings and his authority. The cases of Alistair Campbell and Jonathan Powell, who were given direct authority over officials in 1997, is not analogous. Following the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, to which the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, referred—I thank him for his work on that—the position of special advisers was put on a statutory basis, and Mr Cummings’s role is governed by that Act.

Turning to some of the other points that were made, I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Butler, said about balance and degree. That is inherent in what I just said about not exaggerating the degree of the problem. Every case and every serious allegation that is made must be subject to a testing of the facts. That is the way things are going on currently, which has been mentioned by a number of noble Lords. That must always be the case. In any judgment, at the end of the day—I do not refer to this particular case; I refer to any judgment—an element of degree must always come into it, as the noble Lord, Lord Butler, said.

My noble friend Lord Young asked me a series of questions, some of which he was kind enough to give me notice of, so I will try to answer one or two of them. As far as training is concerned—this issue was raised by a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, at the start—all Lords Ministers have done the Valuing Everyone course or have slots booked to do it. I have done it myself and agree that it is a very valuable and important course; I would encourage everyone to undertake it. There is quite a queue to take the course in this large House, as noble Lords can imagine, but I assure noble Lords that this training is being given. It is vital that all parties in both Houses continue to encourage completion of that training.

On the case of Ms Khan, I cannot comment because it is subject to litigation. I hope that the noble Lord will understand; he has put his point on the record and I am sure that that is there for people to see.

On the point about a story in the Daily Mail, it may surprise some noble Lords in this House that I do not believe everything I read in that paper. I am particularly surprised that my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham is such an aficionado of the Daily Mail, but one lives and learns. I am aware of no such contract. The advice I am given is that Mr Cummings is a special adviser and subject to the special adviser code of conduct.

As far as contractors are concerned—I was away for a week when Mr Sabisky was enjoying his career in government—contractors are subject to the Civil Service code of principles, but again it would be inappropriate for me to comment on a particular vetting status or contractual arrangement applying to an individual. I hope that I have answered, or at least responded to, most of the points that my noble friend made.

The noble Lord, Lord McNally, raised the issue of ministerial training and I have sought to respond to that. On the question of the employment of special advisers, I thought we were discussing the Ministerial Code but I will always try to assist your Lordships. On special advisers, the point has been made that, as set out in the 2010 Act, they are selected for appointment by Ministers, and Ministers are ultimately responsible. However, all appointments must be approved by the Prime Minister, and it is inherent in that that the Prime Minister has a role in ensuring that special advisers are appropriate to their appointment and are conducting their activities appropriately. I see nothing particularly sinister in that.

My noble friend Lady Finn made some strong and powerful points, and I am sure that everyone who heard them will reflect on them. I said earlier in my remarks that I think there is a shared challenge in making good governance work. Sometimes there will be robust exchanges and sometimes friendly ones. When a Government come in with a new approach and a new mandate, or are refreshed by a general election, of course it is incumbent on the system to seek to implement in the most expeditious and effective way what that would-be Government have promised to the people.

Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, I am not afraid of using the word “people” because ultimately it is from a popular mandate that a Government’s authority arises. It is always interesting to hear a Liberal criticising insurgency; I thought that the beauty of the Liberal Party was that it had always been insurgent.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I was talking about Conservatives describing themselves as insurgents. I always thought that the Conservative Party was the establishment. It is a matter of puzzlement that we have so many Conservatives now describing themselves as the anti-establishment.

Lord True Portrait Lord True
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I am a Conservative of liberal mind, I am afraid—with a small “l”.

Lord True Portrait Lord True
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I will not ensure that Hansard records that remark from a seated position; I would not like to think that anyone would think that of me.

With regard to reviewing the code, my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth pointed out in a very authoritative speech the progress of the code over time. It is periodically reviewed, and Mr Johnson recently published an update in August. Ultimately it is not for me to say; it is for the Prime Minister if he or she wishes to make a change, but it has recently been revised and reviewed. I believe that the Ministerial Code is strong. It is subject to review and an assistance to good government—

Ministerial Code: Breaches

Debate between Lord True and Lord Wallace of Saltaire
Monday 2nd March 2020

(1 year, 9 months ago)

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Lord True Portrait Lord True
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My Lords, in answer to the second question, any Minister holds office at the wish of the Prime Minister and if he considers, in the case of any Minister on any subject, that that Minister is not performing, that Minister will be subject to the appropriate sanctions. As for the noble Baroness’s first question, my right honourable friend answered this in the other House. Allegations have been made that the Home Secretary breached the Ministerial Code and the Cabinet Office has been asked to look at the facts, as reported.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I fear that this affair may have some further way to go. There are, for example, various reports in the newspapers that there was a hitlist of other Permanent Secretaries that the Government would like to get rid of. None of us, I think, wants to go down the road of Washington, where relations between members of the American Cabinet and its staff are clearly toxic in a number of ways. Do we not now need some sort of investigation that will be published to re-establish the necessary confidence between Ministers and civil servants, without which effective government is very difficult to carry on?

Lord True Portrait Lord True
- Hansard - -

No, my Lords, the allegation of a hitlist is false and has been denied. All in this House would agree that good government depends on all the elements of a ministry and a Government working well together. I had the privilege of working in the Civil Service as a special adviser in the past and I know that to be the case. This Government wholly respect the role of the Civil Service; they need the Civil Service to be free to give robust advice and there needs to be proper respect between all arms of government decision-making.

EU: Future Relationship

Debate between Lord True and Lord Wallace of Saltaire
Thursday 27th February 2020

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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My Lords, I, too, welcome the Minister to his new position and look forward to a series of robust exchanges in the months to come. As I was coming down to the House, I was interested to learn that there is now a revised version of the Statement. Perhaps it might be of interest to the House to point out what has been revised. The original text stated that

“as a sovereign, self-governing independent nation we will have the freedom to … lower all our taxes”.

The Minister correctly read out the revised version, which is

“to set all our taxes.”

That seems a wise revision by a Government who are about to produce a Budget which intends to increase spending very considerably. If they were to promise in a wonderfully populist way to lower all our taxes at the same time, it would be a little more Trumpian than even Johnsonian.

I would like to tackle the language and assumptions of the Government’s current approach. This is a very harsh, autonomous independence. As has been pointed out, sovereignty—independent sovereign equality—runs all the way through it, as does the notion of the people’s Government, the “servants” of the people. Saying that

“we follow the people’s priorities”

is the not the language of Churchill or Thatcher. It is the language of Viktor Orban, the Prime Minister of Hungary, or even President Erdoğan of Turkey. This is not constitutional parliamentary language. This is not Edmund Burke. The Conservative Party has to recognise that it is slipping into different territory.

In his speech last week, David Frost started and finished by quoting Edmund Burke, but he also rubbished the idea of shared sovereignty. I recall listening to Geoffrey Howe and Margaret Thatcher talking about shared sovereignty and how we benefit in constructing a multilateral international order by sharing our sovereignty through international treaties and agreements, international organisations and international law. Britain has done a great deal in that regard. The language of the Statement suggests that we reject most of that and that we think we are now dealing with a power—the sovereign European Union—which is threatening our sovereignty and independence.

I have not yet heard any Minister say that in dealing with the United States we will expect the United States to treat us as a sovereign equal. I hope the Minister can assure us that we expect the same from the United States because it would not be desirable to establish our independence from the European Union hostile force—as it clearly in many ways is—by reinforcing our dependence in security, intelligence and a range of other ways on the United States. We see it in current extradition procedures and in the presence of American intelligence operatives in this country, who are not fully covered by treaty arrangements and not fully reported to Parliament. That is a degree of dependence which is certainly an evasion of British sovereignty, if we are going to talk about our sovereign independence.

How are we going to establish our political and economic independence by January next year? If we are going to be economically independent, are we going to ensure, for example, that all our key telecommunications equipment is made inside this country? Are we going to ensure that we have an independently owned steel industry, or at least a steel industry of some sort, or is that not part of economic independence? Do we think that supporting offshore financial centres under British sovereignty is part of independence, given that integration into the offshore world which is the ultimate denial of sovereignty in taxation and other terms? If we are not, that is misleading, populist language. It is wonderful to suggest that we stand for the people, but actually, we do not.

Free trade limits sovereignty. Protectionism is what protects sovereignty. North Korea is in many ways one of the most sovereign countries in this world. Once you open yourself to foreign investment and trade, you limit your sovereignty, and that is what we have done. We are one of the most open countries to foreign takeovers and, as a result, we have limited sovereignty and we have to share it with others. If we are talking the language of sovereign equality, we should remember what that great realist Thucydides said: strong states do what they like, small states—and we are smaller than China or the United States—do what they must.

There is no understanding of Britain’s position in the world now we have left the European Union. We have no foreign policy at present. That is not part of this current populist dimension. How do we approach climate change and how do we deal with pandemics? We have to share sovereignty. I hope, when it comes to the climate change conference, the Government will sign up to new international obligations, which will also limit Britain’s sovereignty. Perhaps it is only signing up to shared obligations with the European Union that we object to and we do not, apparently, object quite so much to signing up with China or India.

Can the Minister also assure us that what I understood the Statement to mean on regulatory divergence is that we demand the principle of regulatory divergence but, in practice, we shall be fairly closely aligned? We are standing up for the ideological dimension that we choose but, when it comes to it, we will probably go along with them. Of course, the alternative, if we do not align with European regulations, will be to align more closely with American regulations, rather than, I suspect, to choose our own.

I hope the Minister recognises that the change of tone from the political declaration we signed last October is very worrying for anyone who cares about our position in the world. He will have read the Times editorial the day before yesterday, which said that if we now suggest that we are not bound by agreements that we signed up to last year on Northern Ireland and on the political direction, no one will be prepared to trust us and we will not be able to get a future agreement. When a not particularly left-wing newspaper, such as the Times, says that about the Government’s approach to their negotiations, we should all be very worried indeed.

Lord True Portrait Lord True
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I thank the noble Baroness and the noble Lord. Obviously, I thank them for their references to my arrival here. I feel privileged to follow my noble friend Lord Callanan in answering on this subject at this Dispatch Box. He was often stoic and always willing to be open to the rest of the House. I assure both noble Lords who have spoken that I will endeavour to be fully open and I look forward to working with them. I know my noble friend is a hard act to follow and I will try to do that.

I will come to each of the contributions in a moment. I felt that they had something in common. One was, perhaps, slightly more robust but there still seemed to be a lack of recognition on the Benches opposite of the fundamental change in the circumstances in which this nation—and, frankly, this Parliament—operates and, I submit, has a duty to operate. Not only was there a very clear referendum result some years ago, following which this House did not cover itself in glory in the way it behaved, but there has recently been a general election—as referred to in the Statement—in which the British people gave a decisive steer. It is a mandate—whatever people on the other side may feel —and an instruction that, as the Statement said, we on this side feel an overwhelming duty and responsibility to respond to. Everything that this Government will try to do in this House will start from the fundamental fact that the British people have voted to leave and they have voted to be independent and that is the policy that this Government will pursue.

I come to some of the points raised. With respect to the noble Baroness, it was a little like hearing the briefing on the process before Brexit actually happened. The Government are trying to be as open with the House as possible right from the start, publishing this mandate before the negotiations begin. We are in a new phase. Brexit has happened. In the period up until 31 December, we are seeking to reach an agreement with our friends and allies in Europe; that is, an agreement based on full respect and friendly co-operation, and centred on free trade. With great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, it sounded as though he was seeing the Government as inspired by Stalinist socialism in one country. The Government are fully alive to our international friendships and obligations, which stretch right across the world. I repeat that the key position, which this House must understand, is that we want friendly relations and co-operation between sovereign equals, but it must be informed by the decisions taken by the British people—by our mandate.

On workers’ rights and environmental matters, the Statement was unequivocal. The position taken by the Government is that we aspire to the very highest standards in those areas. We had exchanges earlier about environmental matters. There is no question of the Government resiling from that aspiration.

The noble Baroness asked about friction. Our objective is free trade. That was the proposal put forward by our European friends. But, if it turns out that some element of friction—which we hope will be minimal or non-existent—is present, we have made clear the importance of our need to be an independent, sovereign nation. The noble Baroness talked about a different relationship. We do not want a different relationship in the sense of being hostile, as the noble Lord implied. We bear no hostility to our European friends but we do want a free trade agreement as sovereign equals. In that sense, the relationship is certainly different.

Financial services are, of course, absolutely critical. The noble Baroness asked about this. The position is that, again, it is an area of hopeful co-operation. We have a common interest with the EU in establishing an enduring relationship on financial services, based on mutual trust and co-operation. As my right honourable friend said in the other place, that means completing equivalence assessments, one hopes by the agreed June 2020 deadline.

We must not run ahead of the negotiating process—it is yet to begin. It is disappointing to hear in your Lordships’ House the assumption that everything is impossible. I do not agree with that. I am happy to repeat that we will, of course, try to keep the House informed in an appropriate way as the negotiations go forward; yes, we will keep the devolved Administrations informed. Indeed, in the House of Commons, my right honourable friend expressed his gratitude for the valuable recent discussions he had had with representatives of the devolved Administrations.

On language, I was invited to be robust, but I must try to stop being robust now that I am a Minister. I want full co-operation and friendship with the noble Lord, who I enjoyed working with in coalition, but it is a bit rich to be given a lesson on language by a party that went to the last election planning to revoke Article 50 without any reference at all to the British people. To my reckoning, that seemed mildly harsh. I will not go into a philosophical argument about what sovereignty means. Some things the noble Lord said were true; some were not. This Government intend to be a leader on climate change, as we have already demonstrated.

I have tried to answer the questions, but I am sorry to have gone over time. We must accept this as a fresh phase, and I hope the whole House, on all sides, addresses this phase in the positive spirit of wishing to get a good outcome by the end of this year, both for this country and for the European Union. That is the position of this Government and what we will try to achieve.

Ministers: Training

Debate between Lord True and Lord Wallace of Saltaire
Thursday 27th February 2020

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Cabinet Office
Lord True Portrait Lord True
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My Lords, there is a code for special advisers.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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My Lords, the paragraph that the noble Lord just quoted actually says that the Prime Minister

“may ask the Cabinet Office”.

What is the status of the Ministerial Code? When we had an exchange in this House at the time of the resignation of a previous Foreign Secretary, now the Prime Minister, and it was pointed out that he had been reprimanded for breaking the Ministerial Code in several places, it was also pointed out by the then Cabinet Office Minister that the Ministerial Code is an honour code and based on the idea that Ministers will always act on their honour. Is it now time that we had some stronger sanction than that?

Lord True Portrait Lord True
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My Lords, I repeat: Ministers hold office at the Prime Minister’s request and remain in office only for as long as they retain the Prime Minister’s confidence. I note what the noble Lord says. The current position is that the Prime Minister is the ultimate judge of the standards of behaviour expected and the appropriate consequences. The conduct of any Minister in office is subject to the most absolute scrutiny—that is, public scrutiny—and this Government intend to hold, and do hold, to the very highest standards of ministerial behaviour at every level.