Lord TrueMain Page: Lord True (Conservative - Life peer)
Department Debates - View all Lord True's debates with the Cabinet Office
My Lords, perhaps we need to remember why we are here. It is really quite simple. When the case for Brexit was all about “taking back control”, we failed to understand that the Government meant taking control to themselves, even over issues that were fully devolved. However, when the Bill was published—without any involvement from the devolved authorities, remember—we soon discovered that it ran roughshod over devolved competences, as the noble Lord, Lord Fox, said, trumping the common frameworks programme.
I have often wondered whether this was deliberate or an oversight, though the lack of prior consultation suggests the former. However, that makes the statement on the publication of the Bill, on 9 September, signed by the Scottish Secretary but not the Welsh Secretary, and by Mr Sharma and Mr Gove, a bit strange in the light of this Bill. It says that the devolved Administrations will enjoy a “power surge” when the transition period ends.
Let us take that at face value. Perhaps the particular construction of the Bill was clumsy—as an oversight rather than deliberate—and perhaps it is right that the Government did not intend to bring back to themselves all the powers long devolved to the other three authorities, but in that case the amendments tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, would rectify the problem. They would simply restrict the market access powers in the Bill, which of course are only about devolved competences, to those where the four-party process failed to reach agreement.
As the Government are one of those four parties, they will be in a very strong position to revert to the Bill, and to Parliament, for the powers they feel are vital for an internal market on areas where disagreement cannot be overcome. That seems, to this side of the House, a simple, clean solution. It would hard-wire in a common frameworks process which the Government themselves described last week in the latest of their three-monthly reports on the frameworks—reports which, I think, we added to Schedule 3 to the EU withdrawal Bill as a requirement for the Government to publish—as
“an agreed approach to ensuring regulatory coherence”
in devolved areas. That is absolutely spot on—coherence, not uniformity—and that is probably where we are trying to get to. The problem is that, as written, the Bill adopts “uniformity”.
The same document, which has just been published, despite having talked about coherence, then asserts:
“Common Frameworks cannot guarantee the integrity of the entire UK Internal Market.”
However, the document does not provide any evidence of why the frameworks will not work. It gives no examples of where, within devolved competences, any agreements might not work. Indeed, the Minister, in introducing the debate, again asserted that it would have to be for Parliament alone to decide when the market access rules would not be used, but he did not explain why the four-party process would not be able to deal with that and why they would come to Parliament only when there was a failure to agree. The same document notes the “freezing power” contained in the withdrawal Act, and it also notes that it has never needed to be used, but it fails to suggest where it might be needed.
Therefore, in the Bill the Government are saying that on the one hand the frameworks are very good and have been able to produce coherence but, on the other hand, the Bill allows the market access principles to trump that process, even if it produces agreement.
We have it said before and I say it again: we on this side of the House want an internal market which thrives and serves the needs of business, the professions, consumers and the environment, but it has to be one that respects rather than dismantles devolution. These amendments seem to us to offer the path to achieve that, so we will support the noble and learned Lord when, as I am sure he will do, he asks the House to vote. I hope that in the light of that vote we can, as the Minister suggested, continue the dialogue so that we can reach an agreed position that would safeguard all that has been going on with the devolution settlements and the common frameworks process but, in the last analysis, would of course come back here.
My Lords, I am grateful to those who have contributed to this short debate. I would like to pick up on some words that the Minister said in his reply. The words “mutual respect” have characterised the meetings that I have been privileged to take part in as we have moved towards the position that I am adopting. I think it is a very healthy system that allows us to conduct these discussions in such a manner as we seek out the positions that each of us is trying to adopt and possible ways of accommodating them.
At the end of the day, as I have said on a number of occasions, it really is up to the Government. I am looking to them to facilitate in some way the process by which an agreed decision to diverge, which has gone through all the processes of the common frameworks system, may be protected against the sharp edges of the internal market principles. I do not believe that that will in any way disrupt the workings of the internal market; indeed, there are benefits from allowing the devolved Administrations to develop their ideas in a way that is consistent with the internal market by the use of this process and the opportunity for divergence that it allows for.
The Minister has invited me to withdraw my Motion, but in truth I cannot properly do that, given that we are in a process of continuing discussion and we have not yet had a proposal from the Government that provides a solution to the problem that I am seeking to address in my amendments. For those reasons, I wish to test the opinion of the House.
My Lords, I speak to Clause 43A. Consistent with the Minister’s undertaking last week, this new clause is not tainted with the admitted unlawfulness that marked Clauses 44, 45 and 47. By way of a footnote, in view of the Minister’s observation, I will say that those clauses should never have been there in the first place. As the Minister has explained, this clause is concerned with the issuing of guidance by the Secretary of State in relation to Article 10 of the Northern Ireland protocol, and any subsequent implementation of that guidance. Either process must pay full attention to the decisions and recommendations of the joint committee, itself established under Article 164 of the withdrawal agreement. Non-compliance, if it were to arise, would, if necessary, be justiciable.
There is nothing further that I can say in relation to this clause. It seems to be a very sensible solution to a difficult problem.
The noble Lord, Lord True, has been true to his word. He has produced Clause 43A, which does not contain any element of illegality, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, said. I also agree with the noble and learned Lord that it is a sensible provision and we welcome it. It brings to an end a saga for which this country has plainly paid a price. Everybody commenting on the position of the European Union at the moment is saying that the reason it is currently seeking the arbitral and consultation provisions, and the threshold for the ratchet up, is that it does not trust us—and one of the reasons for that is the internal market Bill and its illegality.
Motion C agreed.
Motion D agreed.
Motion E agreed.
United Kingdom Internal Market Bill DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
(12 months ago)Lords Chamber
1A: Because they will create legal uncertainty, which would be disruptive to business.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, who is not in his place, will recall how the notion of common frameworks evolved. When we were doing the first EU withdrawal Bill, it became clear that some of the powers returning from Brussels clearly fell within devolved competences. It was therefore widely understood that, to facilitate trade throughout the UK—as otherwise the rules affecting trade could vary across internal borders—a coming together of the four authorities would be needed to balance the desire for, and attraction of, diversity on some issues with a UK-wide approach to help consumers buy and manufacturers trade throughout the UK.
From the start, it was agreed that such frameworks would be established where needed—this is from the communiqué of October 2017—to
“enable the functioning of the UK internal market, while acknowledging policy divergence”
and that they would
“respect the devolution settlements … based on established conventions … including that the competence of the devolved institutions will not normally be adjusted without their consent”.
That was how they started. At that point, a list of 24 such topics was identified and, with a lot of good faith and hard work—as the Minister has acknowledged—the initial three Governments, along with Northern Ireland officials, set to work developing frameworks to enable that UK-wide market to flourish while recognising where devolved authorities might want variations for whatever reason. The basis was, to quote again from that document signed by the Government, to
“maintain, as a minimum, equivalent flexibility for tailoring policies to the specific needs of each territory”.
Until this Bill arrived, everyone thought the system was working well and would accomplish the aims set for it. This should have been something for the Government to celebrate, as they have today, and build on. In fact, it has never been necessary for the Government to use their powers to freeze any devolved authority’s power—a provision set into the EU withdrawal Act, as the Minister has acknowledged.
While this Bill was anticipated, the expectation was that it would help build a new, in some ways unique, internal market across our four nations, which have different cultural, linguistic, agricultural, geographical and industrial histories and realities. Above all, our nations have different democratic governance structures from when we ceded rule-making to the EU in 1973. We thought the Bill would respect the devolution realities while helping to ensure the UK market could prosper for the sake of business, consumers, workers, our agriculture and the environment. As we now know, in addition to throwing the quite unnecessary Part 5 grenade into the Bill, the Government pulled the pin on another grenade by writing into the Bill market access rules which trumped, rather than solidified, the common frameworks programme, which is an approach built on consensus rather than top-down diktat.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, is not a revolutionary. He is not trying to rewrite the Bill. He is seeking—rather like the Minister himself through the Government’s welcome amendments on regulation-making, for which we will give thanks when we come to them later—to start the process on the basis of consent across the four devolved authorities, and, where that is not possible, leaving it to the UK Parliament, rightly, to legislate. We support a union, and therefore we support Parliament’s right at that point to have its proper role. But we start with consent, and then move to Parliament. What we do not support is starting here in Parliament and government, rather than with the four-party common frameworks. So, we welcome the noble and learned Lord’s upending of the procedure, starting with common frameworks and, where or if those do not work, using the market access approach of the Bill in areas obviously otherwise within devolved competencies.
I think we would all warn the Government to be very careful about clawing back decisions from our now quite long-established devolved settlements. I find today’s vote in the Senedd, by 36 to 15, to deny legislative consent to this Bill extraordinarily regrettable. It is an important Bill; it is not a small one. That was denied because of the message sent to Wales and the other devolveds by the rejection in the Commons last night of this approach. So we need a backstop for any failure to agree, but we fail to understand that what should be a backstop has become the starting gun.
The amendments in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, build on the devolution settlements and would support and strengthen the union, as well as creating what we all want: a successful, growing internal market, which is in the interest of all our citizens. We are right, as my noble friend Lord Adonis said, to ask the Government very genuinely to think again about the mechanisms—because that is what we are discussing—to achieve what I think we all want.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, said that if there was a will on the Government’s part to make the common frameworks system work, a solution could be found. Along with the noble Lord, Lord Fox, we concur with that view, and we welcome the Minister’s saying that “discussions are not exhausted”—I think I have his words right. Whether we do that by recognising the framework system in some way, extending the freeze provisions when they expire or pausing market access for a period of time while the four Governments talk—as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Adonis—there is surely a way forward. But I believe we need this amendment to get the Government to continue to discuss, so that we can get that way forward. That is why we will support the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, when he calls for a vote shortly.
However, the broad approach of using common frameworks to disapply elements of the Bill, put forward by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, goes too far in our judgment and could lead to legal and regulatory uncertainty. Of course, as I said in my opening remarks—and as was picked up during the debate—the Government will continue to reflect further on these matters, not only within this Bill but more widely.
14A: Because they were consequential upon Lords Amendments Nos. 42 to 47 and so the changes they made are no longer needed as a result of the Commons disagreement to Lords Amendments Nos. 42 to 47.
We are in a much better place now, thanks to the Statement made by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster yesterday, and the statement made by the noble Lord, Lord True, to us today. The effect of what the noble Lord is proposing is that all the unlawfulness is stripped out of Part 5. He proposes that parts of Part 5 remain in the Bill, but none of those parts can legally overtop the withdrawal agreement entered into in 2020, as the Government of the United Kingdom agreed at the time to legislate so that the withdrawal agreement, including the Northern Ireland protocol, could trump everything except primary legislation that purported to overrule it.
Now, as a result of what the noble Lord, Lord True, has said, the Government accept that there shall be no provisions in the Bill that can overtop the withdrawal agreement, which they agreed to give direct effect to. They have gone back to the position they committed themselves to with the European Union.
I completely respect what the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, have said. They have issues with the Northern Ireland protocol. They are both right when they say that Northern Ireland is being treated differently, for reasons that have been widely debated. But that is not what these issues, in this Bill, are about. For better or worse, this Parliament, earlier, had agreed to the Northern Ireland protocol and the withdrawal agreement.
Why did we see the Government try to escape from the provisions of the Northern Ireland protocol? I cannot remember whether it was the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, or the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, who said that it meant that their troops were marched up to the top of the hill and then marched down again. The reason given was that the Government feared what the European Commission might do in the negotiations.
Let me tell the House how the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster described the attitude of the European Commission in these negotiations. He described Maroš Šefčovič, the vice-president of the Commission, and his team as displaying
“their pragmatism, their collaborative spirit—and their determination to get a deal done that would work for both sides.”
If that was the attitude of the Commission, it is difficult to see why we needed those provisions.
I agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Newby, said about this being an agreement in principle, not a locked-down agreement, as is much more candidly accepted in the letter sent by the noble Lords, Lord True and Lord Callanan, to Members of this House this morning, than it was by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
Later, in the Statement that he made earlier today, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said:
“the agreement we have reached also enables the Government to withdraw clauses 44, 45 and 47 of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill … Having put beyond doubt the primacy of the sovereignty of this place … we rest safe in the knowledge that such provisions are no longer required.”
I understand him to be saying that putting in these provisions and then running scared from them when it looked as if they might stand in the way of a trade deal constitutes putting beyond doubt the primacy of the sovereignty of this place. That is absolute nonsense.
I agree with what my noble friend Lord Adonis said, and I am glad that the Government have retreated. However, what they did has damaged the position of this country, and shows a terrible misjudgement. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord True, has been so gracious in his withdrawal, and we are all grateful for it—but it would have been so much better if the Government had been straightforward about why they did this. They did it because they know they cannot get a trade deal without withdrawing those clauses. I do not know whether they will get a deal, but they hope for one and they cannot get one without withdrawing them. That is why it has been done—and it was done today because this House is debating this today.
Although I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, for the fact that some attention has been paid to the Lords, I am glad that she is here to help the Lords influence the Government, which is what it does. It is because the Lords stood firm that constitutional crisis is averted. A good message is sent by the work of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and I single out the noble Lord, Lord Howard, for his stalwartness in standing up for the principle. If we had not, goodness knows what a mess this Government would have got this country into. We send a message that there are certain principles we will stand up for and will not be moved from.
United Kingdom Internal Market Bill DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
(1 year ago)Lords Chamber
My Lords, this has been an excellent debate, despite the fact that it is decidedly one-sided—although the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, did her best to redress the balance—and I look forward to the Minister’s response. I said to him in an earlier meeting that this might be one occasion—perhaps the only one—when the House would be happy to hear a full response from him to the points made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and his distinguished co-signatories and supporters.
I say that because, as the noble and learned Lord said, although the amendments sensibly address the rules for the mutual recognition of goods in Part 1, services in Part 2 and professional qualifications in Part 3, their underlying, ancillary purpose is to support and enhance the relationship between the Governments of the four nations of this United Kingdom. They focus on the key question raised by the Bill: is this to be a single market under new rules created and imposed from Westminster or is it to be all four nations working together, managing appropriate divergence, as they are currently doing through the successful common framework process?
I hope the Minister will give us a full answer to the important questions raised by this debate. I also hope that he will reaffirm his Government’s commitment to our devolution settlement, because, as we have heard, our current settlement is under pressure—not least because of recent comments from the Prime Minister. This is not confined to the devolved Administrations. The virus, the recession and recent spats over local lockdowns, who manages public health and welfare best and who pays have exposed a centre that seems unable to listen and outlying areas that do not feel they are being consulted. As we will come to in later amendments, these are bodies with far greater knowledge of what is happening locally, but which lack the resources to solve the problems they identify. It can be argued that the Bill is actually about gathering powers which should be devolved to an insensitive centre which is trying to imprison a multinational country composed of vibrant, diverse regions with diverse histories and needs into a straitjacket of a unitary state. We can and need to do better than that.
As many noble Lords have said, the most striking aspect of this debate so far has been the wide cross-party support for these amendments, coupled with the fact that no fewer than seven members of the Select Committee considering common frameworks have made it clear beyond peradventure that the common framework process is alive and well, doing the job that the Government say they need done: supporting frictionless trade across the UK, improving standards, managing divergence and strengthening the union. Why is this process not at the centre of the Bill?
We support these amendments and will support the noble and learned Lord if he decides to test the opinion of the House. However, we heard from the Minister in earlier stages of the Bill and in separate meetings that his mind was not closed on this issue. Obviously, other interests are at stake here. However, the case made today by virtually everyone who has spoken has been strong and formidable in the arguments deployed. I urge the Government to give the House an assurance that they accept the principle that lies behind the amendments and that they will come back at Third Reading with amendments of their own which give effect to it. If so, we would support that.
It is clear that there is more that unites us on this issue than divides us, and it is clear from the tone and content of the debate that this would be the preferred solution of your Lordships’ House.
The approach in the amendments goes against the very purpose of the Bill, which is to give businesses across the UK certainty on the conditions under which they must operate. The amendments would make the operating environment potentially unstable and create confusion for business. No one could know for sure, until the question was determined in court, whether a regulation or requirement, or a combination of regulations or requirements, was giving an effect to an agreement reached within a common framework. There would be uncertainty as to whether or not the market access principles applied.
The Minister cast doubt on warnings about the impact on devolution. Has he looked at opinion polls in Wales tracking support for independence? That is a country that only 20 years ago very narrowly accepted devolution. It is a country that voted for Brexit, and one that is governed by a Labour-Lib Dem coalition—two unionist parties. You can see in that country the clear feeling about the way in which this Government are behaving.
[Inaudible.]—perspectives have offered support to what these amendments seek to do. Picking up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack—sitting on my own in my little room, participating virtually—I too very much regret that it has not been possible for us all to join together in the Chamber. I see the value of the points he was making about introducing some more lively spirit among those in the Chamber, so there could be a real atmosphere of debate, which even remotely we would be able to enjoy.
I listened very carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord True, said. He expressed his position, as always, very clearly in careful language. I think, on a fair reading, that the clauses in Parts 1 and 2 are more absolute in their effect than he was making out, and I do not accept the criticisms that he makes of the amendments’ effect. Of course, I do not claim that the amendment I have put forward is a final solution; there was always an option open to the Government. If they thought the amendments could be improved upon or altered to meet some of the points that the Minister made, that could have been done—but there was no such offer forthcoming from him, for reasons that I understand.
The question was whether the devolved nations should continue to be free to develop and apply market policies within their devolution mandate which have secured agreement under the common frameworks process, or whether that freedom should simply be brushed aside, as the Bill really seeks to do. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that this Government regard devolution as an inconvenience that can simply be ignored when they want to. I regret that very much indeed. I am a unionist and I believe in the union and all that it stands for, and all the values that I hope it will continue to give us in future. But I am afraid we see here an uncompromising, careless and centralist style of government, which divides our United Kingdom into pieces at a time when harmony is most needed. That has no place in our democracy.
I know that the Minister will reflect very carefully on what has been said today, and I hope that he will do his best to persuade those at the heart of government to think again, but what he has said in his reply leaves me with no alternative. I seek to test the opinion of the House on my amendment.
My Lords, this debate raises an important and much wider issue about how statutory instruments are dealt with and how much consultation goes into them. When we discuss them in the Moses Room, the Minister often hears from all of us: “Who did you consult and can we hear the feedback?” There are some really important general lessons to take from that, because, as all of us who have dealt with statutory instruments will know, often someone gets in touch at the very last moment to say that a statutory instrument does not work for their industry or their sector. Usually it is an issue of practicality rather than the policy, but by then it is too late, which is immensely frustrating.
The problem with the Bill is that we should not have these powers when dealing with policy. It goes back to what I said in the earlier debate: statutory instruments were never meant to be about policy shifts, but about the practicalities or some adjustment. In a way these amendments, whether right or wrong, are wrongly focused. We should not be saying, “These things need lots of scrutiny because they are terribly important.” If they are terribly important they should not be using these powers.
It will not come as a surprise that I much prefer the amendments in my name that we will get to later, since Amendments 4 and 5 were pre-empted. They are also about the internal market. We are talking about regulations that affect the other parts of the United Kingdom, and very few, if any, would have no effect. Our other amendments propose that regulation-making will need the consent of the devolved Administrations unless that has not been possible within a month. In that case this Parliament will be able to put them through, but with a reason why it is doing so without the consent of the devolved Administrations. This is interesting, and in a way has a much shorter term than this amendment. It is more focused and specifically looks at this Bill, which is about producing regulations that affect the other four nations. I am sorry, but I prefer my amendments to these ones. The issue of scrutiny of statutory instruments is serious. Maybe we can get a better practice so that we do not end up with stuff that is not quite fit for purpose, and which it is then too late to do anything about.
As my noble friend Lady McIntosh and the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, set out, most of the amendments in this group ask for a super-affirmative procedure; indeed, as she said, equivalent amendments were tabled in Committee. Without repeating all the arguments made in Committee, I remind the House that I said that your Lordships’ Delegated Powers Committee, which considered these issues carefully, did not propose any super-affirmative power for the Bill. I explained the problems with the proposed approach, which were graphically described by my noble friend Lord Naseby, with his great experience in the other place; this would cause unnecessary delay where a change is urgently needed.
United Kingdom Internal Market Bill DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
(1 year, 1 month ago)Lords Chamber
My Lords, it is a privilege to speak in this important debate. I say straightaway that we on these Benches support the principles that have been outlined by my noble friend Lord Hain, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, Lady Altmann and Lady Suttie, who have all put their names to the amendment. The essence of this amendment is that the Government should commit themselves to doing nothing that breaches the Good Friday agreement.
There is no noble Lord who has spoken in this debate who does not agree that a critical part of the Good Friday agreement is an open border between north and south. No noble Lord does not agree that, if the border is closed, one of the essentials of the peace agreement goes—and that threatens security and lives in Northern Ireland. That view is obviously accepted not just by the Democratic Party in the United States of America but by the Republican Party.
The dilemma the Government faced in reaching a conclusion about how to Brexit was how to keep the border open yet, at the same time, leave the single market while giving the European Union security whereby the border between north and south would not be an open door for goods from the north of Ireland flowing into the single market to the south. The solution reached, which the current Prime Minister said was “brilliant” and which he formally endorsed “strongly”, was that goods in Northern Ireland and those brought into it which were at risk of going to the south would be compliant with the single market regulations—both regulatory requirements and the payment of duty. That would be achieved with checks on goods, in so far as necessary, coming from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. That was a good solution to the problem and was, as I said, adopted by the British Government.
It was also agreed that there would be four protections in the Northern Ireland protocol to ensure that the constitutional arrangements would not create difficulty for the unionist community in the north. First, there would be a joint committee to settle the detailed arrangements. Secondly, there would be an arbitration provision if there was a dispute about whether they went too far one way or the other. Thirdly, Article 16 would allow the British Government to impose their own measures, in accordance with the terms of the Northern Ireland protocol, if they were concerned about a threat to society, the economy or cultural links between the two. Fourthly, there is a provision for democratic consent if the people of Northern Ireland no longer wish to comply with the Northern Ireland protocol.
Those were the arrangements agreed by the UK Government. Now the Government say that we may not continue to comply with the Northern Ireland protocol. They are signalling to the European Union, to the Republic of Ireland and to the United States of America that you cannot rely on us in relation to the provision that keeps the border open. This Government have the impertinence to say that it is the European Union that is threatening the border. If you say, having just entered into an agreement, “We may not continue to agree or comply with it”, then of course the other side is going to think that you are not reliable. As it happens, you also trash our reputation as a country by doing it. You make this Government an absolute laughing-stock. First, Brandon Lewis said that they were breaking the agreement. Then the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, said that they were not. Then Brandon Lewis said, “Oh yes we are”. Then the noble and learned Lord resigned because of what Brandon Lewis said. Then Michael Gove said, “Maybe we are; maybe we aren’t”. That is the position of the Government of the United Kingdom, which has a reputation for complying with the law.
Could the Minister explain? First, are we breaking the law or not? Secondly, if we are, why are we doing so—or even threatening to—when we entered into those four protections to ensure that there was no pressure on the border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain? Thirdly, can he give the assurance required by my noble friend Lord Hain, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, Lady Altmann and Lady Suttie? We all require that the Government will do nothing that threatens the Good Friday agreement. Finally, will the Minister explain how it does not threaten an open border to say, as the British Government do, “We may not stand behind the Northern Ireland protocol”?
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his courtesy and all those who have spoken in support of these amendments. I note that a third of the speakers are from the Minister’s own Benches. I think that shows that there is cross-party, cross-Bench support for the principles that these amendments enunciate.
My noble friend Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick spoke with passion about how this Bill, without these protections, imperils the Good Friday agreement. I want to return to that point when I pick up some of the arguments used by the Minister in a moment.
The noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, made a telling point: why are the Government not accepting their own policy? If their policy is, as the Minister states—I accept that in good faith—that the Government support the Good Friday agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol in protecting the Good Friday agreement, why are they not accepting these amendments? If there is some technical issue, and I will return to one of the issues he raised, we could discuss wording and come to an agreement. I ask the Minister to look carefully at what the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, said about the Government’s own policy being reflected in these amendments. At least, we think it is the Government’s own policy.
The noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, spoke with great authority because he has spent many years on this. As Secretary of State, I worked with him on this and his review of terrorist legislation, as did the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, who was a distinguished chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in the other place. He was hugely respected on the island of Ireland for his diligence and the conscientious empathy he showed towards the situation in Northern Ireland.
The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, again speaking from the Minister’s own Benches, was compelling on the fact that this should be a cross-party matter. It was, of course, John Major, as she said, who played a crucial role in the lead-up to the Good Friday agreement that enabled Tony Blair to pick up the baton and drive it forward.
Another contributor to this debate, the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, to whom I am also grateful to for her support for these amendments, speaks with real authority, particularly about what is at stake here. This is not some technical issue; this is about the future of peace in Northern Ireland. My noble and learned friend Lord Falconer, spoke also about the importance of keeping that border absolutely open on the island of Ireland, to take the process of peacemaking forward.
I ask your Lordships’ House to note that the Minister did not explain how the Bill upholds the Good Friday agreement. He asserted it, but he did not explain how it upholds is, especially given that it repeals the Irish Northern Ireland protocol. On Report, I would urge him to explain in great detail—if necessary, in technical detail—how he thinks the Bill actually upholds the Good Friday Agreement. The majority of contributors to this debate—in fact, everybody except him—dispute that. That is the problem that the Government face in setting their face against these amendments.
Unless there is an ulterior motive here, and I am not suggesting that of the Minister personally but of No. 10 Downing Street, I do not understand. If there are concerns about the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol, there is a committee, as I mentioned in my speech, co-chaired by Michael Gove with a representative of the EU, to iron out the detailed implementation points. It is a joint committee. That makes us all think that there is something much more serious at stake here, which is undermining the whole foundation of the protocol and, indeed, of the Good Friday agreement with which it sits in partnership.
To conclude, this is a series of very modest amendments. They ask the Government to uphold their own professed policy. That is all they are doing. They are not suggesting some revolutionary change in the Government’s policy. They are asking them to uphold their professed policy on the island of Ireland, in particular on continued progress in Northern Ireland. Meanwhile, I will seek leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, this has been an excellent debate, brilliantly introduced by my kinsman, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, and with some other excellent speeches, particularly from those who were members of your Lordships’ Select Committee and, of course, the chair, my noble friend Lady Andrews.
The weight of the arguments deployed in this group and the virtual unanimity of views expressed from all sides of the Committee were to be expected, but Ministers might not have expected to be offered a route out of the mess that they have got themselves into. If common sense prevails, there is a win-win here. As the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, said, the Bill currently has things the wrong way around. The Government need to signal tonight that they will take away the amendments in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, and work with him to find a structure that better delivers the aims of the Bill.
They should use this legislative opportunity to encourage the completion of the current work on the common frameworks, to encourage the process to cover the remaining outstanding issues and to anticipate future needs. They should then draft an effective safety net for the Bill, based on mutual recognition and non-discrimination, while, as the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, said, having regard to subsidiarity and proportionality. They should ensure that the current informal processes have a light-touch underpinning, with a regulatory framework that commands trust and the confidence of the devolved Administrations. If they do this, we will happily work with and support them.
However, common frameworks by their nature are largely sector-specific, and I acknowledge the point made by my noble friend Lord Dunlop. They do not cover the totality of policy relating to the UK internal market. They cannot address interconnected issues or future areas of policy development. They do not cover business costs, for example. In response to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, let me give an example of something that might arise in future: should one nation specify that a particular nutritional additive for flour produced or sold in that nation was required in all food products containing flour, without mutual recognition and this Bill, this would mean that any foodstuffs that had flour in them from any other part of the United Kingdom would also have to have this nutritional additive. This would increase costs to business and consumers and create unnecessary barriers to cross-border trade.
I shall not detain the Committee for long but the Minister came up with the example of flour. I think that as the Bill progresses we can all dream up examples of hypothetical possibilities. However, the question that arises from that example is: why should we not follow the principles and dispute resolution model of the common frameworks? Indeed, as the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, said, where are the gaps that cannot be filled by the common frameworks? Why do the Government need to take such extreme powers for fast Executive action when, in nearly all these cases, the problem will emerge over time? Everybody agrees that if legislation is required, we should have it, but the Government seem to want to take powers in anticipation of unknown challenges. Therefore, why cannot the principles and model of the common frameworks be the basis on which these cases are taken forward and disputes resolved?
My Lords, first, I thank the Minister for his courteous and careful reply. I also thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this fascinating and very well-informed debate. I shall not attempt to sum it up because the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Bennachie, did that very ably for me in his contribution before the interval.
I was very grateful to the Minister for his kind opening words. Of course, I am disappointed that there is not more of an indication of movement on his part, but he said that he would consider the arguments, which I am sure he will, and that he was open to further engagement and discussion—for my part, I certainly am, and I am sure that others across the Committee are too. Of course, there is not much point in those discussions unless he has a rather more open mind in appreciating the problems than he has indicated so far.
One point mentioned from time to time was the fact that this measure, and indeed the White Paper that preceded it, emerged with very little consultation with the devolved Administrations. I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me but I have the feeling that there was a certain amount of lack of consultation across the Government.
If I may offer the Minister a little bedtime reading, there is a clause in another Bill which is still before Parliament that illustrates the problem: Clause 39 of the Agriculture Bill. I do not suppose that the Minister knows what I am talking about so I will say a few words about it. It may help him—the Minister sitting in Westminster, looking at the matter from the other side of the fence—to see how things appear from the perspective of the devolved Administrations.
Clause 39 attempts to set marketing standards. It lays down a basis for the setting of market standards in relation to agricultural products that are marketed in England. It contains a long list of matters that will be covered by regulations—there are 15 of them. I will not go through the list, but one or two of them are important. They refer to regulations or cover matters about the type of farming and production methods, as to the use of certain substances and practices—one might think of pesticides, additions of flour—packaging and so on. At the discussions on the Agriculture Bill, I asked the Minister what this means for the farmers in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, given the volume of goods that they move for marketing in England, since these are matters that have been set for all goods marketed in England. There is no reference in this clause to consultation, let alone consent, and my suggestion was that there should be, on the face of the Bill, a provision that if these standards are to be set and people coming from other parts of the UK are obliged to comply with them, then surely that would have to be done with consent. I do not think that the Minister responding to me had any idea that the Internal Market Bill was on the horizon. I mentioned that the White Paper had just come out, but I got no response from him about that either.
The effect of the mutual principles set out in Clause 2 solves the problem as far as farmers in Wales and Scotland are concerned. They need not trouble themselves about regulations, additives, pesticides, packaging, production methods and so on, because they have a complete opening to the market. The question is: is there any point in going through this huge list and laying down carefully regulated provisions for England when the Minister knows perfectly well that people can come from the other parts of the UK under his Bill and ignore them? I am not talking about a lowering of standards, but about different standards which are not provided for. That is the kind of problem that I mean. Can the Minister look at this before he goes to sleep tonight, think it through and see how it looks from the other side of the fence? These are really big issues. Although the Bill is still going through ping-pong, I wonder whether Clause 39 can survive and whether the regulation- making power in that clause will ever be exercised.
These are fundamental points and, to be honest, I do not think that the Minister has really grasped the importance of them. I would like to think that he will, and I look forward to further discussions with him before Report. For the time being, however, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.