All 3 Michael Ellis contributions to the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill 2022-23

Read Bill Ministerial Extracts

Wed 13th Jul 2022
Northern Ireland Protocol Bill
Commons Chamber

Committee stage: Committee of the whole House (Day 1) & Committee stage
Tue 19th Jul 2022
Northern Ireland Protocol Bill
Commons Chamber

Committee stage: Committee of the whole House (day 2)
Wed 20th Jul 2022
Northern Ireland Protocol Bill
Commons Chamber

Committee stage: Committee of the whole House (day 3)

Northern Ireland Protocol Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Cabinet Office

Northern Ireland Protocol Bill

Michael Ellis Excerpts
Jeffrey M Donaldson Portrait Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson
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We are not Norway; we are Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is not in the single market, and let us be clear about that. The protocol requires us to align our regulations on manufacturing of goods with those of the EU single market. We are out of the single market and we are out of the EU’s customs union, but we are required to abide by its rules. That is the position in which we find ourselves, and I say to the hon. Lady that the solution the Government are offering will enable businesses to continue trading with the European Union in a way that is helpful and beneficial for cross-border trade, for my farmers and for our agrifood processing industry. Things will still work for Northern Ireland, but the Bill will also ensure that we can trade freely with the rest of the United Kingdom, which we believe is fundamental to our rights as part of the Union.

In conclusion, we believe that this Bill has the potential to move us forward in resolving the problems created by the protocol. The regulations that will be put in place when this Bill is enacted are fundamentally important to delivering those solutions. The Bill will address the democratic deficit and mean that once again, all the United Kingdom has a say in how our money, our laws and our borders are controlled. Finally, it will enable us to restore political stability in Northern Ireland by seeing the political institutions back up and running again and protecting the Belfast agreement and its successor agreements, including St Andrews and New Decade, New Approach, which was the basis upon which we re-entered government. We will not re-enter government until we are clear and sure that what the Government are taking forward will deliver what we need for Northern Ireland.

Michael Ellis Portrait The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General (Michael Ellis)
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I begin by thanking Members across the Chamber for their participation on Second Reading. I want to allow for thorough debate of the Bill in Committee, and to facilitate that, and because of the plethora of amendments and the number of people who wish to speak, I might not give way as much as I usually do. I want to facilitate the number of amendments and allow people to speak for themselves. I therefore want to make some good progress, because I am duty-bound to go through a large number of amendments in this opening speech.

As we have progressed to Committee—the House will know that the Government have generously allowed no fewer than 18 hours of debate time—it is necessary to reiterate some key points that go to the heart of why the Government have introduced this Bill. The Northern Ireland protocol, as the Committee knows, was agreed with the very best of intentions, but it is causing real problems, as has already been accepted across the House, for people and businesses in Northern Ireland, including trade disruption and diversion, significant costs and bureaucracy for traders. This legislation will fix the practical problems that the protocol has created in Northern Ireland. It will enable us to avoid a hard border, to protect the integrity of the United Kingdom and to safeguard the European Union single market.

Turning to the clauses under scrutiny today, clause 1 summarises the effect of the Bill and gives vital clarity on how it will function. The clause sets out three things: first, that the Bill provides clarity that the specific areas of the Northern Ireland protocol that are causing problems would no longer apply in domestic law; secondly, that it clarifies how other legislation, such as the Acts of Union, are affected by the Bill; and thirdly, that it provides vital clarity on the operation of the Bill and its position in relation to other domestic law.

Clause 2 underpins the essential functioning of the Bill by confirming that any part of the protocol or withdrawal agreement that has been excluded by the provisions of this Bill has no effect in domestic law. That is necessary and technical, but it is vital for the Bill to function, as without that provision, there may be a lack of clarity as to whether the existing protocol and EU law regime or the revised operation of the protocol has effect. Where this Bill or its powers do not exclude provision in the protocol or withdrawal agreement, that provision will continue to have domestic effect via the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, as it does today.

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Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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I will give way in due course, if I may, because I will come on to the specific amendments, and it might be more prudent to give way at those points to the individual Members.

Clause 16 supports the functioning of the Bill by granting the power to make new arrangements in any cases where it becomes necessary to use the powers contained in clause 15. That means that new law can be made via regulations, if appropriate to do so, in relation to any element of the protocol or withdrawal agreement that has become excluded provision as provided for in the regulations made under clause 15. Clause 16 is vital to ensure the functioning of the Bill and prevent any gaps in the arrangements established underneath it. Without it, there is a risk of not being able to address properly any new issues arising from protocol provisions.

I thank Members for their contributions. The Government are committed to ensuring that the Bill goes through the appropriate scrutiny, with 18 hours set aside before the summer recess, while balancing the need for urgent action to ensure that protocol issues are rectified as soon as possible. Amendment 1, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill), amends clause 1 and paves the way for his amendment to clause 26, which we will debate next week and which reflects a desire for Parliament to approve in a vote the provisions in this Bill before they can be commenced. I am cognisant of the fact that it was not two years ago that he famously introduced a similar amendment to another Bill, of which the Government broadly accepted the substance. However, the situation is not the same as it was two years ago.

Now, we face an urgent and grave situation in Northern Ireland, not a hypothetical one. We know that, as it stands, the EU is not prepared to change the protocol to resolve the problems we face—we have tried that repeatedly—and that there is no prospect of seeing a power-sharing Government restored in Northern Ireland if we are unable to tackle those problems. It is a simple fact. We need to be able to move swiftly, using the powers in the Bill to deliver the changes we propose and enable the protocol to operate sustainably.

Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill
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I understand what my right hon. and learned Friend is saying, and I am grateful to him. However, if there is a need to act urgently, it is likely to be many months before the Bill completes its parliamentary passage. With respect, that is a contradiction. He is actually making a compelling case for using the article 16 safeguarding procedure.

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Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. “Urgent” does not necessarily mean “immediate”; it means, “As soon as we can reasonably and practically do it.” I think he knows that. I will come to article 16 in due course, but we are going as fast as we can given when the House is sitting.

Additional parliamentary procedures after Royal Assent would risk delays to the regime coming into force, and undermine the certainty and clarity that we are looking to provide through the Bill. That would risk undermining the aim, which we all share, of seeing an Executive back up and running and delivering for the people of Northern Ireland, and risk real harm to businesses and citizens.

Stephen Farry Portrait Stephen Farry
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Will the Minister give way?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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If I may, I will make some progress. The amendment is well-intentioned, but I hope the Committee will understand that our priority as a Government is to proceed in a way that best supports the functioning of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement and its institutions, which in this case means giving certainty to the people of Northern Ireland that the regime we propose under the Bill will be in place as quickly as possible. That is why I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst to withdraw the amendment.

Jesse Norman Portrait Jesse Norman
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Further to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill), is the concession by the Government that “urgent does not mean immediate” not a plain acknowledgement of the fact that necessity does not apply, because it means there is no grave and immediate peril, which is one of the tests for necessity?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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My right hon. Friend is conflating two issues. I will come to necessity in due course.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst also mentioned article 16, and the reality is that it does not solve the problem at hand. It would only treat the symptoms without fixing the root cause of the problems. We need a comprehensive and durable solution to this urgent problem and certainty for the businesses and people of Northern Ireland.

Julian Smith Portrait Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con)
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On durable solutions, does my right hon. Friend agree that the only durable solution is for the EU to listen to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson) articulated about the needs of Unionism and for a British Prime Minister, in place from September, not to go moaning to their counterparts, as has happened over the past two years, but to grip the issue and solve it politically?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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Of course, it takes two sides to discuss such matters and come to a solution. I think it has been accepted by all who have spoken so far that there has been some intransigence on the European Union’s side. That is the clear reality. For example, there have been more than 300 hours of discussions between the parties, over 26 meetings involving my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary or her predecessor Lord Frost, and 17 non-papers. I am not sure how much more could be done in terms of negotiation; it does need two sides.

I will move on, as I have several amendments to address and I do not want to interfere with Members’ right to speak in due course.

On amendment 26 and new clause 8, tabled by the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran), she is right to raise the important issue of this Bill’s relationship with the UK’s international legal obligations. However, the amendment is not necessary. The Government have already published a statement setting out their legal position that the Bill is consistent with the UK’s international obligations. In line with the practice of successive Governments over several years, it summarises our position but does not set out the full detail of our legal advice. That is not something that any Government of any shade can do, and it is quite rare to give such a memorandum.

The statement makes it clear that the strain that the arrangements under the protocol are placing on institutions in Northern Ireland, and more generally on socio-political conditions, means there is no other way of safeguarding the essential interests at stake other than the Bill we propose. There is clear evidence of a state of necessity to which the Government must respond. As in other areas, it would not be prudent for the Government to publish evidence or analysis underpinning every point of legal detail—the lawyers in this House will know that that would be extremely inappropriate—particularly in advance of specific cases arising in potential future litigation. I therefore urge the hon. Lady not to move her amendment.

Layla Moran Portrait Layla Moran
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Will the Minister give way?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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I will because it is the hon. Lady’s amendment.

Layla Moran Portrait Layla Moran
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The Minister is arguing that future litigation is why we cannot see the full legal advice, but it is precisely because future litigation is quite likely that this House deserves to see the full legal advice.

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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It is long-standing convention for very good reason that legal advice is not published in full. We know that, famously, from the Labour Government a couple of decades ago, when there was an enormous controversy about that. It stands as a very good reason, as I have discussed. However, we have published a memorandum on the matter that goes some way towards answering the hon. Lady’s question.

I move on to amendments 31 and 32 and new clause 10, tabled by the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy). The Bill is designed to bring swift solutions to the issues that the protocol has created in Northern Ireland. Those solutions are underpinned by the designation of elements of the protocol as “excluded provision”. Put simply, by excluding some elements of the protocol and withdrawal agreement in domestic law, the Bill is able to introduce, with the necessary certainty, the changes that are needed in Northern Ireland.

These amendments, through the conditions they would impose, would undermine the ability to exclude elements of the protocol and therefore undermine the entire operation of the Bill. The first condition in particular—that provision is excluded only if the EU and the UK agree to it—is obviously unworkable. Negotiations with the EU have so far been incapable of delivering the solutions that are needed, so to set that as a condition would clearly be dysfunctional. The second condition—that provision is excluded only if necessary as part of an article 16 safeguard—also fails to meet the needs of the situation. As I have said, article 16 has inherent limitations in its scope in that such safeguard measures could address some trade frictions, but not the broader identified impacts of the protocol.

In sum, the right hon. Gentleman’s amendments would unacceptably caveat the core operation of the Bill. In other words, they would be wrecking amendments preventing it from delivering the swift solutions in Northern Ireland that it is intended to provide, and that is why I ask him not to press them.

Hilary Benn Portrait Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) (Lab)
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The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred earlier to the three bits of the protocol that the Bill specifically prevents from being excluded—namely, rights of individuals, the common travel area and other north-south co-operation—which he described as particularly sensitive. Could he explain to the Committee why he does not regard article 18 of the Northern Ireland protocol, which relates to democratic consent in Northern Ireland, as equally sensitive? Why is that not covered by the exclusion? As I read the Bill, the Government could, if they wanted to, change article 18. Is that correct?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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I hope to come to the right hon. Member’s point more specifically in due course, if he will bear with me.

I want first to turn to amendment 5. We have always been serious about negotiations, and we remain so. The whole matter is sensitive and the whole issue is one that we remain serious about. Our preference remains to resolve the issues with the protocol through negotiations, and the Bill provides for this, so I welcome and endorse the sentiment underlying the amendment. It is clear, however, as I have said—I have to emphasise this, because it is not emphasised often enough in my view—that there have been over 300 hours of talks to date, in which the United Kingdom has shared 17 non-papers with our counterparts in pursuit of a solution.

Colum Eastwood Portrait Colum Eastwood
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Will the Minister give way?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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I will not give way.

The European Union is not willing to entertain the changes that are necessary to fix the issues with the protocol, so the Government’s judgment is that, absent a change in stance from the European Union, we have to be realistic. Good faith negotiations to resolve the issues with the protocol have already been exhausted. As I say, there have been 26 separate meetings with the Foreign Secretary and Lord Frost.

Amendment 5 would require that this judgment be endorsed by both Houses of Parliament and, where relevant, the Northern Ireland Assembly, but this would not be appropriate.

Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Whitford
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Will the Minister give way?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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I am not giving way, as I have indicated. I will give way in due course.

It has long been the position that the Northern Ireland protocol and negotiations regarding it are, like any other treaty, a matter for the Government, operating under the foreign affairs prerogative. The Executive must retain that prerogative for very good reasons. Because of the protocol, there is anyway no Northern Ireland Assembly currently sitting to provide the consent that this amendment would require. This Bill aims specifically to restore stability in Northern Ireland and a working Assembly—that is the very essence of it—so there is an essential flaw in the amendment’s logic in requiring the Assembly to approve the operation of the Bill. That is why I ask the hon. Member for Foyle (Colum Eastwood) not to press the amendment. Of course, the Government will continue to update Parliament and the Northern Ireland Executive, when they return, on the status of talks with the EU regarding the protocol, and to consult stakeholders in Northern Ireland on the operation of the Bill.

Julian Smith Portrait Julian Smith
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Will the Minister give way?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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I am very conscious of the time and the number of amendments I have to get through, but I will give way again.

Julian Smith Portrait Julian Smith
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Just on a point of clarification for the Committee, if the Northern Ireland Assembly is not up and running, the provisions in the Bill state that when the consent vote comes, the Assembly will be recalled and there will be a vote on that consent. I say that just so there is no lack of clarity for the Committee about the current provisions within the consent mechanism.

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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I thank my right hon. Friend for making that point.

With your permission, Dame Eleanor, I will speak to amendment 25 and new clause 7 together, which are in the name of the hon. Member for North Down (Stephen Farry). The Bill is designed, as I have said, to bring swift solutions to the issues that the protocol has created in Northern Ireland. These solutions are underpinned by the designation of elements of the protocol as “excluded provision”. Put simply, it is by excluding some elements of the protocol and withdrawal agreement in domestic law that the Bill is able to introduce, with the necessary certainty, the changes that are needed in Northern Ireland. By requiring the prior approval of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the amendments would undermine the ability to exclude elements of the protocol, and therefore undermine the entire operation of the Bill. That is unworkable. Because of the protocol, no Northern Ireland Assembly is currently sitting to pass the approving resolution that the amendment would require. The Bill as introduced aims specifically to restore stability in Northern Ireland, and a working Executive and Assembly. Therefore, in requiring the Assembly to approve the operation of the Bill, there is an essential flaw in the logic of the amendment.

As the hon. Member for North Down will be aware, the Sewel convention applies to this Bill, as it does to all Bills of this Parliament that intersect with devolved competence. I confirm that in the absence of functioning institutions, senior officials in the Foreign Office have already made contact with the head of the Northern Ireland civil service regarding legislative consent, and we hope to reach a positive solution as soon as the institutions are restored. By contrast, the amendment would allow the Northern Ireland Assembly to constrain the UK Parliament’s power to legislate, even if that legislation related to a reserved matter. That, of course, is wholly inappropriate under devolution arrangements. The Government will consult stakeholders in Northern Ireland, including Members of the Assembly, on the operation of the Bill during its passage and thereafter. I therefore ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.

Stephen Farry Portrait Stephen Farry
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The Minister has mentioned the word “logic” on several occasions and linked the necessity of the Bill to the restoration of power sharing. Does he recognise that there is a real danger in setting a precedent of linking the two together? Have the Government considered a scenario in which Sinn Féin reacts to the Bill and, very regrettably and irresponsibly, withdraws from power sharing? Where does that leave us? Are we any better off? Are we not in a different form of crisis?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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I will come on to the hon. Gentleman’s question—forgive me; I was distracted. Would he reiterate his point?

Stephen Farry Portrait Stephen Farry
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I will happily do so. I am talking about a situation in which the Government have linked the passage of the Bill to the restoration of power sharing in Northern Ireland. I am asking on a point of logic: if a dangerous precedent is set by that, how do the Government respond to a situation where, as a reaction to the passage of the Bill, Sinn Féin, very irresponsibly and regrettably, walks out from power sharing devolution and leaves us no better off overall?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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My understanding is that Sinn Féin is willing to go back in and has not set preconditions. That is the actuality of the position, rather than the hypothesis raised by the hon. Gentleman.

Karin Smyth Portrait Karin Smyth (Bristol South) (Lab)
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Will the Minister give way?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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Forgive me, but may I move on to the issue of necessity, since a number of Members have mentioned that and it may be relevant? On amendment 6, I understand the desire of the hon. Member for Foyle for the Bill to be clear about the powers that it confers to the Government. However, it is essential that the Bill confers necessary powers for the Government to deliver a durable solution to the serious difficulties that the current implementation of the protocol is causing. Those include, as we know, the undermining of the functioning of institutions established by the Belfast/Good Friday agreement.

Amendment 6 confuses an international law concept—the doctrine of necessity, which is long established and well understood—and a domestic statutory one, which concerns the appropriate tests for Ministers exercising powers given to them by Parliament. It is essential that the Bill delivers clarity and certainty for the people of Northern Ireland, and amendment 6 would undermine that. I add the caveat that it is the responsibility of Government to deliver a durable solution to the issues the protocol is causing, in order to protect the Belfast agreement. Any unnecessary additional conditions to the exercise of the powers necessary to deliver that solution will only reduce the clarity and certainty of the Bill and what it does to provide for the people of Northern Ireland. That would undermine our ability to get the Executive back up and running, which is a desire I know we all share. I therefore ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.

Amendments 7 and 14 were also tabled by the hon. Member for Foyle. The Bill will fix the practical problems that the protocol has created in Northern Ireland. That avoids a hard border, protects the integrity of the UK and safeguards the European Union single market. I am therefore entirely sympathetic to the sentiment behind the amendments. The Government are motivated by the same concerns that underlie them. We are moving quickly with this Bill—as quickly as possible. That is our focus, because the situation is pressing.

The power in clause 15, which among other things would allow Ministers to reduce the amount of the protocol that is excluded, is designed to ensure that we are able to get the final detailed design of the regime right. Its use is subject to a necessity test against a defined set of permitted purposes. It is essential that that power can be used quickly if needed. Amendments 7 and 14 would pre-emptively prohibit certain uses of the power, but I submit to the Committee that the proper way to scrutinise its use is in this place. All regulations are subject to scrutiny, under either the negative or the affirmative procedure, so it is not as if anything would be set aside without that scrutiny. The hon. Gentleman’s amendments would also do nothing to resolve a potential clash between the permitted and the unpermitted—for example, a security and global market access intention—so they would risk tying the Government’s hands behind their back just when they would need to be most agile. For those reasons, I ask him to withdraw amendments 7 and 14.

William Cash Portrait Sir William Cash
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I am listening with great interest to the series of amendments that my right hon. and learned Friend has been dealing with and asking Members to withdraw. Has he noticed that amendment 1 is neither chicken nor egg, and that there is no reference in it to any evidence test? I am slightly surprised that at the moment, we are not quite clear as to whether it is going to be suggested that that amendment be withdrawn.

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst will have heard what my hon. Friend has said.

I will now turn to amendment 27 and new clause 9, tabled by the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy). The Bill is designed to provide swift solutions to the issues that the protocol has created in Northern Ireland. Those solutions are underpinned by the legal designation of elements of the protocol as excluded provision. Put simply, it is by excluding some elements of the protocol and withdrawal agreement in domestic law that the Bill can introduce the changes that are needed in Northern Ireland with the necessary certainty. Through the conditions they would impose, the hon. Lady’s amendments would undermine the ability to exclude elements of the protocol, and therefore undermine the entire operation of the Bill. I would also argue that they are unnecessary, because the actions they require are already being taken in practice during the passage of the Bill. By voting on its passage, both Houses of Parliament have an opportunity to indicate their approval for the principle of excluding elements of the protocol.

The Government have already clearly set out in the statement of 13 June that we consider the legislation to be lawful in international law. We have also already been clear on why we are not using the article 16 safeguard mechanism: it has inherent limitations on its scope, in that such safeguard measures could address some trade frictions but not the broader identified impacts of the protocol. It is therefore unnecessary to oblige the Government to repeat those statements before exercising the powers conferred by the Bill, which is why I ask the hon. Lady to withdraw her amendments.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
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The Minister has said that my amendments are not necessary. That is very welcome, because new clause 9 requires the Government not just to tell us that they believe they are acting within international obligations, but to set out how, so that the House has a chance to confirm that it is not in breach of those obligations. If that is not necessary, can the Minister set out for us how he believes the legislation is in line with international obligations—not that it is, but specifically how?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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I commend to the hon. Lady the legal memorandum that was published by the Government. It is, I think, only the second time that a Government of the day has published such a legal document, and it is exceptionally useful. We cannot publish the full legal advice—no Government can do that.

I will now turn to amendment 8, tabled by the hon. Member for Foyle. I certainly sympathise with the intention of the hon. Gentleman’s amendment, but I reassure him that it is also entirely unnecessary. The Government have no intention whatever to use the power in clause 15 to alter the operation of the domestic consent mechanism, which I think answers the point that was made earlier on the Opposition Benches.

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John Redwood Portrait John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con)
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Has the Minister ever heard the Opposition point out that the EU is breaking the protocol by diverting our trade and undermining the Good Friday agreement? Has he ever heard them asking to see the legal advice that the EU purports to use when it is so clearly violating the protocol?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point, as usual. I have to say that I have never heard those requests.

Amendment 10, again tabled by the hon. Member for Foyle, relates to the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland. They are, of course, important and well-respected institutions. They were established on the basis of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. They undertake important duties and any change to their remit should not happen arbitrarily. The Government engage regularly with the commissions and they have powers to provide advice to the Government on issues arising from article 2 of the protocol. The Government have engaged broadly on the issues created by the protocol with stakeholder groups across business and civic society in Northern Ireland, the rest of the United Kingdom and internationally. In fact, the engagement has been considerable. As the Committee will know, the Bill provides specific powers to establish a new regime in Northern Ireland which addresses the issues with the current operation of the protocol. We are consulting stakeholders on the detail of how the powers are to be used. We will give plenty of notice to those affected in due course. Therefore, amendment 10 would compel the Government to do what, in many cases, they already intend to do.

We are moving quickly with the Bill because the situation in Northern Ireland is pressing. The power in clause 15 that would, among other things, allow Ministers to reduce the amount of the protocol that is excluded is designed to ensure that we can get the final, detailed design of the regime right. Its use is subject to a necessity test against a defined set of permitted purposes. It is designed to provide stakeholders in Northern Ireland with certainty that the Government will deliver the solutions that we have outlined to the problems that the protocol is causing.

It is essential that the power can be used quickly if needed. Although, in normal cases, the Government will of course engage with stakeholder groups in Northern Ireland, there may be occasions when the urgency of a situation means that the Government need to act swiftly. This amendment risks tying the Government’s hands behind their back, and that is why I ask the hon. Member for Foyle not to press it.

Amendment 40 is in the name of the right hon. Member for Tottenham, who I do not think is in his place. This is the first of a number of amendments from him in the same vein, to which the Government have a single view. The amendment would replace the test of “appropriateness” in the use of the Bill’s delegated powers with one of “necessity”. Members should not confuse this with the international law doctrine of necessity, as the right hon. Member is doing.

The question covers well-trodden ground. Members may remember the extended debates on this topic during the passage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. The powers there are similar to those in this Bill, the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 and the European Union (Future Relationship) Act 2020. I note that the House and their lordships in the other place ultimately accepted that the word “appropriateness” in this context was, in fact, appropriate.

The word “necessary”, which this amendment seeks to import, is a very strict legal test for a court to interpret. Where there are two or more choices available to Ministers as to what provision is appropriate to address the issues that the protocol has created, arguably neither one is strictly necessary, because there is an alternative. Ministers need to be able to exercise their discretion to choose the most appropriate course. That is why the word “appropriate” is the correct word.

There are clearly multiple choices in how to replace the elements of the protocol that no longer apply in our domestic law. The Government must propose that which would be the most appropriate choice. That is why we have chosen that word. I therefore ask the right hon. Member not to press his amendment.

Eleanor Laing Portrait The Chairman of Ways and Means (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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Order. Before the Minister comes to his next point, I draw to his attention that a great many people wish to speak in the debate. A lot of people have a right to do so because they are proposing amendments to which I would like to give them time to speak. The Minister has had the floor for 41 minutes. I hope that he might soon be able to draw his remarks to a close, possibly by addressing just the essential parts without the peripheral parts. In that way, there might be enough time, as we have only an hour and a half left of the debate.

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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I am in full agreement with you, Dame Eleanor, and I am coming rapidly to a conclusion with my points on new clauses 1, 2 and 3, which relate to the Government’s approach to environmental protection and principles as related to the Bill. They introduce new provisions to the Bill that require Ministers of the Crown to provide statements on the environmental impacts of any powers taken under the Bill prior to being able to exercise those.

I understand the desire of the hon. Member for Foyle to ensure that our high environmental standards are upheld across the United Kingdom. In the UK, we already have some of the highest standards of environmental protection in the world. We have no intention of weakening or lowering those standards. The Government are proudly committed to enshrining better environmental protections in law to demonstrate a firm commitment to the highest environmental standards, as we did in the Environment Act 2021.

The UK Government and the Northern Ireland Executive are already held to account by the independent Office for Environmental Protection, which was created under the Act and has a statutory duty to monitor and report annually on progress on improving the environment in accordance with the UK Government’s environmental improvement plans. The OEP also monitors the implementation of, or any proposed changes to, environmental law, and may hold the Government and public authorities to account for serious failures to comply with it. In addition, the Act already creates a duty on Ministers to be guided by five internationally recognised environmental principles when making policy.

In that context, new clauses 1, 2 and 3 are not necessary, as their purpose is served by existing protections, both practical and legislative. I therefore ask the hon. Member for Foyle not to press the new clauses.

May I return very briefly to the consent mechanism, which operates on an international level? We are committed to the 2024 consent vote, which was a principal goal of the Government’s negotiation, as I alluded to a short time ago.

Peter Kyle Portrait Peter Kyle (Hove) (Lab)
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I am grateful that you are in the Chair today, Dame Eleanor, and that I have the opportunity to speak in this debate. As the new Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Shailesh Vara), is in his place, may I start by welcoming him to the job? I hope that we will have the chance to have exchanges into the future. As I have already reassured him, when this divisive period—which includes the contents of this Bill—passes, I hope that there will be more opportunity to find common ground. His predecessor, the right hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), was present a little earlier; that would have been a good opportunity to pass on my sincere gratitude for the way in which he dealt with me when he was in the Department.

Clauses 1 to 3 of the Bill deal with the intention and the main powers. New clause 10, which I will be pushing to a vote, attempts to inject at least some respect for the rule of law into the Bill. The Opposition are also supporting the SDLP’s amendment 8.

The Bill tells us everything we need to know about the Tory party of today, because it represents an abdication of all responsibility—the responsibility to play by the rules, the responsibility to be honest about our actions and their consequences, the responsibility to honour our commitments made on behalf of our country. On Second Reading, the Foreign Secretary declared herself a patriot. Patriotism includes our flag, of course, but it is also about our values. To me, those values should unite all democratic politicians, irrespective of political party. They include respect for the rule of law and equality before it; respect for human rights and the institutions that defend them; and respect for commitments, foreign and domestic, voluntarily entered into and collectively applied.

It says a lot that simply describing those values sounds like a criticism of the Conservative party, the current Prime Minister and almost certainly the next. It is most certainly a criticism of the Bill, which not only breaks convention—the law—but betrays our values as a Parliament and as a country. The Bill exists because the Prime Minister was not honest about the full nature of the Brexit deal. That was followed by a manifesto that promised that his deal was “oven-ready” and vowed to the public that there would be no renegotiations of it.

It is easy for Ministers to dismiss my criticisms, because they are the words of an Opposition spokesman, so how about the words of one of their leadership contenders—of someone running to be their next leader and our Prime Minister? All the contenders have trashed the Tory record in office, so let us take just the most recent example. This morning, the right hon. Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt) said:

“The British people…are fed up with us not delivering, they are fed up with unfulfilled promises”.

She is right, and the Conservative manifesto promise not to renegotiate is presumably part of the problem that she describes.

Northern Ireland Protocol Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Cabinet Office

Northern Ireland Protocol Bill

Michael Ellis Excerpts
Nigel Evans Portrait The Second Deputy Chairman
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Just to remind everybody, if you were not here from the very beginning I am afraid you cannot make an independent speech, but you are able to intervene on others. We have a list of everybody who is here. Just before I call Mr Ellis, can I ask hon. Members who wish to contribute on this first group to indicate their intention by standing up, so we can get a general idea? Thank you very much. That will be very useful.

Michael Ellis Portrait The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General (Michael Ellis)
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I begin by thanking hon. Members for their participation in the debate so far. I remind them that, while the Northern Ireland protocol was agreed with the best of intentions, it is causing real problems for people and businesses in Northern Ireland, and this legislation will fix the practical problems that the protocol has created.

On the clauses under scrutiny today, clause 7 makes it clear that businesses will have a choice which regulatory route to follow when supplying goods to the market in Northern Ireland. It introduces a dual regulatory regime in Northern Ireland for regulated classes of goods to which any provision of annexe 2 to the protocol applies. That will create a new option to meet UK rules, compared with the existing protocol arrangements, whereby goods are required to comply with the relevant EU rules. Where the relevant requirements allow, it will also be possible for the same product to simultaneously comply with both UK and EU sets of requirements. Current traders have no choice but to meet EU rules when supplying goods in or to Northern Ireland. This obviously deters some companies, especially those trading exclusively within the United Kingdom. We have seen numerous examples of that already. It deters them from serving Northern Ireland due to the costs and administrative burdens of meeting this EU law such as retesting, re-marking and relabelling of goods, all of which are expensive, as well as the appointment of a representative to undertake administrative duties. All that bureaucracy comes at a cost, which is unnecessary for goods that are to remain on the UK’s market.

The dual regulatory regime provides businesses across the United Kingdom with choice. If a Northern Ireland business trades north-south in the island of Ireland, it can continue to follow EU rules if it wishes and sell its products in the EU and across the UK, because the Government have a commitment to unfettered access. However, if the model of a business is UK-focused, it can choose to follow UK rules and avoid the additional cost and burden currently applied to intra-UK trade.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My right hon. and learned Friend is right to highlight the significant frictions on trade within the UK that the protocol has caused. That has led the courts to conclude that there is a partial suspension of the 1801 articles of the Act of Union. Will the Bill fix that problem and ensure that the Act of Union remains fully on our statute book?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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My right hon. Friend makes a powerful and valid point. The Bill will ameliorate a plethora of problems that have been caused by the protocol.

As my right hon. Friend knows, by providing an alternative UK rules route to market in Northern Ireland, clause 7 protects the integrity of the UK’s internal market. Clause 8 ensures that the protocol no longer prevents a dual regime such as that introduced by clause 7. It makes provision to exclude EU law where it would prevent goods made to UK rules from being placed on the market in Northern Ireland in accordance with clause 7. It means that goods made to UK rules can be supplied in Northern Ireland in accordance with clause 7 to enable the functioning of this dual regulatory regime.

Clause 9 provides a Minister with the powers to make provisions through secondary legislation to ensure the effective working of the dual regulatory routes in Northern Ireland. The dual regulatory regime will need to take into account the results of engagement with business, which we have already undertaken and will undertake much more of, and it will need to be able to evolve over time as UK and EU regulatory regimes change. The default dual regulatory regime may also need to be amended to ensure that it works effectively for different types of goods—for example, should it be required to ensure that specific highly regulated goods regimes can function effectively. So clause 9 is needed to ensure that goods are compliant throughout the supply chain for traders operating under this dual regulatory regime, whichever route is chosen, and it will therefore safeguard the interests of consumer safety and biosecurity arrangements and maintain appropriate public health standards. The clause is essential to ensure the effective working of the dual regulatory routes and protects the integrity of the UK’s internal markets as well as the EU’s single market.

Nigel Mills Portrait Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con)
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Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm what the default position will be if a business has not made an election? Will it operate under EU law unless it positively chooses to use UK regulations? What will the process be for making this choice? Will someone have to file a document with an authority to say that they intend to use UK regulations when they make goods in Northern Ireland? Will there be a public register? Will it be an entirely private choice for a business? Will no one know publicly what they are doing?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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The first thing to state clearly is that no business will be forced to do anything. They will not be obliged to choose one over the other. It will be up to businesses to do that. One power we will give to Ministers in due course, when the Bill has passed, is to make regulations that will fit in most neatly with businesses’ wishes and desires.

Nigel Mills Portrait Nigel Mills
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Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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If I may, I will make a little more progress.

Clause 9 provides a Minister with the powers to make provisions through secondary legislation to ensure the effective working of the dual regulatory routes in Northern Ireland.

I will move on to clause 10, conscious as I am of the Second Deputy Chairman’s admonition about speed. The clause defines the types of regulatory activity covered by the dual regulatory regime established in the Bill. This provides clarity on interpretation of the Bill’s provisions in relation to the dual regulatory regime and makes the scope of that regime clear.

Clause 10(4) provides that a Minister of the Crown may, by regulations, make provision about the meaning of “regulation of goods” in this Bill, and that includes changing the effect of other provisions of the clause. We want to ensure that the sale of goods made to UK rules in Northern Ireland is not prohibited due to a particular aspect of regulation falling outside the meaning of “regulation of goods” in clause 7. So the power ensures that goods will be able to benefit from the dual regulatory regime.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley
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This issue is very important because, before January 2021, goods travelling from GB to Northern Ireland had to fulfil four criteria to be loaded on to a lorry and transported to shops or outlets in Northern Ireland. Since January 2021 there are 15 compliance points, including heavy paperwork responsibilities. Is the point not that those matters will now be removed and we will be back to where we were in 2021—with frictionless trade in the UK?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful and succinct point.

Clause 11 gives Ministers appropriate powers to ensure that the regulatory regime in Northern Ireland operates for goods in any given sector, ranging from ball bearings and ice cream to lamp posts, gas cookers and children’s toys—myriad different items, but also intermediate goods such as chemicals. All are regulated in different fashions. We want to ensure that they can all operate effectively. So the powers in clause 11, which I know are controversial in the eyes of some hon. Members, allow a Minister to prescribe a single regulatory route for specific sectors, including a UK-only route with no application of EU law, for example. This can also apply to part or all of a category of goods or to some or all of a regulatory route. We consider the clause vital in ensuring that the dual regulatory regime can be tailored to the needs of industry and ensure the smooth running of the new regime for all sectors.

Hilary Benn Portrait Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) (Lab)
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Will the Minister give way?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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I will give way, but I am just about to come on to the amendments, so the right hon. Gentleman may wish to wait.

Hilary Benn Portrait Hilary Benn
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is on the point that the Minister just raised. If I heard him correctly, he just said that the Government were taking a power to prescribe which regulatory route should be chosen. Earlier, he said that it would be entirely a matter for businesses to determine which they chose. Just so the House is clear, the Minister is saying that it is a free choice unless the Government decide that it is not a free choice.

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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No. Businesses will not be obliged to follow any particular route. They will not be forced to follow either UK or EU regulations. It is a choice, and I should be able to expand on that later.

Amendments 44 and 45 are in the name of the hon. Member for North Down (Stephen Farry). As I have said before, the Government are engaging broadly on the issues created by the protocol with stakeholder groups across business and civic society in Northern Ireland, in the rest of the UK and internationally. I have been to Belfast in recent weeks to discuss this with some industries. We will give plenty of notice to those affected. The clauses need to provide stakeholders with certainty that the Government will swiftly deliver the solutions that we have outlined to the problems that the protocol is causing.

Our preference remains to reach a negotiated outcome with the EU. I emphasise that our door remains open. We need a lasting solution to these issues to restore stability in Northern Ireland and a working Northern Ireland Assembly based on the consent of the communities. Her Majesty’s Government have made proposals that would address the issues with the protocol. So far, I am sorry to say, the European Union has not been willing to agree to those, but there is no reason why it could not do so. We hope that it changes its mind. We are always open to discussions, and we want a shared solution—I cannot be clearer than that. However, amendments 44 and 45 risk tying the Government’s hands behind their back. On consent, I respectfully point out that the Northern Ireland Assembly is not sitting at the moment. It is exactly because of the breakdown of the institutions in Northern Ireland that this Bill is needed. We need to see the restoration of the institutions as quickly as possible. Further to that, I confirmed previously to the House that we hope the institutions will be restored soon and that it will be possible for the Northern Ireland Executive to bring forward, for example, a legislative consent motion. I therefore ask the hon. Member for North Down to withdraw the amendments.

Claire Hanna Portrait Claire Hanna (Belfast South) (SDLP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We have been spun the narrative that this is about the consent and the engagement of Northern Ireland. Although, of course, businesses are up for ways to ease the frictions imposed by Brexit, these provisions are far in excess of anything that anybody has asked for.

On the specific issue of restoring the Assembly, it is very vague as to what it will take for the Democratic Unionist party to go back in. Has the Minister any understanding of what the bottom line is for those people who walk around with scarves around their faces and create the protests that the Northern Ireland Office seems so engaged in? Do we think that they will happily accept green and red lanes, or will that be the next problem?

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Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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May I put it this way? The Sewel convention applies to this Bill, as it does to all Bills of the UK Parliament which intersect with devolved competence. I respectfully point out that the Northern Ireland Assembly is not sitting at the moment. It is exactly because of the breakdown of the institutions in Northern Ireland that we are where we are right now and this Bill is actually needed. We need to see the restoration of the institutions as soon as possible. I hope that goes some way towards answering the hon. Lady’s question.

Claire Hanna Portrait Claire Hanna
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister give way?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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Forgive me, but I must make some progress. I am sure that there will be another opportunity to intervene.

Let me turn to amendment 36, in the name of the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy). I addressed this point previously, so I shall be brief. It would potentially circumscribe the ability to design dual regulatory routes under clause 9 to preserve the unity of the UK’s internal market. Given that there are more than 200 pieces of goods regulation applied by the protocol, those powers are needed to ensure that the regime can function effectively in practice for each class of goods. The dual regulatory regime is necessary to remedy disruption to GB-NI trade, which will only worsen as the EU and UK rules diverge over the course of time. The arrangements will also need to be updated over time to reflect changes in UK and EU regulations, so Ministers will need appropriate discretion to make policy decisions in doing so. The right hon. Gentleman may well not agree with me, but I ask him to withdraw his amendment.

I turn to amendment 28, also tabled by the right hon. Member for Tottenham, who I do not think is in his place. The Government have engaged broadly on the issues created by the protocol with stakeholder groups across business and civic society in Northern Ireland, as well in the rest of the UK and internationally. As the House will know, the Bill provides specific powers to establish a new regime in Northern Ireland, which addresses the issues with the current operation of the protocol. We are engaging with stakeholders on the detail of how those powers are to be used and will give plenty of notice to those affected.

The Government have already begun a detailed programme of engagement to inform the specific design of the regime in Northern Ireland that will be created by this Bill. Furthermore, clause 9 is designed to provide stakeholders in Northern Ireland with certainty that the Government will deliver the solutions that we have outlined to the problems the protocol is causing. It is essential that this power can be used quickly if needed. Although in normal cases the Government will engage with stakeholder groups in Northern Ireland, and already are engaging with them, there may be occasions when the urgency of a situation means that the Government need to act swiftly. The amendment risks tying the Government’s hands behind their back.

Sammy Wilson Portrait Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does the Minister note that, while the Opposition are now asking for an economic assessment of the protocol Bill, they did not seek any such economic assessment before they voted for the protocol? Even when the economic consequences were evident, they then still pursued the path of supporting the protocol. It does seem a bit hypocritical to ask for an economic assessment of this Bill while ignoring the economic impact of the protocol, which they support.

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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The right hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point, and it is one with which I tend to agree.

The full details of the new regime will be set out in and alongside regulations made under the Bill, and that includes economic impacts where appropriate. The regulations will be the product of engagement with business. We are going to talk to people to ensure that the detail of the new regime is as smooth and as operable as possible. That is what we are getting on with now. The House will have the opportunity to scrutinise these regulations in the usual fashion, under the normal parliamentary procedures. An additional requirement for the Government to lay an assessment and a report each time, which is what this amendment asks for, would clearly not be necessary. That is why I ask the right hon. Member not to press the amendment.

Let me move on to new clause 13 in the name the hon. Member for Foyle (Colum Eastwood). I argue that this new clause is unnecessary. The hon. Gentleman’s new clause would create a statutory obligation for the UK Government to publish, at least quarterly, what steps are being taken by Her Majesty’s Government to promote, uphold, support and facilitate dual access to the British market and European markets. The Government already publish a host of information on trade, and it is not necessary, in my submission, to duplicate existing publications on a quarterly basis and lay them before Parliament. The dual regulatory regime provides businesses across the UK with choice. If a Northern Ireland-based business trades north-south on the island of Ireland, then they can continue, as now, to follow EU rules and sell their products in the EU and across the UK, because of the Government’s commitment to unfettered access. But if their business model is UK-focused, they can choose to follow UK rules and benefit from the opportunities afforded there. I therefore urge the hon. Gentleman not to press his new clause.

Finally, let me turn to new clauses 14 and 15 in the name of the hon. Member for Foyle. These new clauses are, in some aspects, unnecessary, and, in other aspects, inappropriate. As the hon. Gentleman knows, article 14(b) of the protocol already requires the specialised committee to

“examine proposals concerning the implementation and application of this Protocol from the North-South Ministerial Council and North-South Implementation bodies set up under the 1998 Agreement”.

That is an entirely appropriate and valuable role. The hon. Gentleman’s new clauses, by contrast, would create a statutory obligation for the UK Government to “support” proposals relating to the regulation of goods made by the North-South Ministerial Council and other North-South Implementation bodies.

That would cede control over the UK Government’s stance in the Joint Committee to a council on which the Irish Government—the Government of an EU member state—sits. The hon. Member can surely see that this would be wholly inappropriate. In any case, as part of our “New Decade, New Approach” commitments, the Government already ensure that representatives from the Northern Ireland Executive are invited to meetings of the Joint Committee, which discusses Northern Ireland specific matters, and these are also attended by the Irish Government.

Claire Hanna Portrait Claire Hanna
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does the Minister agree that the North-South Ministerial Council and other architecture of the Good Friday agreement provide solutions to addressing some of the issues around democratic deficit and input of civic society? Does he acknowledge that the North-South Ministerial Council is not currently operating because strand one and strand two of the agreement are being held to ransom by the DUP?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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I do not accept the characterisation of the hon. Lady’s point.

The aspects of new clauses 14 and 15 obliging the Government to lay reports before Parliament are also unnecessary. The Government have already committed to—and do—lay written ministerial statements in Parliament before and after each meeting of the Joint Committee. We also provide explanatory memorandums on matters to be discussed at Joint Committee meetings. I therefore urge the hon. Member for Foyle not to press new clauses 14 and 15.

My hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) asked in an intervention about businesses having a choice. Businesses will, of course, have a choice by default. He asked about processes. We are engaging with businesses. We may need to tailor regulatory routes in some cases, but businesses will have a choice by default.

To conclude, the Bill on which this honourable House is spending up to 18 hours in Committee provides a comprehensive and durable solution to the existing problems with the Northern Ireland protocol by giving businesses a choice over which regulatory route to follow when placing goods on the market in Northern Ireland. I therefore recommend that the clauses under consideration stand part of the Bill.

Peter Kyle Portrait Peter Kyle (Hove) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship once again, Mr Evans.

I shall start by responding to a point made by the right hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson). To clarify, the Labour party and I voted against the protocol when it was before the House. In fact, we walked through the Lobbies together on this issue. I am surprised he does not remember such a memorable occasion—it is quite a rarity, it must be admitted. I hope that when he comes to speak, he will correct the record, because we have a good relationship. It is one that I value and that I hope will continue.

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Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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I am grateful to all the participants in this important debate. Very briefly, I would like to reiterate the following points. No business, including in the dairy sector—I recently visited Lakeland Dairies in Belfast—will be worse off as a result of UK action. The Bill will force no change on any sector, but it will allow Ministers to respond to specific asks from each sector, if appropriate. I have heard strong views about the thoughts of sectors of the Northern Ireland economy, particularly dairy. Understanding such concerns is at the heart of our work; that is why we have been engaging with stakeholders, and will continue to.

May I place on the record my appreciation for the work of the business representative organisations in Northern Ireland, which are doing, and will no doubt continue to do, an important, worthy job on behalf of their members?

While the Northern Ireland protocol was, as we know, agreed with the best of intentions, it is causing real problems for people and businesses in Northern Ireland. This legislation will fix the practical problems that the protocol has created in Northern Ireland.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Northern Ireland Protocol Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Cabinet Office

Northern Ireland Protocol Bill

Michael Ellis Excerpts
Stephen Doughty Portrait Stephen Doughty
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Indeed. The point I have made is that the powers the Government are taking remove responsibilities from the Northern Ireland Assembly. We want all communities to have a say on matters that affect them going forward. I am sure we will come on to a number of those amendments in due course.

In the same vein, we would support amendment 12, which relates to clause 18, tabled in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), were he to press it to a Division. As the Hansard Society points out, clause 18 would give Ministers the power to “engage in conduct” relevant to the Northern Ireland protocol if they consider it—again this word—“appropriate” in connection with one or more of the purposes of the Bill. However, the Bill provides no elaboration on what type of activities that “conduct” could involve. Nor have the Government given a justification for why the additional power is needed. Indeed, the former head of the Government Legal Service, Sir Jonathan Jones QC, someone who has said a lot about the legality of the Bill, described this as a

“do whatever you like power”.

Given that the Government can provide no assurances on what types of “conduct” the power will be restricted to and that we have no justification for why it is even needed, this is not something we can support. That is why we support amendment 12, tabled by my right hon. Friend. The Government are in no position to expand their powers to such a degree, particularly in areas so sensitive. Not only are they a gross overreach of power, but they are also disrespectful to the constitutional role of this House.

I turn to some of the amendments that have been tabled. Labour has been clear, since the Bill was first introduced, that the way to solve the problems before us is to negotiate, and to do so in good faith. We recognise that the operation of the protocol has created genuine tensions that need to be addressed, but that is best done by all sides listening to each other and acting in good faith, and with the Belfast/Good Friday agreement at the heart of those discussions. I contend that the Bill simply does not do that. It is not an act of good faith for Westminster to unilaterally impose a solution, not least across Northern Ireland, and nor, tragically, will the solution proposed achieve its ultimate objectives. Only an agreement which delivers for the people and businesses of Northern Ireland, and respects the wishes of those on all sides and all communities, will provide a long-term and sustainable solution to this problem. That is why we support amendment 49, which references the fourth point in the protocol and the importance of protecting the Belfast/Good Friday agreement in all its parts, if it were to be pressed to a Division. Unilateralism is not the way forward on matters of such sensitivity.

I do not want to detain the Committee further at this stage. We have many amendments to get through today. To conclude, Labour’s amendments will prevent handing the Government overreaching powers that they are simply not fit to hold. Our amendments will protect the much-valued scrutinising and functioning of this House, and give a voice in this hugely delicate and important process to the people of Northern Ireland.

Michael Ellis Portrait The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General (Michael Ellis)
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Allow me, Dame Eleanor, for I think the penultimate time, to thank hon. Members who have spoken in Committee. I would like to turn to the clauses under discussion in this debate. With the leave of the Committee, I will deal with some of the amendments very briefly.

Clause 13 outlines the exclusions that seek to redress the feeling that there is a democratic deficit created by the arrangements for the implementation and enforcement of the protocol. The present role of the Court of Justice of the European Union clearly causes Unionists to feel less connected to, and part of, the United Kingdom. That was reflected in the September 2021 joint statement by all Unionist parties on the protocol. Clause 13 provides that any provision of the protocol that confers jurisdiction on the CJEU over arrangements in Northern Ireland is excluded provision. That means that CJEU decisions, including infractions, will no longer have effect in domestic law across the entire protocol.

I confirm to the Committee that the Bill does not disapply the withdrawal agreement’s arbitration process, which would be convened at the international level in the event of a dispute. It simply affirms that the arbitration provisions in the withdrawal agreement do not have effect in our domestic law, and that is normal for international treaties. It then helps to restore the UK Government’s sole oversight of arrangements on the ground in Northern Ireland, providing that the provisions relating to the powers and presence of EU representatives are excluded. Finally, via subsections (4) and (5), clause 13 allows for the establishment of new arrangements for co-operation with EU authorities to monitor the trade boundary regime, and enables us to implement robust data sharing on the operation of the trusted trader scheme and on all goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. That will support assurance processes to uphold our commitment to protect both the UK internal market and the EU’s single market.

Clause 14 supports the coherent functioning of the Bill by fully insulating any excluded provision from being brought back into our domestic law as a result of obligations arising from other provisions of the protocol and withdrawal agreement. If needs be, regulations under subsection (4) can be used to make appropriate provision in connection with any provision of the protocol or withdrawal agreement to which this clause relates. The clause provides important clarity on the interaction between excluded provision and any wider provisions in the protocol or withdrawal agreement related to it.

Clause 18 provides a power for a Minister to engage in non-legislative conduct where they consider it appropriate in connection with one or more of the purposes in the Bill. The clause also clarifies the relationship between powers to make secondary legislation under the Bill and those arising by virtue of the royal prerogative. The clause will ensure that actions not requiring legislation, such as issuing guidance to industry or providing direction to officials, can be taken in a timely manner by a Minister of the Crown. It is not, as I think has been misconstrued in some quarters, an extraordinary power. It simply makes clear, as would normally be taken for granted, that Ministers will be acting lawfully when they go about their ministerial duties in support of this legislation.

Clause 20 allows for the proper functioning of domestic court proceedings following the removal of the domestic effect of CJEU jurisdiction. That means that domestic courts would no longer be bound by CJEU principles or decisions when considering matters relating to the protocol. The clause provides a power to make related new provision. Regulations made under the power could, for example, provide for a procedure to refer questions of interpretation of EU law to the CJEU if a domestic court considered it necessary to conclude its proceedings.

Stephen Farry Portrait Stephen Farry (North Down) (Alliance)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister give way?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Hansard - -

If the hon. Member would not mind, I will give way to him when I come on to his amendment specifically. I would be very grateful if he would give me that indulgence.

Clause 20 is important to the functioning of the Bill to allow domestic courts to consider proceedings relating to the protocol without being subject to CJEU jurisdiction, in line with the general principles of the Bill.

I now move on to the amendments in order. Some, with the leave of the House, I can deal with very briefly. Amendments 38, 39, 42 and 43, in the name of the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) and the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), would, as has previously been explained regarding similar amendments, in our view wrongly apply a necessity test for the use of such powers. Parliament has previously determined, for example in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, that “appropriateness” is the appropriate word. That is my response to that series of amendments.

Amendment 12 in the name of the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) would remove the power for Ministers to engage in conduct in relation to the protocol which is normally within the Executive’s competence but not otherwise authorised by the Bill. As I explained a short while ago, this provision simply makes it clear that, as would normally be taken for granted, Ministers of the Crown would be acting lawfully when they go about their ministerial duties—for example providing instruction to civil servants or guidance to industry—in support of this legislation. It is not an extraordinary power, but rather it provides certainty that the Government can implement our proposals. I urge the right hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.

Amendment 48 from the hon. Member for Foyle (Colum Eastwood) would be unworkable. It would require the Assembly—which is of course not sitting, which is part of the whole essence of this Bill—to pass a prohibitive number of votes to enable swift implementation of the solutions delivered by the Bill, so I ask him to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 49 also from the hon. Gentleman would require Ministers to have due regard for the principle that the Belfast/Good Friday agreement should be protected in all its parts. The hon. Member states this amendment is based on the fourth point in the preamble to the protocol which sets out the United Kingdom and the European Union’s affirmation of their commitment to do just that. The Government’s overriding commitment—I emphasise this as strongly as I can—is to protect the Belfast/Good Friday agreement in all its dimensions. That commitment is absolute, but the balance within that agreement, and which was critical to its negotiation, must be maintained, and it is for that very reason that the Government have introduced this Bill. Although I welcome and endorse the sentiment underlying the amendment, it is, for the same reason, unnecessary, and I urge the hon. Member to withdraw it.

Amendment 46 from the hon. Member for North Down (Stephen Farry) would require the Assembly to approve clause 20. That is inappropriate under the devolution settlements because it would prevent the Bill from making important changes that go to the heart of the current democratic deficit. Does the hon. Gentleman wish me to give way now?

Stephen Farry Portrait Stephen Farry
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes, I am grateful to the Minister, and I assure him this is only a probing amendment and I will not be putting it to a vote. In terms of the Government’s position of removing the ultimate jurisdiction of the ECJ, do they recognise that in doing so they will in effect unpick Northern Ireland’s access to the single market for goods in that we would not be fully in line with the required EU law for that to take effect?

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Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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I do not accept that characterisation. This is very important to the whole community in Northern Ireland and it is very important that we have cross-community consensus in the working of these operations. I do not accept the premise of the hon. Gentleman’s point.

Sammy Wilson Portrait Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does the Minister accept that in fact this Bill makes all the provision necessary for firms in Northern Ireland that wish to access the single market to be able to do so by opting for dual regulation? Dual regulation is what gives them access to the single market, not oversight by the ECJ.

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Hansard - -

The right hon. Gentleman is certainly right about the dual regulatory regime, as the Committee discussed at some length yesterday; I agree with his contention.

Claire Hanna Portrait Claire Hanna
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister please clarify? I am struggling to understand. He repeatedly refers to the need for cross-community consent. Does he understand and has he noted the letter from a majority of MLAs—[Interruption.] Does he acknowledge that all MLAs representing others and representing nationalists reject this Bill in the strongest possible terms, and can he outline how these recommendations and powers have cross-community consent if they are rejected by two of the three traditions in Northern Ireland?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Hansard - -

As I think the hon. Lady knows, this cannot be about majoritarianism, and by the way I note a poll in December 2021 that indicated there was 78% agreement in Northern Ireland that the protocol needed to change. There is a requirement that there is cross-community consensus and—

Claire Hanna Portrait Claire Hanna
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

And there is not cross-community consensus!

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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The hon. Lady is shouting from a sedentary position, but I think I have made the position clear. [Interruption.]

Eleanor Laing Portrait The Chairman of Ways and Means (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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Order. The hon. Member for Belfast South (Claire Hanna) knows she cannot shout like that while she is sitting down. If she wishes to intervene again she can try to intervene; I will not have this shouting.

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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Thank you, Dame Eleanor.

I simply reiterate to the hon. Lady and the whole Committee that our overriding priority is preserving peace and stability in Northern Ireland, and I make no apology for repeating that. The situation as it stands is undermining the Belfast/Good Friday agreement and it is undermining power-sharing, as proven by the very fact that we do not have an operating Northern Ireland Assembly—surely that is proof positive.

Sammy Wilson Portrait Sammy Wilson
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Does the Minister share my bafflement at the intervention that he has just had to respond to? On the one hand, SDLP amendment 49 requires the Government to ensure

“the principle that the Belfast Agreement, including its subsequent implementation agreements and arrangements, should be protected in all its parts”,

yet at the same time we are being told that a majority in the Assembly—which does not include one Unionist: a key principle of the Belfast agreement—should override any of the views being expressed by Unionists on these Benches today.

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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The right hon. Gentleman makes his point with his usual eloquence, and the citation he makes from the agreement is irrefutable; it is simply on the face of the document.

Colum Eastwood Portrait Colum Eastwood (Foyle) (SDLP)
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Can the Minister point out the line, paragraph and page of the Good Friday agreement that he is quoting? This does not make any sense.

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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The hon. Gentleman is being mischievous in the best possible sense of that word; he is very familiar with the agreement and does not need me to cite the passages in question. I am sure all sides would agree that what is most important is the preservation of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement; that surely is irrefutable.

Amendment 13, tabled by the right hon. Member for Leeds Central, would bind domestic courts into the existing CJEU reference procedure without any choice as to what the new arrangements are. In the Government’s view, that would not resolve the current democratic deficit.

I have given the position of Her Majesty’s Government on the amendments; I hope I have outlined that in sufficient detail. I therefore recommend that these clauses all stand part of the Bill.

Jeffrey M Donaldson Portrait Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am happy to follow the Minister. Reference has been made to the oversight of the European Court of Justice. Although our primary concern about the protocol is in respect of trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, we do have a concern about the role of the European Court of Justice in respect of oversight, where there is a dispute between the United Kingdom and the European Union on matters pertaining to the protocol. We believe it is unfair and unreasonable that the European Court of Justice should be the final arbiter on such matters.

--- Later in debate ---
Stephen Doughty Portrait Stephen Doughty
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

This has been a very wide-ranging and thoughtful debate, albeit with passion at various points. The question of a democratic deficit is one of the key issues that we have discussed. I recognise the concerns of Unionist colleagues in the Chamber, but I find it odd that the Government are pursuing a Bill with parts that remove powers from this place and the Northern Ireland Assembly and give them to Ministers here. It strikes me that that is the real democratic deficit that we are dealing with.

I hope that the other place will look at these matters in great detail in the weeks to come. I indicate our support for amendments 12 and 49, if those are put to a separate decision, but I will withdraw amendment 38.

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Hansard - -

I thank hon. Members, who have all spoken passionately. I will try very briefly to address some of their points.

The hon. Member for North Down (Stephen Farry) asked about the impact of CJEU provision on Northern Ireland access to the EU single market. When he raised the point, I reiterated the importance of cross-community consent; I should also reassure him and the Committee that we want and intend to retain elements of the protocol that are working and preserve north-south trade and co-operation. As the Prime Minister has said, we want to fix it, not nix it. The Bill just makes targeted changes to address key concerns and restore balance.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) raised some technical questions about pharmaceuticals; I will write to him about them.

The right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) referred to clause 18, which I assure him is genuinely less exciting than some might think. Normally, as he knows, the lawfulness of Ministers’ non-legislative actions can be taken for granted or implied. The Bill is slightly unusual in that it clarifies how new domestic obligations replace prior domestic obligations that stem from international obligations. Those international obligations are currently implemented automatically by section 7A of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. That conduit pipe currently constrains—and could cause confusion in future as to —how Ministers can act in support of the Bill. Clause 18 will remove that potential confusion.

The hon. Member for Belfast South (Claire Hanna) juxtaposed Northern Ireland with Cyprus. I do not need to say to anyone on the Committee, particularly anyone from anywhere on the island of Ireland, that the history and geography of Northern Ireland is vastly different from that of Cyprus, so it is clear that different issues might arise from the remit of the CJEU. On that note, I recommend that the clauses stand part of the Bill.

Stephen Doughty Portrait Stephen Doughty
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clauses 13 and 14 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Amendment proposed: 12, in clause 18, page 10, line 9, leave out subsection (1).—(Hilary Benn.)

This amendment would remove the Minister‘s power to engage in any conduct in relation to any matter dealt with in the Northern Ireland Protocol, not otherwise authorised by this Act, if the Minister considers it appropriate to do so.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

--- Later in debate ---
Nigel Evans Portrait The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr Nigel Evans)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Clause 21 stand part.

Amendment 50, in clause 22, page 11, line 16, at end insert—

“(1A) A Minister of the Crown may not exercise any power to make regulations conferred by this Act unless a Legislative Consent Motion approving a draft of the regulations has been passed by the Northern Ireland Assembly.”

This amendment would prevent a Minister of the Crown seeking to use powers conferred by this Act to make regulations unless and until the consent of the Northern Ireland Assembly to said regulations has been obtained.

Amendment 51, page 11, line 16, at end insert—

“(1A) A Minister of the Crown may not exercise any power to make regulations conferred by this Act before a Minister of the Crown has presented a draft of the regulations to the UK-EU Joint Committee for discussion and has laid a full report setting out the details of those discussions before each House of Parliament and provided a copy to the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly.”

This amendment would prevent a Minister of the Crown seeking to use powers conferred by this Act to make regulations unless and until said regulations have been presented by a Minister to the UK-EU Joint Committee for a discussion and a report detailing those discussions had been laid before each House of Parliament and a copy provided to the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Amendment 55, page 11, line 16, at end insert—

“(1A) A Minister of the Crown may not exercise any power to make regulations conferred by this Act in contravention of views agreed by the North-South Ministerial Council on EU matters, including those regarding future policies, legislative proposals and programmes under consideration in the EU framework as provided for in Paragraph 17 of Strand Two of the Belfast Agreement.”

Amendment 53, page 12, line 15, at end insert—

“(6A) A Minister may not exercise the power to make regulations under subsection (6) with respect to a devolved authority in Northern Ireland unless the exercise of any power by that devolved authority is approved by the First Minister and deputy First Minister acting jointly—

(a) on behalf of the Northern Ireland Executive,

(b) following a resolution by the Northern Ireland Assembly,

or both.”

This amendment would prevent a Minister of the Crown seeking to use powers conferred by subsection (6) without the agreement of the First Minister and deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland acting jointly has been. The First Minister and deputy First Minister may be acting on behalf of the Northern Ireland Executive and/or following a resolution of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Clause 22 stand part.

Amendment 19, in clause 23, page 12, line 25, leave out from “to” to “unless” in line 26 and insert “draft affirmative procedure”.

This probing amendment would apply “draft affirmative” procedure in place of regulations being subject to annulment.

Amendment 20, page 12, line 33, leave out “draft affirmative procedure” and insert

“super-affirmative procedure (see section (Super-affirmative resolution procedure: general provisions))”.

This probing amendment would replace draft affirmative procedure with super-affirmative procedure (see NC6).

Amendment 21, page 12, line 33, leave out from “procedure” to the end of line 37.

This probing amendment would prevent Henry VIII powers (amending Acts of Parliament by regulations) being made using the “made affirmative” procedure.

Amendment 22, page 12, line 38, leave out subsections (7) to (9).

This probing amendment would remove the “made affirmative” procedure.

Clauses 23 and 25 stand part.

Amendment 2, in clause 26, page 15, line 41, leave out subsections (2) to (5) and insert—

“(2A) This section comes into force on the day on which this Act is passed.

(2B) The other provisions of this Act come into force on such day as the Secretary of State may by regulations made by statutory instrument appoint.

(2C) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (2B) may not appoint a day for the commencement of any section unless—

(a) a Minister of the Crown has moved a motion in the House of Commons to the effect that a section or sections be commenced on or after a day specified in the motion (‘the specified day’),

(b) the motion has been approved by a resolution of that House,

(c) a motion to the effect that the House of Lords takes note of the specified day (or the day which is proposed to be the specified day) has been tabled in the House of Lords by a Minister of the Crown, and

(d) the day appointed by the regulations is the same as or is after the specified day.

(2D) Regulations under subsection (2B) may—

(a) appoint different days for different purposes;

(b) make transitional or saving provision in connection with the coming into force of any provision of this Act.”

The intention of this amendment, linked to Amendment 1 to clause 1, is to require parliamentary approval for bringing into force any provisions of this Act.

Amendment 33, page 15, line 42, after “section” insert

“, section [consistency with international law]”.

This consequential amendment would bring NC11 into force on the day the Act is passed.

Amendment 3, page 15, line 44, at beginning insert

“Provided that the Northern Ireland Assembly has first passed a resolution indicating support for this Act,”.

This amendment, together with Amendment 4, will make all operational aspects of the Bill dependent upon the approval of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Amendment 4, page 15, line 45, at end insert—

“(3A) A motion for a resolution of the Northern Ireland Assembly referred to in subsection (3) must be tabled by either—

(a) the First Minister and Deputy First Minister jointly, or

(b) any Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly.”

This amendment, together with Amendment 3, will make all operational aspects of the Bill dependent upon the approval of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Amendment 47, page 15, line 45, at end insert—

“(3A) Regulations under subsection (3) may not be made unless a draft of the regulations has been laid before, and approved by resolution of, each House of Parliament, except that regulations under subsection (2) relating to tax or customs matters may not be made unless a draft of the regulations has been laid before, and approved by resolution of, the House of Commons.”

This amendment would make all the commencement regulations subject to parliamentary approval.

Clause 26 stand part.

New clause 6—Super-affirmative resolution procedure: general provisions

“(1) For the purposes of this Act the ‘super-affirmative resolution procedure’ in relation to the making of regulations subject to the super-affirmative resolution procedure is as follows.

(2) The Minister of the Crown must have regard to—

(a) any representations,

(b) any resolution of either House of Parliament, and

(c) any recommendations of a committee of either House of Parliament charged with reporting on the draft regulations, made during the 60-day period with regard to the draft regulations.

(3) If, after the expiry of the 60-day period, the Minister of the Crown wishes to make regulations in the terms of the draft, the Minister of the Crown must lay before each House of Parliament a statement—

(a) stating whether any representations were made under subsection (2)(a); and

(b) if any representations were so made, giving details of them.

(4) The Minister of the Crown may after the laying of such a statement make regulations in the terms of the draft if the regulations are approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.

(5) However, a committee of either House charged with reporting on the draft regulations may, at any time after the laying of a statement under subsection (3) and before the draft regulations are approved by that House under subsection (4), recommend under this subsection that no further proceedings be taken in relation to the draft regulations.

(6) Where a recommendation is made by a committee of either House under subsection (5) in relation to draft regulations, no proceedings may be taken in relation to the draft regulations in that House under subsection (4) unless the recommendation is, in the same Session, rejected by resolution of that House.

(7) If, after the expiry of the 60-day period, the Minister of the Crown wishes to make regulations order consisting of a version of the draft regulations with material changes, the Minister of the Crown lay before Parliament—

(a) revised draft regulations; and

(b) a statement giving details of—

(i) any representations made under subsection (2)(a); and

(ii) the revisions proposed.

(8) The Minister of the Crown may after laying revised draft regulations and a statement under subsection (7) make regulations in the terms of the revised draft regulations if the revised draft regulations are approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.

(9) However, a committee of either House charged with reporting on the revised draft regulations may, at any time after the revised draft regulations are laid under subsection (7) and before the revised draft regulations are approved by that House under subsection (8), recommend under this subsection that no further proceedings be taken in relation to the revised draft regulations.

(10) Where a recommendation is made by a committee of either House under subsection (9) in relation to revised draft regulations, no proceedings may be taken in relation to the revised draft regulations in that House under subsection (8) unless the recommendation is, in the same Session, rejected by resolution of that House.

(11) For the purposes of subsections (4) and (8) regulations are made in the terms of draft regulations if the regulations contain no material changes to the provisions of the draft regulations.

(12) In this section the ‘60-day period’ means the period of 60 days beginning with the day on which the draft regulations were laid before Parliament under section 23 of this Act.”

This new clause sets out the bi-cameral super-affirmative procedure regulations under the Act, except in relation to tax and customs matters.

New clause 11—Consistency with international law

“(1) A Minister of the Crown must not make regulations under this Act unless both the conditions in subsections (2) and (5) have been satisfied.

(2) The condition in this subsection is that a Minister of the Crown has laid before both Houses of Parliament a consistency report from a qualified person in relation to the provisions of the Northern Ireland Protocol that are, in consequence of the regulations, to become excluded provision (‘the provisions at issue’).

(3) For the purposes of subsection (2), a ‘consistency report’ is a report as to whether, in the opinion of the qualified person, it is consistent with the international obligations of the United Kingdom for the provisions at issue to become excluded provision, and which—

(a) sets out the reasons for its conclusions;

(b) sets out the steps taken by the qualified person to obtain the views of persons appearing to the qualified person to have appropriate expertise in questions of international law; and

(c) attaches, or contains references to a publicly available version of, all materials considered by the qualified person in the course of preparing the report.

(4) For the purposes of subsection (2) a ‘qualified person’ is a judge or former judge of—

(a) the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom;

(b) the Court of Appeal of England and Wales;

(c) the Inner House of the Court of Session; or

(d) the Court of Appeal of Northern Ireland.

(5) The condition in this subsection is that—

(a) the House of Commons has approved a resolution to take note of the consistency report on a motion moved by a Minister of the Crown; and

(b) a motion for the House of Lords to take note of the consistency report has been tabled in the House of Lords by a Minister of the Crown and—

(i) the House of Lords has approved a resolution to take note of the report, or

(ii) the House of Lords has not concluded a debate on the motion before the end of the period of five Lords sitting days beginning with the first Lords sitting day after the day on which the House of Commons passes the resolution mentioned in paragraph (a).”

This new clause would prevent any clause of the Bill (or regulations made under it) that create ‘excluded provision’ from coming into force until (a) an authoritative and independent legal expert presents a report to parliament as to whether it is consistent with the international obligations of the United Kingdom, and (b) the House of Commons has passed a motion noting that report, and the House of Lords has debated that report.

New clause 12—Adjudications of matters pertaining to international law

“No later than two weeks after any finding by any international court, tribunal or arbitration panel that any provision of this Act, or any action taken by a Minister in exercise of powers granted by this Act, is inconsistent with the international obligations of the United Kingdom, a Minister of the Crown must—

(a) report to each House of Parliament setting out the extent to which the relevant court, tribunal or arbitration panel has found that any provision of, or any exercise of power under, this Act is inconsistent with the international legal obligations of the United Kingdom; and

(b) set out what steps Ministers propose take in order to bring the United Kingdom into compliance with those international obligations.”

This new clause would provide that, if an international court, tribunal or arbitration panel found as a matter of fact that any actions taken by the government under the Bill were inconsistent with the UK’s international legal obligations, the Minister must report this finding to the House, and set out what steps the government will take to ensure the UK is in compliance with its international obligations.

New clause 16—Impact assessment

“Within six months of a Minister of the Crown exercising any power conferred by this Act to make regulations, a Minister of the Crown must publish a full impact assessment of the effect of the regulations on businesses and consumers in Northern Ireland.”

This new clause would require a Minister of the Crown who has exercised any power conferred by this Act to make regulations to publish a full impact assessment of the effect of said regulations on businesses and consumers in Northern Ireland within six months.

New clause 17—Consent of the Northern Ireland Assembly

“(1) A Minister of the Crown may not exercise the powers to make regulations conferred by this Act before a Legislative Consent Motion approving a draft of the regulations has been passed by the Northern Ireland Assembly.

(2) A Minister of the Crown must, at the end of the relevant period, seek a Legislative Consent Motion approving the continued application of regulations made under the powers conferred by this Act.

(3) For the purposes of subsection (2), the ‘relevant period’ is—

(a) the period ending four years after the powers are exercised; or

(b) the period ending eight years after the powers are exercised where the original Legislative Consent Motion was approved by—

(i) the support of a majority of Members, a majority of designated Nationalists and a majority of Unionists,

(ii) the support of 60 per cent of Members, 40 per cent of designated Nationalists and 40 per cent of designated Unionists, or

(iii) the support of two thirds of Members.”

This new clause would require a Minister of the Crown to obtain the consent of the Northern Ireland Assembly in order to exercise the power to make regulations conferred by this Act. It would also require a Minister of the Crown to obtain the consent of the Northern Ireland Assembly for the continued application of the said regulations within the relevant period. The relevant period would be four years unless the vote passes with a majority in any of the ways described in Clause 3(b), in which case the relevant period is eight years.

New clause 19—Expiry

“(1) The powers conferred by this Act upon a Minister of the Crown will expire if the Northern Ireland Assembly passes a resolution pursuant to Article 18 of the Northern Ireland Protocol (Democratic Consent in Northern Ireland).

(2) A resolution of the Northern Ireland Assembly under subsection (1) can only pass with one or more of the following measures of representational support—

(a) the support of a majority of Members, a majority of designated Nationalists and a majority of Unionists,

(b) the support of 60 per cent of Members, 40 per cent of designated Nationalists and 40 per cent of designated Unionists, or

(c) the support of two thirds of Members.”

This new clause provides a sunset clause whereby the powers expire if the Northern Ireland Assembly does not vote to approve the continued application of the Northern Protocol in 2024 in the vote required by Article 18 of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Hansard - -

Let me, for the last time, thank hon. Members who have spoken in the previous Committee stage debates. I remind hon. Members that, although the Northern Ireland protocol was agreed with the best of intentions, it is causing real problems for people and businesses in Northern Ireland, and this legislation will fix those practical problems.

Let me turn to the clauses under scrutiny this afternoon. Clause 19 gives powers to Ministers to implement a new agreement with the European Union as soon as one can be reached. A negotiated agreement with the EU remains the preferred outcome of this Government and this clause demonstrates that very commitment.

Clause 21 allows for preparatory spending undertaken to support the aims of the Bill to be made proper in the eyes of this place. This ensures that the Government can get on with delivering the new regime as soon as possible for the businesses and people of Northern Ireland.

Clause 22 sets out the general scope and nature of the powers contained in the Bill. This will ensure that the powers have the appropriate scope to implement the aims of the Bill, including setting out that regulations made under the Bill can make any provision that can be made by an Act of Parliament.

Regulations under this Bill may not create or facilitate border arrangements between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which feature at the border either physical infrastructure, including border posts, or checks and controls that did not exist before exit day. I know that some Members are concerned about the possibility of border checks on the island of Ireland. This is the clearest possible way to show that this Government will not do that.

Jeffrey M Donaldson Portrait Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Further to that point, will the Minister also assure us that, consistent with clause 1, regulations brought forward as a result of this Bill will not harm the integrity of the United Kingdom and will respect Northern Ireland’s place within the Union?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Hansard - -

Yes, indeed.

Subsection (6) provides that a Minister can facilitate other powers under this Bill to be exercisable exclusively, concurrently or jointly with devolved Administrations to implement the aims of the Bill, and that is our intention where this is possible and appropriate.

Clause 23 sets out the process and parliamentary procedure for regulations made under the Bill, except for those in relation to tax, or customs, or commencement, which have been dealt with in other clauses by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. Clause 23 will ensure that the appropriate level of parliamentary scrutiny is in place for the different arrangements that will be necessary for the functioning of the new regime.

I will now move on to clause 25, which sets out the definition of relevant terms in the Bill, including by cross reference to their definition in other pieces of legislation. This is a normal and regular feature of all legislation. Clause 26 makes a number of final provisions in the Bill relating to extent and commencement, which are a normal part of all legislation. That clause is vital to ensure the smooth commencement of the new regime and to give business certainty.

Moving briefly to amendments 50 and 53 in the name of the hon. Member for Foyle (Colum Eastwood). This would require approval from the Northern Ireland Assembly before the Bill could come into effect, but the Northern Ireland Assembly is not currently sitting and it is precisely because of this breakdown of institutions that we need this Bill, so I ask the hon. Member not to press the amendments.

Amendment 51 is in the name of the hon. Member for Foyle. This would require secondary legislation under the Bill to be presented to the Joint Committee. It is wholly inappropriate, in our view, to give scrutiny of UK domestic legislation to the EU in this way, as it would effectively give it a procedural veto, so I urge the hon. Member not to press that amendment.

Amendment 55 in the name of the hon. Member for Foyle relates to the role of the North-South Ministerial Council. As the hon. Member knows, the North-South Ministerial Council includes Members of the Government of the Republic of Ireland and, as I said yesterday, it would be wholly inappropriate and a wholly inappropriate role for the Irish Government potentially to veto the Acts of a sovereign United Kingdom Parliament. I therefore urge the hon. Member not to press the amendment.

I will consider amendments 19 to 22 and new clause 6 together. They are in the name of the hon. Member for Gordon (Richard Thomson). My right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury covered similar amendments to clause 24 of the Bill during the first day of debate. I reiterate her comments that the normal affirmative and negative procedures for statutory instruments provide effective scrutiny for the House. I therefore urge the hon. Gentleman not to press his amendments.

I will touch on amendments 2 and 47 in a little more detail. They are tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) and seek to require a parliamentary vote prior to the commencement of the substantive provisions of the Bill. As I have outlined to the House, the EU is not prepared to change the protocol to resolve the problems we face, and there is no prospect of seeing a power-sharing Government restored in Northern Ireland if we are unable to tackle those problems. We need to bring in solutions as soon as possible to help the businesses and consumers of Northern Ireland. Additional parliamentary procedures would risk delays to the regime’s coming into force and undermine the certainty and clarity that we are looking to provide through this very Bill.

Turning to amendment 47 specifically, it would also set a concerning precedent that, when the legislature has passed legislation, the Executive are not free to bring it into force. That freedom has been a long-standing rule and one that a Government of any party would not wish to depart from. Furthermore, the amendment deviates from the previous one in that, rather than offering this House a single future debate on the issue at hand, it hands an effective veto on most of the Bill to the other place. I understand that some may find that an attractive outsourcing of opposition and a way around the conventions governing relations between the two Houses. However, the Executive , as my hon. Friend is well aware, is grounded in this honourable House and must be able to commence legislation they have agreed with Parliament. I urge him not to press his amendments.

I come now to amendment 33 and new clause 11, in the name of the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy). He is right to raise the important question of the relationship between this Bill and the United Kingdom’s obligations in international law. However, the consistency report that he proposes in his amendment, is unnecessary in our view. The Government have already been clear that the proposals of this Bill are consistent with international law, so I ask him not to press his amendment or the new clause.

I respectfully point out to the hon. Member for North Down (Stephen Farry) regarding his amendments 3 and 4 that, while we need to see the restoration of the institutions as quickly as possible, it is exactly because of the breakdown of those institutions that this Bill was needed in the first place. That is why we cannot have a resolution of the Assembly before it comes into force. His amendments, by contrast, would allow the Northern Ireland Assembly to constrain the UK Parliament’s power to legislate, even if that legislation relates to a reserved matter. That cannot be right; it would be wholly inappropriate under the devolution arrangements, and for that reason and the others I have mentioned I respectfully urge the hon. Gentleman not to press his amendments.

Moving on to new clause 12, and coming rapidly to a conclusion, this new clause is not necessary, as we have been clear that proceeding with this Bill is consistent with our obligations in international law and in support of our prior obligations to the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. The Government have published a summary of our legal position alongside the Bill and would robustly defend our position in any relevant legal proceedings, should they occur. I therefore ask the right hon. Member for Tottenham not to press this new clause.

New clause 16, tabled by the hon. Member for Belfast South (Claire Hanna), would require an impact assessment to be published within six months of making regulations. We are currently engaging with businesses on the detail of regulations, but we need flexibility so that any regulations brought forward as the product of that engagement ensure that the new regime is as smooth and operable as possible.

Penultimately, new clause 17, tabled by the hon. Member for Foyle, would allow the Northern Ireland Assembly to constrain the UK Parliament’s power to legislate on reserved matters. As I have said before, that is inappropriate under the devolution settlements.

New clause 19, tabled by the hon. Member for Foyle, would remove the powers provided by the Bill in the event of a Northern Ireland Assembly vote for continued application of the protocol. This would freeze in place a muddied set of arrangements in Northern Ireland and remove the ability of the UK Government to manage them, so the new clause should also be withdrawn.

This Bill provides a comprehensive and durable solution to the existing problems with the Northern Ireland protocol. The Government remain open to a negotiated outcome with the EU on the protocol, but the urgency of the situation means that we cannot delay. We must act to preserve political stability in Northern Ireland and fulfil our duty to uphold the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. I therefore recommend that these clauses stand part of the Bill.

--- Later in debate ---
Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Hansard - -

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

While the debates in Committee have been heated—literally, given the ambient temperature—the exchanges have been productive. Members heard detailed scrutiny of the Bill and the Government’s planned solutions to the problems that the protocol is causing in Northern Ireland. Some Members do not agree with the Government’s diagnosis, but it has been reassuring to note how many Opposition Members do agree and accept the problems, even if they do not currently accept that the Government have no choice but to proceed unilaterally. I can understand that, but unfortunately, while our door is always open, there does not appear to be a fruitful negotiation to be had with the European Union at present.

We have not had a Report stage debate, as the Committee did not see fit to amend the Bill. I, and the Government as a whole, see that as a strong vote of support for our proposals, and we hope that those who are eagerly waiting for them to come to pass in Northern Ireland will take heart in the knowledge that they may not have to wait too long, and that the House of Commons has heard them. I hope that the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson) and his party will hear that too, and will continue their moves towards returning to power sharing.

The Bill is a powerful toolkit. I know that there are noble Lords in the other place who might think it too powerful, but the Government have been clear on our policy and the range of detailed regulations that will be required, and these are the tools for the job. The Bill provides certainty that the elements of the protocol that have developed into problems will no longer apply in our domestic law and, alongside that, ensures that the Government can honour their promises to the people of all the communities in Northern Ireland. We will protect that which is working to maintain the economic and social framework for north-south traders and nationalists, and we will fix that which is undermining the lives and livelihoods of east-west traders and Unionists.

This Bill is the Government’s top legislative priority. Given the grave situation in Northern Ireland, it must be so. Negotiations will always remain a possibility, and the Bill ensures that implementation of any agreement will not cause further delays. Negotiations tomorrow are always a day away, but it is today in Northern Ireland and the issues are clearly with us now. In the absence of other comprehensive and durable solutions, the Government and Parliament must act. I therefore commend the Bill to the House.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call the shadow Minister, Stephen Doughty.