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With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Lords amendment 25, and Government amendments (b) to (e) thereto.
Lords amendments 15 to 17.
Lords amendment 26, and amendments (a) to (k) thereto.
Lords amendments 27 to 31, 46, 48 to 50 and 54 to 58.
Lords amendment 59, and amendments (a) to (d) thereto.
Lords amendments 60 to 101, 108, 109, 111, 114, 120, 129, 135, 141, 149, 151, 153, 155, 162, 165, 169, and 173 to 196.
This group of amendments covers two subjects: first, the operation of competences returning to this country from the European Union that intersect with devolved competences under the three devolution settlements; and, secondly, the Lords amendment on Northern Ireland and the Belfast agreement.
Let me turn first to the matters that apply to devolution. In its original form, the Bill, in what was then clause 11, provided for all those powers to be held initially at Westminster and transferred to a devolved level only when agreement had been reached on an appropriate UK-wide framework to protect and preserve the UK single market and respect our international obligations. The key charge against the old clause was that it was not right to hold otherwise devolved powers returning from the EU in Westminster by default.
Is the right hon. Gentleman not ashamed, embarrassed and appalled that we have only 15 minutes to discuss these critical devolution issues? These amendments were designed in the House of Lords, but we, the directly elected Members, have not had the opportunity to debate them. Is he not ashamed of himself?
No. I think that the Government allowed perfectly adequate time for debate on these issues. As the hon. Gentleman knows, these questions on devolution matters have been discussed in great detail by me, my Ministers and officials, and the Welsh and Scottish Governments and legislatures for many months. As I hope to explain, the Government have made very substantial compromises to address precisely the concerns raised by both Scotland and Wales. I am pleased that the Welsh Government have accepted the merits of the compromise we proposed and reached an agreement.
We listened carefully to the contributions made by hon. Members and Members of the House of Lords, the views of the devolved Governments and legislatures, and the concerns of business and other stakeholders, particularly those in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The revised approach we worked on with the Scottish and Welsh Governments means that, by default, all decision-making powers returning from the EU that intersect with devolved competence will pass directly to Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast unless we take explicit steps to preserve temporarily an existing EU framework. Of the 153 areas of policy returning from Brussels that intersect with devolved competences, the great majority will now go straight to the devolved level. Some will require a non-legislative framework such as a memorandum of understanding. In only 24 out of 153 areas of policy do we think that a legislative framework would be needed and that we may need to consider a temporary freeze of current arrangements exercised at EU level, which have been accepted by the devolved Governments in Scotland and Wales for many, many years. We would do so to give certainty and clarity for businesses.
We have also addressed criticisms that the effect of the old clause 11—now clause 15—might be indefinite, despite our clear intention that the arrangement should be temporary. That matter has been firmly put to bed. We are subjecting the powers we seek in the Bill to a sunset provision, meaning that freezing regulations can be made only for up to two years after exit day, following which the power to make regulations will lapse all together. Regulations made under this power may only last for a maximum of up to five years. We hope that in most cases we will be able to get agreement on a long-term future UK framework to protect the United Kingdom’s internal market, and that the freezing power can therefore be ended much sooner than the five-year maximum period.
The purpose of a parliamentary process is to examine in detail. In respect of these clauses, the House of Lords has done its job as a constructive revising Chamber. I certainly had very good conversations with Members of the House of Lords from the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties, as well as those from my own party and Cross Benchers. As I said, we continued very detailed conversations with not just the Welsh Government, who have agreed, but the Scottish Government. I want to put on record that although we have not been able to reach a final agreement, the Scottish Government have engaged for many months in a very constructive fashion. Many of the detailed changes embodied in this group of amendments actually reflect things that the Scottish Government, as well as the Welsh Government, sought from us.
We have, alongside the amendments, designed, working with the devolved Governments, a comprehensive intergovernmental agreement. This makes it clear that the UK Government will always seek agreement from the devolved Governments and should act by agreement, wherever possible. In response to the request from both Wales and Scotland, we have underpinned that principle with a commitment that we will not normally ask the UK Parliament to approve regulations to preserve existing frameworks without devolved consent for those regulations.
Is it not the case that the Minister is placing legal constraints on the Governments of Wales and Scotland, but only political constraints on the Westminster Government?
It is simply not possible, by legislation, to constrain the UK Parliament. The UK Parliament is sovereign. I know the hon. Gentleman’s party in the Welsh Assembly opposed the compromise on offer, but I was very pleased to see that the Labour Government in Wales and the Liberal Democrats in Wales were prepared to accept what I thought was a reasonable compromise, to vote in favour of a legislative consent motion, and to commit themselves to repeal the Welsh Government’s continuity Bill at the earliest possible occasion.
The Scottish and Welsh Governments have also been clear that we should not try to use these regulations as a mechanism to avoid seeking legislative consent when creating future frameworks. We agree, and we have spelled that out in terms in the agreement. They asked us for a guarantee that we would not legislate for England where devolved powers to legislate for their respective nations were frozen, and we have put that into the agreement as well. That is why I do not accept the case that has been put forward by the Scottish Government for withholding consent for these proposals.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Does he not acknowledge that when we passed the Scotland Act 1998—the right hon. Gentleman was a Member of Parliament at the time—it was very specific about what are reserved matters? We cannot get away from the fact that what this Government are doing is legislating on matters that are devolved. This is a power grab. Will the Secretary of State commit today not to legislate without a legislative consent motion from the Scottish Parliament on behalf of the Scottish people?
Not only do the agreements that we have reached with the Welsh Government and embodied in these amendments respect the devolution settlement— indeed, Welsh Ministers have said very firmly that they believe that devolution is fully respected—but I think that we have complied in full with our obligations under the Sewel convention. The right hon. Gentleman should look again at the statement by Mr Mike Russell, the Minister for UK Negotiations on Scotland’s Place in Europe from the Scottish Government, who described the situation we are in as a “novel” one and said:
“In normal times, such a bill would follow a normal timetable, but these are not normal times.”—[Scottish Parliament, Official Report,
It is the Scottish Government who are saying that we are not in a normal situation.
My hon. Friend puts his finger on the truth. It is of course a great disappointment that the Labour party in the Scottish Parliament, despite its protestations of Unionism, on this occasion decided to ally itself with the Scottish nationalists.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the 119 powers coming to the Scottish Parliament and the 24 powers being reserved are exactly what people in Scotland want? It strengthens devolution but maintains Scotland in the United Kingdom. Does he also agree that perhaps if Holyrood had had more than 25 hours of debate versus the 252 hours of debate here, we could have reached an agreement, and we would not be here today?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding the House that we should bear in mind, when listening to the criticisms of the allocation of time here, that it is sometimes a question of people living in a glass house flinging rocks around. I say to him, too, that of course Scottish business has been very clear that we need UK-wide frameworks to protect a single UK market that brings great benefits both to Scottish business and Scottish consumers. It is only a few weeks since the Scottish Retail Consortium, the Scottish Food and Drink Federation and the Scottish Bakers said in terms in public that the maintenance of United Kingdom-wide frameworks on such matters as food standards and food labelling was of vital importance to the future wellbeing of their member companies and the customers whom they serve.
While Government MPs and the SNP fight over flags, I would rather fight for my constituents, so can the Minister tell the House when I will be able to debate this particular clause on behalf of my constituents, because this elected House has had no time either to debate that clause or the very important issues in Northern Ireland and in Wales?
I say to the hon. Gentleman, who I suspect does not share the views of the Labour party at Holyrood on this matter, that he should address his concerns and criticisms to his own Front-Bench team. It was their decision to divide, but it was approaching the ridiculous for us to have three separate Divisions on whether the word “necessary” should replace the word “appropriate”. It was open to the Opposition to accept a single vote grouping those three amendments, but they chose not to, and that has used up a significant amount of our time.
We have ensured that no existing power will be taken from the devolved institutions and have provided for a significant increase in the decision-making powers of the devolved Administrations after exit. In doing so, however, we have also made sure that we do not compromise on those important common approaches we have to safeguard our internal market, manage our common resources and allow us to be an open and competitive trading nation as we develop new arrangements to replace the EU frameworks.
Will the Minister accept that the programme motion passed earlier today has led to the ridiculous situation that these important amendments, including amendments on the Irish border, have to be debated in such a short period and it looks as though his is the only voice that will be heard?
There is a balance between my giving way frequently and allowing more time for others to speak. I repeat to the hon. Lady that it was the choice of her Front-Bench team to have 11 or 12 Divisions, in a number of cases duplicating in one Division what had already been determined in another.
I will turn now to Lords amendment 25 on the Northern Ireland border. In many ways, the amendment is, as a number of noble Lords noted, a statement of Government policy and was prompted very eloquently in the Lords by my noble Friend Lord Patten. It seeks to ensure that we will not act incompatibly with the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and that we will have due regard to the joint report of December last year. It seeks to protect north-south co-operation between Northern Ireland and Ireland and to prevent, among other things, physical infrastructure on the border with Ireland.
I can confirm that the right hon. Gentleman’s interpretation of the Government amendment in lieu is exactly as he has described.
The Minister will be well aware that there is considerable concern in Northern Ireland that we should have no hard border. The Government have repeatedly confirmed their commitment to that, and I do not doubt the Minister’s bona fides, but that commitment appears to be being contradicted on the ground by decisions of the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, who has in recent weeks asked for funding for up to 400 additional police officers for operational duties along the border post-Brexit and, significantly, is retaining three disused border police stations. What does the Minister think he is doing? Is he preparing for a hard border?
As the hon. Lady knows, Ministers in the United Kingdom Government have no power to direct or even give guidance to the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland or the Northern Ireland Policing Board. The Government could not have been clearer about our commitment to ensuring no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. That was a key element of the joint report agreed last December, and it is a commitment that the Prime Minister described in her Mansion House speech as a fundamental underlying principle of our approach to our negotiations with the European Union.
We said in the House of Lords that we agreed with the spirit and intent of Lord Patten’s amendment, but that it was not drafted in a legally appropriate way. We therefore tabled a number of amendments to try to tidy it up and ensure that it was in a fit form, which I hope will command consensus in the House. It reflects the reality that the withdrawal agreement—
Six hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on consideration of Lords amendments, the proceedings were interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
The Speaker put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (
Government amendments (a) to (e) made to Lords amendment 25.
Lords amendment 25, as amended, agreed to.
Question put, That this House agrees with Lords amendments 15 to 17, 26 to 31, 46, 48 to 50, 54 to 101, 108, 109, 111, 114, 120, 129, 135, 141, 149, 151, 153, 155, 162, 165, 169 and 173 to 196.
The House divided:
Ayes 321, Noes 40.