Parliamentary Partnership Assembly

– in the House of Commons at 10:00 pm on 6th December 2021.

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Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons 10:00 pm, 6th December 2021

I beg to move,

That this House:

(1) notes the provision in Article 11 of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union for the establishment of a Parliamentary Partnership Assembly (PPA) consisting of Members of the European Parliament and of Members of the Parliament of the United Kingdom as a forum to exchange views on the partnership, which:

(a) may request relevant information regarding the implementation of that agreement and any supplementing agreement from the EU-UK Partnership Council, which shall then supply the Assembly with the requested information;

(b) shall be informed of the decisions and recommendations of the Partnership Council; and

(c) may make recommendations to the Partnership Council;

(2) agrees that a delegation from the UK Parliament consisting of 35 members should participate in such an Assembly; and

(3) confirms that the procedures currently applying to the nomination, support and funding of delegations to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly should apply to the delegation to the EU-UK PPA.

The motion asks the House to endorse participation in a Parliamentary Partnership Assembly with the European Parliament. Article 11 of the UK-EU trade and co-operation agreement states:

The European Parliament and the Parliament of the United Kingdom may establish a Parliamentary Partnership Assembly”— consisting of Members of both Parliaments—

“as a forum to exchange views on the partnership.”

Since January 2021, informal discussions have been held between Members and officials in both Houses and with the European Parliament about the possible shape of such an assembly. There has been correspondence between Mr Speaker and the President of the European Parliament about the interest in mutual co-operation between both Parliaments. I would like to thank particularly my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Oliver Heald for his work on behalf of the House in supporting these discussions.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I hope Hansard noted the “Hear, hear”, which I think came from my hon. Friend Mr Bone. [Interruption.] Oh, no, it was my right hon. Friend.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

Indeed. I also thank the head of the Interparliamentary Relations Office, Lynn Gardner, for her assistance. Following these initial exchanges, the European Parliament confirmed its intention, on 5 October, to appoint a delegation of 35 Members to the PPA, announcing the names on 18 October. This matches the envisaged size of the UK delegation, as set out in today’s motion.

As the motion sets out, it is intended that the procedures currently applying to the nomination, support and funding of delegations to other treaty-based parliamentary assemblies—the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly—will apply. If both Houses agree to the participation of the UK delegation, the next step will be for the members of the UK delegation to be confirmed formally through a written ministerial statement in the same way as for the UK delegations to those assemblies. The Government expect to make this written ministerial statement shortly.

Following discussions between both Houses and others, this delegation will consist of 21 Members of this House and 14 noble Lords, and it will respect the party balances, with Members from the party of Government having the majority on the delegation, including six noble Lords.

Photo of Claire Hanna Claire Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party, Belfast South

It probably does not need saying, I suppose, that the context and the needs of the people and the economy of Northern Ireland will continue to loom fairly large as this relationship evolves. There is precedent, from 2016, in the Brexit Select Committee, whose composition ensured that it accommodated a range of views from Northern Ireland. Will the right hon. Member outline how the different views—indeed, the totality of views—from Northern Ireland will be represented in this partnership?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

That is obviously an important point. The composition of the delegation has not yet been confirmed, and we will have to see what names are announced in the ministerial statement, but I would make the general point that this House is able to represent the views of the whole of the United Kingdom in any delegation it sends out. That is of course very important.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

Further to the point made by Claire Hanna on the make-up of the delegation, it is important that the views of those of different traditions in Northern Ireland, both nationalist and Unionist, are incorporated and spoken of in the assembly. I think that is what the Government intend to try to do, but will the right hon. Gentleman tell us how that will take place?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

This is one United Kingdom, of which my hon. Friend—the hon. Gentleman, to be more accurate—is a great advocate. It is important to understand that Members of this House can represent the whole of the United Kingdom, otherwise we would be insisting that every delegation should have a Member from Somerset or from Yorkshire, and I can see that that would be attractive. Although I very much understand the importance of Northern Ireland, any delegation from this Parliament can represent the whole of the United Kingdom without trying to divide it up into its constituent parts.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

As a former member of the European Scrutiny Committee, of which I have the honour to be Chairman, the Leader of the House is fully aware of the legal and policy expertise of the Committee’s members. We have been doing this for a long time—in my case, for 37 years on that Committee. If I may respectfully suggest so, I believe it would be wholly appropriate for representation on the UK delegation to be ensured for a reasonable number of members of the European Scrutiny Committee, who would play a very good and sensible role, as we do in COSAC—the Conference of Parliamentary Committees for Union Affairs of Parliaments of the European Union—and other committees, to ensure that we can make a major contribution to the proposed assembly.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

My hon. Friend has played a good and sensible role in the history of this nation since he has been a Member of Parliament, and his distinction is, I think, unparalleled in the European debate, so I note what he says. He has of course written to me about this matter and people are aware of the representation that he has made.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

The Leader of the House is being charming, in his normal way, but the hon. Members for Belfast South (Claire Hanna) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon) have a fair point, and the Democratic Unionist party is a substantial party in this Parliament, so why does it not automatically have a right to a place on this so-called delegation—if, I might say, it goes ahead?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

My hon. Friend is always punctilious in not anticipating a decision of this House—or, indeed, of the other place—and he is quite right to do so. As I said, there will be 35 members—21 from this House and 14 noble Lords. The composition has not yet been announced, but of course if right hon. and hon. Members and noble Lords wish to be on the delegation, there is still time for them to apply. However, I stress the fundamental constitutional point that this is the Parliament of the United Kingdom and a delegation from it represents the whole of the United Kingdom.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

How could I refuse to give way to the hon. Lady, who is so diligent in her attendance in this House? She is competing with Jim Shannon.

Photo of Margaret Ferrier Margaret Ferrier Independent, Rutherglen and Hamilton West

I thank the right hon. Member for giving way. As a member of the European Scrutiny Committee and a Member representing a Scottish constituency, it is important to me that Scotland and the other devolved nations are properly represented in the make-up of the Parliamentary Partnership Assembly. The trade and co-operation agreement impacts all four nations, so will the Leader of the House ensure that all devolved legislators are involved in the decision making?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I am grateful to the hon. Lady. In a delegation of 21 Members of this House, there will naturally be places for the SNP. As regards how the whole delegation will work, that will be determined by the assembly itself and whether it gives observer status to members of devolved bodies.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby

Does the Leader of the House recognise that there are other ways that Members of this House can engage with the European institutions? For example, the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs was in Brussels two weeks ago and had a very long meeting with Commissioner Šefčovič, which was very positive.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who makes a very valid point. We can ensure that we have good and friendly relations with our closest neighbours in all sorts of ways. This Parliamentary Partnership Assembly will be an important way of doing that, but the work of Select Committees, and particularly of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in this immediate context, is very important.

Article 11 of the UK-EU trade and co-operation agreement gives the PPA the power, once established, to request and receive relevant information from the Partnership Council regarding the implementation of the agreement and any supplementing agreement, and to be informed of the decisions and recommendations of that council. The PPA may also make recommendations to the Partnership Council, and perhaps most importantly, it will provide a structure for the exchange of views between MEPs and Members of the two Houses.

Based on the informal discussions between institutions so far, if agreed by this House, the full PPA is likely to meet twice yearly, once in London and once in Brussels or Strasbourg. Each meeting of the PPA is expected to result in a summary report, which will be made available to all Members. [Interruption.] Bless you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am not sure whether it is normal for Hansard to report this, but, for the elucidation of the note takers, Madam Deputy Speaker sneezed.

The trade and co-operation agreement sets out a framework for our relationship with the EU. I look forward to the assembly providing a structure for the exchanges of views between our Parliaments.

Photo of Thangam Debbonaire Thangam Debbonaire Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 10:09 pm, 6th December 2021

Well, here we are. I am glad that the Government have stopped dragging their heels and finally brought forward the motion to ratify the Parliamentary Partnership Assembly—which I will refer to as the PPA because it is too much of a tongue-twister for this time of night. However, there is still an unfortunate lack of detail. Their noble lordships referred to that before the motion was put down, and I do not feel that things are much clearer. The right hon. Gentleman gave us some information, so he will be pleased to hear that I have already ticked off a couple of my questions, but several remain. I wonder whether he can furnish me with more information.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned that the assembly will meet twice yearly. Will it always meet exactly twice yearly, or is that a minimum or a maximum of twice yearly? How will the assembly be expected to report to the House, and how often? Will it be after every meeting or once a year? How will the Partnership Council and the PPA connect? He said that the PPA will be able to make recommendations to the Partnership Council. What power will the council have to pursue them? What power will this place have to scrutinise the Partnership Council’s adoption, consideration or otherwise of any recommendations?

How will the chair of the PPA be appointed? Will there be a co-chair system as there is with the Partnership Council? Will the chair be apportioned under party lines as happens with Select Committees? In particular, may I press him on—I already mentioned this—how the PPA will report to this House? I know that the right hon. Gentleman agrees that it is important that Committees report to the House and that we have a proper system of scrutiny, so I would like more detail on how he expects that to happen.

I will pick up the points made by hon. Members about representation for Members of the devolved legislatures. The European Parliament will shape some of the laws that will apply to the people of Northern Ireland under the protocol. Whether the right hon. Gentleman and others think that is a good or bad thing, it is nevertheless a thing, so there must be some structure to enable parliamentarians in Westminster and Stormont to engage with MEPs throughout the legislative process. If there will not be any representation from the devolved legislatures —I understand that all three have written to ask for that representation—what else will be done to ensure a range of voices, views and experiences?

The right hon. Gentleman says that any of us in this place can represent the whole United Kingdom, but he must know that I could not represent Somerset as well as he—nor he Bristol. Therefore, there must be some respect for the differences of experience and knowledge brought by perspectives from around the House as well as the different party representations and backgrounds. Their lordships—as did, I think, the Institute for Government—cautioned against a narrowing of those voices when it comes to consideration of how the protocol will affect the people of Northern Ireland. That is incredibly important.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

The hon. Lady seems very keen on the PPA. Can she tell the House why?

Photo of Thangam Debbonaire Thangam Debbonaire Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I am glad that the hon. Member asked me that. I am keen on it because the European Union is still our nearest neighbour and, whatever the circumstances of our parting of ways—he knows that I voted against that while he campaigned for it, but we have moved on—Brexit has happened and we must now work out how we will relate to our near-neighbours. We will have to negotiate with them over matters as diverse as climate change, the prevention of terrorism, scientific knowledge and how on earth we handle the next pandemic —if there is one. For all those things, we will need good relationships and some form of parliamentary dialogue. The Institute for Government and their lordships have said that that is critical. As it is also part of the trade and co-operation agreement, it would be a shame if we said that we will not have a formal method of dialogue.

We can have informal methods of dialogue, but, for our alliances in this modern world, with our global outlook and our new outward-facing image, which I know the hon. Member wants us to have, it is better to have some formal method of dialogue with our nearest neighbours. For example, climate change, in particular, knows no borders. On the issue of criminals who want to escape either from the United Kingdom or from the European Union, we are the nearest to each other and we need to co-operate. I hope that is helpful for him; that is why I am keen on it.

In conclusion, the PPA is a key part of maintaining the communication between Westminster and Brussels. Regardless of how we got here—and, goodness me, have we not all spent a long time getting here over the past six years?—we are here. It is now of great importance that we get this relationship right. We have to keep our international relationships as a strong part of what we offer in this new global Britain so that our global standing is not diminished. Brexit has happened, whatever our views, and in order for this country to go from strength to strength, we have to make it work. That has to include having a good relationship with the European Union. I hope that the Leader of the House can answer at least some of my questions and, if he cannot do so now, that he will commit to our having further dialogue on this subject as soon as possible.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Conservative, North East Hertfordshire 10:15 pm, 6th December 2021

I will just take my mask off, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I say how I delighted I am that we have reached this point and that it is possible to have this motion before the House tonight? As my hon. Friend Mr Bone said, the treaty—the trade and co-operation agreement—is permissive. We do not have to set up a parliamentary assembly, but I very much hope that we will.

As for my interest in this, I was asked by the powers that be, including the Leader of the House, to lead on discussions with the House of Lords and our counterparts in the European Parliament on taking the proposals forward. I place on the record my thanks to the noble Lord Kinnoull, who has been leading for the Lords on this matter, for all his help in the discussions. I am glad that we managed to reach agreement so easily across the two Houses about the overall composition of the delegation in terms of the party balance and numbers, including between the Houses, so that this is a parliamentary delegation—albeit with a Commons majority, as this place would expect.

I started work on this project some time ago with an expectation that we might even be able to hold an inaugural meeting of the assembly before the summer recess. Unfortunately, however, sitting patterns in the European Parliament and our own, and internal processes that have to be gone through with so many groups in the European Parliament and parties here, meant that it was only in October that the European Parliament decided that it would establish a delegation and published the names. This is still awaiting ratification, so passing this motion tonight, followed by the motion in the Lords, will allow us to move forward so that we are ready once the European Parliament has completed its processes, which I believe is likely to happen on 12 December.

In some ways, it is disappointing that this has taken us such a long time, but that has enabled me and Lord Kinnoull to have useful discussions with Select Committee Chairs, in particular—I have appeared at the European Scrutiny Committee and the Liaison Committee to discuss how we might take this forward. The good work done by those Committees can feed into the work of the UK delegation and the UK delegation can feed back to the House and Committees on proceedings in the PPA. I look forward to seeing that develop further.

As my hon. Friend Sir William Cash is in his place, I make it clear that neither the PPA nor the delegation to it will duplicate the work of any existing Committee of the House or existing delegations—for example, that to the Council of Europe. That is very much the view of the European Parliament’s Committees, too.

The role of the assembly is to exchange views on the partnership between the EU and the UK. It has powers to request information and to make recommendations to the partnership council, but it will meet probably twice a year, which is what happens with other similar bodies that the European Parliament has with other countries. It cannot be expected to do anything like the detailed scrutiny done by our specialised Committees here in Parliament.

I hope that Select Committee members will use the assembly as a platform to share their expertise more widely. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stone that the European Scrutiny Committee has a lot of expertise to offer, although of course the exact composition of the delegation will be a matter for the usual channels.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

I am sorry to spring out of my seat once more, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I thought that this assembly was a parliamentary delegation, not one whose membership the Government Whips would decide. Surely that is not the way forward.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Conservative, North East Hertfordshire

As my hon. Friend may know, there are a number of assemblies—the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, the OSCE and so on—that follow a similar pattern whereby a written ministerial statement appoints the membership. However, I believe that the usual channels are very keen that the assembly should have geographical range and should take account of balance, equalities and so on. Personally, I think that if we wanted to go for something different, we would have to change the whole system that we operate in this Parliament for assemblies.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that if we used the way that Select Committees select people, we could end up with no member from Northern Ireland, for example? That would not be acceptable, in my view.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Conservative, North East Hertfordshire

I certainly hope that our approach will mean that we have a very good range of geography, equalities and so on, which is difficult to achieve in any other way. The House may at some time decide to change how it sets up assemblies, but I think that that would take some time. I would like to see this assembly up and running.

The European Parliament’s other bilateral bodies normally meet over an afternoon and a morning, say, or possibly over a slightly longer period. It is customary for them to open with a state-of-play update from the co-chairs of the governance structure of the agreement in question, which in this case would mean the Partnership Council. I would expect that the assembly might hear from Vice-President Šefčovič and Lord Frost and then put questions to them; there might then be thematic debates on topical matters or discussions on emerging legislation from both sides, depending on what the delegations wanted. Plenaries often conclude with votes on resolutions, but that is not a template that has to be followed religiously.

If the House passes tonight’s motion, there will still be steps to take before the first full-scale meeting can take place. The delegation will have to be appointed, as the Leader of the House has explained and as my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough, my right hon. Friend Mr Goodwill and I have just discussed. The plenary’s practical and procedural workings will also need to be arranged. There are templates for that in other bilateral bodies of the European Parliament and we have some ideas of our own, but we expect to have a pattern of perhaps two meetings a year and to be able to reach agreement on how the body will work.

Lord Kinnoull and I have already had discussions with the devolved legislatures to ensure that they are kept up to speed, ahead of the bureau that will be deciding the agendas, and that they can have input into the process so that their views are known. It has been suggested that the interparliamentary forum used for Brexit might be reconstituted for that purpose so that the three legislatures could come together and talk to us ahead of the bureau. I would like the three legislatures to have observer status so that they could be at our meetings and have informal discussions—which are as important as the formal ones—about how the plenary works, but that is something that would need to be agreed with the European Parliament.

I hope that the House will agree that today’s motion is a positive step towards building a new relationship between this Parliament and the European Parliament, following Brexit. I look forward to the UK delegation being established and beginning its work.

Photo of Philippa Whitford Philippa Whitford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Health and Social Care), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe) 10:24 pm, 6th December 2021

I welcome the news that the Parliamentary Partnership Assembly will, hopefully, heave into view in the next few months. The aim is to create a working relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Parliament, to look at the impact of the trade and co-operation agreement, and to be able to make representations and recommendations to the Partnership Council to improve its implementation. That means that the make-up of the assembly will be critical in recognising and, indeed, trying to tackle the differentiated impact of Brexit across the four nations of the UK.

Will the Government not therefore accept the need to consider including representatives of the devolved Parliaments? We have already heard a discussion about how to secure the representation of not just one view but all the views from Northern Ireland. However, Scotland and Wales are also massively impacted by Brexit, and I welcomed the speech of Sir Oliver Heald, who did at least consider how that inclusion could be achieved.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Conservative, North East Hertfordshire

I certainly feel that there should be an inclusive approach, but the agreement refers to the membership of the assembly being from this Parliament and the European Parliament, so I think we would be talking about observer status.

Photo of Philippa Whitford Philippa Whitford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Health and Social Care), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe)

Perhaps when the Leader of the House sums up the debate, he will explain to us what consultation has been carried out with the devolved Parliaments— particularly Northern Ireland, obviously, but, as I have said, Scotland and Wales have also been massively impacted by Brexit, and the impacts differ according to local economies, cultures and demographics. It is important that all those voices are gathered and represented.

The chair of the delegation will obviously be a very important figure, and, according to the documents, should be elected at the first meeting. It is vital that this is not a Government anointment of the kind that we have seen in some of the important Select Committees. We are talking about a parliamentary delegation, not an intergovernmental delegation.

A key role of the assembly will be trying to repair the relationship with our European neighbours, which is at rock bottom. The brinkmanship that we have seen over the last year, and repeated threats to the Northern Ireland protocol—a deal that the Prime Minister was quite happy to claim as his own personal breakthrough in the run-up to the 2019 election—have undermined trust. We often hear that with trust, many of the issues surrounding the protocol could be eased, but—with a German husband, and having watched German media and heard the views of Germans about what has happened here—I know that trust is now utterly absent when it comes to whether the UK will keep its word on anything in the future, which makes it likely that moving forward through the challenges of the next few years will be very difficult.

Unfortunately—particularly if meetings are only going to be six-monthly—what the assembly simply cannot replace are the myriad interactions, formal and informal, between officials, between experts, between Ministers and between Heads of State that used to happen when the UK was a member of the EU. They were able not just to influence policy but, often, to defuse tensions. It should not be forgotten that the interactions on neutral ground between John Major and Albert Reynolds made possible a relationship, indeed a warm friendship, that allowed the UK and Ireland to work together and reset the British-Irish relationship in the early 1990s.

As a Scottish MP, I will obviously be speaking up about the impact of Brexit in Scotland, which I see in my own constituency and my colleagues see throughout Scotland in all our sectors: in fishing, in farming, in the NHS, in social care and in tourism. It is important that we speak up for the majority of voters in Scotland, who frankly did not want Brexit and still do not want it. I look forward to a time when Scotland will return to the EU as a modern, independent country in its own right.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee 10:29 pm, 6th December 2021

I would simply like to make it clear, as has already been indicated, that the partnership assembly will not be a decision-making body, and nor is it foreseen as such by article 11 of the trade and co-operation agreement between the UK and the EU. Decisions regarding the UK’s new trading relationship with the European Union rest with the UK Government, led by Lord Frost in the trade and co-operation agreement partnership council and various specialised committees. The partnership assembly will, however, be a potentially useful forum for Members to meet Members of the European Parliament to discuss the new UK-EU trade agreement and other related issues—rather like COSAC, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the Council of Europe and so forth. As I have said before, the UK may have left the European Union, but good working relations with European counterparts are important for trade and wider co-operation. I believe that the partnership assembly can contribute to stabilising UK-EU relations, and to that extent I welcome the establishment of this arrangement.

With regard to what Dr Whitford has just said about the dire consequences of Brexit, I have to say that that is a pretty average mantra these days from the remainers who persist in saying that there was somehow a level playing field before and that the EU is a democratic body of the first order. Quite frankly, I have never known a body to be described as democratic when it makes its decisions in the Council of Ministers behind closed doors by majority voting—[Interruption.] It is not. I have been a member of the European Scrutiny Committee for 37 years and I know what I am talking about, and so does the hon. Lady, because she was on that Committee with me.

Photo of Philippa Whitford Philippa Whitford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Health and Social Care), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe)

Does the hon. Member not recognise that the Cabinet makes decisions behind closed doors as well? Many Parliaments and Governments make decisions behind closed doors.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

There is a simple distinction between I have said and what the hon. Lady has just said, because the Government do not pass legislation but the Council of Ministers does. That is the fundamental difference. At this point, I shall resume my place, unless my hon. Friend Stephen Hammond would like to give me another lesson in constitutional law.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Conservative, Wimbledon

Certainly not: my hon. Friend and I have disagreed about many aspects of this matter, but he was absolutely right to say that however we voted in the referendum, that is in the past. He was also right to say that this assembly could have a useful place in securing a sensible relationship between ourselves and the European Union. He and I know that we have not always agreed on this matter, but I would absolutely agree with him—

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Conservative, Wimbledon

I will finish on that point, Madam Deputy Speaker. I apologise.

Photo of Alyn Smith Alyn Smith Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 10:32 pm, 6th December 2021

I will also be brief, Madam Deputy Speaker. Having been a Member of the European Parliament for 16 years, I am very glad to see progress being made on this forum. In case some Members have not heard of it, I want to introduce the concept of sincere co-operation, which is at the very heart of how the European Governments do business in the democratically elected Council of Ministers and how the MEPs do business. They are of course individually democratically elected in the Parliaments of the European family. That is how we will engage with this, from the Scottish National party perspective. We will sincerely co-operate to find solutions, because bejesus, solutions need to be found to this. I urge all Members on both sides of the House to engage with this forum in a problem-solving, can-do spirit. It could be a useful forum to help to resolve the difficulties that we have.

The Leader of the House talked about this forum representing the whole of the UK, but then smirked at us as if to say that that would be a challenge for us on these Benches. I am a deeply proud Scottish European, and I am deeply proud of representing the SNP in Stirling within this House. I believe that Scotland’s best future is as an independent state within the European Union, rejoining the family of nations. Some people in Stirling disagree with that—although fewer and fewer, I have to say—but I represent them every bit as much as I represent those who voted for my party and who will vote for independence.

I also want to see our closest neighbour, by which I mean the UK, having the closest, friendliest and most frictionless relations with the European Union—the European Union that my party seeks to join. It is in our interest to see a co-operative assembly that engages to find solutions. It is in the interest of our wider constitutional project, but it is also in the interest of our friends and neighbours in England, Wales and, especially, Northern Ireland.

Solutions can be found and will be found, and they will be found by engaging honestly without the dogmas and ideologies of the past, by engaging honestly with the reality of how the European Union functions and by working across parties to find those solutions. We will engage specifically in that way and in that spirit.

I have a couple of concrete questions, because a lot of ground has been covered in this discussion. Six months is nowhere near frequent enough for the scale of the problems the assembly will need to address. At the very least we will need to contemplate working groups, so that we can have a plenary session as well as more specific working groups.

The role of the devolved Administrations is crucial to the credibility of the assembly, both within and outwith these islands. The perspective of all the different Members of this House is a singular prism, and surely we need to make sure that the multiplicity of views across these islands is properly respected and reflected. “Perspective” is not another way of saying “opinion.” The Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly view this stuff differently from the way that Members of this House view it, and those voices must be properly heard.

The election of the assembly’s co-chairs must be dealt with by the assembly. This is not an intergovernmental body, and it must not be a Government stitch-up. This must be an organisation that reflects with credibility the multiplicity of views across this House and across these nations, because the European Parliament certainly does. The European Parliament is putting up serious people who will look to do a serious job, and I hope the UK side will do the same.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby 10:36 pm, 6th December 2021

I join those who welcome the Parliamentary Partnership Assembly finally being set up. I was a Member of the European Parliament for five years, and indeed the deputy leader of the Conservative delegation. We fought that election under William Hague with the slogan “In Europe, but not run by Europe”. I felt slightly uncomfortable during my time there, like a difficult lodger in their House, whereas now I look forward to being a good neighbour. Neighbours should get on and resolve their problems.

For many Members of this House, the European Parliament is a complete mystery. Many people tell me it is just a talking shop, that it has no real power and that it cannot do anything. If that were the case, we would be wasting our time tonight. However, the European Parliament has very important powers, including the power of co-decision and the power to engage with the Council, with the Commission acting as a sort of go-between, in hammering out the details of legislation. In many ways, we will be in a position to see what legislation is coming forward from Europe—not legislation that we have to comply with, but legislation we will have to bear in mind as we consider what we can do to have equivalence.

I am reminded of the representation I once had from Norwegian butchers—Norway is a member of the European economic area—and their regulations were coming to them via fax. They had no opportunity to engage in how the regulations were formulated. When the European Union intended to ban carbon monoxide as a packaging gas for meat—meat packed in carbon monoxide can go rotten while still looking fresh, and they wanted to keep the meat fresh as long as possible while it was transported to the north of their country—all we could say to them was, “Well, maybe you could get some Swedish colleagues to put down some amendments.” I think we will be in a better position than many members of the EEA.

There are already some encouraging signs from the European Parliament. Members may remember the argument we had on bivalve molluscs, the classification of the waters in which they are harvested and whether they need to be purified here in the UK or could be purified, as had happened before, in France. In fact, the chairman of the European Parliament Committee on Fisheries, Pierre Karleskind, was very much on our side. He thought it was ridiculous that mussels and other bivalve molluscs imported into the European Union from the UK should have any change to their regulation given that nobody had been poisoned—or at least very few people had been poisoned.

There are encouraging signs that the Parliamentary Partnership Assembly will be a workshop in which we can hammer out some of our problems and where we can see things coming towards us on the horizon. As I mentioned earlier, I was in the European Parliament two weeks ago. I met Barry Andrews MEP and David McAllister, who I hope will be on this particular assembly. We were talking about what the limitations of the assembly would be, and my view was, “Let’s just push the margins until somebody tells us to stop.”

I think we can engage on a whole variety of issues. In the future, we will have to look at things such as gene editing, where the UK is moving forward with legislation to have more of it, so we can still trade with the European Union. There are things such as the equivalence rules, as we sign trade deals around the world, to assure the EU that the rules in Australia, New Zealand or the United States, while maybe not being the same rules they have in Europe, have equivalent protections and safeguards.

Furthermore, as my friends across the way from Northern Ireland, the hon. Members for Belfast South (Claire Hanna) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon), have alluded to, the protocol is the big issue on the agenda at the moment, and we must ensure we can make that work. Indeed, today the European Commission announced €920.4 million for the Republic of Ireland to help with Brexit, so they are having problems south of the border just as we are north of the border.

I very much look forward to the assembly’s being set up, and I think it will be a great opportunity to engage with our friends across the channel and build good relationships. The main plenaries may only be every six months, but I am sure we will be able to build on those contacts and friendships to ensure that we can be more on top of things on a day-to-day basis as we move forward.

Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Attorney General) 10:41 pm, 6th December 2021

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Dirprwy Lefarydd. I will speak briefly, because I have a very simple point to make, and I would like to hear the response of the Leader of the House. It will be about Wales, of course—I am sure that is no surprise. There are two points I would like to make in relation to Wales, touching on what Dr Whitford mentioned earlier.

We know the value of Welsh exports to EU countries fell by 27.5% last year, a loss of £3 billion. It was the largest decrease of all the UK regions and nations. Meanwhile, Stena Line has said that trade is down 30% in the ports that connect Wales and Ireland. If, as appears to be the case, representatives of the devolved Parliaments are to be excluded from this assembly—we tabled that as a written parliamentary question, and we were told that that they would be excluded—there is one fundamental question I must ask. I believe I am the only representative of a constituency in Wales here in the Chamber this evening. How will the Government ensure that Wales has a strong voice to defend our interests? Will the Leader of the House therefore be able to tell me how many seats Welsh MPs will hold on this assembly?

The matter of geography is extremely important. Yes, Members of Parliament can speak for other areas within the United Kingdom, but I can see a situation where there will be no representative from Wales, and that to me is wrong. In addition, how will the diversity of Wales’s interests be represented on this assembly? Fundamentally, that geographical question matters now, because it will set a precedent for the future, and if the precedent is set wrong in the here and now, it will reflect on the democracy in an organisation and an arrangement we all hope will be successful.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough 10:43 pm, 6th December 2021

It is a great pleasure to follow Liz Saville Roberts, who made her point very clearly to the Leader of the House.

When I came into this debate, I was not sure of my view on the whole issue of the PPA. Having listened to the debate, I am absolutely certain that I am against it, and I have a number of reservations that I would like to draw to the attention of the House before it divides.

When a new thing starts, it is a good idea to see who is in favour of it. We know Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition are very much in favour of it—Thangam Debbonaire spoke with passion about it, and she also spoke with passion about the fact that she was against leaving the EU. Dr Whitford spoke with eloquence, as usual, and made it clear that in fact the SNP would be campaigning to go back into the European Union.

I thought, “Well, they’re in favour, and that’s not a good thing for a Conservative, so perhaps I’d better look in the European Parliament and see how they voted on this matter.” I think the vote was on around 5 October: 686 MEPs voted for it, with two against and four abstentions. I hope if I had been in the European Parliament, I would have been one of those who voted against.

I am very much in favour of scrutiny, but I am in favour of this House’s scrutiny of the Government, not of sharing that scrutiny with another body. One reason why people voted to leave the European Union was to rid ourselves of the involvement of the European Parliament. The Leader of the House may say to me that I do not have to fear that because there are only 35 of them and there are 35 of us, but we now know that the membership of the assembly will be decided broadly on a party political basis in proportion to the numbers in this House. That would automatically give the European Union a majority in the assembly, because Labour Members and SNP Members would undoubtedly take the side of the European Union.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

Well, it is outrageous that the SNP supports the European Union. That is the first time I have ever heard that. [Interruption.] Does the hon. Gentleman want to intervene? He seems excited on this point.

Photo of Alyn Smith Alyn Smith Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I am really quite offended on this point, actually, although I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the opportunity to joust on it. The idea that I would vote for anything other than the interests of the people of Scotland and the interests of the United Kingdom in the interests of the European Union is entirely wrong. I hope that my speech was a suitably balanced contribution that said that we will try to find solutions for the whole of the UK. We have our constitutional position and constitutional priorities. I was elected in Stirling with 51% of the vote, having stood on a pro-EU, anti-Brexit, pro-independence platform—and I won the seat from the Conservatives, I have to say. The United Kingdom is not one place; it is a series of lots of places. Those voices need to be properly reflected and allegations of bad faith are really not conducive to this debate.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

Goodness me! There was no bad faith: I was just trying to support the SNP in its campaign to support the European Union and get back into it. That is why I say there would be a majority for the European Union in the assembly. If it is just a talking shop, I suppose it does not really matter, but then if it is, why are we setting it up?

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby

I think my hon. Friend is misunderstanding how UK parties worked together, even in the European Parliament—for example, if there was a national interest, they would vote together. I see the assembly working, when we have a joint problem, on how we are going to fix it together. A number of problems will need to be fixed both now and in the future and it will help to have lines of communication. It will not be like some debating chamber, like Prime Minister’s questions; it will be a serious tool that we can use to fix things.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

My right hon. Friend makes a vital point, but I would take things down a slightly different path. I would re-establish the Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union, which was a Committee of this House and could scrutinise our relationship with the European Union. It would have no MEPs on it and would be a Committee of this House. I think Lord Frost is doing a tremendous job, but it is right that a Committee in this House should scrutinise that job, not a committee made up with Members of the European Parliament.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Conservative, North East Hertfordshire

Of course, the European Parliament has set up a number of bilateral organisations with other countries. Some of them have arrangements whereby both delegations have to agree before a resolution can be passed. There is a vote of the whole body, but equally the support of both delegations is required; would my hon. Friend perhaps find that a helpful mitigation?

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

That would be a most helpful mitigation but, of course, if we do not have the assembly in the first place, we do not have to worry about that sort of thing.

Let me move away slightly from the principle and go back to the motion—

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

Just before my hon. Friend moves away from the principle, will he give way?

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

I noticed that my right hon. Friend Mr Goodwill mentioned fixing things just now. I have to say that fixing something gets very close to the idea of making a decision and, as I said in my few remarks, the assembly is not a decision-making body. Any attempt to usurp the processes that have been identified by agreement and to turn it into a decision-making body would be extremely unwise, because what we can agree to do by agreement we can agree to undo.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. That was one of the things that concerned me. I picked up from the remarks of my right hon. Friend Mr Goodwill that his view was that this assembly should push the boundaries, but I thought that that was what we had stopped when we left the European Union. We do not want that sort of dialogue. Scrutiny in this House is absolutely right, and I would absolutely welcome a Select Committee, but I do not want a committee of Members of the European Parliament interfering in the sovereign business of the United Kingdom. It is not as if we have to create this assembly. Under article 11, it is the possibility of doing it. We should all reject this in the Division Lobby. I am absolutely certain that the British people do not want to see this. Either this is something that is dangerous or something that is a total waste of money.

The final thing that made me decide that this was a bad motion was the statement that the make-up of this parliamentary body will be decided by the usual channels—the usual channels are the Whips. Goodness me, I am a moderniser. Why cannot we have democracy? Why cannot these delegations be elected like we elect Members to Select Committees? If the House decides that it does want this assembly, we should not allow the Whips to appoint who is on it. There was talk of course, quite rightly, of how the chairman of our delegation or our assembly members is to be established. I have my fears that, if the usual channels get involved, the vote will be fixed. My right hon. and learned Friend Sir Oliver Heald mentioned the Council of Europe. I remember a former Speaker having a battle with the Government over this, trying to establish that it was this House that appointed the members, and that they should not be removed because the Government wanted that to happen over some argument relating to Brexit.

There are a whole number of reasons why we should reject the principle of this and also the way that it has been set up, so I hope that the House will not approve it tonight.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons 10:52 pm, 6th December 2021

May I thank everyone for participating in this debate? I will try to answer as many of the questions as possible.

Thangam Debbonaire, the shadow Leader of the House, asked for some of the detail Some of how it operates will be a matter for the PPA itself to determine. In terms of how it reports to this House, it is expected that it would make a report after every plenary session and that the chairman would then be able to report to this House in the way that Select Committee Chairmen do by asking the Backbench Business Committee for time on a Thursday to make a report or, indeed, to ask for a debate.

On the PPA’s relationship with the partnership council, that is fundamental: it will be able to seek information from, and make representations to, the principal structure, and the principal structure is the partnership council, under the agreement that we have with the European Union. I think that answers the key parts of the hon. Lady’s question. I accept that some of the detail is yet to be determined because it will be dependent on decisions that are made by the PPA itself.

My right hon. and learned Friend Sir Oliver Heald mentioned the issue of observer status. He quite rightly said that that would be a matter for the PPA to determine for itself. None the less, that would be a way of including representatives of devolved Parliaments. Dr Whitford questioned this as well. The issue is that, under article 11, it is a partnership arrangement between the Parliament of the United Kingdom and the Parliament of the European Union. Obviously, both those Parliaments have Parliaments within them—the Parliaments of the member states and the Parliaments of Scotland, Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly and that is therefore going to be an arrangement between the PPA.

The speech of Alyn Smith was extremely helpful—I am sorry if I smirked—because Members from all parties are part of delegations that represent the United Kingdom, and that includes the SNP. I thought that his contribution was genuinely helpful and positive. I note that he thinks that six months is not enough, but that would again be a matter for the PPA. He raised the question of devolved Parliaments, as did the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire. This is sometimes a much more sensitive issue within the European Union and the member states of the European Union than the settled devolved settlement that we have in this country. It is therefore not entirely in our hands, but I greatly appreciate the positive spirit with which he wishes to put his views forward. I am rather more grateful to him for not re-running the Brexit debate than I am to the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire, who did seem to want to run the Brexit debate all over again.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

No doubt.

As my right hon. Friend Mr Goodwill said, this is absolutely going to be a positive partnership. He is right to say that matters could be discussed informally that may lead to positive solutions, that having such dialogue will be beneficial, and that there will be contact beyond the plenaries.

Liz Saville Roberts asked about membership. There will be 21 Members from the Commons and 14 from the Lords. Twelve will be Conservative MPs, seven Labour and two from other parties, but there will also be 12 substitutes—eight from the Commons and four from the Lords—which will be five Conservatives, two Labour and one other. It will up to the parties to decide which part of the United Kingdom those Members come from, but I reiterate that delegations are able to represent the whole United Kingdom.

I am afraid that my hon. Friend Mr Bone has missed the point. His point against the hon. Member for Stirling was unfair, because the delegations have to agree as individual delegations. Therefore, even if it were the case that people were going to vote the way that the European Union told them, which I think is extremely unlikely, if the UK delegation and the majority of Conservative Members on it did not agree to that, that could not be the decision of the PPA; so that point was wrong. There are benefits, as my hon. Friend Sir William Cash pointed out, to a non-decision-making body.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

As I understand it, when they were active as a substitute, they would have a voting right as a substitute to ensure that the delegations are properly attended, but there would not be double voting rights, if the hon. Lady sees what I mean.

This is a fair and friendly proposal that will work by improving our overall relationships with our nearest neighbour, which is a good thing to do, even if one is as staunch a Eurosceptic as I am, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Stone—the doyen of Eurosceptics—is.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House:

(1) notes the provision in Article 11 of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union for the establishment of a Parliamentary Partnership Assembly (PPA) consisting of Members of the European Parliament and of Members of the Parliament of the United Kingdom as a forum to exchange views on the partnership, which:

(a) may request relevant information regarding the implementation of that agreement and any supplementing agreement from the EU-UK Partnership Council, which shall then supply the Assembly with the requested information;

(b) shall be informed of the decisions and recommendations of the Partnership Council;
and

(c) may make recommendations to the Partnership Council;

(2) agrees that a delegation from the UK Parliament consisting of 35 members should participate in such an Assembly;
and

(3) confirms that the procedures currently applying to the nomination, support and funding of delegations to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly should apply to the delegation to the EU-UK PPA.