Amendment 261

European Union (Withdrawal) Bill - Committee (9th Day) – in the House of Lords at 12:45 pm on 21 March 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Lord Patten of Barnes:

Moved by Lord Patten of Barnes

261: Before Clause 10, insert the following new Clause—“Northern Ireland: the Belfast principles(1) In exercising any of the powers under this Act to make any provision affecting Northern Ireland, a Minister of the Crown or any devolved authority must have regard to the requirement to preserve and abide by the principles and obligations contained within the Belfast Agreement and given effect by the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (“the Belfast principles”).(2) The Belfast principles include, but are not limited to—(a) partnership,(b) equality, and(c) mutual respect,as the basis of relationships within Northern Ireland, between the North and South of Ireland, and between the islands of Ireland and Great Britain.(3) In particular, in relation to this Act—(a) a Minister of the Crown must not give consent under paragraph 6 of Schedule 2 to this Act before any provision is made by a Northern Ireland department except where the Secretary State has considered the requirement to preserve and abide by the Belfast principles and considers the provision is necessary only as a direct consequence of the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU, and(b) the powers under paragraph 16(b) of Schedule 7 to this Act to make supplementary, incidental, consequential, transitional, transitory or saving provision (including provision restating any retained EU law in a clearer or more accessible way) may not be exercised to do anything beyond the minimum changes strictly required only as a direct consequence of the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU.(4) Section 11(3) of this Act does not permit the Northern Ireland Assembly to do anything which is not in accordance with the Belfast principles.”

Photo of Lord Patten of Barnes Lord Patten of Barnes Conservative

My Lords, this amendment is in my name and that of a number of other noble Lords. For many years, there has been a panel game on Radio 4 in which people are asked to speak about a subject of which they have not been given notice for a minute without deviation or repetition. I have sometimes thought how that would cut short our debates in this House and down the Corridor. I have managed to avoid listening to this programme for the several decades that it has been broadcast, but others may know the one I am talking about.

That may be a relevant point, given that we had an excellent debate on most of the issues that we are covering this morning only a week ago. It was an excellent debate in which we talked about the Northern Ireland border, the relationship between the Northern Ireland border and the Republic border in terms of economics and other issues. We talked about that border and its overall relationship with the European Union and the United Kingdom because it would be the only land border between the EU and the UK. And we talked about that whole issue in relation to the Good Friday agreement, which everybody accepts is one of the coping stones of the peace that has, thank heavens, returned to Northern Ireland for the past few years. There were a couple of notable speeches in that debate. The former most reverend Primate Emeritus of All Ireland made an extremely moving speech. I do not want to ruin his career, but the noble Lord who wound up the debate made an important and interesting speech as well. It reflected what has been said elsewhere. The noble Lord said in replying to that debate: “Let me be frank”. That is not always something that one expects Ministers to say and it sometimes invites the reply, “caveat emptor”. I certainly speak confessionally on that subject. He said “Let me be frank” and then he was. He said that,

“the Belfast agreement remains the cornerstone of the United Kingdom Government’s policy as they approach Brexit. Further, the Belfast agreement is enshrined in international law, so it has a basis that is broader than simply membership of the EU. A number of noble Lords have made the point that it is our membership of the EU which was a factor in the agreement, and I do not think that that logic can be faulted”.—[Official Report, 14/3/18; col. 1703.]

He pointed out that in the light of that there was a great responsibility on our Government, on the Government in the Republic and on the EU to do all they can to sustain the Good Friday agreement and to find a solution to the question of the border.

In saying that, I am sure that the noble Lord was aware that he was repeating what has been said by Mr Blair, Sir John Major, the former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, and Senator George Mitchell, all of whom played a very important role in the Good Friday agreement, which is one of the biggest achievements in post-war British politics without any question at all. There are Members of this House who played a role in securing that outcome.

Why is there a problem as we move down this path, like the chorus in “Fidelio”, into the sunlit realm of post-EU global Britain? There is a problem, for reasons which were explained very clearly. Some noble Lords used this quotation in the previous debate—quite simply, it is because of the challenge which the then Home Secretary referred to two days before the referendum when she said in reply to a question:

“Just think about it. If we are out of the European Union with tariffs on exporting goods into the EU there’d have be something to recognise that between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. And if you pulled out of the EU and came out of free movement, then how could you have a situation where there was an open border with a country that was in the EU and has access to free movement?”

I could not have put it better myself. Others have put it on both sides of the European referendum. It is the problem that the Government now have to address with some difficulty, because after the referendum result it was decided—I have read this in a book by the political editor of the Sunday Times, so it must be true—without any discussion or debate in Cabinet that whatever happened we would leave the single market and the customs union. So here we are, facing this very difficult problem.

Some people have said, “Well, you can deal with it quite easily because there’s no need for a border”. We have been told that there are technological solutions. They do not yet exist. They are somewhere down the road. Most of the people who suggest them have never been to Northern Ireland and have no idea what Fermanagh, South Armagh and that borderland are actually like. They point to other countries that they say manage without borders or any of the infrastructure of borders, or customs controls. Curiously, they sometimes mention America and its borders. Tell that to President Trump. It does not feel border-free if you are building walls or trying to get goods from Canada into America or from America into Canada. They talk about Sweden and Norway. We know what the Swedish Minister said about that the other day when she said that it was easier to get to the moon than to get goods into Norway.

Most experts have said very much the same thing, underlining the fact that borders, as we said during the earlier debate, are not principally about geography; they are partly about identity but they are also about the difference between legal regimes and regulatory regimes. I have to be careful about bringing a Frenchman into this debate, but somebody who perhaps knows more about trade negotiations than almost anybody—even more than Mr Fox—and who was Secretary-General of the WTO and before that a European Commissioner is Pascal Lamy. In giving evidence in this House and in the House down the street, he said that,

“at the moment the UK exits the customs union, there has to be a border”.

He went on to say that “frictionless, invisible borders” are a “fairy tale”, and that a virtual border does not exist anywhere in the world.

So we have an issue, and it is an issue that the British Government have not so far managed to resolve in our discussions with the European Union. Last week, we signed up to a backstop agreement on regulatory alignment, which we had signed up to in December and then denounced between when the European Union tried to put it into legal language earlier this week and the “consensus”—I think that is the word used by one of the Ministers for these things—in December.

There is a real issue about this, and perhaps it is worth recalling why the Minister thinks that this is relevant to the Good Friday agreement. It is not because anybody seriously believes that, if we do not resolve this, we will go straight back to the Troubles and see the sort of violence that some of us experienced in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. However, the chief constable of the Northern Ireland Police Service does think that if there is a hard border of any sort and there are customs officers, they will become a target for violence. That is not condoning that, it is just pointing out reality in the context of Northern Ireland and the Republic. Of course any sort of border would have an impact on the trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and we know what the Good Friday agreement says about the importance of that economic relationship.

There is another area in which a border would have a profound effect on the continued integrity of the Good Friday agreement: the question of identity. As was said in our last debate, at the heart of the Good Friday agreement is a proposition that is difficult to put into practice—and it says a great deal for the negotiators of the Good Friday agreement that they managed it. People who had previously condoned and taken part in violence to try to change the constitutional arrangements in Northern Ireland accepted that, from now on, those arrangements could be changed only through the ballot box by constitutional means and with democratic accountability. In return for that, they were assured that their own sense of identity and loyalties could be expressed with the encouragement and endorsement of the authorities. For example, if they were republican, they no longer had to sign up to all the manifestations and symbols of a unionist state. They could be Irish or British, or they could be Irish, British and European, and they would not have a border as a symbol between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland or between Britain and the Republic of Ireland. The Good Friday agreement is profoundly affected by what happens to the border.

Presumably recognising that, the Secretary of State for Brexit said after the negotiations the other day that it is,

“our intention to achieve a partnership that is so close as to not require specific measures in relation to Northern Ireland”.

Well, I can help him. There is a partnership that is available straightaway: go back to the customs union; join the single market. That will solve the question of the Northern Ireland border.

I am rather nervous about predictions. My favourite English footballer was Paul Gascoigne, who, having been asked on one occasion at half time to say what the result of the match would be, said, “I never make predictions, and I never will”. But one prediction I make is this: before this political jihad is over, before we have finished with this, we will be back in the customs union. We will get back into the customs union partly because I think that is what we will vote for in this House, but, even more so, because that is what enough people will have the courage to vote for down the Corridor.

But let us suppose that that does not happen, solving the problem of the border, as they say, at a stroke. Then there is a very strong case for belt and braces. If you are the emperor with no clothes, belt and braces may seem a little curious. But there is a very strong argument—just in case we do not find other ways of solving the border, the technology is not available or the blue skies are a little clouded—to write into the Bill the terms, provisions, values and objectives of the Good Friday agreement. What is not to like? It would not damage anything or anybody. It is an assertion of what, apparently, we all believe—that the Good Friday agreement has to be kept at all costs—unless you are a former Conservative Secretary of State and think that the Good Friday agreement could be changed, thrown out or forgotten about, which I do not think is the view of this House, even it is the view of a couple of Brexiteer former Secretaries of State. It should be easy for the Minister, who was so frank and helpful in his last intervention, to simply say that we will write the Good Friday agreement, as Amendment 261 suggests, into the Bill.

There may be some reason why the Minister does not have the authority to do that this morning. I was going to say that we have not had any of the duty privy counsellor Bench of Brexiteers here today, but I can see one. I am glad that they still do morning shifts. Even with just one here, he may have some difficulty in giving us the sort of assurance that we might like. But I very much hope that, if that is the case, the majority of Members of the House will come back on Report and make absolutely certain that we write the terms of the Good Friday agreement into the Bill if, by then, we have not had a satisfactory response on the border. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Labour 1:00, 21 March 2018

My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 308ZA in my name and that of my noble friends Lord Judd and Lord Cashman. I also express my support for the other amendments in this group and for everything that has just been said in the thoughtful and amusing speech by the noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes. My amendment would alter the existing limitations on the powers of the Northern Ireland Assembly, departments and Ministers to act incompatibly with EU law so as to include restrictions that protect the linkages between the rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity protections within the Belfast/Good Friday agreement and the human rights and equality protections of EU law as they apply in Northern Ireland.

I tabled the amendment at the request of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Consortium—I am grateful for its helpful briefing—because it felt that we needed something more specific than the more generalised commitments in other amendments on the agreement, valuable as those amendments are. My amendment, in contrast, focuses specifically on the protections of existing EU-derived human rights safeguards that link to the agreement and peace process. It seeks more precisely to ensure that a key element of that peace process agreement continues to be protected, specifically that the human rights safeguards that exist in EU law, including the Charter of Fundamental Rights, continue to bind Northern Ireland institutions.

The amendment reflects the grave concerns of human rights bodies in Northern Ireland, both civil society organisations and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. Indeed, the commission published a joint statement last week with the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission under the auspices of a joint committee established under the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, which voiced their concerns about the impact of the loss of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The statement underlines:

“The equivalence of rights, on a North-South basis, is a defining feature of the … Agreement”.

It warns of a “diminution of rights” within Northern Ireland and a potential,

“divergence in rights protections on a North-South basis”.

It therefore calls for the safeguarding of,

“North-South equivalence of rights on an ongoing basis”.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record and being thrown off the panel show to which the noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes, referred, I ask for the fourth time how the Government will ensure that equivalence in the absence of the Charter of Fundamental Human Rights. I have yet to receive a satisfactory reply. I believe that this amendment would do the job, which was why I was pleased to table it on behalf of the consortium.

In its briefing, the consortium makes the point that the complex web of EU-derived human rights and equality safeguards has had an important function in ensuring that people in Northern Ireland have access to remedies that would otherwise not be available in Northern Ireland law. This amendment is about shoring up those safeguards in the face of an unprecedented threat from the Brexit process. In addition, it reminds us that, unlike in the rest of the UK, the Equality Act does not extend to Northern Ireland and gives an example of how EU human rights law has provided alternative protection. For example, it ensures that carers for disabled people are not discriminated against in terms of how they are treated. In a recent local case, McKeith versus Ardoyne Association, a woman’s manager sent her home and denied her the opportunity to work because of her ongoing caring responsibilities for her disabled daughter. The tribunal stated that, in her manager’s mind,

“because the claimant had a disabled child, her position was not properly in the workplace. Her daughter was ‘her priority’”.

As there was no other satisfactory explanation for the dismissal, the tribunal concluded that Ms McKeith was dismissed specifically because she was the primary carer of her disabled daughter and that, therefore, she had been subjected to discrimination.

The consortium also reminds us that, under the terms of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement and subsequent agreements, there was a commitment to a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. It writes that,

“the purpose of this was to build on the ECHR to create a strong and inclusive rights framework to build confidence in our institutions. In the absence of a Northern Ireland Bill of Rights binding our Assembly and our Ministers, EU human rights law has provided both an important limitation on power and a point of access for an extended set of rights. Those rights will not be available to the same extent under the current draft of the Bill (removal of the Charter etc) and the devolved competencies and restrictions will also be weakened (Henry VIII powers and Clause 11 changes etc)”.

When we discussed Northern Ireland issues on 14 March, I referred to how a number of organisations, including the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, are arguing that, in the light of the risks to the human rights framework, now is a key moment to renew discussions on a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. I asked the Minister whether he would undertake to consider that. I know that he did not have time to deal with all the questions raised that evening—time was getting on—but I would be grateful for a response now.

The amendment reflects key elements of the phase 1 joint report of the EU and UK and the draft withdrawal agreement text as it applies to human rights in Northern Ireland. The approach that it takes is compatible with the principles of protecting the Belfast/Good Friday agreement “in all its parts”, to quote from the phase 1 joint report, including its “practical application”, protecting,

“subsequent implementation agreements and arrangements, and … the effective operation of each of the institutions and bodies established under them”, as well as the commitment to non-diminution of rights.

I am sure that the Minister is aware of the deep anxiety felt by human rights organisations in Northern Ireland in the face of withdrawal from the EU while the rest of the island of Ireland continues as a member. Indeed, some members of civil society groups in Northern Ireland are coming over on Tuesday to meet us to discuss those concerns. We have heard nothing yet to quieten those anxieties. I urge the Minister to undertake to consider these concerns and, failing a more general change of heart on the charter, either to take away the amendment or to come forward with other proposals to protect the equivalence of rights—identified, as I said, as a defining feature of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. As the noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes, reminded us, the Minister told us that the agreement remains the cornerstone of the United Kingdom Government’s policy as we approach Brexit.

Photo of Lord Murphy of Torfaen Lord Murphy of Torfaen Labour 1:15, 21 March 2018

My Lords, I very much support the points made by my noble friend Lady Lister with regard to human rights issues. Before I speak about those, however, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Patten, on an outstanding and powerful speech this morning.

We discussed much of this last week: the relationship between the Good Friday agreement and the European Union and how the membership of both Ireland and the United Kingdom underpinned everything in the agreement. I will concentrate on a couple of points on how equality and human rights affect this Bill and the Good Friday agreement and the relationship between the two.

The Good Friday agreement, and the negotiations leading up to it, concentrated heavily on the issues of equality and human rights. When I took the 1998 Northern Ireland Bill through the House of Commons, a great part of it dealt with them. As your Lordships will know, the current impasse or deadlock between the parties in Northern Ireland rests partly on disagreements about human rights and equality issues. This is, however, no academic matter; it is central to the progress of the talks in Northern Ireland and the integrity of the Good Friday agreement.

My noble friend Lady Lister referred to the joint committee between the Republic and Northern Ireland on human rights and equality issues. Indeed, she referred to the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights, which is common to both parts of the island of Ireland. It does not take a genius to work out that, if we leave the European Union, what happens to the relationship between a country that remains in the European Union and one that has left is a considerable problem.

There is also the issue of the equality of citizens in Northern Ireland. This really is a difficult one. For many years, anyone born in Northern Ireland, or whose parents or grandparents were, has been entitled to an Irish passport. Under the new arrangements, they would still be entitled to an Irish passport but, in gaining it, would also be entitled to citizenship of the European Union. What about the unionist who is British? It is said that perhaps 35% or 40% of the unionist community in Northern Ireland voted to remain in the European Union. Would someone want to become a citizen of the European Union while regarding themselves as British? They will certainly not identify themselves as Irish.

This goes against a fundamental principle of the Good Friday agreement: parity of esteem between the parties in the northern part of Ireland. It means, for example, that many people in Northern Ireland are entitled to citizenship but—effectively—many people are not. That goes fundamentally against the principle that the noble Lord, Lord Patten, referred to when he talked, quite rightly, about the issue of identity.

Again, what about the relationship between the north and the south in criminal justice and policing? The big issue is that 75% of those people who flee Northern Ireland because they are criminals end up in the south. What happens to the European arrest warrant? What happens to the remarkable co-ordination and co-operation between the two police forces on the island of Ireland? Special arrangements have to be made.

Those are particular points that we did not touch on in our debate last week. I know that the Minister, a firm supporter of the Good Friday agreement who understands its significance in bringing about peace in Northern Ireland over the past two decades, will take these issues away and come back to us on Report, at which point we will have reached the 20th anniversary of the agreement. I hope that that anniversary will be commemorated by recognition of these amendments.

Photo of Lord Cashman Lord Cashman Labour

My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 308ZA, to which I added my name to those of my noble friends Lady Lister of Burtersett and Lord Judd. I am extremely pleased to follow the other noble Lords who have spoken, particularly the noble Lords, Lord Patten and Lord Murphy.

The amendment is concerned with the equivalence of rights between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The approach outlined would allow for continued institutional alignment in Northern Ireland with the EU-derived safeguards and frameworks that underpin the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. The protection of the Good Friday agreement needs to be considered in its detailed implementation as well as in its broad principles.

As I said, the amendment focuses on the protection of existing EU-derived human rights—safeguards that link to the Good Friday agreement. The equivalence of rights on a north-south basis is a defining feature of the Good Friday agreement. A further signal of the expectation of long-term north-south equivalence is seen in the duty of the joint committee established under the agreement to consider,

“human rights issues in the island of Ireland”, as well as,

“the possibility of establishing a charter, open to signature by all democratic political parties, reflecting and endorsing agreed measures for the protection of the fundamental rights of everyone living in the island of Ireland”.

The joint committee welcomed the commitment in the draft withdrawal agreement that the UK,

“shall ensure that no diminution of rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity … results from its withdrawal from the Union”.

However, it stated that the Government’s approach would only ensure equivalence of rights on exit day from the European Union and said:

“There is a risk that … a growing discrepancy between UK and EU law will emerge, thus eroding the North-South equivalence of rights in Ireland”.

That would be as a consequence of either the UK or the EU adopting higher standards. The joint committee called for the withdrawal agreement to provide for continuing north-south equivalence of rights post Brexit, as established under the 1998 Good Friday agreement.

Furthermore, the joint committee is concerned that the failure to retain the European Charter of Fundamental Rights and EU equality legislation within the United Kingdom will result in a diminution of rights in Northern Ireland and potentially cause a divergence of rights on a north-south basis. The joint committee—it is worth restating this—calls for,

“the text of the Withdrawal Agreement to commit the UK to retaining in UK law the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU and to enable the UK to keep pace with its evolving protections over time”.

For that reason and for so many more, I support the amendment and the other amendments in the group.

Photo of Lord Jay of Ewelme Lord Jay of Ewelme Chair, EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee, Chair, EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee

I support Amendment 261 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Patten. I regret that I was unable to take part in the Second Reading debate, because I was with your Lordships’ EU Committee in Dublin, Belfast and Londonderry and on the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. Just a little while ago, I was standing on a bridge across the border with traffic thundering past in both directions—EU lorries, Irish lorries and British lorries. It seemed to me inconceivable then and it seems to me inconceivable now that any kind of barriers could be put in the way of traffic moving freely across that lengthy and complicated border. It is extremely hard to see how we can avoid such controls if we are outside the customs union; that seems an extraordinarily powerful and logical reason why the right course for us to take is to stay within the customs union. It is equally clear that the continuing process of peace in Ireland—north and south—depends on the Good Friday/Belfast agreement, and that the strength of that agreement will be greater if it is included in the Bill. For that reason, I support the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Patten.

Photo of Lord Eames Lord Eames Crossbench

My Lords, the temperature of our debate this afternoon reflects again the emotions expressed so recently in this House by those of us who live, work and have our being in Northern Ireland. We are sensitive as a people to the fact that your Lordships’ House is hearing on repeated occasions references to “our” problems and “our” difficulties. But this is taking on a different dimension, because what was traditionally our problem is becoming a problem on a much wider scale, for it is becoming the crux of the debate on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom as a nation from the EU.

The problems to which the Good Friday/Belfast agreement has done so much to provide an ongoing solution are so often taken to be not just a matter for the people of Northern Ireland but now central to what people are considering. The difficulty of the border, community relations, human rights—all that long list of human problems was once contained within the borders of Northern Ireland but, as the noble Lord, Lord Patten, so rightly reminded us a few minutes ago, it is becoming crucial to the debate on the future of our withdrawal. None of us wants to apologise to this House for the fact that our local problems now take on international significance. When we listen once more to the experience of former Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland, we are reminded that the problems to which I have referred have taken on a dimension that we never envisaged, even at the height of the Troubles.

For that reason, when I read Amendment 261 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Patten, I began to wonder whether we were stating the obvious yet again. Are we stating the fact that the importance of the Belfast agreement is such that it is welcome to see it suggested as a part of the Bill? I began to wonder whether other issues deteriorate the importance of reference to the Belfast principles, et cetera. Then I listened a few minutes ago to a debate on another amendment, when we concentrated on giving what someone said were excessive powers to Ministers to look at secondary legislation and have wide-ranging powers to alter the details of policy without addressing the power and supremacy of Parliament. I began to wonder: whether it is possible to visualise the situation in years to come when something as sensitive as the Belfast agreement—something as sensitive as all that the agreement has achieved—could possibly be affected by what we listened to in that previous discussion.

At the back of all the detail we are looking at are the fundamental questions of what a devolved Administration is and what should be the relationship between the mother of Parliaments and the devolved Administrations. For that reason, I found I had sympathy for the wording of this amendment, for it is a safeguard to the sensitivities mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Patten and Lord Murphy, which are very close to my heart having been through the whole process of the peace movement in Northern Ireland.

The noble Lord, Lord Patten, attributed me as an “emeritus” this morning—a new description. Many things have been said about me in the past, but I thank him for this new honour. Emeritus I may be, but I am also speaking from my heart and from my experience of a lifetime working, I hope, in the building of bridges in Northern Ireland. For that reason, I find myself supporting the thrust of what this amendment seeks to do. I urge sensitive expression and appreciation of the amendment by your Lordships’ House.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative 1:30, 21 March 2018

My Lords, I am delighted, and privileged, to be able to follow the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames. I had the great good fortune of chairing the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in another place between 2005 and 2010, working very closely with the noble Lord, Lord Hain, when he was Secretary of State, and with his successor. I saw at first hand the invaluable work that the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, did, particularly on the commission which he jointly chaired with Mr Denis Bradley.

An enormous amount of work was put into making the Belfast agreement work. It is one of the significant achievements of post-war British politics, as my noble friend Lord Patten said in his magnificent speech. I will always remember private meetings that I had with the late Lord Bannside—better known as Ian Paisley—who, together with Martin McGuinness, breathed new life into the agreement. It would be a tragedy—I use the word deliberately—if we put the agreement at risk, because it would also have the effect of shattering the integrity of the United Kingdom itself.

The noble Lord, Lord Murphy, for whom I have great respect, talked about the co-operation between the two police forces. One saw that at first hand with my committee, travelling throughout Northern Ireland and in the Republic. Many things have been said recently about the fact that the border issue can be easily solved. However, talking as I did last night with a group of colleagues and with two Norwegians, one realises that it is not as simple as that. A proclamation that it is simple never makes anything simple. We really must be extremely cautious about dismissing on the basis of a slogan the one thing that can guarantee the continuance of the Belfast agreement and the integrity of the United Kingdom. That is some sort of customs union, be it the present one or another, because that alone can preserve a border that is soft and the opportunity for people to travel from one part of the island of Ireland to the other without impediment.

My noble friend Lord Patten did a great service to the Committee and to your Lordships’ House, not only in tabling his amendment but by what he said in moving it. I believe that nothing is at risk if we in effect, as he has suggested, write the principles of the Belfast agreement into the Bill. My noble friend the Minister will of course proclaim his firm allegiance to the Belfast agreement, and we will all be delighted when he does so because we know that, as he did last week, he will do that with total commitment and integrity. We know also that he will say he speaks for Her Majesty’s Government. So if that is the position of Her Majesty’s Government—and we all believe that it is—and there is no difference in this House between any party on this issue, why cannot it be put on the face of the Bill, as my noble friend Lord Patten so powerfully and movingly argued?

The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames—who is definitely emeritus—said that this was the crux of the problem that we face; I fear that he is right. It is therefore crucial that there is flexibility in government to allow an arrangement that preserves the agreement by ensuring that the border remains as it is. In my view, that can only be in a guaranteeable form if we have a customs arrangement. I hope that when my noble friend Lord Duncan comes to reply, he will accept the logic of that argument and once again proclaim the Government’s commitment to the Belfast agreement. I hope he will also agree to commend to his colleagues, since we cannot expect him to do it on the Floor of the House this morning, that the Patten formula—there have been good Patten formulas in the past—that the agreement should be in the Bill is adopted by government.

Photo of Lord Hain Lord Hain Labour

I agree with everything the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, has said, particularly about the customs union. However, would he reflect on the fact that the customs union deals with the visible border but the invisible border of services can only really be dealt with by a common single-market arrangement? That is of course the majority of both economies on the island of Ireland. If we are genuinely to have an open border, visible and invisible, to put it in that language, then the single market has to apply across that border as well.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

Tempted as I am by the noble Lord’s seductive words, we must realise what is achievable and what is not achievable. With both major political parties proclaiming that the single market cannot remain, we have to concentrate on what can remain or can be replaced by something essentially similar—a customs union. As I said, I am tempted. I am not unsympathetic, but we have to be realistic.

Photo of Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve Crossbench

My Lords, who wills the ends wills the means. The Government committed themselves to an open border, to my knowledge, some 20 months ago. I was very happy to hear a previous Secretary of State make that commitment quite explicit in a public space. I then asked: how? We are still waiting for any answers as to how, and cynicism is growing. It does not seem that the Government are thinking about the answer to that question.

It is, of course, a number of questions. Borders do different things for the movement of goods, the movement of people, the movement of animals and many other things. But I point to three things that are important. First, on goods, the Government have suggested that there may be a technological solution by which tariffs do not require a hard border—meaning installations at the particular line of demarcation—but are dealt with, quite handily, by electronic means and previous preparation of detailed dossiers on the content of each, in this case, lorry rather than container. It is a seductive view, but it is radically incomplete.

The Government have also on occasion suggested that they would be happy to see small traders, as it were, fall below the radar for enforcement. In the island of Ireland we are quite good at subcontracting the movement of things to small traders if that is advantageous. It has been done for various commodities. One need only think of diesel for a good example. It has also been done to my knowledge for various other things such as getting double subsidies on animals—I will come back to animals in a moment—by having the headage payment both north and south of the border. We have to expect that, as we get divergence of legislation and regulation north and south of the border, the incentives for what I believe are these days called “imaginative arrangements” will grow and will be a matter of subcontracting to the small traders. I do not believe that the electronic fantasy is more than part of the solution to the movement of goods, which speaks directly to whether we expect a customs union or the customs union to continue or whether it does not. I suppose these small traders might be looking forward to the latter solution, but I do not think they really are.

The movement of peoples seems very important. We have entirely free movement of peoples on the island of Ireland. That has not always been so, but we have it again. It is fundamental to life. But if people enter from the European Union into the Republic of Ireland, where they will have freedom of movement, they can then go to the north—to the UK—and come over here without passports. I find that quite a lot of my noble friends are not really aware of that, probably because, when they go to Ireland, they go by air and have to show a passport. It is not necessary, however, to show a passport when crossing the Irish Sea. That is one of the meanings of the phrase “common travel area” and has been with us since the 1920s. It is, incidentally, much stronger than the Schengen arrangements because, in the common travel area, when we move across from one jurisdiction, the UK, to another, the Republic of Ireland, we can vote and we can serve in the armed services. These are real differences. This is a deep and long-standing arrangement. However, it means that people will have to identify themselves—for example, when taking a job or when going to a National Health Service hospital for an operation—to be sure that they are entitled. That is what that one word, “passport”, meant.

Passports are quite expensive, but we have to accept that these days they will have to be biometrically enabled. I think, however, of all the families who live in cities on either side of the Irish Sea and who travel to and fro, often with quite a large number of children. It is a non-negligible matter to think about the movement of people. There is another factor here. It is not only people who live in the north and in the Republic who will have to have passports or ID; it is all our fellow citizens on this island, because you cannot enforce entitlements unless the good guys as well as the bad guys are checked. That means passports for everyone. That means ID cards.

I am not against ID cards, and I think I even have a suggestion about how it might be done, taking a leaf out of the arrangements in a number of states in the United States, where they have invented a delicious document called the non-driving driving licence. The non-driving driving licence enables people who are non-drivers in, say, the state of Connecticut to get an equivalent licence in another state, which does not entitle them to drive but enables them to have a drink—so it is really important. One of our better bureaucracies is the DVLA, and it might perhaps be able to think out how a system of non-driving driving licences could be a model for the driving licence that has served as an ID card over here.

One obstacle to this is that many, but not all, on the Conservative Benches have a thing about ID cards. But one has to get real and get up to date. Many of my friends on the Conservative Benches carry smartphones, which give away far more details about what they are up to at any given moment than any driving licence, passport or ID document does. We need to start talking about these things and not just making gestures towards passports or electronic tariffs.

Finally, I want to talk about the movement of beasts. When I speak on this topic, I always come back to beasts because they are notably mobile. Much more importantly, plant health does not recognise borders. We must have arrangements for plant and animal health that will not depend on the enforcement of a border. I hear no discussion of this. For example, have the Government considered delegating what Brussels likes to call phytosecurity, and we prefer to call biosecurity, to Stormont—let us hope it is up and running—with the proviso that it may not go below EU or UK standards? That would put, as it were, a double lock on animal and plant safety and standards in Northern Ireland, which would not be the worst of worlds.

These are the sort of problems that need addressing soon and urgently if people are to have confidence in the Government’s commitment to the Belfast agreement and the principles that underpin it. I do not wish to be alarmist, but I do not think we should take for granted anything that might happen if we do not address these questions. Recently, I have been reading about events just before and during the First World War, when we saw the Home Rule debacle, the Easter Rising, the Irish war of independence and the Irish civil war—possibly the most terrible of them all. We are playing with fire. I hope the Government are listening and I hope they will take the principles of the Good Friday agreement as setting a demand for action and not just for rhetoric.

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour 1:45, 21 March 2018

My Lords, I am very privileged to have had the insights of those who really are part of the Irish community and to hear how they see things. That is invaluable. It has also been powerful to hear the words of the noble Lord, Lord Patten, with all his experience and integrity.

I emphasise one point: those of us associated with the amendment brought forward by my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett are very struck by how deeply perturbed those who are standing for, working in and developing the concept of human rights in Northern Ireland are about the absence of equivalence in the legislation, as things stand. The people of the Republic will have the reassurance of the charter. We are told that the charter is impossible in our future. What will be the equivalence of protection for the people in Northern Ireland—those who belong to the minority and are currently confident, having the concept of the charter behind them? We really must have an answer to this question. My noble friend has pursued it on at least three occasions in Committee without getting any convincing response whatsoever.

I do not mind saying that I was very moved by the words today of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames. I will never forget him standing at the Cross Benches last Wednesday, when he implored all of us involved in legislation, and the Government, to remember that we were dealing with the most sensitive issues—ones that went right to the hearts of ordinary people as they went about their lives. It is not just a fix—a management arrangement—that we are about, it is about being able to relate to people, their fears and anxieties, their hopes and aspirations.

In that context—I do not want to overplay it, but it is true—since Wednesday last week I have been thinking of the two words that the noble and right reverend Lord emphasised in his peroration. He spoke of the indispensability of consent and trust. We cannot build a future worth having in Northern Ireland—and in the Irish Republic—if something has been foisted on the people as part of a solution to a very complex political issue. It has to give them the feeling that they can develop their lives together in confidence. It has been very exciting for those of us outside Ireland to witness the amount of good work between the different communities in the context of the Good Friday agreement. I ask the Government to take these points seriously and I hope we will get an answer to my noble friend’s question.

Photo of Lord Alderdice Lord Alderdice Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes, not only for the passionate and articulate way in which he introduced the debate on this group of amendments—particularly Amendment 261—but also for the lifetime of commitment that he has given to the issues of Northern Ireland. That length of commitment speaks a great deal to me, as someone from that part of the United Kingdom.

As the fourth musketeer, as it were, I want to say something slightly different about why I think this amendment is not just important but critical. On 6 December last year, on the fifth day in Committee, Lady Hermon, the honourable Member for North Down, spoke about the key principles of the Belfast agreement in an amendment almost identical to this one. When the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, Mr Robin Walker, responded, he kept talking about the agreement, the commitment to the agreement, and the way the agreement was backed up. Lady Hermon came back to him saying that the issue was not the agreement but the principles, and he really did not seem to get it, because he kept coming back to saying that they were committed to the agreement and would ensure that the agreement was there.

I want to say why I would go even further than the noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes, in saying that it is not just a question of whether this would be a problem or harmful but why this is absolutely essential not that the precise wording of all the amendment is included, but that the principles of the Belfast agreement are included. I shall explain why.

We have had many decades of trying to get agreements in Northern Ireland. We have had them before, and they did not work as a peace process because they did not address the key disturbed historic relationships in these islands. In many ways, this was the understanding that the European project stepped out with, with Monnet, Schuman, Adenauer and so on. They understood that it was the relationships between the different countries and communities that were essential—and, as we know, the whole complicated edifice was created in which there could be co-operation.

One frustration for me is that colleagues who, like myself, are committed to remain, have failed to address the question of why, after 40 years, one of the parties is seeking divorce and many others are very uncertain about whether they want to stick with it. My own view is that, as time went on and we moved from the first generation of those who were committed to those who were there later, we moved from the things that were put in place as the instruments to ensure the fundamental purpose of the project, which was to stop war and build relationships. The instruments were things such as the market, the common currency, and the opportunity for European political leaders to be at the top table of global affairs. Those instruments became the purpose of the exercise for many of those who were involved. When in any set of relationships the instruments of the relationship become a substitute for the purpose of the relationship, the relationship is already beginning to fail.

My concern is about the commitment to the Belfast agreement, a legislative agreement with a commitment to certain kinds of constitutional and institutional matters and a commitment, as the noble Lord, Lord Patten, knows well, to changes in the administration of justice and changing policing—all the important things, including the things that are mentioned in the other amendment about human rights. Those things will not keep the relationships alive if we forget that the relationships are the key issue. That is why I want to see the principles written into the Bill.

When I was involved in the process, we came to a point of understanding this in a very long and painful way. Most of those with whom I was involved are no longer involved politically, or even around at all. As I look around, I see those political leaders who represent the three key relationships not understanding what it was about—the relationship between political leaders in Northern Ireland. We are a long way from the relationships between David Trimble and Seamus Mallon, never mind those between Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness. Let us not forget that Dr Paisley was not too keen about the Belfast agreement when it came out in the first instance. But the relationship between the political leaders in Northern Ireland does not have the same constructive engagement now. In the relationship between north and south, we are being pulled apart—sometimes by those who say that they want to unite the island. What about the relationship between London and Dublin, between the British and Irish Prime Ministers? Think back to the kind of relationship there was between John Major and Albert Reynolds, or between Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern. We do not have that kind of relationship in either direction.

The European Union itself was the model and the inspiration; it was the container for the relationships that kept the British and Irish Governments together and working, so that when John Major and Albert Reynolds became Prime Ministers, they had already been Finance Ministers and worked together, and they said, “We know it’s impossible but we’re going to have a go”.

Another thing is that, if many of those in Brussels, and indeed in London and Dublin, who are saying that this and that is impossible had been around in Belfast 20 years ago, there would have been no Good Friday agreement, because they would have said, “It doesn’t fit in with our understandings of sovereignty”. Even on the rule of law, think of the people who would never have been let out of prison if others had simply stuck with the understanding of the rule of law as it was then. We had to be more adventurous and creative, just like you have to be in any relationship if it is to evolve, change, develop and, frankly, survive. When a Minister says, “But we are committed to the Belfast agreement”, I do not doubt that. Even when he or she says, “It’s implied in the legislation”, I do not disagree with that. But I do disagree with the idea that we do not have to put it in black and white, firmly and clearly, that the principles of the Belfast agreement and the relationship approach are critical and they need to be in the Bill.

I have spent a lot of my life going to other parts of the world. I am not long back from Colombia, where they have a peace process; just before that I was in India, and in a week or so’s time I will be out in Peru. In all those places, they are not looking to the Northern Ireland arrangements and the Irish peace process because they want our particular constitution or institutions, or our way of dealing with policing and the administration of justice. They are looking at the underlying fundamental principle, which was our discovery that these problems were ones of relationships—historic, disturbed relationships between communities of people—and that we had to find ways of addressing that creatively. Whatever kind of mechanisms we used, that was what it was about.

As I look around at home, coming up to the 20th anniversary, I see a whole generation of young political leaders who do not get that. They think it is all just about doing politics, like people do everywhere, and it is not. We need to put this into the Bill to make it absolutely clear to anyone who comes back to the question that, in the absence of that containing environment of the EU, which made it possible for us—I say that because it is very doubtful that we would have got the Belfast agreement without the context of the EU—we have to emphasise with even greater clarity than before the fundamental basis on which that agreement was reached. We have to hope and pray that we can work to find a way of maintaining those relationships and developing them through the stormy waters which undoubtedly lie ahead.

Photo of Lord Carswell Lord Carswell Crossbench 2:00, 21 March 2018

My Lords, I had not intended to intervene in this debate, partly because I was not present at Second Reading. I apologise to your Lordships for that but there were certain problems that I had at home. But I am impelled to do so by what has been said so very eloquently by many of your Lordships today.

I have lived the whole of my life in Belfast and been through a considerable amount in that time. I have lived there even longer than my noble and right reverend friend Lord Eames, whom I have known, liked, respected and admired—no less so today—for many years of that time. I have known the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, and I like and respect what he has had to say. I am very happy to support the principles of what they have both said. I will come back to what I mean by “the principles” in a moment.

I was very close, personally and professionally, to what we have referred to by the usual euphemism of the Troubles. It was a dreadful time and I would hate with every fibre of my being to think that we might go back to that. The fact that we have had peace—maybe not perfect, but a great deal better than what we had before—for 20 years now has been of great importance in the life of the Province. That it should continue is also of great importance, not merely because it gives a better approach to normal life in the Province but because it conditions people to feel that that is the proper way to conduct their lives, which of course it is. If the continuance of the Belfast agreement helps in that, then I am emphatically on the side of those who say that it should be taken account of.

The only caveat I have is on the wording. The Belfast principles include certain things, uncontestably, but what else? A great deal of my professional life, both at the Bar and on the Bench, was spent in interpreting statutory wording and attempting to find its proper and expressed meaning—the way in which statutes should be approached—while trying to see either loopholes or where other people would look for loopholes. That is the great problem in drafting anything, particularly something as important as this. Therefore, that is the only reason I issue a note of warning. I would be perfectly happy to see a clause of the nature proposed on the statute book. But if it is to be done, I simply warn that defining the Belfast principles, or leaving them undefined, could allow the wording to be put to purposes which we might not think of today but which some other people will think of at some time. I leave this thought with the Minister who is replying and with your Lordships.

Photo of Lord Mackay of Clashfern Lord Mackay of Clashfern Conservative

My Lords, I have not spoken on this subject but today I am moved to do so: first, because I had the honour of serving in government with my noble friend Lord Patten of Barnes before he was a Member of this House; and, secondly, because I held the responsibility for most of the justice arrangements in Northern Ireland for about 10 years in the middle of the Troubles. Therefore, I am extremely conscious of the difficulties of Northern Ireland and of the immense privilege of it having had a great degree of peace since the Belfast agreement and since John Major initiated the first talks, which was quite difficult to do, during my term of office.

I am convinced that the only real solution for the Northern Irish and Irish border is in some form of treaty to deal with customs matters and with trade. At the moment, we have a law under the jurisdiction of the European Union for these two matters. The Government have said, and I understand this, that we are leaving both arrangements. But it is possible to make similar arrangements under a treaty: we would not be part of the EU but part of a treaty arrangement with the EU, which would reflect that. I believe something of that kind is absolutely essential. The Belfast agreement did a terrific amount for the peace of Northern Ireland and long may it continue.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Labour

My Lords, I have a few words to add to what has been a hugely interesting and entertaining debate, led off by the eloquent and entertaining noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes, who speaks with great knowledge and experience on this, as do many others. My amendment was stimulated by anger at those former Ministers who decided that it was worth the price of Brexit to suggest that we should rethink the Belfast agreement, which has brought so much peace, tranquillity and good order to governance in Ireland, and the north of Ireland in particular.

Amendment 316 seeks simply to ensure that, when this Bill passes, there should be some further thought because I do not think that much thought has yet been given. This is one of those debates that happen simply because of the unintended consequences of Brexit, and not enough was thought of by the Brexiteers in the run-up to the leave vote on 23 June 2016. That is why that amendment is there, although the one proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Patten, is far superior, because it takes us to the principles that are fundamental and lie behind it.

I can see that both Front Benches want to get on, so I shall speak only briefly to my amendment, but it is right that we have these things at the forefront of our minds. Perhaps when we come back at Report, we will have something there enabling us to focus on this and give it further thought, as well as enabling the Minister to say something better than what has been said before—that instead of the Bill being merely about transposing one set of legislative rules into a new set, we recognise what has happened before and the impact of the Belfast agreement on the future governance of our country post-Brexit.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Basildon Baroness Smith of Basildon Shadow Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Bassam said, this has been an immensely interesting debate. I know that other noble Lords have referred to this as the second debate that we have had on Northern Ireland, but all the amendments in this group reflect the concerns that we have had, the degree of concern around the issue and the fact that we have not really had the answers to satisfy those concerns yet. The impact of Brexit on the Good Friday or Belfast agreement is profound. I understand that the Minister has a weariness about saying the same things as last time, but I hope that he will understand, from comments that I shall make now and that other noble Lords have made, why there is a need to return to these issues.

My noble friend Lord Bassam sums up in his amendment—which is entirely reasonable, and I hope that the Minister can accept it—that this is about the Government assessing the impact and publishing that. I go back to the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes, and his amendment, to which I have added my name. He referred to the radio programme “Just a Minute”, and I think that that is quite apt: this issue deserves “repetition”, and the Government should show “hesitation” and reflect, and perhaps come back with some “deviation”, moving from their current position and giving us some answers as to how the issue can be addressed.

There has been some journey from the Government to clarify the status of the December joint report on the progress of phase 1. Where the Government stand on regulatory alignment has been almost like a political hokey-cokey, and the current position, which is a backstop for what could happen, is probably fair. But the impact of a hard border in Northern Ireland would be profound and deep and have implications for the peace process. It is not just about the physical border—it is also about the psychological impact that it would have, and I think all noble Lords who have spoken today have understood that. The noble Lord, Lord Patten, referred to the security implications, as I did last week, of what would physically happen if there were a hard border and how those border points would be guarded.

Look at the logic of the issue of trade and the hard border. The Government accept that there should be regulatory alignment between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. However, if you move on from that, the Republic of Ireland obviously has regulatory alignment with the EU, and Northern Ireland has regulatory alignment with the rest of Great Britain, so, surely, that means that there has to be regulatory alignment throughout the whole of that area, which to my mind sounds something like a customs union. I really do not understand why the Government have set their face against this and made it one of their red lines.

I discussed this with a senior government Minister recently and said that the lack of detail on this issue to your Lordship’s House and generally is why it has become such an issue. His view was that the statements made by the Minister and the Prime Minister about the need for a soft border, the absolute commitment from the Government to the Good Friday agreement, and the total rejection of a hard border are clear. I agree, but the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, hit the nail on the head with exactly the point that I made to that Minister at the time—how will it be done? Until the Government can say how, we remain in a sort of no-man’s land or Alice in Wonderland situation as to how it will happen. I was told that the Government could not say how they would do it until negotiations take place. But if it is a matter for negotiation, how are the Government able to make that commitment? I must say to the Minister that it is an unacceptable position to be in.

This may not satisfy all noble Lords, but to remain in a customs union would be part of the solution to this. The Government reject that and say that it is a red line that they cannot go beyond, but if they maintain that red line, I still cannot understand—trust me, I have tried really hard to—how the Government can achieve their objectives alongside it. We heard suggestions in the debates last week and from other noble Lords this morning about how that can be done, but I say to the Minister that it is the Government’s responsibility to tell us how it can be achieved. We need clarity and detail and to move beyond the warm words. We want something to happen and we have to make it happen.

The Minister and the Prime Minister have been clear and I do not doubt their sincerity in the statements they have made, but why are we having this debate? It is because saying something does not make it true or make it happen. There has to be legislative certainty around this issue. It is that legislative certainty that we are still waiting for and need to see. The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes, is one way forward. If the Minister has a better suggestion and wants to bring forward a government amendment to address the issue, I shall be very happy to see it. But in the absence of that, we will have to press this through our own amendment.

My noble friends Lady Lister, Lord Judd and Lord Cashman raise in their Amendment 308ZA the issue of the equivalence of rights on a north-south basis as being a defining feature of this agreement, and they referred to the essential nature of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Again, we have a government red line about that charter. I fail to understand that. Some red lines, such as the one about the agencies and the involvement of the ECJ, have been smudged a little pink now. Is this another red line that needs to be smudged pink? The Charter of Fundamental Rights is, bizarrely, the only specific exclusion in terms of the existing rights of citizens. That has a huge impact on those in Northern Ireland. My noble friend Lady Lister has raised this question before, but how can the Government ensure equivalence of rights without that charter? She gave examples of real people, problems and issues. Unless we can give real answers to those people, we will find ourselves again in a vacuum of being able to give assurances.

My noble friend Lord Murphy of Torfaen brought to his comments not only his knowledge and experience but the great affinity he has with Northern Ireland through his service, both as Minister of State and—I would say this as one of his junior Ministers—a first-rate Secretary of State. He focused on the equality and human rights issues and backed up entirely what my noble friend Lady Lister was saying. These are central to the integrity of the agreement. We cannot fudge that or move away from it. We have to respect that integrity. The agreement was hard-fought, as those who were there at the time and involved would say. The Government have to respond to the details that he provided and the specific points around the fundamental principles. If the Minister cannot respond, there has to be discussion so that we get to a point that is in the right place.

I finish on the comments of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, on Amendment 261. As always, he brings to these debates both his life experience and a passionate commitment. I recall—as did the noble Lord, Lord Cormack—the Eames-Bradley report, by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, and the great Dennis Bradley. Both of them, in taking it through, were prepared to think the unthinkable, to do the right thing and to take on those challenging and difficult issues for the greater good. At times that was uncomfortable and not easy, but he did it. He is due the respect of this House: it should heed his words on these issues today.

The Minister has been clear on his commitment—which I do not doubt—to the Good Friday agreement, but I doubt that we have what the House and the legislation needs: the legislative certainty on the issue that gives us the confidence that the commitment will be not just in words but in deeds and legislation.

Photo of Lord Duncan of Springbank Lord Duncan of Springbank Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Northern Ireland Office), The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland 2:15, 21 March 2018

My Lords, this has been a wide-ranging debate and I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes, for facilitating it. It will be almost impossible for me to respond without some form of repetition, I am afraid, and I am nearly certain that I cannot do it within one minute—I am very aware of that. Last week, too, we had a wide-ranging debate that touched on a number of issues and I hope that noble Lords will have an opportunity to examine some of the answers and discussions. I will try to be as focused as I can in the time available.

One of my first repetitions—one that I cannot make often enough—is that the Belfast agreement is the cornerstone of the UK Government’s policy and so it will remain. It is important to stress that the United Kingdom Government and the Ministers in the devolved Administration are already bound in statute and treaty under international law as an obligation of that Belfast agreement. That binds not just the United Kingdom Government but also the Irish Government, so this matter rests comfortably in that space.

Amendment 261, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes, would require both Ministers and Northern Ireland departments to have regard to the Belfast agreement and the wider principles when making any provision under this Bill that affects Northern Ireland. Those wider principles have been mentioned a number of times, not least by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice.

Subsection (3) would require the Secretary of State to refuse consent to reserved provisions under devolved legislations unless the provision was necessary only as a direct consequence of the UK’s exit from the EU. This would place a much greater constraint on a provision that could be made for Northern Ireland compared to the rest of the UK, even in circumstances where there was no impact whatever on the Belfast agreement. In the same vein, the Secretary of State would be prevented from making any consequential provision affecting Northern Ireland beyond the minimum strictly required only as a direct consequence of exit. That would substantially constrain what could be done to update the statute book in Northern Ireland, putting the jurisdiction at a disadvantage compared to the rest of the UK. That is why we would not be able to move forward on the amendment as it has been tabled.

I am conscious as we approach the 20th anniversary—the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, stressed this—that we wish to see major progress, not least in the formation of an Executive. However, the noble Lord and other noble Lords raised wider issues, not least criminal proceedings and the European arrest warrant. In this context, I am conscious of the “beasts” of the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill. Each of these elements will form part of the ongoing sector-specific elements which we will be discussing and which will come before your Lordships’ House for that thorough examination.

Amendment 316, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, relates to an issue that has also been raised by your Lordships’ Constitution Committee. I say to the noble Lord that we will take on board his thoughts and give due consideration both to the committee’s report and to the issues that he has raised. We are conscious of that as a factor.

As to the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, has raised this wider issue on a number of occasions, as she reminded us, and I feel ill-equipped compared to those who responded to the point in the past. I will make two statements in direct response. The noble Baroness mentioned that next week there will be a delegation from Northern Ireland. I will be very happy to meet them, if that can be facilitated. I also give a commitment that I will take away her remarks from today and give them due consideration.

I could be repetitious at this point and say the lines that noble Lords have previously been given in response. I can give them again, but I think that noble Lords will appreciate that they will broadly stand where they did in the past. However, I am happy to engage directly with the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, on these matters going forward. I hope that that will give some comfort, if not contentment, on this matter.

I am always aware of what the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, brings to the debate. I think that he has captured the mood of the Committee as I do not doubt he has captured the mood of the entire island of Ireland in the past. His points are none the less correct. There is no doubt that the issues that we are facing now on Ireland will be the crux of the ongoing discussion. It is right that the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, should have raised these points again in her remarks. She is absolutely correct when she says that we have a responsibility to tell this House what we will be moving forward. We will fulfil that responsibility. It will not be in the withdrawal Bill per se. The purpose of the withdrawal Bill is to create a functional statute book for day one after Brexit. However, for each of the elements that has been raised, not least those that are sector-specific, we will come back to the House with clear statements, which all noble Lords will have the opportunity to address. I hope that we can make that point going forward as best we can.

I am aware that a number of other noble Lords have raised important issues, not least my noble friend Lord Cormack, the noble Lord, Lord Jay of Ewelme, and the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill of Bengarve. This has been a wide-ranging debate. I hope that there will be some comfort in my words, but I appreciate that they may not be as comfortable as the Committee would like them to be. On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Lord Patten of Barnes Lord Patten of Barnes Conservative

The Minister began his remarks last time by speaking from the heart. He spoke on that occasion without doing what I fear he did on this occasion, which was to deal as rapidly as possible with the “it says here” part of his brief. I commend the Brexit department for producing it, although I did not agree with the argument, which seemed to be more or less that if we accepted the amendment we would be treating Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the country. What does he think the Good Friday agreement is? The Good Friday agreement is about the fact that Northern Ireland unfortunately has been a casualty and a victim of our inability to share these islands peacefully together for centuries. I assure the Minister, whom I much admire, having seen him at the Dispatch Box being charming and on the last occasion reasonably convincing, though I think not on this occasion, that when we get to Report, Deo volente, if we are here, many of us will want to come back to this subject and, I hope, take it as far as a vote. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 261 withdrawn.

Amendment 262 not moved.

Clause 10 agreed.

Amendment 263 not moved.

Schedule 2: Corresponding powers involving devolved authorities

Amendments 264 and 265 not moved.

House resumed.

Sitting suspended.