My Lords, this is the first amendment in a very much larger group, not all of which is composed of amendments in my name. Although the matter is lengthy and rather complicated, I can deal with it comparatively briefly and, I hope, in a way that is intelligible to your Lordships and in particular to the Minister.
Amendments 274 and 275 are related to paragraphs 9 and 10 in part 1 of Schedule 2, the former dealing with Scotland and the latter with Wales. I am concerned about the provision which states:
“A provision is within the devolved competence of the Scottish Ministers for the purposes of this Part if … (a) it would be within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament if it were contained in an Act of that Parliament (ignoring section 29(2)(d) of the Scotland Act 1998 so far as relating to EU law and retained EU law)”.
As I understand that provision, it excludes from competence provisions relating to retained EU law. That is a theme that runs through most of the amendments in this group. It is exactly the same point as we have been discussing in the earlier groups, the question being whether it can possibly be right that the devolved institutions should be prohibited from dealing with retained EU law when they work through the exercises with which part 1 of Schedule 2 is concerned. All the amendments in this group that are in my name raise that issue, except Amendment 363, which I will come back to in a moment. Some of them will require to be superseded in light of the Government’s amended version of Clause 11. I would have thought it was a fairly simple exercise for the Minister and her team to go through these various amendments, which I need not enumerate, just to be sure that the various passages to which I have drawn attention are corrected in light of the revised version of Clause 11.
Amendment 363 relates to the right of the Advocate-General to take part as a party in criminal proceedings so far as they relate to an issue as to whether legislation or an act of a Scottish Minister is incompatible with convention rights or EU law. Of course, the interest of the Advocate-General, if he wishes to enter the proceedings, is to ensure that the devolved institutions act within their competence in relation to these matters. What we have in paragraph 18 is a simple substitution of a reference to “retained EU law” for the reference that is in the statute at the moment to “EU law”. The competence restriction on EU law will of course be removed when we leave the EU, but once again I make the point that simply to substitute a reference to “retained EU law” is not the right thing to do: it is not a mirror image of EU law. Indeed, the fetter that applied to EU law should not apply to retained EU law. The amendment is simply designed to delete from the relevant section of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995, which would no longer have any relevance. I leave that point with the Minister to look at along with all the others.
I have been listening very carefully. Can the noble and learned Lord explain again, in simple terms, why retained EU law on a particular area, such as agricultural support, is different from current EU law? I do not understand why he says it is different.
In a sense, retained EU law is simply repeating what is to be found in EU law. The point is that the treatment of it, from the point of view of the competence of the Parliament and the Ministers, is different. Under the Scotland Act as it is, Ministers have no power to legislate or deal with EU law, because that is subject to the restriction in Section 29 of the Scotland Act, and also in Section 53, so far as Ministers are concerned. My point is that that restriction disappears because we are no longer bound by the treaty arrangements that gave rise to the restriction in the first place. I think the noble Lord is pointing out that much of retained EU law is already part of our law because it has already been built in to our legal system. The point is that I am suggesting that the Parliament and the Ministers should be able to deal with retained EU law in the same way as they can deal with any other domestic law, as long as it is not reserved.
I understand that—these debates are very useful. However, I am getting worried: as the noble and learned Lord knows, I am a strong devolutionist and a former Member of the Scottish Parliament, but in the last hour I have come to understand and sympathise with what the UK Government are arguing, which is a bit worrying.
No, it is a serious matter. Surely there are areas that are dealt with now by the European Union because we have all thought that it was right to have standards for the European Union Common Market. Are the UK Government not arguing that if we have a UK common market—which we will in certain areas—it is sensible to have the same standards throughout the United Kingdom? Is that not a valid argument?
If the noble Lord will forgive me, I was suggesting that we deal with that issue when we look at Clause 11 and the government amendments. The noble Lord raises a very important point, but it does not really relate to my amendments. I think it is much more fundamental and we will need to discuss it in light of the discussion of the reform of Clause 11. I hope I have answered the noble Lord’s question. There is a basic difference between the competence arrangements relating to EU law, which does not apply once we leave the Union, and retained EU law, either domestic or direct, as it comes in under Clauses 2 or 3.
Having digressed somewhat in my reply, I again thank the Minister for her helpful reply. I will be happy to withdraw the amendment in due course; however, there are others in the group that others may wish to speak to.
My Lords, I will strike a different note as I put forward what are perhaps the substantive arguments—as we see them—in relation to these issues.
Amendment 304 has for some reason been grouped with these amendments, which does not make an awful lot of sense. It stands in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Hain, and is based on one of the key amendments drafted by the Welsh and Scottish Governments ahead of the Bill’s passage through the other place. That amendment is also covered by part of Amendment 303, which surprisingly will not arise until very late tonight. None the less, Amendment 304 goes to the heart of the widespread criticism of Clause 11 as it currently stands—I am aware that amendments may come forward later—and lifts the restriction it places on the devolved parliaments in relation to EU retained law.
My fear—and that of all parties in the National Assembly—is that giving UK Ministers control in the EU withdrawal Bill over areas of retained EU law relating to matters which fall under devolved competences will, in effect, tend to normalise direct rule from Westminster in these areas. Given the powers under this and other recent legislation which enable Ministers at Westminster to amend devolved legislation by order, this will, in effect, undermine Welsh sovereignty in areas which are devolved to Wales and blur the responsibility of the National Assembly. Furthermore, there is a fear that this will set a precedent for this and future UK Governments, who may well be tempted when a devolved Government act in a way with which they disagree, to find a justification to intervene. This would be particularly galling if it were on issues where Welsh interests were seen to be in conflict with England’s perceived interests—perhaps validly so. The Prime Minister has, of course, pledged never again to “devolve and forget”. That can be interpreted in more than one way, and in this context it has generated quite a few ripples of unease.
In order to persuade the devolved parliaments to agree to legislative consent orders—which are currently not forthcoming from either the Scottish Parliament or Welsh Assembly—the UK Government have tabled a set of amendments to Clause 11 which we will consider later. The Government’s proposals would provide a power to make regulations in certain devolved areas currently subject to EU law, and would prevent the devolved legislatures from taking action in the areas covered by those regulations. Whether noble Lords in this Chamber like it or not, this is regarded by members of all parties in the National Assembly as reflecting a growing approach by the UK Government—namely, in areas where devolution may be a nuisance or a hindrance to the UK Government’s agenda—to roll back devolution, or at the very least to attenuate it, and to centralise certain powers in London. The Welsh and Scottish Governments share this fear. That is why, in the Senedd—thanks largely to the lead of my inspirational colleague Steffan Lewis AM—the Welsh Government have introduced a continuity Bill to safeguard Welsh devolution. That Bill is currently progressing through its legislative steps with all-party support. Assembly Members are taking such a step not as a threat but as a safeguard: they still hope that there may be a meeting of minds between them and Westminster, and I understand they have even drafted a sunset clause which could be triggered if such an agreement were achieved. They look to this Chamber today to take a stand in facilitating that meeting of minds and to ensure that the centralist direction to which they feel they are being subject is brought to an end.
Alongside the amendments which the UK Government have tabled, they have published a list of 158 areas of intersection of devolved competences with EU law, noting that they envisage regulations temporarily restricting devolved legislatures’ competence—in advance of more substantive arrangements in primary legislation —in up to 24 of those areas. Taking such steps is, rightly or wrongly, widely perceived as a power grab. These 24 areas, all of which apply to both Wales and Scotland, cover a significant part of devolved responsibilities, including agricultural support, fisheries management, environmental policy, public procurement and food standards. These areas are vital for industries and businesses in Wales, and for the Welsh economy. The amendments would allow the UK Government to make regulations in any or all of these devolved areas.
I wholeheartedly agree that common frameworks are appropriate in some cases, given the current role of EU law in regulating action in all parts of the UK—
Indeed—the very point that the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, was making earlier; I agree. Given the current role of EU law regulating action in all parts of the UK in such subjects, partly to facilitate a single market with a level playing field—the point that the noble Lord was making—and partly to ensure that in matters which by their nature cannot be constrained by political borders, there is a coherent common approach. I accept this. Indeed, last week I proposed an amendment to provide a framework agreement for environmental policy—which, quite amazingly, the Government rejected. However, if there are to be such frameworks, the devolved Administrations and the devolved legislatures, whose legislative competence is being constrained by such frameworks, must surely agree the proposed steps jointly with the UK Government. I have tabled an amendment to an amendment in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, providing a mechanism to this end. That will be debated later so I will not anticipate that debate now.
Let us be clear: unless there is agreement between Westminster and the devolved Governments on these matters, the continuity Bill will be enacted by the Assembly and will take precedence in Wales. Surely it is time for the UK Government to reconsider what is seen as an obdurate stance and agree a sensible, balanced and respectful way forward.
My Lords, I had not intended to speak in this debate because in many respects government Amendment 302A answers the initial point of concern—that the current limitation on competence in the Scotland Act under European Union law would be replaced by a restriction on retained EU law. Of course, under the new amendment that has gone, but there is a wider point on which the Minister could perhaps assist the Committee, which arises from the draft agreement on the transitional period.
As I understand it, during the transitional period basically the acquis will still apply. I have looked at Articles 4 and 82 of the draft agreement. Article 4 says:
“Where this Agreement provides for the application of Union law in the United Kingdom, it shall produce in respect of and in the United Kingdom the same legal effects as those which it produces within the Union and its Member States”.
Article 82 says:
“The Court of Justice of the European Union shall continue to have jurisdiction for any proceedings brought before it by the United Kingdom or against the United Kingdom before the end of the transition period”.
We will have a lot of debates this afternoon about whether UK Ministers, Scottish Ministers or Welsh Ministers will be exercising powers after exit day, but can the Minister indicate how the United Kingdom Government see the position? If we are going to have to abide by European Union law having the same legal effect as it produces in the Union, is there any room for movement at all? How is effect going to be given to that if, under Clause 1 of the Bill, the European Communities Act 1972 has been repealed?
My Lords, I cannot allow the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, to continue with his heresy that the Government are right in what they are doing. I noticed the shock that passed over the face of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. What I think the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, does not appreciate is that the proposal of the Government is to introduce frame- works into this country to save the internal market of the UK, whether or not the devolved Administrations consent. All they are prepared to do, as the noble Baroness the Minister said in response to something earlier, is to consult—they are not necessarily seeking agreement. That is where he has it wrong.
No, I have it absolutely right. I know that that is precisely what it is. I have said that on previous occasions. But, with respect, it was the couple of speeches that the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, made earlier on that moved me in the Government’s direction.
My Lords, I am obliged for all the contributions at this stage of the debate. I appreciate, as do other Members of the House, that when I move the government amendment to Clause 11, we will embrace a debate about the consequences of that amended clause and the significant change it makes to the way in which we are going to deal with, among other things, devolved competences. But as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, observed, his amendments are consequential in a sense on what is going to happen with regard to Clause 11. In that context, I point out that we had already indicated our intention to move the amendment to Clause 11 and then withdraw it, in order that the consequences for the schedules to the Bill can be addressed more properly when we reach Report. However, there is a more fundamental issue underlying this, which has been highlighted by the use of the terms “consult” and “consent”. It is really rather fundamental. Because these are probing amendments, I will just outline the Government’s thinking with regard to this area of the Bill and how it will work. I am sorry if I am going to appear somewhat repetitive about some matters of history that have been touched upon already, but perhaps your Lordships could bear with me, if but for a moment.
In 1972, the UK Parliament of course transferred certain competences to the EU. Having done so, it limited its competence to legislate for the United Kingdom. When it came to the Scotland Act 1998 and the Government of Wales Act 2006, that Brussels competence, as I will term it, had already gone. When it came to considering the scope of the divorce settlement, the matter of the powers held by the European Union in Brussels was not in scope for consideration as part of devolution. They had gone, by virtue of an international treaty implemented in domestic law pursuant to the ECA 1972. The devolved settlement was determined by reference to the competence that remained in Westminster in 1998 and in 2006.
I am going to elaborate on what happens to the competences in Europe. I wonder whether the noble Baroness will bear with me just for a moment.
But I wanted to challenge what the Minister just said. The competences were not actually removed from us. We agreed to operate within the framework, but the idea that we actually gave up those competences in the way described would perhaps not be accepted, as such. We agreed that the EU had rights to make laws in certain areas, but that is not the same as saying, “This is no longer our responsibility”.
With respect, pursuant to our international treaty obligations, we bound ourselves at the level of international law to allow the EU to exercise competence in areas where previously the UK Parliament would have exercised it. That was then implemented in domestic law by virtue of the 1972 Act. Of course a sovereign Parliament is always able to repeal the 1972 Act, as it is now doing, but so long as it remained in place, and so long as we remained party to the relevant treaty—which became treaties—we were bound in that context. I do not entirely agree with the analysis, but I do not believe it is material for the present purposes, if I may respectfully say so.
Once Brussels had certain competences, it then exercised them. It was important that Brussels should exercise them in one area in particular, which was the development of the EU single market, as no one else could have exercised jurisdiction over a single market in the EU. The idea that 12—now 28—individual jurisdictions could have maintained the single market is self-evidently untenable, so Brussels exercised that jurisdiction, for very good reason. When we leave the EU, we will find ourselves in the position where we want to maintain an internal single market in the United Kingdom; the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, referred to that, while the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, said we are looking forward to the internal market in the United Kingdom. We have to bear that in mind. What Parliament is in a position to legislate for a UK single market? The answer to that is the Parliament that has jurisdiction for the whole United Kingdom. I will come on to the issue of devolved competence in a moment, but generally speaking if you are going to maintain a single market you need a legislative power that is able to do that for the single market.
Lest anyone interrupt just yet, I add that of course by their very nature the devolved Administrations, parliaments and assemblies have responsibility for devolved powers in their respective nations. We respect that, of course, but there is an issue here that has not yet been mentioned. We identified, on the basis of analysis that was carried out with the devolved Administrations, that there were some 153 areas of competence where—
Before the Minister moves on to the detail of those competences, I want to challenge the analysis that he has given about the comparison between the UK single market and the EU single market. No one would have suggested at any time in the last 26 years that the relationship between the United Kingdom and the EU single market, and the decision-making around the EU single market, would have been such that the decision-making on the EU single market would have been left solely to the European Parliament and the European Commission. It was not. The decision-making around the EU single market was done primarily by the Council of Ministers, and in the Council of Ministers some aspects of that single market were determined by absolute consent, where the UK had a veto, while some areas were determined by qualified majority voting. We cannot replicate that arrangement with one that leaves the sole decision-making power after consultation, without consent, with the UK Parliament and the UK Government in relation to areas where currently the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly or the Northern Ireland Assembly would have legislative competence.
I do not entirely agree with the noble Lord’s analysis but for the present purposes I am not sure that it is particularly relevant. What is relevant is this, if I can continue: we have identified about 153 areas in which, upon our leaving the EU, competences will return and touch upon areas of devolved competence. These are areas that the devolved parliaments and assemblies previously had no engagement with because they lay in Brussels, but they are coming back and touching upon these areas of devolved competence and we recognise that.
However, some of these areas of competence are critical to the maintenance of a single market in the United Kingdom, as I will illustrate in a moment. Those therefore had to be addressed. We did that by engaging with the devolved Administrations and assemblies in the context of the Joint Ministerial Committee negotiations. I take the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter: there may be criticisms of that process but I respectfully suggest that that is not for this Bill. It is important to notice the achievements made by that committee in this context. In particular, noble Lords may have received a copy of the communiqué of
“Ministers noted the positive progress being made on consideration of common frameworks and agreed the principles that will underpin that work”.
The definition of those principles includes the line:
“A framework will set out a common UK, or GB, approach and how it will be operated and governed”.
Then there is a list of principles:
“Common frameworks will be established where they are necessary in order to … enable the functioning of the UK internal market”— for example, to,
“ensure compliance with international obligations; ensure the UK can negotiate, enter into and implement new trade agreements and international treaties; enable the management of common resources; administer and provide access to justice in cases with a cross-border element; safeguard the security of the”,
One can readily understand why we want to maintain these as essentially UK-based frameworks—why we need to ensure that there is a means of maintaining commonality in these areas for the United Kingdom. The document continues:
“Frameworks will respect the devolution settlements and the democratic accountability of the devolved legislatures, and will therefore: be based on established conventions and practices, including that the competence of the devolved institutions will not normally be adjusted without their consent”.
Your Lordships will notice an echo of what is sometimes referred to as the Sewel convention. It is not an absolute: we must consent. It is not a case of “We will just consult”, or anything of that kind. It is simply saying that there will not normally be adjustments without consent.
A great deal of work has been done since October 2017 by officials in Whitehall, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast. As a consequence, on
If we are to maintain commonality for the United Kingdom in these areas, we must be able to legislate uniformly in them. That includes, let us say, pesticides in the context of agriculture—not the whole of agriculture but sub-areas where Brussels and the devolved Administrations would have exercised competence in which we realise that it is necessary to maintain commonality in the United Kingdom. Let me give a very simple example. If the Scottish Government legislated in respect of agricultural pesticides for Scotland—not extending beyond Scotland’s own borders, of course, and only within the area of their devolved competence—and other parts of the United Kingdom did not replicate those regulations, we could find that a Welsh farmer could not sell his corn to an Edinburgh baker simply because he had used pesticides that he was quite lawfully entitled to employ in Wales, and which were quite lawfully used in England and Northern Ireland, but had been banned in Scotland by the Scottish Government. As a consequence, there would be a breakdown in the internal market that is so critical to us.
I give another simple example: food labelling. If the Scottish Government decided to make regulations as soon as they had the power, when these 153 competencies returned, to change the provisions on food labelling only for Scotland, within their devolved competence, a manufacturer of jam in York would find it very difficult to sell his product north of the border, or he would have to label it in two different ways.
No, perhaps I can finish this point. I am just trying to explain why in these 24 areas it has been identified as very material that we should retain and then develop frameworks.
I just wanted to intervene on this very point about pesticides. The Minister will be aware that the Welsh Government did in fact legislate on the question of genetically modified crops, and it was forecast that the roof would fall in. It did not; it was quite possible to have a different regime in Wales from that in England. As he addresses the rest of the points that have been raised, will he tell us how the regime will be allowed or not allowed to work in the context of agricultural support? Sheep farmers may well want and be entitled to get support from the Welsh Government. The Welsh Government may want to give them that support but, if it is argued that that distorts the UK market, they would not be able to do so. That is the sort of issue that causes concern.
As regards agricultural support, that is another subspecies of agriculture. I am dealing with those matters that fall within the 24 identified areas where we find it necessary to retain and operate the single internal market. Not all areas within those 24 competencies are going to have to be retained for the purposes of that market. There are areas which we will devolve.
The Minister is making a very strong case for how a single market can operate effectively. Does he not believe that the United Kingdom could operate under a frictionless trading or regulatory arrangement with managed divergence across the four nations?
That is not what is in contemplation, and that is why I am trying to explain the Government’s thinking with regard to maintaining effectively a single market, not frictionless borders between nations within the United Kingdom, which is a different issue altogether and one that does arise in a different context.
I will not take this opportunity to contest some of the points that have been made about, for example, fertilisers, although I think there is a debate to be had about the way in which the Government describe that issue. It is not helpful to the heat generated around this debate when the examples the Government give for the need to retain the power imply that decisions that would be made in Scotland or Wales would be stupid. The Government need to think hard about the fact that when they describe the need for these single market frameworks in the UK, they should do so in a positive way in terms of the UK having regulations that work together.
On the substantive point about the frameworks, the issue is not the list of 24, but how they will be agreed and who will have the ultimate decision-making power. It is not about what is or is not on the list. That is a matter for negotiation and determination within the existing settlements. The issue here is who agrees the frameworks, how they are agreed and who ultimately has the power to veto them or otherwise. That is the substantive issue I would ask the Minister to address.
I wholly reject the implication that we are suggesting that any of the devolved Administrations are going to proceed to legislate, with any of the competencies returned to them, in a way that would be regarded as stupid or unacceptable. That is a most unfortunate gloss to put on the matter. It is, however, very helpful that the noble Lord, Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale, has raised the question of how we are going to deal with the issue in this context. The framework agreements have been the subject of ongoing negotiation among all of the Administrations, but in order to achieve that it is necessary to retain competencies in those areas so that there is not the prospect of legislation within the devolved areas which impacts upon areas outwith their competence. To give a simple example in that context, the Scottish Government are entitled to exercise devolved competence and powers within Scotland for the Scottish people, but if we allow all of the additional competencies to go back to the Scottish Government and they legislate in an area such as food labelling, that impacts on the people not only of Scotland but of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. There is therefore, in a sense, a veto over proposals for the internal market, with one devolved Administration saying, “No, we don’t like your proposals on food labelling. We know everybody else likes them but we’ve decided we don’t like them, we’re not going to consent to them, so you can’t have them.” That is the problem that we want to ensure does not arise.
Coming more particularly to the point that was made about how this is decided, we do ring-fence, as it were, the 24 competencies—or elements of them—that have been identified following the consultation process with the devolved Administrations and which are reflected in the principles that I quoted from the Joint Ministerial Committee on
Taking up the noble Lord’s point on how we are going to implement those, we will do so by way of primary legislation. And where do we find ourselves? Back in the relevant devolved legislation, which says that we will not normally legislate in respect of these devolved areas except with the agreement of the relevant devolved Government. So the relevant safeguard is exactly the same as the one that exists at the present time. What we propose will not intrude on the devolved competence in Scotland, Wales or indeed Northern Ireland. It retains 24 areas that are coming back from the European Union in order that we can work out what is required for the purposes of maintaining a single UK market. However, what would alter the devolved competencies quite fundamentally would be a provision that said that we could retain those areas of competence only with the consent of each of the devolved Administrations. That would give them a veto over matters that went beyond their present devolved competence and a veto over matters that impacted on England, Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland, depending upon who was doing it. That is why we have set out matters in the way that we have. When we come on to the amendment to Clause 11 in due course, I hope that, having essentially flipped Clause 11, we can reflect on the great progress that we have made to date in these areas. It is in that context that I simply invite the noble and learned Lord to withdraw his amendment.
We will return to these matters under reference to the government amendments but I wanted to set out, I hope with a reasonable degree of clarity, the Government’s thinking in this area. This is not, with respect, a power grab—on the contrary: if we consult, if we agree and if we achieve this, there is no question of a power grab. It is certainly not a derogation from devolved competence. A great deal of competence will be laid on the devolved Administrations, because so many of these competencies coming back from the EU, and under the amended Clause 11, are going straight to the devolved Parliaments and Assemblies.
Before the noble and learned Lord sits down, may I just tempt him? He has given a very clear exposition of the Government’s position and why it is in the interests of the devolved Administrations and the United Kingdom as a whole to proceed in the manner that the Government describe. He has also talked about the great efforts that have been made by the officials and the work that has been done. Why, then, do we have such opposition, in particular from the Scottish Administration?
I am not going to rehearse the rhetoric that has been used by some members of the Scottish Government to feed populism. Terms such as “power grab” may have their place, but they do not have a place in the context of our looking at this legislation. Of course, it has been asserted that consultation is not enough—even though it may lead to agreement—and that there has to be consent and only consent. But if it is consent, that is, let us remember, a very material change to the devolved settlements. That will result in the devolved Parliaments and Governments being able effectively to veto matters that impact upon those outwith their area of devolved competence.
The Minister used a phrase—which is used also either in the Explanatory Note or in a letter, I cannot remember which—about the retention of this for the purpose of the internal market. It might be helpful if that wording appeared on the face of the Bill.
I note that comment. The noble Baroness will appreciate that the amendment to Clause 11, which I will move in due course, seeks to ring-fence these powers to ensure that they are limited. Indeed, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, has also tabled an amendment regarding a sunset clause in that context. It is perfectly clear from the proposed amendment to Clause 11 that they are meant to have a very limited function—but I note what the noble Baroness said and I will take it forward.
Does the Minister not realise that the Labour Government in Cardiff feel as strongly as the SNP Government in Scotland about this matter? This is not a matter of party politics; it is a question of where power lies. That is why the term “power grab” has arisen. When he says how outrageous it would be if Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland had a veto, does he not realise that the structure that he is advocating gives England a veto? It gives Westminster a veto; that is what is causing so much trouble.
One moment. I am terribly sorry, Archbishop, but I must reply to that. This does not give England a veto. Essentially, England has no voice. This is the United Kingdom Parliament: it legislates for the United Kingdom.
The point I was going to make is exactly the same. As I have listened to the debate, it seems to me that the issue is probably what the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, tried to address. When we leave the EU, the state of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland will still be the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. Therefore, there are areas that are for all four nations and others that are just for one nation. Devolution was a good thing, but it does not mean that powers that affect other nations can simply be devolved. I have listened again and again, and I think the point is that, of all the powers that are coming back, 23 have been identified which, if they were simply handed over without clear legislation, would leave us in a real mess. There would be no coherence, no sense that this would be the United Kingdom; it would be something else. So may I plead with those who come from nations with devolved Governments to realise that, for the benefit of the whole of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, there are some areas that affect all of us together, not separately, and that those need to be retained? Of course there could be negotiations and conversations—but I get a little concerned that the message is not getting through. This is not grabbing power: some areas are returning to the United Kingdom and we must sort out which bits really need to go straight to the devolved Administrations. The 23 areas that we have heard about require very careful consideration; otherwise some might think that leaving the EU equals independence for them.
I am not going to indulge in party politics at this stage; I do not think that that is necessary. We all know the ultimate objective of the Scottish National Party. It is not to have a United Kingdom; it is to break up the United Kingdom and have an independent Scotland. Although Scottish nationalists talk about all these powers coming back from the EU, let us remember that they do not want them. If they get them, they want to give them back to Brussels, because they want Scotland, as an independent country, to remain in the EU—and, if it leaves, they want it to join EFTA and the single market. Therefore they will return all the powers they are talking about if they get their ultimate aim.
The noble and learned Lord has distinguished between “consult” and “consent”, and has described consent as a veto. Does he not accept that over the years the normal use of “consent” by both the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly has been exercised responsibly, and that there is no basis for that fear? How would he define the word “consult”? What does it mean?
Consultation has been going on in the Joint Ministerial Committees on a regular basis since October of last year. As regards respecting the constitutional settlement on devolution, I entirely agree with the noble and learned Lord—with one qualification. A convention has arisen out of the memorandum of understanding between the Scottish Government and the UK Government about how we ensure that legislation put before the Scottish Parliament is competent. That convention has operated since 1999 and involves an exchange of a note of competence. Prior to a Bill being introduced to the Scottish Parliament, a copy is passed to my office—the Office of the Advocate-General for Scotland. That is always done.
I then confer with the Lord Advocate and his officials—the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, will be familiar with this—and we iron out any differences and come to a view on what is competent and what is not, and consequently these matters are resolved. For the first time in nearly 20 years, that convention was departed from by the Scottish Government in respect of their EU Continuity Bill, which I first heard about after it was introduced to the Scottish Parliament. They did, however, give it to the Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament in time for him to take legal advice. Therefore, while I accept the generality of the point the noble and learned Lord made, particular exceptions have arisen very recently.
I was the Minister who negotiated the memorandum of understanding. I think I am the only Minister involved in the negotiation at the time who serves in your Lordships’ House. I agree that the Sewel convention and the arrangements for considering the competence of legislation have worked very well. That concerns the point I made earlier—two debates ago, I think—about the clarity of the legislation and of the memorandum of understanding, which have worked well over many years. I am encouraged by the Minister’s comment that these frameworks would all be subject to the Sewel convention. It would certainly be very helpful for the debate that we are about to have on Clause 11 for the Minister to say that, if these 24 areas are indeed the final 24 areas that are agreed for common frameworks, in each of the 24 areas the establishment of the common frameworks would be subject to the Sewel convention, as I think he hinted at a few minutes ago.
In so far as they are carried forward by primary legislation—and I rather anticipate that that will be the case—they would engage not only the Sewel convention but the provisions of DGN 10, the devolved guidance note, because there may be areas where these matters impact on the competence of Scottish Ministers. That is what is anticipated and I have no difficulty with that.
I keep trying to answer a question raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, about what happens with regard to the transition period. Clearly, that will have to be addressed in the context of the withdrawal agreement Bill—and that, as has been indicated before, may result in some amendment to the existing provisions of this exit Bill.
As I understand what the Minister is saying, ultimately everything has to be settled by primary legislation, so there will be a single market in the United Kingdom that is settled by primary legislation—for which legislative consent will be sought and no doubt given. What we are talking about is an interim period when Ministers take powers to themselves. Over a temporary period they will in effect dictate what the framework agreement will be until there is a final agreement in a number of years—that is what I understand the Minister to say.
With great respect, I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, has understood what I said. It is not a case of us dictating anything to the devolved Administrations; it is a case of ring-fencing these limited competences until we have reached agreement with the devolved Administrations as to what the framework agreements will be. They will then be put forward for the purpose of legislative consideration in the usual way. But it is not suggested that we are going to start regulating agriculture in Scotland in the meantime—that is not what is comprehended by this at all. I do not know whether I asked this earlier, but will the noble and learned Lord withdraw his amendment so that I can sit down again?
Before the Minister does, how long will this ring-fence last? I believe the Barnett formula was temporary; how long does the Minister envisage the ring-fence will last before there is a proper legislative framework?
It will last until we have managed to implement all of the framework agreement. That will be a finite period—there is no question about that. Indeed, if the noble Lord looks at the proposed amendment to Clause 11, he will see that there are various checks and balances, including the requirement that Ministers report to Parliament if they retain the powers for any longer. So that is already addressed.
My Lords, this debate has ranged a good deal wider than was necessary for the Minister to deal with my points on this group of amendments. With respect to him, he has not given me the kind of reassurance that the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, gave me on earlier groups. My point is that this very disparate group contains a number of points that I raised with regard to Schedules 2 and 8, which need to be reconsidered in the light of the reformed Clause 11. A simple example is on page 56, where there is a reference to a fetter on the power to,
“make, confirm or approve subordinate legislation”,
which extends to the wording of Section 57(4) of the Scotland Act as in the Bill. However, that section is reworded by the proposed new Clause 11.
I just remind the noble and learned Lord that I said that when we come to Clause 11, we will move and withdraw the amendment. We appreciate that although we want Clause 11 in its present form, to put it forward in a form that covers all these matters we will have to address the impact it has on Schedule 2 in these contexts.
On that basis, I am happy to beg leave to withdraw Amendment 274.
Amendment 274 withdrawn.
Amendments 275 to 278 not moved.
Amendment 279 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Amendment 280 not moved.
Amendment 281 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.