European Union (Withdrawal) Bill - Report (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:00 pm on 2nd May 2018.

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Photo of Lord Morris of Aberavon Lord Morris of Aberavon Labour 8:00 pm, 2nd May 2018

My Lords, this series of amendments, as the noble and learned Lord has explained, expresses the changes necessary to implement the agreement between Her Majesty’s Government and the Welsh Government. I immediately congratulate the Welsh Government on having gone the extra mile and skilfully reached an understanding. I also thank the government negotiators for their part. There has been a great deal of give and take on both sides. I make my comments generally on the agreement and I have given notice in my discussions with Ministers of some of my interests.

I also queried the five years mentioned by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace. Perhaps justification for that can be given. I will not repeat the concerns that I have already expressed, at Second Reading and in Committee, at the insensitive drafting of the original Clause 11. In short, there was a failure—nothing new in Whitehall—to take on board that there is a legally constituted Government in Cardiff as well as in Westminster. I will repeat only that, had the JMCs been working properly and regularly, a great deal of time and energy could have been saved. I welcome the promise of a collaborative process of working out the agreement and the development of frameworks in the JMC in the future. I hope it works much better in the future than it has in the past.

But have the Welsh Government missed a trick? The ghost that is missing—completely absent—from this feast is a reference to financial arrangements. Having spent half my life at the Criminal Bar, the overwhelming maxim in fraud cases with which I was involved was “follow the money”. There is no mention of money here. Agriculture and public procurement constitute a substantial amount of money that comes into Wales from Brussels. My interest in farming, with all my family in west Wales in that industry, is well known.

Agricultural support and agricultural matters constitute at least 10 of the 24 temporarily reserved areas. Public procurement deserves a detailed explanation. Why was it included? Could it mean the privatisation of the NHS in Wales through a Westminster input? These matters have not been explained and they are there in the agreement. I would like the Minister to explain the extent of what public procurement means in this context. Have the Welsh Government given away too much under these specified headings?

Mr Gove has promised the continuation of existing agricultural support until, I believe, 2020. Brussels subventions are generally based on need. The present financial arrangement, in general, is that the financial arrangements between Westminster and Cardiff are based on the Barnett formula. When I raised the issue with Mr David Lidington at a recent meeting, there was no reply at all on this issue, but it is crucial. What is the future, how is it envisaged and how will the payments be made to Welsh agriculture? Can I have a clear statement of the progress being made by Mr Gove in his negotiations, and what assurances have been given to the Welsh Government in Cardiff?

The implementation of these amendments will be the key to the effectiveness of the agreement between the Welsh Government and Westminster. Could it be confirmed that it is the intention, or at least the hope, that the number of 24 subjects in the temporary arrangements will be reduced in the light of experience? In my day as Secretary of State—I think after I took over agriculture—I had to sign personally all the regulations in addition to the Minister at Westminster signing them. So there were two Ministers signing each regulation. Heaven forbid that this involves the resurrection of such bureaucracy in the future. The agreement states:

“It is possible that some additional areas … will be reserved”.

What timescale is envisaged for this? It is such an open-ended commitment. I hope the Minister will be able to indicate what is meant by that particular term in the agreement.

In paragraph 3 of the agreement, the words “without prejudice” occur in two contexts. What exactly is the effect of those words in this area? Do the references to the Sewel convention and the words “not normally” mean what they say? There were protracted battles to get confirmation from the Government that there would be legislative consent Motions. That was dragged out of the Government. First there was the prevarication of the Prime Minister, then the Leader of the House of Commons, and then eventually the Minister here agreed that legislative consent would be given. I hope we can have an explanation of how that will operate, and that there will be no further question about it in the future.

I have said before that once devolution is granted then, short of a Westminster intervention, devolved powers cannot be taken away. I hope, and I specifically wish for confirmation, that the effect of these amendments is that all powers and policy areas will continue to rest with Cardiff unless they are specified to be temporarily held by Westminster.