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 Lang of Monkton Lord Lang of Monkton Conservative 8:00 pm, 2nd May 2018

I say with great respect to the noble Lord that I think it is the turn of this side of the House.

Like other noble Lords, I welcome the progress that has been made in clarifying the clause as it originally appeared and I congratulate my noble friend and the Bill team on further refining the intentions in a way that I hope will make it much clearer at the end of the day. Their patience and diligence has caused them to go many extra miles and they should be warmly thanked for that. But we have now reached a conclusion that all people of reason and good will will surely welcome. I congratulate the Welsh Assembly Administration on their welcome for these changes. Sadly, the Scottish Administration have not done so. Like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, I regard that as regrettable. Like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, I truly wish that there were some Scottish nationalist Peers in this House to argue their case, answer our comments and explain their purpose and motives. Just because they are not here, however, that does not absolve us from the obligation to question and challenge their policies and make clear what we think of their motives and the way that they are trying to drive affairs.

Having expressed my views on this matter fairly clearly in Committee, and given the hour and the bulk of amendments that we still have to get through, I propose to cut what I intended to say in half and move on to other matters. So I shall spare the House half of what I originally intended to say.

I welcome the introduction of the new sunset clauses. In Committee, I suggested that the Scottish First Minister was capable of creating a grievance out of a ray of sunshine. On looking at her letter to the Lord Speaker, I see that she does not take too kindly to sunset either. She thinks that the sunset clauses are,

“not something I can recommend to the Scottish Parliament for approval”.

I think this a very good idea and an important improvement. The Constitution Committee has long argued for it, as have many others. I will be interested to see what my noble and learned friend the Minister says in his reply to the proposal of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, to shorten the extensive seven-year period to five years, which must have some arguments in its favour.

I particularly want to ask the Minister about the frameworks. I hope he can clarify the position on something that troubles me, here and elsewhere in the Bill: the possible accumulation of new provisions in legislation, arising from the Bill, that may not all evaporate when the sun eventually sets. For example, as I understand it, all frameworks have to be agreed, and legislation arising from them implemented, before exit day—or, at any rate, secured in some specific way if things stray into the transition period. Otherwise, they could accidentally be allowed to be devolved, to the great detriment of the United Kingdom and as a major change to the devolution settlement. Surely that creates a major time pressure in not just this Bill but those that will flow from it over the next few months. The 40-day cooling-off period adds to the pressure, although I welcome it as a measure. Given the propensity of the devolved Administrations to string matters out for as long as they can, can the Minister assure the House that provisions exist to ensure that all the framework-related legislation will meet the timing deadlines?

Secondly, the Bill would include legal commitments to consult the devolved Administrations on certain areas in future. As a matter of constitutional propriety, that should—and would—happen anyway; it already has, extensively, but now it will be enshrined in law. Given the propensity in some quarters to consider that to consult is to concede, and that consent is equal to granting a veto, can the Minister confirm that there is no question of consultation carrying such implications with it, that this dangerous route is closed off, that all the detritus that will be left after the Bill is implemented will have served its purpose because the measure is essentially transitional, and that such things will eventually fall by the wayside? With those queries and comments, I welcome the changes that have been made. I am confident that they are an improvement and I hope they will speed the Bill towards completion.