Brexit: Stability of the Union - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:33 pm on 17th January 2019.

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Photo of The Earl of Kinnoull The Earl of Kinnoull Crossbench 12:33 pm, 17th January 2019

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Bennachie, who spoke with his customary clarity. I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, on securing this important debate.

I shall make just two points. The first concerns arrangements for intergovernmental relations in our union. Our intergovernmental arrangements are completely out of date. The governing document is a 60-page memorandum of understanding dated October 2013. Our Constitution Committee produced a report, Inter-governmental Relations in the United Kingdom, in March 2015 and made many recommendations. It produced a second report, The Union and Devolution, in May 2016 and made further recommendations. The Government’s response to the first report turned up only in January 2017. In the meantime, nothing has happened to the memorandum of understanding, yet since it was published in October 2013, we have had the Scottish referendum, the Scotland Act 2016, the Wales Act 2017 and now Brexit. The landscape has changed and is changing further. Much more power over many more areas resides with devolved structures, yet the Government have not followed up and have ignored the compelling reports of the Constitution Committee. This failure to engage in a calculated reconstruction of how intergovernmental relations work in the union is a very risky omission and action is needed. Can the Minister tell us what is happening and what the timetable is for having new arrangements?

My second point concerns inter-parliamentary arrangements in our union. The EU Select Committee’s July 2017 report Brexit: Devolution concluded that there was a need for more inter-parliamentary dialogue and co-operation. For Brexit, we recommended regular joint meetings between the relevant committees with responsibility for Brexit-related issues in the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies, and of course at Westminster. We recommended that these take place for the duration of the Brexit negotiations. We went on to say, at paragraph 298:

“In the longer term, we also see a need for a strengthened forum for interparliamentary dialogue within the post-Brexit United Kingdom”.

The Interparliamentary Forum on Brexit was established as a direct result of these recommendations. The forum brings together the chairs of the committees scrutinising Brexit-related issues in Westminster and the devolved Administrations. In the House of Lords, this includes the EU Select Committee, the Constitution Committee, the Delegated Powers Committee, and the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Representatives of the Northern Ireland Assembly of course cannot attend but officials come as observers. The forum has met five times so far and is meeting for a sixth today, here in the House of Lords as we speak. Those at the forum, whatever their views on the union or on Brexit, come together to discuss the Brexit process and the implications for the devolution settlement that flow from it. Participants have been clear that the combination of interesting agendas and the ability to meet and discuss matters with opposite numbers has been most valuable. Today it will discuss the Brexit developments of the past few days and will meet the Minister for the Constitution, Chloe Smith, to discuss intergovernmental relations.

In closing I ask the Minister my second question: does he regard this as a heathy development? Does he think it is a possible template for a necessary formal inter-parliamentary strand of the UK’s devolved structure?