Brexit: Stability of the Union - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:15 pm on 17th January 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Young of Cookham Lord Young of Cookham Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 2:15 pm, 17th January 2019

My right honourable friend David Lidington has a key role to play in building up a relationship with the devolved assemblies. He has attended a large number of these meetings. If the noble Lord looks at the allocation of ministerial responsibility, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has this as part of his portfolio.

To revert to what I was saying, an interim report was presented and agreed on 19 December. All the Administrations have tasked officials to make a further report to the JMC(P) in due course. I will ensure that the views expressed during this debate are taken on board as that review takes place.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, asked about legislative consent Motions. We are fully committed to the Sewel convention and its associated practices for seeking consent set out in the devolution guidance notes. We are continuing to seek legislative consent, taking on board the devolved Administrations’ views and work on the EU exit Bills according to established practices, just as we have always done.

I may need to write to the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, about the letter from Mr Tusk that she referred to but, in principle, the Government are committed to the Belfast agreement, as they always have been, and remain steadfast.

We have been working with the devolved Administrations on what a deal might look like in practice domestically. We are committed to preserving and strengthening the decision-making abilities of the devolved Administrations and, as we have made clear, the devolved institutions will continue to be able to make any decision that they can make now after exit. As set out in the EU withdrawal Act, as new powers are returned to the UK and where they are within areas of devolved competence, they will flow directly to Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh.

We are also working collaboratively with the devolved Administrations to agree where we should continue to take UK-wide approaches and what they will look like. These common frameworks referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths will be established in specific policy areas and help preserve the UK internal market, preventing four different sets of rules in different parts of the UK making it more difficult for a cheesemaker in Monmouthshire to sell to customers in Bristol, or for a farmer in Aberdeenshire to sell their beef in Berwick-upon-Tweed.

On funding, which a number of noble Lords mentioned, we are committed to the Barnett formula. We believe it is a fair and transparent way of funding the devolved Administrations. The noble Lord, Lord Empey, raised a good point on accountability. I suppose the answer is that the Scottish Executive are accountable to the Scottish Parliament, and ultimately to the Scottish electorate, for the way in which they spend the money—including the money that they get from Westminster.

In the turbulence of the current political situation, it is easy to lose sight of the background to this debate. The bonds between our nations exist not only because we share values and histories but because, time and again, we have shown that we can achieve more when we operate together. That is why we believe in the union and will continue to govern in the interests of every part of it. That commitment is reflected in the way that we work across the entirety of the UK: from high-profile, job-creating investments such as the aircraft carrier being built at Rosyth to the no less important work behind the scenes, such as officials working hard to ensure that Welsh beef and lamb can be sold across the globe. Initiatives such as the industrial strategy drive growth across the whole of the UK, while sector deals and investment in research and development will support the industries of the future, whether in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or England.

I will try to answer one or two specific questions. My noble friend the Duke of Montrose asked about the Supreme Court. We challenged the Scottish Bill on the basis that it was not within the competence of the Scottish Parliament. We are grateful to the Supreme Court for providing greater clarity. This is not simply a question of where constitutional powers lie, important as such questions are. Greater clarity was needed to ensure that our statute book functions properly and the law is clear.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, on Gibraltar: let no one be in any doubt that on the future partnership the UK will negotiate for the whole UK family including Gibraltar, as the Prime Minister said on 25 November. As the Chief Minister said, this is a deal which works for Gibraltar.

Where do we go from here to prevent the centrifugal forces I referred to earlier driving apart the component parts of the UK? We need a deal with the EU that those in Northern Ireland and Scotland in particular feel comfortable with, even though a majority voted to remain, and we need to avoid no deal.

In 2010, my party was the largest one but it had no majority. The country was looking over a cliff edge after the collapse of global markets, with concerns about our currency and our financial and political instability. Then, in the interests of the country, we reached out to those sitting on the Opposition Benches—our opponents in the recently concluded general election. An offer to talk was rightly accepted, without any preconditions. We then had to abandon some manifesto commitments; there were tensions within my party that had to be managed as we formed the then coalition. But it was the right thing to do and I remind my former colleagues in another place, understandably worried about their future, that our party came together then and, when the country passed its verdict, we went on to win a general election for the first time in nearly 25 years.

Now, we do not need another five-year coalition but, picking up a point that I think was made by the noble Lord, Lord McCrea, we need to work together again in the interests of the country. The current deal is dead but I hope that a reformed one can be found, acceptable to those who want to leave, so that the referendum box can be ticked, but also acceptable to those who, like me, voted remain so that we can do so with minimum turbulence, because on leaving we move into the transition period where there is stability. Your Lordships’ House has debated these issues today calmly and constructively, in contrast to the excitable atmosphere in another place, and we have put aside partisan points. That is the spirit in which the debate should now continue in both Houses of Parliament, with a view to arriving at an acceptable conclusion in the national interest.