Trade Bill - Committee (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:15 pm on 30th January 2019.

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Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade) 7:15 pm, 30th January 2019

I am not speaking on behalf of my noble friend Lord Teverson, the absolute expert on these Benches on these issues, but simply to ask a number of questions in support of those raised by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. He rightly points out that one of the core relationships that currently exists between Britain and Northern Ireland, and the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, is energy. It is something that has perhaps not had the same profile or publicity as border checks, but it is very significant to consumers on both sides of the Irish Sea. It is of interest to me, as someone who represented a Scottish Borders constituency, that Northern Ireland’s security of electricity supply depends on the supply of natural gas from Moffat, which is just outside my former constituency and supplies 100% of its gas requirements. After the UK’s exit from the EU, Northern Ireland will continue to source 100% of its gas from Great Britain. As a consequence, the integration of the energy market for the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland now depends on an integrated single electricity market. The interconnectedness of energy is something that political agreements will have great difficulty disentangling. The request for clarity on the current position is very important. It is even more important given that there is now a real prospect of leaving the European Union with no agreement. The Government have said in their position paper on Northern Ireland and Ireland that,

“the new framework relevant to the energy market in Northern Ireland and Ireland should … facilitate the continuation of a single electricity market covering Northern Ireland and Ireland”.

But how this is to be done separate from the European Union raises significant questions. I hope the Minister is able to respond to this.

The evidence provided by Minister Richard Harrington to the Lords committee is interesting. He said:

“Whether we are in the EU or not in the EU, it is in the interests of both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to continue a shared electricity system  …  We are held up in sorting this out only by the progress of the general talks in Europe”.

The question mark over where we currently are with these general talks in Europe means that it is urgent that we have clarity on the current position on securing agreement on a shared electricity system. The real question in leaving without an agreement with the EU is whether that raises issues with regard to maintaining the single internal energy market.

The final point on which I ask for clarification from the Minister is that it is not just the operation of the market on a regulatory basis that is of importance. The market operates primarily because of the free movement of people and professionals and the regulatory systems that surround it. We also know that when it comes to the operation of the market there is the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. What is the Government’s position on the jurisdiction of the legal supervision of how such integrated electricity markets will operate?

Free movement of people and clarity on jurisdiction are core elements of why we believe that moving from the European single market will cause real damage. The integrated single electricity market is a case study in itself in how it operates effectively at the moment and why question marks over its future need to be addressed. Clarity, as sought by the amendment, is necessary. I hope we can secure it from the Minister’s response.