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Moved by Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town
11: Clause 13, page 17, line 12, at end insert—“( ) No regulations may be made under this section after the end of the period of two years beginning with IP completion day.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment introduces a two-year sunset on the delegated powers relating to the coordination of social security systems, ensuring any subsequent changes must be enacted through primary legislation.
Amendment 11 concerns a sunset clause and deals with one of the most crucial aspects of the Bill as it affects EU and UK citizens: the implementation of the guarantee that all their health, pension and benefit rights will continue after exit. It is true that there is a fixed cohort of citizens, perhaps up to 5 million EU citizens here and UK citizens abroad, who will be covered by these provisions as at the end of December. However, some of the rules and regulations will have a very long tail, affecting the access those 5 million people and their dependents will have to a range of payments and services long into the future. Ministers may well say, “It’s a fixed cohort, but these rights, and therefore the regulations affecting them, will go on a long time; that’s why we need the powers to continue to make tweaks and adapt to changing circumstances”.
There are two flaws in this argument. First, doing this by statutory instrument means that there will be inadequate scrutiny—by those representing recipients to check that their interests are being well served, and by Parliament to ensure that the original aims are being met. This is particularly the case, as we set out yesterday, given the lack of statutory parliamentary oversight of the Joint Committee, which will have oversight of the implementation of such measures and decide on any disagreements over how social security and other issues are being dealt with. We will not have proper scrutiny of the Joint Committee; if there were disagreements which could not be resolved in the Joint Committee and so went to arbitration, under this Bill Parliament would only be notified and have no say over the outcome or any changes one would want to make after it.
Our concern is that, possibly many years in the future—because this will go on into the future—Ministers could be making some pretty crucial decisions with scant reference to Parliament. At that stage, some Members of Parliament might have forgotten the original purpose of the power, so it will be even more important that it is brought to Parliament’s attention.
Secondly, as our Constitution Committee pointed out in its report this morning—this is the other flaw in the Government’s argument that they will need these powers ad infinitum—given that there will be a detailed statutory scheme in a future Bill, it is not clear why the powers in Clause 13 of this Bill are required beyond the implementation period, or perhaps a year or so afterwards, as this could be dealt with in the future detailed statutory scheme. Our Select Committee therefore asks for a better explanation of why these powers need to continue or to include a sunset clause, which, in anticipation of the report—which I had not seen—we had nevertheless tabled. Amendment 11 would include a sunset clause on these powers. I beg to move.
My Lords, I very gratefully support the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter. I entirely agree with her; I think it is necessary to have a sunset clause, and if it is not necessary it behoves the Minister to tell us why. One of the central problems arising all the time is whether secondary legislation, whether affirmative or negative—I acknowledge that in this case it is very largely affirmative; I am aware of that—is unamendable. Statutory instruments are often published very close to the time when they are to be considered by both Houses, with the consequence that you do not get proper consideration by members of the public or people who have an interest in what is proposed. I hope that the Government will give serious consideration to a sunset clause. If we are told that two years is too short a time, let us have an argument about that. I am sure we could come to a date that would be acceptable to all parties. Could we please have a reason why a sunset clause is unacceptable in principle to the Government?
“maintain our statute book in accordance with the social security co-ordination provisions”.—[
That puzzled me, because they do not need this to do that. Both noble Lords who have spoken pointed out the potential problems. The noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, reminded me that, so often when the House is asked to look at secondary legislation—or is given the opportunity to do so, having had to take positive steps to raise the issue—people who are affected and organisations that know about it make really valid and useful points. It does no good to the reputation of the House to be able to do no more than say, “Well, I’ll raise that in debate”, because we know that we cannot make any changes. I support what is proposed here; it is entirely sensible and in no way wrecking.
My Lords, Clause 13(5) contains a Henry VIII power; it is admittedly constrained by the specific subject matter and context of the Bill, but is none the less within those constraints a wide-ranging power:
“The power to make regulations … may … be exercised by modifying any provision made by or under an enactment.”
Henry VIII clauses are in principle objectionable, and in principle the Government ought always to explain to us why they think they are justified.
My Lords, I am enormously grateful for the opportunity to respond to the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, and others. I thank all those who have contributed to this debate.
The noble Baroness put it very well; the importance of this measure should not be underestimated. As we leave the EU, protecting the rights of UK nationals in the EU and EU citizens in the UK, including EEA, EFTA and Swiss nationals remains a massive priority for this Government. It is a commitment that we have delivered very clearly in the withdrawal agreement, the EEA EFTA separation agreement and the Swiss citizens’ rights agreement. For those noble Lords who have enjoyed the pleasure of reading those pages, it is a really hefty chunk of the withdrawal agreement. The detailed and complex nature of these commitments is testified to by the large number of pages taken up describing them. For brevity’s sake, I will not go through these pages and will refer to EU citizens and agreements thereafter.
The dynamic nature of the EU’s social security co-ordination rules means that, following the end of the implementation period, updates at the EU level to the EU social security co-ordination regulations will be reflected in the agreement and therefore apply to those citizens within the scope of the agreement. The current social security system is dizzyingly complex. These updates are also very complex; they include minute changes to things such as definitions, the templates in which organisations communicate with each other and the line by line minutiae of the regulations. They ensure the clarity and delivery of benefits for citizens and the operational viability of the overall system. This clause ensures that the appropriate authorities, including the devolved Administrations, have the power to make regulations to align the domestic statute book with the amendments made in these regulations.
A question was asked about Henry VIII powers. I reassure the House that these provisions are focused solely on the regulations described in Part Two, Title III of the withdrawal agreement relating to social security co-ordination, as well as to the supplement, and deal only with matters arising.
No, that is a neat way of putting things, but it is not quite the point I was trying to make, which is that they are very closely defined in terms of breadth and that the detail of the regulations is so minute that it would waste the time of these Houses to go through them line by line. It is important for solidity and confidence in the system that they are expedited quickly and resolved without delay. Without wishing to give the game away regarding what I am about to say, the bottom line is that we simply do not have the legislative capacity in these Houses to go through all the complexity of the details as they arise at an EU level.
That is a serious statement to make. My noble friend is saying that Parliament cannot do its job. Does that not mean that these matters need to be considered by the commission on the constitution—and preferably a royal commission?
No; my noble friend puts it well, but I am alluding to the fact that there is a hierarchy of priority, and there are matters of significant policy and implementation that are of a sufficiently high level to warrant the attention of the House. However, this clause refers to matters of an operational nature, which are there to implement the agreed clauses of the withdrawal agreement.
There is no question of this clause being used to bring in new policy, new arrangements or the kinds of policy changes that, frankly, would warrant discussion in the Houses. That is the reassurance that I am trying to communicate to the House, that any changes in the actual policy and arrangements and the benefits of those in the 5 million, whom the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, accurately referred to, are absolutely not part of either the intention or the way in which these clauses are written.
All the arrangements within this part of the Bill are heavily constrained to Title III of Part Two of the withdrawal agreement. There is therefore no need to escalate to questions of policy; if there are questions of policy, they will be brought to the House but in a completely different way. The purpose of this clause is to make sure that there are no conflicts or inconsistencies in domestic law that refer to the current commitments within the withdrawal agreement, which could give unfair treatment and uncertainty about the rights and benefits of the 5 million in the group of people who benefit from these arrangements. It allows Ministers to protect the entitlements—
That reassurance is not in the clause; it just does not provide the necessary powers, and without those powers, the ability to change policy does not exist. I hope that noble Lords will agree that the way in which it is written is tightly refined around the specific arrangements of implementing the detailed clauses in the withdrawal agreement. That is its confined and determined nature. What it does, in a focused way, is to allow Ministers to protect the entitlements of those in the scope of the agreements, and only that. It includes both EU citizens living in the UK, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, explained, and UK nationals who have chosen to work in or retire to EU member states before the end of the implementation period. Many of those people will have lifetime rights within that agreement which may last many decades, and the effect of the changes of EU regulations will continue to need to be tweaked during those decades.
This power is therefore essential to give the Government the flexibility that we need to provide legal certainty to individuals subject to these rules as the EU social security co-ordination regulations evolve over time. We have an important duty to protect the social security co-ordination rights of those in this scope, to give them that confidence, and for the lifetime of these agreements. This power enables us to protect those rights, and without prejudice to any future system that would apply to those not covered by these agreements.
It is important to note that the power is restricted to making provisions which implement, supplement or deal only with matters arising out of the relevant sections in the agreement relating to social security co-ordination; I reassure the House on that point. That is why we cannot accept this amendment, which would sunset the powers to make regulations only two years after the end of the limitation period, whereas the withdrawal agreement social security co-ordination provisions have no such sunset and potentially may last decades for many people. To put an expiration date on the power could therefore prevent the UK ensuring—
I understand the point the Minister is making and that the scope of action is limited to the areas covered in the withdrawal agreement—I understand all that. However, would it not be more reassuring to recipients if the sunset clause were there, and if changes could be made only after the expiry of the period by primary legislation? I understand the argument, but if the argument is reassurance, surely it is more reassuring to people that changes could be made only by primary legislation than that they could be made using these Henry VIII powers laid out in these provisions.
My Lords, the point is well made, and I understand the desire of the Houses to keep scrutiny on measures, which is entirely fair. However, in this case, confidence, solidity and a sense of commitment can be promised and delivered by the Government only if they do not have the fear that the pipeline of legislation going through the House might delay important technical changes and hold up the delivery of these benefits. It would put a huge pressure on these Houses of a kind that is not realistic or reasonable to have the entire legislative timetable of our proceedings held hostage to the microchanges and small needs of EU social security regulations and improvements, which may in decades to come affect only hundreds of thousands of people and require small administrative changes in regulations.
My noble friend puts it well; I am not trying to brush off hundreds of thousands. I am trying to communicate a sense of this long tail of microregulatory changes, which are technically incredibly important. However, the priority is to demonstrate commitment and security to those millions of people today who will look to the Government to make a commitment to deliver those in years to come. To put an expiration date on the power could therefore inadvertently prevent the UK ensuring that its statute book complies with its international obligations under the agreements, and put in jeopardy the Government’s unequivocal guarantee to protect citizens’ rights. I therefore urge the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, to withdraw this amendment.
I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, to the Bill; I assume that this is only the first of his outings on it. I thank my noble friend Lord Howarth, the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham. I urge the Government to listen to what they say.
Perhaps the Government are saying that there will be so many small technical changes—but we would need to know that. If there was a sunset clause—possibly for longer than two years, as the noble Viscount suggested —we could see whether we are talking about lots of changes, but the Minister has not answered the question of why this cannot be dealt with more properly in a detailed statutory scheme where we will have a greater handle, or a greater grip, on these sorts of amendments.
I am concerned about what is referred to as “complex” or “technical” or a “tweak”. Over the past 10 or 15 years, we have seen pension regulations change: as we brought in civil partnerships, the right to a pension or the age of dependants also changed. These are big issues. These are not small tweaks where you report to this pension authority rather than that one. As has been said, some big issues could be addressed here without giving people outside this House enough time to comment on them. Remember, we are talking about people in Spain and Luxembourg, for example; by the time they hear that a statutory instrument is coming, it will probably have been passed. We are talking about a group of people who are very disparate and yet could be seriously affected by what is said to be a tweak.
I am still slightly concerned that, by enabling this to be there for all time, changes may be made to people’s death benefits, pensions or health provision, for example, without a proper discussion here. It would be a good idea, after I withdraw the amendment, for the Government to look closely at our Select Committee’s recommendation on whether there is a better method of achieving what the Government want to achieve, perhaps through moving an amendment to put in a sunset clause. Perhaps it could be for five years; in that time, we really would be able to see whether it is working as envisaged. Just having an open-ended commitment for all time on issues that will possibly affect people’s pensions or benefit payments seems to be a wide-ranging Henry VIII power.
Might I make a suggestion to the Government through the noble Baroness? One way would be having an extended sunset clause—for five years, for example—with a power to extend it further through an affirmative resolution procedure if, as the noble Baroness suggested, it appears to be working all right.
I think that what we are urging is: can we look at this and can we not get hung up on “We don’t want any amendments to this Bill”? If it were a government amendment, it could get nodded through and we could pretend that it had not happened, if the Government want a clean Bill—we will not even tell anybody, just send the tweak through. But it is important to get this right rather than worry about one’s amour propre. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 11 withdrawn.
Clause 13 agreed.
Clause 14 agreed.
Clause 15: Independent Monitoring Authority for the Citizens’ Rights Agreements
Debate on whether Clause 15 should stand part of the Bill.
My Lords, Clause 15—and Schedule 2, to which it refers—is about setting up a new quango, if I can use that term, created as an independent monitoring agency on citizen’s rights, which is what its title will be. It occurred to me when I was in a hurry that a simple clause stand part debate would give the Government an opportunity to provide more explanation and information on how this new quango will work. Then, when I found myself with a bit of spare time this afternoon, I looked at Schedule 2 in detail and tabled amendments.
Together with the amendments, this clause stand part debate allows the Government to tell us how the IMA will work. I particularly want to probe them on the timetable. How quickly will they set it up? At what stage will the interim chief executive be appointed? At what stage is it expected that the body as a whole will be appointed? If it is to do a useful job it ought to be in place as quickly as possible so that it can monitor the transitional process as it takes place.
As ever, I looked in the Explanatory Notes. There tends to be two different varieties of Explanatory Notes: those that just rewrite the Bill in more understandable words and those that actually explain what is underneath it all. The notes state:
“Paragraph 1 sets out that the IMA is not to be a Crown body.”
Yes, okay. I looked at the Bill, where there is quite a bit more explanation of what that means than in the Explanatory Notes. I will therefore put the notes to one side because they do not tell you anything more than you can get from an intelligent reading of the Bill.
What can the Government say about the timetable? What can they say about the estimated cost? The published impact assessment suggests that the cost of the whole Bill will be about £167.1 million, but it says:
“The bulk of the costs are due to the setup” of the IMA. What is the bulk? Is it £150 million, for example? How much money will we spend on this? I suppose that we can make assessments of the nature of the organisation from the amount of money.
Nevertheless, how many employees do the Government expect to take on? That is important. What will be the location of the IMA and, indeed, its employees? Will some of them work in different parts of the UK? On the main headquarters, we have heard a lot recently about the new Government wanting to decentralise the Civil Service and send some departments to places such as Doncaster, Grimsby and Workington—perhaps even Nelson and Colne. However, we have heard a lot of this in the past; after the 1960s, none of it ever really came to much. Is it expected that the headquarters will be used as part of the Government’s attempt to decentralise things from Westminster, Whitehall and London?
The amendment about the interim chief executive is important. It concerns paragraph 3 of Schedule 2, which suggests that the interim chief executive will be appointed before the IMA is set up; presumably, they will also take part in that set-up. Paragraph 3(1) states:
“The Secretary of State may appoint a person to be the IMA’s chief executive”.
Paragraph 3(2) states:
“A chief executive appointed by the Secretary of State may incur expenditure and do other things in the name and on behalf of the IMA” until the IMA is set up. Paragraph 3(3) states:
“In exercising the power in sub-paragraph (2), a chief executive appointed by the Secretary of State must act in accordance with any directions given by the Secretary of State.”
In the brief discussion about the IMA at Second Reading yesterday noble Lords talked quite a lot about whether the IMA will be genuinely independent of the Government. That is my next major question.
In the first instance, my sub-question, as it were, is this: how can the IMA be independent of the Secretary of State if the interim chief executive is appointed by the Secretary of State and has to act, as paragraph 3(3) says,
“in accordance with any directions given by the Secretary of State”?
This seems important, and it would be interesting to hear what the Government have to say.
I have a small amendment to the mention of “gratuities”. It may well be that all government legislation talks about paying people gratuities as well as their salary and expenses, but I have not noticed it before. I looked in the dictionary, and it said what I thought it meant—things you give to waitresses and taxi drivers—but also payments to people when they leave. It seems to me that employees in a government-related agency ought to have a contract that tells them how much they are paid and what their conditions and expenses are, and that we ought not to be looking at lots of golden goodbyes. Perhaps I am unduly concerned about that, but I would like to know what the Government have to say.
Amendments 54, 55 and 56 are about transparency. It is not completely clear how transparent this organisation will be. The schedule gives examples of where it has to publish its reports and send them to the Secretary of State, et cetera, but it seems not too thorough in applying the standards of transparency and integrity we ought to expect in public bodies, which, as a Member of the House of Lords and a local councillor, I certainly have to abide by.
I turn to Amendment 54. The wording in paragraph 9(6)(c) of Schedule 2 is curious. It says:
“The arrangements must oblige each member … to declare all financial interests … to declare any other personal interest relevant to the exercise of a function, and … to withdraw from the exercise of any function to which an interest of a sort mentioned in paragraph (a) or (b) is relevant”.
This is all what I would expect as a local authority member, but then it says
“unless the IMA is satisfied that the interest will not influence the exercise of the function.”
Either you have a declarable financial interest or you do not. That is how it works in local government, and it is fairly clear whether you have. You do not ask the council: “Can they stay after all? We really think they’re honest people, so it won’t influence the exercise of the function.” That seems wrong. The point is that honesty and integrity have to be seen to be happening, regardless of the honesty and integrity of the individual concerned. That is a fundamental principle, and I think that bit of this schedule is wrong.
Amendments 55 and 56 say that the IMA should publish the minutes of its meetings and committees, so that after the event you know what it is doing and talking about. We have to remember that this body will not take up individual cases. It is not an ombudsman-type body, as I understand it. It will take an overall review of the operations of this Bill, so it is vital to publish the minutes and the annual plan.
Amendment 57 goes rather wider. It is to challenge the Government as to whether this is really just about the operation of the provisions of this Bill or whether the IMA will be able to undertake reviews about questions connected to the European citizens it is overseeing, overlooking and monitoring—even though, strictly, other legislation might be concerned—or perhaps the way they are treated by local authorities or other public authorities. Or will it really be very restrictive and operate only within the terms of this Bill and therefore of the withdrawal agreement?
Amendment 61 is a probing amendment: will the IMA be allowed to charge for any of its services? It is a simple question. It is not very clear whether it is able to do that or whether the Government will want it to.
Finally, Amendment 68 would introduce a stricter level of parliamentary scrutiny, which would fit into the packed timetable that the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, was talking about—it will be nice to have a packed timetable in this House for a change, after the last year. I suggest the procedure that was invented in the Public Bodies Act and is now pretty well over as far as the bodies in that Act are concerned. It concerns the Government’s ability to abolish, change or transfer the IMA’s functions to any other body. The Public Bodies Act lays down a longer timetable that gives more time for parliamentary scrutiny. It worked very well indeed under the Public Bodies Act, which was seen through this House expertly by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, quite a long time ago—eight or nine years ago. I remember his famous comment after there was a huge amount of criticism of it when it first came here; it started here. He stood up in the House and said: “It is my job to put this Bill in proper order before it leaves this House”. Indeed, he did that very well. One of the things invented was this procedure for dealing with public bodies; it was all part of the bonfire of the quangos at the time. It worked very well, and the procedure is still there in that Act, although it is not used any more because that Act has done its job. It would be very helpful for it to apply to this body.
Finally, I ask the Government some questions. Why is there a provision to transfer the functions to another body? What kind of body do the Government imagine or think it should be transferred to? In what circumstances might this be thought necessary, and why?
I should correct the noble Lord. Amendment 59 is part of this group, and therefore if he wishes to speak to it, he should do so.
My Lords, I confess my inexperience in this court of Parliament in knowing whether it is the right opportunity to raise Amendment 59. I will do so. This may seem a very small point, but it goes to two points that underlie the amendments to which we will turn in due course. The first is the need to ensure that the Bill respects our constitution as regards devolution and that the devolution statutes that form part of our constitution are altered in a proper and constitutional manner. Secondly, going forward with our life outside the European Union, we achieve a stronger union by making sure that there is the closest possible working together of the devolved Governments, Assemblies and Parliaments with the Government at Westminster.
Although the amendment is addressed to deal with the position in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales together—logically it has to be—I approach this from the standpoint of Wales, for two reasons. First of all, my own experience of that devolution settlement is much clearer than my experience of the others. Secondly, I really think it of importance that in this House we try to do all we can to make sure that Wales, the Welsh Government and the Welsh Assembly understand that the union will work for the future as envisaged in the devolution statutes.
It may seem that devolution is not that important at this time in the context of this Bill, and I can well understand that view. But it is important to reflect for the future and to realise that much will need to be done to the way in which devolution operates when we are outside the European Union and with our own internal market. Those are the general points that underline my seeking to make this amendment.
The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that the principles agreed in respect of the IMA’s composition, as set out in the schedule, are carried forward in the event that a new body is created pursuant to the powers that have been added to the Bill. As regards the obligation to appoint the non-executive members of the IMA, provision is made in the Bill that the Secretary of State will appoint those with experience in relation to Scotland, in relation to Wales and in relation to Northern Ireland, who understand how the systems there work. This is plainly a proper and right provision as, over the past 20 years, as any examination of the detailed operation of devolution will show, things have changed. I find it sometimes regrettable that those who occupy the ministries in Whitehall do not realise the extent of that change. I therefore appreciate what the Government have done through this provision and the further discussions they have had of the role of the Welsh Administration and Welsh Ministers in the selection of the appropriate person. However, the provision is not carried forward if the functions of the IMA are transferred to a new body.
I accept that it is a small point, but small points can go a long way to ensure that the spirit of devolution and the constitution is respected. Of course the Government can say that there will be no change, no statement made and no clarification, but would that be wise? With the utmost respect, I suggest that it would not be wise because it would point out that even a small change that can capture the spirit of the way forward is something that the Government will not contemplate. On the other hand, if some assurance were given about any future transfer to a new body, is not that the first step in showing that the spirit of a post- devolution UK will be respected by this Government?
My Lords, I am delighted to support Amendment 59, standing in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, to which I added my name, although too late for it to appear on the Marshalled List today.
The IMA is intended to provide assurance to EU citizens who have already established their rights to live and work in the United Kingdom that, after we leave the EU, they will continue to enjoy the same rights as they do now, which flow from the principle of freedom of movement under which they first moved to the United Kingdom. The IMA will be able to investigate complaints by individual EU citizens and members of their families if it believes these complaints to have been compromised in any way.
Since such rights include access to public services, such complaints could be directed against one of the devolved Administrations. An example pointed out to me is of a Polish citizen who moved to Wales perhaps 10 years ago, and who might take up a question with the IMA if they believed that, in 2022, changes to administrative procedures in the Welsh NHS had made it impossible for them to access its services on the same basis as UK citizens. That is a matter that quite clearly has a direct relationship to the responsibilities of the National Assembly for Wales, and there will be parallels in Scotland and in Northern Ireland. It is therefore essential that the IMA has a good knowledge and understanding of the circumstances in each part of the United Kingdom. This applies to its non-executive members, as well as to its staff, who I understand are likely to be based in Wales—perhaps the Minister can confirm that.
I understand that the Welsh Government have had intensive negotiations with UK Ministers to establish an appropriate role for Welsh Ministers in the appointment of an IMA member with knowledge of conditions in Wales. This does not involve Welsh Ministers appointing such a person, or them having a veto on any such appointment. However, I suggest it does require that UK Ministers seek the agreement of Welsh Ministers to the appointment of a named individual, and, if such agreement is not forthcoming, to make public their reasons for this.
When this agreement was reached between Ministers at Westminster and the Welsh Government, the draft Bill did not contain any provision for Ministers, by regulation, to transfer the functions of the IMA to another body. That is why, now, we need this amendment. It is necessary to include this provision to ensure that there is no danger of UK Ministers circumventing the appointment of members. Over the decades, there could be good reasons for a number of cases falling and for the merging of the IMA’s functions with another tribunal or court. If that is to happen, it is essential that these safeguards are built in. The point of this amendment is to try to ensure that that happens, if not in the Bill then perhaps by a statement from the Minister responding tonight. That would give some assurance that the agreement reached privately in Cardiff underpins the Government’s thinking at this stage in the process of the Bill.
My Lords, the background to this amendment has been well explained by both my friends who have spoken. I would like to stress the importance of this as signalling to the Welsh Government a way forward and a real commitment to make sure that the devolution settlement is respected, now and into the future. Amendment 59 seeks to ensure that if the functions are transferred to another body—I stress “if”—the same obligations should apply as far as is possible in respect of the appointment of a member with a knowledge of Wales.
We now have legislation and regulations in Wales which are interpreted as providing a degree of divergence in some areas; health has already been cited and other areas include education, agriculture and local environment. Therefore, a very real difficulty could arise if the function is transferred to a body that has a mandate only for England, or to a body with governance that does not involve members from Wales who have a working knowledge of Wales and understand the detail of the regulation by which the Welsh Government have overseen services and their organisation and strategy.
If the Minister believes that such an amendment is unduly detailed for inclusion in the Bill, I hope that, at a minimum, he will make a commitment before the House that Ministers intend to act in accordance with the spirit of the provisions on the IMA if functions are at any time transferred to another body.
My Lords, my contribution to this debate on Amendment 59 will be very brief, because everyone has said what I want to say. I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, for tabling this amendment and giving me the opportunity to add my name to it. I am also grateful for the detailed analysis that he and the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, provided, and for the comments of the noble Baroness.
The independent monitoring authority for citizens' rights will, as noble Lords have outlined, be composed of an independent board of members with experience of matters covered by the citizens’ rights agreements, and—this is important—knowledge of the relevant laws and issues in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and, I believe, Gibraltar. As the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, pointed out, it is important to note that these qualifications for membership of the IMA are the result of many hours of negotiation between the Government and the devolved Administrations. The qualifications have been taken very seriously. The amendment seeks to ensure that if the functions of the IMA are transferred to another body, the same qualifications for membership of the new body should apply. This seems to be an eminently sensible, simple and straightforward request. I hope that the Minister can commit to it from the Dispatch Box tonight.
My Lords, I want to underscore the very important point that was very well made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, about the need for courtesy and respect. The union is under considerable stress. The stress is perhaps less severe between Wales and England, because Wales voted to leave the European Union. None the less, we are dealing with very sensitive matters. It is surely elementary that the UK Government in London should consult and proceed with the maximum delicacy and sensitivity. There will be sensitive questions when it comes to the implementation of many of the arrangements that feature in our EU withdrawal. The right of Wales to diverge on the implementation of these regulations and other matters will obviously be important to respect.
At the same time, it will be very important that in Wales there is a recognition that divergence can be a fairly perilous course. Given this range of sensitivities, it would send a very helpful signal if the Government accepted Amendment 59. I cannot imagine why they would have any difficulty in doing so. It would signal their intent to continue in a fully conciliatory, fully constructive spirit of co-operation and respect for the rights of the devolved Administrations.
My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendments 58 and 60. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has touched on many of his probing amendments, and there has been much debate about Amendment 59, so I do not need to cover that.
The establishment of the independent monitoring authority is an important step in implementing the UK’s obligations to EU citizens under the withdrawal agreement. However, the Government’s approach to the IMA leaves a number of important questions unanswered, hence the large number of probing amendments in this and other groups. There are concerns regarding the delegated powers, allowing Ministers to transfer the IMA’s functions—or even wind the organisation up—by statutory instrument, hence the amendment in my name.
At ministerial briefings, the Minister has explained that, later in the withdrawal process, it may make sense for the IMA’s functions to sit elsewhere. Can the Minister give an example of where those functions may be moved to, and why this would be preferable to maintaining an independent body? Can he also confirm that in the event of such transfers there will be no practical impact on citizens? Finally, can he provide assurances that, in the spirit of co-operation, the Joint Committee will be fully briefed regarding any changes to the IMA or the exercise of its functions? To touch very briefly on Amendment 59, in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, again many important issues are raised regarding the transfer of functions, aiming to ensure that the new executors of such functions would need specific knowledge of UK nations and the regions.
I am obliged to all noble Lords who have contributed. Like many noble Lords who have already spoken, I am conscious of the sensitivities that surround the devolved settlement that could impinge upon its success in the future.
Let us be clear: Clause 15 is essential to implement our international legal obligation under the withdrawal agreement and under the EEA-EFTA separation agreement, which requires that we establish an independent monitoring authority. I hope that it also demonstrates our commitment to protecting the rights of those citizens covered by the agreements. Therefore, it is necessary for Clause 15 to stand part of the Bill.
Of course, the IMA will offer an important layer of additional protection over and above the wide range of complaint and appeal routes that already exist for EU citizens in the United Kingdom. However, expanding the IMA scope through Amendment 57—as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves—would, I fear, divert the body’s resources from its important role monitoring citizens’ rights and obligations. Therefore, I would resist such an amendment. It also risks creating unhelpful duplication, with all the confusion and wasted resources that could accompany that, so I invite the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, to withdraw that amendment.
The withdrawal agreement requires that the IMA be established by the end of the implementation period; that is the goal. The appointment of an interim chief executive to the IMA—a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves—is considered vital to meeting that deadline, as it will be essential from the point of view of staffing and procurement decisions that will need to be taken in advance of that date. Indeed, there have been other examples of interim chief executives being appointed to such bodies in order that suitable preparation can be made for them to be up and running at the appropriate time. Removing that provision through Amendment 47 would jeopardise the timely establishment of the IMA, and risk putting us in breach of our international law obligations. I hope that I have explained the rationale for that approach.
In order to give full and proper effect to our obligations in international law, we have designed the IMA to be robust and independent, in line with the best practice for the establishment of new public bodies. While I understand the intention behind a number of the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, which he perceives as strengthening the independence and robustness of the IMA, I hope I can assure him that they are unnecessary. I appreciate that they are essentially probing amendments in order that we can explain the position.
Perhaps I may probe a little further. The independence of this authority is important—important because we have agreed to introduce an independent authority and important to those whose affairs it will be keeping an eye on.
When I was a Permanent Secretary, I would have had no difficulty in coming to the conclusion that a number of non-departmental bodies could be abolished and their functions transferred elsewhere because it would be more efficient, effective and economical to do so. The test in paragraph 39(2) of Schedule 2 is not hard for the Executive to meet. Does the Minister think that the body is more likely to be independent, feel independent and be seen as independent if it is continually under the threat of the sentence of death in paragraph 39(1), which says that its powers can be transferred? I agree that it is a habit for quangos to survive long beyond their natural useful lives, but what is the rationale for this power transfer by regulation? Is the Minister convinced that the test of efficiency, effectiveness and economy does not slightly conflict with the requirement for independence?
My Lords, the noble Lord perhaps anticipates what I shall come to in the course of my reply—how prescient he is in that regard.
The body is not under a sentence of death and the rationale for the ability to transfer was hinted at by the noble Lord when he talked about bodies that had long outlived their usefulness. I will elaborate on this point in a moment, but I certainly do not consider that the provisions of paragraph 39 impinge on the effective independence of the IMA. I would add—I will elaborate upon this—that we must have regard not only to the intentions of the Executive but to the joint committee and, therefore, to the interests of the other party to the international agreement that has given birth to the IMA.
Let me continue with the point I was about to raise on some of the further amendments spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. First, on Amendments 52 and 53, which seek to remove certain standard provisions for remuneration in respect of public bodies, he alluded to the term “gratuity”. There are circumstances in which public servants are brought into a body but, for one reason or another, their position is terminated early or prematurely and consideration has to be given to the question of gratuities. Where public servants are already employed in a position where they can be remunerated and there is a provision for gratuities to attract suitable employees into bodies such as the IMA, one must generally have regard to equivalence of terms and conditions. Therefore, because that appears in the context of other public bodies, it is repeated in the context of this legislation.
Amendment 54 would remove provisions that provide a proportionate and sensible way of approaching potential conflicts of interest for IMA members. At all times those members will be expected to adhere to the Cabinet Office Code of Conduct for Board Members of Public Bodies, and the approach set out in this paragraph in its unamended form is consistent with the code. For example, an individual member may make a subjective decision that they should disclose a conflict of interest but the board may determine objectively that it is not a pertinent conflict of interest and that they can therefore continue. That is why the matter is expressed in those terms.
The Government also expect the IMA to follow best practice in relation to its own transparency. Therefore, we regard Amendments 55 and 56 as unnecessary. Indeed, amending the Bill in the way proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, would take decisions around its transparency away from the IMA and thus, essentially, undermine its status as an independent body. We regard the IMA as essentially an independent body but, while enjoying the status of an independent body, it must be able to discharge certain functions as it sees appropriate, albeit while having regard to the relevant codes.
There is also a reference to not charging for the body’s functions in Amendment 61. That is unnecessary because this body will not charge for its functions. They are essentially systemic—as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, appreciated, it is not a case of individual applications and individual disposals—and there is no room for any form of charging. Again, we feel it is unnecessary to consider that amendment.
On the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, important though the IMA will be in providing additional assurances that citizens’ rights will be protected, we do not expect its functions to be required in perpetuity. Indeed, the withdrawal agreement recognises that reality. Years from now, it might be more appropriate and effective to protect these rights differently. It is for this reason that we have included two powers in Schedule 2: one to transfer the IMA’s functions to another body under paragraph 39 and the other to remove or abolish the IMA’s functions under paragraph 40, but only following a decision by the relevant joint committees to do so.
As noble Lords have appreciated, the first power is about future-proofing to make sure that citizens’ rights obligations are monitored as effectively and efficiently as possible in the future. Indeed, years from now, the type of oversight needed for the UK’s citizens’ rights obligations and the wider UK regulatory landscape may have changed materially from what it is today, and in such new circumstances it may be more appropriate and effective for another public body to perform the IMA’s role. Removing that power, as would be required by Amendment 58, spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, would make us less capable of ensuring that we are in a position to provide an efficient and effective monitoring of citizens’ rights and obligations.
In any event, we would be sure to keep the EU and the EEA EFTA states appropriately informed of any decision to transfer the IMA’s functions. Again, that would be by way of the joint committee and would not involve some unilateral executive action by the UK Government. Indeed, if this power were ever used, we have ensured that it would not affect the independence and effectiveness of how citizens’ rights obligations are monitored. The Secretary of State must have regard to the need for the transferee to possess the necessary independence and resources to provide effective oversight of citizens’ rights obligations.
Let me reassure the House that the commitments we have made to the devolved Administrations about their role in the Independent Monitoring Authority will be upheld in the event that its functions are transferred to another public body. We have designed this power so that the Secretary of State can make any modifications that he considers appropriate to the constitutional arrangements of the transferee. This will ensure that an equivalent to the important role of the devolved Administrations in the IMA is replicated for the transferee. I hope that reassures the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd—I apologise if I have mispronounced the Welsh—and other noble Lords that, in these circumstances, Amendment 59 is unnecessary.
As I indicated, we have included a second power to abolish the IMA, which can be exercised only following a decision by mutual consent through the relevant joint committees, comprising representatives of the UK on the one hand and the EU and EFTA states on the other. This power can do no more than give effect to a decision at the international level. It cannot be exercised following a unilateral decision by the Secretary of State or the Executive. We would give extremely serious consideration to any decision to agree to abolish the IMA and I am confident that the EU and EFTA states would do likewise.
My Lords, it is of the nature of the IMA’s function that it involves consideration of the views of the devolved Administrations and Gibraltar. It also involves consideration of the interests of those in England. We have to have regard not only to Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland but, in this context, England and Gibraltar. It would be appropriate to consider all their interests if we were to put forward a proposal for the abolition of the IMA. Indeed, I find it difficult to conceive of a situation in which we could put forward a proposal for the abolition of the IMA at the joint committee without having consulted the devolved Administrations. It strikes me as so improbable that one should not give much weight to it.
I hope the Minister will forgive me interrupting. I was wondering whether I would wait until the end of his remarks, but this follows on from the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. In the event of the transfer to another body and a view that the IMA could be slimmed down, can the Minister provide assurance that the required consultation of the devolved Administrations would happen—with the devolved Administrations having a say rather than it being tokenistic consulting; I am not asking for a veto—and that there would be no possibility of them then being charged in any way or being requested to provide financial support for having as a member somebody who had particular knowledge of their area, whether it is Wales, Scotland, Gibraltar or Northern Ireland?
Can the Minister explain to me—this is my ignorance —why paragraph 39(1)(b) of Schedule 2 is in italics and the other parts of the Bill are not? Is there some significance to it being in italics?
My Lords, I am not immediately aware of the significance of the italics, but no doubt someone will pass me a piece of paper in a moment that explains them—or not, as the case may be.
We have not yet determined the cost—this also responds to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves—or budget requirements for the IMA. I therefore cannot comment further on that. The obligation to ensure that it is fully and properly funded lies on the Secretary of State and therefore on the UK Government. What further or future negotiation there might be about cost sharing is a matter beyond the terms of the Bill. I would imagine that if we start with an obligation that lies with the Secretary of State and the UK Government it will not easily be transferred in any form to the devolved Administrations. Perhaps one day we will have a reverse Barnett formula, but we do not have one at present.
In the circumstances I have set out I hope it will be appreciated by the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, that Amendments 58 and 60 are not required in this context. The approach that we take to exercising the powers with regard to the IMA will be proportionate and appropriate and it would therefore not be necessary or appropriate that the procedures in the Public Bodies Act 2011 should apply. The bodies to which that procedure usually applies are those established on the basis of domestic policy. It will be appreciated that this is a rather different body which is the product of an international agreement and therefore it has to comply with the obligations we have entered into at the level of international law and it should not be tied to domestic legislation.
On the noble Baroness’s observations about the italics that appear in the Bill, it may well be that she alighted upon an issue that may arise later in the day, but I am advised very clearly that it is a misprint. Apparently, the entire Bill should have been in italics.
I have sought to reassure noble Lords about the concerns that have been raised and which have motivated these amendments. We have sought to design the IMA to provide robust, effective and fully independent oversight of citizens’ rights and our commitment to citizens’ rights. It is necessary to bear in mind that we are implementing international law obligations that we have incurred by entering into the withdrawal agreement. The clause and the schedule in their present form meet those international obligations and the demand for robust, effective and fully independent oversight of citizens’ rights and obligations. I hope that noble Lords will not press their amendments.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for the time and effort he has taken to go through all the points raised and, I think, to give us a certain amount of new information or extra information about how the IMA will work and about the Government’s thinking on it. This debate has been valuable. I am grateful to everybody who has taken part, and particularly for the snapshot we have had of the devolutionary thinking among Welsh Members of the House. I found it very interesting and useful.
The only question the Minister did not answer was about whether the IMA is going to be based in the north of England. Perhaps that is beyond his pay grade —I think he agrees with that.
Clause 15 agreed.
Clauses 16 to 20 agreed.