Amendment 48

Part of European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill - Committee (3rd Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 5:15 pm on 16th January 2020.

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Photo of Lord Keen of Elie Lord Keen of Elie The Advocate-General for Scotland, Lords Spokesperson (Ministry of Justice) 5:15 pm, 16th January 2020

I am obliged to the noble Lords, Lord Greaves and Lord McNicol of West Kilbride, for their contributions.

As was the case during Tuesday’s debate on Clause 15, we have noticed the importance of the IMA’s role and functions interacting properly with the devolved settlements. I seek to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and the House, that the IMA has been designed in a way that takes into account the individual interests and circumstances of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, England and indeed Gibraltar.

In addressing the amendments, I begin by showing the Committee that the Government’s approach to establishing the IMA, as set out in Clause 15 and Schedule 2, was reached following detailed and extensive engagement with the devolved Administrations. As a result of this consultation, we have ensured on the face of the Bill that the IMA’s board will contain members with knowledge of relevant matters in relation to citizens right across the United Kingdom. Those relevant matters include not only matters reserved for the United Kingdom Government, but also matters that are devolved to the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Administrations. Therefore, we have provided a full and robust role for Ministers of the devolved Administrations in the appointment of candidates to board positions. Of course, parts of the citizens’ rights agreements that the IMA will monitor, such as provisions covering healthcare, welfare and education, are already devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which has been taken into account. That is why there is a requirement for expertise in these areas.

However, I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, that the IMA will also possess the same expertise specifically in relation to England. He refers to Amendment 48 as seeking to achieve expertise in that area, but I draw his attention to paragraph 4(1) of Schedule 2, which states that

“the Secretary of State and the non-executive members must have regard to the desirability of the IMA’s” board possessing relevant expertise in relation to citizens’ rights across the United Kingdom. It should embrace both reserved areas which are pan-UK and those devolved areas specific to the particular devolved Administrations. We can ensure by default that regard is had to the desirability of the IMA possessing expertise in relation to England. It is for that reason that Amendments 48 and 51 are unnecessary and I shall in due course invite the noble Lord not to press them.

I turn now to the role that we have provided for Ministers of the devolved Administrations, a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, in appointing these members following consultation. As I say, there will be a full and robust role for the devolved Administrations. They will be consulted on the skills and expertise required of candidates and the names of shortlisted candidates will be shared with them for comment. In the Bill we have also required the Government to seek the agreement of the devolved Administration before appointing these candidates and the IMA must contain the correct expertise.

We have included the contingency, which ensures that we can make crucial IMA board positions if and when there is ever a situation in which no agreement is forthcoming from the devolved Administration. If we were not able to do that—it is a matter of constitutional propriety—we would potentially be placing the UK Government in breach of their international law obligations under the withdrawal agreement, in terms of which a suitable IMA must be in place to safeguard the rights and interests of the relevant citizens covered by it. It is not only appropriate but necessary that we have such a default mechanism. However, it is not anticipated that we will ever be required to do that but the Bill provides that in such an eventuality the Secretary of State will have to make a published statement in the public domain so that people may comment on it. The Minister may be held to account for the terms of that statement if required.

We are confident that the appointments model will work for the devolved Administrations and that a collaborative approach will result in our being able to maintain a suitably qualified body to discharge the obligations that we are undertaking under the withdrawal agreement. It is for that reason that I invite the noble Lord not to move his Amendments 49 and 50, recognising, as he himself candidly observed, that they are essentially probing amendments.

That is the position that we find ourselves in. I hope noble Lords are reassured that these provisions in the clause are required so that we can have a properly constituted IMA that covers the entirety of the United Kingdom and Gibraltar and that we can, in extremis, ensure that we meet our obligations under international law. I invite the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.