Amendment 3

Part of European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill - Report (1st Day) – in the House of Lords at 5:15 pm on 20th January 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 5:15 pm, 20th January 2020

My Lords, I will also focus my remarks on Amendments 5 and 7 in this group, to which I have added my name.

My noble and learned friend Lord Thomas has explained in some detail the legal reasons for our concern at Ministers’ unwillingness to consider these amendments. For my part, while I understand the importance of the promises that the Government have made to Northern Ireland, surely it cannot be right that Welsh and Scottish devolution appear to be treated as less important than that of the six counties of Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Executive are assured that they will have direct representation when bodies under the joint committee consider matters relevant to Northern Ireland, but the Government fail to give any assurance to the devolved institutions in Scotland and Wales that their interests will be protected during the negotiations which are to come.

As I and other colleagues have repeatedly argued, there is a perfectly adequate way, through Section 109 Orders, to amend devolved competence where there is agreement between the Welsh and UK Governments. Such an approach involves both this Parliament and the Welsh legislature. I also understand that if an issue falls outside the scope of Schedules 7A or 7B to the Government of Wales Act, other powers may need to be used, but any suggestion that this may happen must be fully consulted on with the Welsh Government from the outset. Wales cannot be ridden over roughshod or treated as a second-class nation. If in extremis such agreement cannot be reached, it is of course open to the Government to ask Parliament to amend the Government of Wales Act, but such extreme measures should be used only as a very last resort.

If this clause is not amended, it will remove the incentive for Ministers of the Crown to reach a reasonable accommodation with the Welsh Government and the Senedd if and when it emerges that changes affecting the nature or implementation of devolved responsibilities and regulation are needed. There is a need to rebuild and regain trust. It may seem trivial, but as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, has said, despite the fact that we are on the verge of seeing the Senedd vote against legislative consent, I believe for the first time, and despite the Minister having suggested to me that direct dialogue between the Governments would be helpful, it is with regret that I understand that there have been no conversations between the Secretary of State and Welsh Ministers for the last 10 days. I assure noble Lords that that is not due to any reluctance on the part of Welsh Ministers.

The letter of 16 January from the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Duncan of Springbank, states that under this Bill, the Government are “wholly incapable” of repealing the devolution statutes. Can he explain the absolute limits on the powers as written in the Bill because, as my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss has pointed out, no limits seem to be defined in the legislation before us? The letter also contains the phrase that it is not “normal” to use the main power set out in Clause 21 in areas of devolved competence without the agreement of the relevant devolved Administration. Can the Minister also explain the use of “normal”, which feels a bit like a get-out term?

In conclusion, let me say that Amendments 5 and 7 in no way seek to block or slow down Brexit—I remind the House that Wales voted in favour of Brexit— and they would not stand in the way of the Government’s wish to make a success of the Northern Ireland protocol. We are simply trying to avoid the perverse consequence of undermining faith in the union in Wales as a result of trying to shore up belief in the union in Northern Ireland.