Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
Moved by Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town
15: Clause 30, insert the following new Clause—“Parliamentary oversight of progress in negotiations on the future relationshipAfter section 13B of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (certain dispute procedures under withdrawal agreement) (for which see section 30 above) insert—“13C Parliamentary oversight of progress in negotiations on the future relationship (1) A Minister of the Crown must, within the period of 30 days beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, make a statement setting out Her Majesty’s Government’s objectives for the future relationship negotiations with the EU.(2) A Minister of the Crown must, before
My Lords, this is perhaps one of the most significant amendments before your Lordships’ House. It deals with a major constitutional issue—the accountability of the Executive to Parliament —and with matters of prime concern to our country’s future: that is, the trading, security, diplomatic and cultural links that we build with our close allies and close neighbours across the continent.
The trade talks in particular will have major implications for the regions and nations of our country, and for different sectors of our economy. Despite this, the Government seem to want to listen to no one. Business has been pleading with Ministers to involve the relevant businesses in the trade talks, with alarmed reactions over the weekend, as we have all seen, to the Chancellor’s statement that there will be no alignment on EU regulations going forward, diminishing any chance of frictionless trade.
We have heard from the food and drink industry about its fears, both for particular parts of the industry but also with wider implications of likely food price increases. Indeed, it even talks of the death knell of the concept of frictionless trade with the EU. Agriculture, the motor industry and manufacturing are all worried about jobs, investment and their competitiveness in their vital EU markets. Despite that, they feel excluded from the Government’s thinking. As the CBI says, businesses need to be brought into trade talks with both the EU and the US, and it calls on government to work with business
“closely, comprehensively and transparently throughout every stage of negotiations, from mandate setting through to implementation.”
It is right—as are consumers and farmers, whose futures are at stake.
Shutting Parliament out of the discussions on the objectives of, as well as the progress on, negotiating talks, means that it is almost impossible for MPs to represent and answer external concerns that are brought to them on a daily basis. It seems clear that that is exactly what Ministers want to shut out: any voices that conflict with their ideology or which bring them practical problems about the implementation of new rules and checks, and tariffs or indeed non-tariff barriers. No wonder that some think that this is about allowing for a final no-deal relationship at the end of December: a free-for-all, WTO basis for our trading, with immense risks to part of our industry and regions.
In the election, the future of UK plc was voted into the hands of the Government. However, in our system of democracy, that does not mean that the Government should not be accountable to Parliament and should not get its plans approved by Parliament, as all their other plans are, via debate, a vote on the Queen’s Speech, and votes on their Bills, which are enacted only with the agreement of Parliament. Here we are talking about something else: the preparations for a treaty which will affect our living, working, trading, policing, security and environmental relationship with those close friends and near neighbours—decisions which will, one way or another, affect every citizen now and in the future.
So it is perfectly normal to say that, just because the treaty will not be a Bill, that is no reason not to have the equivalent of Second Reading and Committee before we arrive at the final Third Reading equivalent—that is, the final treaty, which will come to Parliament for approval only at the end via the CRaG. At that ratification stage, it is basically too late to say, “Well, actually no, not really—this bit doesn’t work”, “This affects our industry” or “That affects a particular region”. It will be too late then to make changes to the treaty.
So, without this amendment, which gives Parliament a say, Parliament will be shut out of these crucial talks, other than through the odd take-note debate or response to a Statement. That is not enough for your Lordships’ House, and it is certainly not enough for the elected House of Commons. We must ensure that the Commons has some real input throughout the process and, crucially—something that is allowed for in the amendment —if a December deal looks unlikely, the Commons must have some ability to make the Government explain their plans for that eventuality. That is what Amendment 15 would provide. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter. I point out that the amendment on the Order Paper on Report is a considerably reduced text from the one that was discussed in Committee. That is to say, those of us who have put our name to it have listened to some of the Government’s objections—in particular, to their wish to avoid any appearance of a formal mandate—and we have gone for a much lighter procedure, which is now on the Order Paper. So attention has been paid to what was said from the government side.
However, the case for this amendment has been hugely strengthened since Committee last week by the interview that was given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the Financial Times last Thursday. In that interview, he made policy that had not hitherto been set out, without, as far as one can see, the agreement of Cabinet, certainly of the House of Commons, or of this House, or even knowledge of what he was about to say. So the case for setting down some process by which the Government need to come to both Houses and explain what they are doing at various stages in what will be an extremely complex negotiation has been greatly strengthened by that action by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The position he took on the question of no regulatory alignment is akin to the decisions that were taken by the previous Prime Minister when she went to the party conference in the autumn of 2016 and, in one breath, ruled out the single market, the customs union or any jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. That did not end terribly well, and I rather doubt whether what the Chancellor of the Exchequer now said will end terribly well either. What he said sounded—and is, if you read the wording—extraordinarily categorical. He did not say that there will not be alignment on all matters—that we will not, as it were, remain in total alignment with European regulations—but that we will not be in alignment on anything.
He is effectively ruling out the possibility for example of the motor industry being put on a system of alignment. That would not be a ridiculous thing to happen, since it has been working to the same standards with its continental counterparts for something like 25 years. However, he has ruled all of that out, so the case for requiring that from now on the Government should at least tell and consult both Houses about what they are planning to do and how they are getting on seems to have been greatly strengthened in the interim by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Incidentally, I was pretty startled to note that the Chancellor of the Exchequer seems to think that the large number of Nissan and Toyota cars he sees driving around the country all come here on ships from Japan. They do not, they come from Derbyshire and Sunderland: that is, they are built within the single market and the customs union. Where the Toyotas and Nissans of five or ten years’ time will come from is anybody’s guess, but I would not put a lot of money on it being Derbyshire and Sunderland.
The other point I would like to make is that when there is talk of a level playing field—this is all about the level playing field, basically—it needs to be properly discussed in Parliament before the Government take an absolutely categorical view of the sort now taken by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The requirement for a level playing field is not made up by some mad federalists in Brussels, it is what is in pretty much every free trade agreement around the world that involves large industrialised economies that are in geographical proximity to each other.
If you look at the content of the revised Canada/Mexico/US agreement, you will see that what the US requires of its negotiating partners is the elements of a level playing field. It has made it a requirement that certain labour standards are observed by all the parties. This is not a silly idea and it is not just a Brussels one. The Trans-Pacific Partnership, which has blossomed into something with an even longer name that I will not weary the House with because I cannot remember it, has masses of level playing field stuff in it. The freedom of trade that is contained in that very desirable international agreement is accompanied by level playing field requirements on the parties which, if not met, will break up the free trade agreement.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, has said, that is what makes this an extremely important issue. It is one of the most significant and important ones in the legislation. It is why I am afraid that the Government have got off on the wrong foot. They have not got very far down the road, but they are on the wrong foot, and they would be well advised to accept the somewhat modified and more modest requirements set out in the amendment now before your Lordships compared with the one tabled for Committee.
The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has remarked on the fact that the ambition and scope of this amendment are quite modest compared to the amendment that we debated last week in Committee. The redrafting has been wise. Gone is the requirement that Parliament should approve the negotiating mandate and stance of the Government and in effect give them their marching orders in the negotiations. The Executive must be allowed to do their job and in turn Parliament should do its job, and we should respect the separation of powers. It is for the Executive to negotiate the future relationship and it is for Parliament to hold the Executive to account. Parliament has numerous means of holding the Executive to account in the form of Questions, debates, Select Committee inquiries and many other procedural resources, and I anticipate that it will use that array of resources very extensively in the months to come.
I would add that I do not think that it is appropriate for parliamentary procedure to be prescribed in statute, and it is particularly inappropriate that this unelected House should make proposals of this nature to the House of Commons, which I suspect will not take very kindly to being told how to do its job.
All in all, I welcome the modification of the approach that is reflected in the amendment and I congratulate my noble friend and her colleagues who have thought it wiser to proceed on this basis rather than the one proposed the other day.
My Lords, this is an unusual Bill in a number of ways. We were debating in Committee that it has a clause which restates that parliamentary sovereignty has been established, so we are talking about some fairly fundamental constitutional issues. The relationship between Parliament and the Government is one about which I have heard Ministers make a number of self-contradictory comments in the days and weeks since the election in the rather triumphalist tone they have adopted. One Minister referred during the Committee stage to restoring the “normal relationship” between Parliament and the Government, by which I think he meant a nice safe majority in the Commons so that it does not criticise too much what the Government want to do.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, talked about the dualist approach to international negotiations whereby treaties, once they have been agreed, have to be transposed into domestic law and thus Parliament comes in, as it were, after the event. Given the importance of this negotiation, if one does believe in the principle of parliamentary sovereignty, the Government need to carry Parliament with them. That is the constitutional set of issues here, and we look forward to further discussions on what the constitution commission the Government are going to set up will be about. If it has the sort of forethought and consideration which was shown in the suggestion thrown out this weekend that the House of Lords might move to York, I have to say that it is not going to be a very good commission because it is quite clear that there was no thought behind that whatever.
It is not just the constitution; it is also about wisdom. Some of us heard the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Dinton, remark in Committee that in his long career he had noted that it is when Governments are most self-confident and convinced that they can survive criticism that they are most likely to make mistakes. Here we are after an election in which the Government have established a majority on less than 45% of the vote, but it is a majority in the Commons according to our current antiquated rules. The wisdom of carrying the public and Parliament with them as they negotiate—particularly if they are going to negotiate for as hard a break with the European Union as the Chancellor has suggested—seems to me very powerful.
While I was at Chatham House, I was much involved in the various discussions about establishing the single market, and I remember all the talk then about why the Prime Minister was persuaded that the single market was in Britain’s interest and the extent to which we were taking our regulations for a large number of industrial and other standards from the United States extraterritorially. The Government are now suggesting that we will establish our own independent standards. An editorial in the Times this morning said that maybe we should not exclude chlorinated chicken, so we can begin to see that, if we move away from European standards, we will move under American standards, and that will be part of what emerges from the US/UK trade agreement.
I support this amendment on constitutional grounds and on the grounds of political wisdom. Parliament deserves to be carried along with the Government and the Government need to explain and justify their objectives as they proceed.
My Lords, I have added my name to this simplified amendment. In Committee, I appealed to the Government to recognise that many people remain concerned about the nature of our future arrangements with the European Union. This is not about for or against Brexit but about the future. The Government appear to want us to take everything on trust, but we need to know in advance not the details of their negotiation but the approach they will take in negotiations.
This is not a novel idea. I know that in the United Kingdom we are not keen on adopting approaches taken by other countries, but—without going into the details—I refer Ministers to the working of the grand committee of the Finnish parliament. It is a good start to learn how other parliaments reconcile coming to an agreement with their Governments about their approach to European Union matters and the attitude we seem to be taking. That approach, with modifications, is to be found in the proceedings—and indeed, so far as Finland is concerned, in the constitutions—of member states. It is not a novel idea.
Statements, Questions and take-note Motions in arrears of events are no substitute for the kind of procedures to which we refer. The citizens who accept Brexit but want to ensure that we try to keep as many of the benefits of the last 40 years as possible need to be listened to. If the Government do not bring forward any amendment at Third Reading to deal with this, I am afraid many people will feel that the Government, in the name of an ideological pursuit of a hard Brexit and possibly no deal, have no intention of healing the divisions in the country. The Government need to establish some trust among the rest of us.
My Lords, I will speak very briefly on this, largely echoing a lot of what the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, said. In Committee, much was said about how the Government are “deliberately cutting” Parliament
“out of any meaningful role”, [
I concede entirely that—as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, rightly put it—this amendment is a watered-down version of the one debated in Committee, but my objections to it remain the same. I will not overstate the case; it is important not to do so. For example, I would not claim that this amendment will bind the hands of Government, and of course it will not thwart Brexit. I will make just two simple points.
The first is that the amendment creates what I see as a legislative straitjacket that binds us into an inflexible parliamentary process that cannot really take account of the diplomatic and political reality of the negotiations, which—as we all know—by their very nature will not abide by the bi-monthly reporting cycle that the amendment sets out.
The second and much more profound point—this is what the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, was referring to—is that Parliament already has considerable powers of scrutiny to hold the Government to account. I know my noble friend slightly dismisses them; I do not. I see them as absolutely intrinsic to the way that this House and the other place work. I am not talking here about the shenanigans we saw in the last Parliament, with MPs taking control of parliamentary business, but those traditional means of scrutiny—the other means that Parliament has, in this House and the other place, to interrogate and scrutinise.
I asked the Library to do some research for me. I asked how many PNQs, Urgent Questions, Oral Statements, Select Committee reports, Written Statements, Oral Questions and Written Questions have touched on Brexit since the day of the referendum. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, may say that this is nothing or is irrelevant; I totally disagree. In the calculation the Library made, it excluded the Bills we have debated, including the 650 hours this House has spent on debating EU-related issues. Let me give your Lordships the results of this exercise. Since the referendum, there have been, in Parliament as a whole: 10 Private Notice Questions related to Brexit; 32 Urgent Questions; 116 Oral Statements; 179 Select Committee reports; 743 Written Statements; 6,241 Oral Questions and supplementaries; and 15,366 Written Questions. I do not think this can be just waved away as nothing; I see it as fundamental. This is 22,687 items that drive a coach and horses through the need for this amendment, 22,687 ways in which Parliament has had a meaningful role. It can interrogate Ministers on the points that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, made, and I believe this is 22,687 reasons why we do not need the amendment.
If the noble Lord’s research had gone a little further back, he might have been quite startled by what he found. He would have found that the procedures laid down in this amendment are almost precisely those that the Conservative Government applied in 1970 when negotiating our accession. Regular reports to Parliament, regular Questions by all in both Houses—they are all there, and there is nothing wrong with it.
I totally take that point, but I do not believe we should be setting this out in statute—as the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, said. There is nothing to prevent the Government and Ministers coming to this House and the other place to make that point, nothing to prevent MPs calling for Urgent Questions and so on and so forth, so I am sorry to say that I disagree with the noble Lord.
My Lords, I had not planned to take part in this debate, but I wish to make three brief points. First, in response to my noble friend Lord Bowness, it is very clear what the Government seek to negotiate in this next phase of the negotiations; it is set out in the political declaration. For example, in relation to level playing field provisions, the political declaration goes into quite some detail about the kinds of level playing field provisions that will be required as part of the future trading relationship.
Where I certainly have sympathy with the proposers of this amendment is that, of course, it is important that Parliament has the ability to hold the Government to account as these negotiations progress, but there is no doubt at all in the other place that that will happen. If the Government do not voluntarily come forward after major moments in the negotiating process and offer a Statement, I suspect the Speaker in the other place will grant Urgent Questions; there will be accountability.
The arguments about setting out in detail the negotiating objectives in public and having them approved by Parliament are balanced on either side. There is a case to be made that getting broad-based parliamentary support for certain negotiating positions, beyond just the Government’s majority in the other place, may strengthen the hands of Ministers in those negotiations. It is certainly my experience that the Article 50 team on behalf of the European Union often referred to the fact that the European Council had endorsed the negotiating mandate it was pursuing, and that therefore its room for manoeuvre was limited. On the other hand—I think my noble friend Lord Bridges alluded to this—if at the outset both sides set out in detail what their positions are and there is no common ground, there is a danger of driving these negotiations into a bad place. Indeed, in my maiden speech in this place last week, my one lesson to the European Union from what happened in the first phase of these negotiations was that, while it may feel tempted to repeat the trick —it may feel that it worked well to set out its negotiating position in detail and that it got most of what it wanted —if it repeats that trick this time and in February publishes a detailed negotiating mandate that rules out lots of the options, there is a real danger that any possibility of a compromise will be eliminated.
The noble Lord talked first about the amendment requiring Parliament to approve the negotiating objectives. I think that has changed; it is not in the current version at this stage but was in the Committee stage version.
Secondly, he said it is very clear what the objectives are because the political declaration sets out the level playing field provisions. The problem is that the Chancellor, in a very prominent interview at the weekend, completely threw that aside and said we will not have any level playing field provisions or converge at all; we will completely diverge. So what is the Government’s position? Is it what is in the political declaration or what the Chancellor has said? Surely the noble Lord can understand the puzzlement, the bewilderment—I am sure it shared by some on his Benches—as to what the Government’s policy is. This is why we want to see the colour of their money. What are the negotiating objectives? Are they what is in the political declaration or what the Chancellor is saying in an interview to the FT?
It is not for me to speak for the Government, not least because I do not sit on the Government Front Bench. Indeed, noble Lords who have followed the debate closely will know that I do not entirely agree with the position that the Chancellor set out; the previous Government believed that there was a case for aligning with certain EU rules and regulations. But, having said those things, I do not think that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has done what the noble Baroness suggests. If one looks at the slides that the European Commission has published on the level playing field, one will see that, on the vast majority of issues, it is not suggesting that dynamic alignment is required; it is effectively asking for non-regression from existing commitments. There are some areas where there may well be a problem in the negotiation, particularly state aid—I read what it has said as looking for an ongoing commitment to align with EU state aid rules—but I certainly do not think the Chancellor has gone as far as the noble Baroness suggests.
I was interested in remarks that several of your Lordships made: the Chancellor’s comments to the FT came as no surprise to me at all. That has been the clear policy of this Government from the point at which they were formed.
Has not there been a fundamental change in government policy without any putting of that change to Parliament for discussion? There has been a fundamental change from the policy that the noble Lord, Lord Barwell, pursued with the Prime Minister, which was to secure as close a relationship as possible on trade and, if possible, to make it frictionless. The noble Lord and the then Prime Minister thought it very important to try to protect manufacturing jobs with complex cross-border supply chains. Now, it is quite clear from what the Chancellor has said that the Government have chosen something completely different —that it is worth paying a high economic price to secure sovereignty. That is the choice it appears that Mr Javid is announcing, but he does not have parliamentary approval for it and it has never been properly debated. Is that not scandalous?
I do not intend to get into this debate in detail; I wished to speak briefly. All I will say is that that approach has been clear for some time, and the Government got a clear endorsement for it in the general election. I say that as someone who had a different view.
I conclude my remarks by simply saying this. There is a case in some circumstances for the Government seeking approval for particular positions; it may strengthen their hand in negotiations. But there is also a real danger, as my noble friend said, that if both sides set out their positions in detail at the outset, you rule out possible negotiating solutions.
My Lords, Amendment 15 would introduce a new clause that would require the Government to publish their negotiation objectives and provide regular reports on the progress of negotiations. As a number of noble Lords observed, this is a different amendment from that which your Lordships considered in Committee, as it no longer contains any formal role for Parliament in approving objectives before negotiations begin. I personally am pleased that the Opposition have accepted that the negotiation of international trade agreements is rightly a function of the Executive. However, this amendment still seeks to impose statutory reporting requirements which, in our view, are simply unnecessary.
The noble Baroness set out what those requirements are, but for the benefit of the House, the amendment would require publication of the negotiation objectives and two-monthly reports on the progress of negotiations, beginning no later than
As to the two-monthly reporting requirements, beginning no later than
“Parliament will be kept fully informed of the progress of these negotiations.”—[
I agree with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, that the setting out of reporting requirements in statute, as proposed by this amendment, would be a mistake. The Government will of course, as always, support Parliament in fulfilling its important role in scrutinising the actions of the UK Government in the negotiations, in line with the PM’s commitment. As my noble friend Lord Bridges pointed out, both Houses will have all the usual tools of scrutiny at their disposal.
I listened with interest to the numbers quoted by my noble friend Lord Bridges; he somewhat pre-empted me. I hope he will forgive me, but my numbers are slightly different from his. I pointed out in Committee that Ministers have spent over 760 hours to date addressing these issues in the House. I personally have spent over 230 hours—sometimes it feels a little longer—answering questions and responding to debates in your Lordships’ House. Officials tell me that I am one overnight sitting away from clocking 250 hours by
I have no doubt that the situation would be the same in the House of Commons. The Speaker heard very clearly the Prime Minister’s commitment to provide information. He has the powers at his disposal to ensure that Parliament can hold the Government to their commitments. Select Committees will continue to question Ministers. They also have the right to request papers. Opposition day debates and the Backbench Business Committee will continue to provide many opportunities for both Houses to consider all these issues.
I remind the House, as I did in Committee, of the risks in creating fixed points to report before knowing anything of the negotiating schedule. At worst, this could mean that Ministers would be required to provide public commentary at a critical point where confidentiality is paramount, thus potentially undermining the UK’s negotiating position. Alternatively, the reporting deadline might fall when there is nothing to say, since progress would already have been reported by other means, in line with the Prime Minister’s commitment. I pointed out in Committee that I saw this just two weeks ago, where a reporting date set in advance by the Benn Act resulted in a grand attendance of three Members—me and the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayter and Lady Ludford —speaking in that particular debate, which we had to hold by virtue of the Benn Act that you were all so enthusiastic to pass.
These reports are at the mercy of events and they can very often end up being completely worthless, failing to assist Parliament in holding the Government to account. The long-standing mechanisms of both Houses to hold the Government to account will work well because they are flexible and can respond to events, unlike statutorily set out reporting requirements. This House is rightly keen to ensure that it will be kept up-to-date on negotiations, but legislating for it in this way is a very blunt and inflexible approach. During our exit negotiations, Parliament has demonstrated clearly that, where a majority feels that it is receiving unsatisfactory information or is concerned by the direction of travel, it has the tools and the will to secure this information. Nothing has changed on that front as we look to the future negotiations. This Parliament already has a lot of power and this amendment adds nothing to it. I therefore hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw it.
I am quite surprised by the Minister’s response. I thought he really enjoyed discussions with just the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, and me late at night, that his 230 hours here were just the foothills and he was looking forward to more.
We have had an interesting discussion, including my noble friends Lord Howarth and Lord Liddle, and the noble Lords, Lord Wallace, Lord Bowness and Lord Barwell. I apologise, I did not mean to include the noble Lord, Lord Barwell, in that, because the interesting thing is that in addition to those noble Lords we have our experienced negotiators. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has probably put more than 230 hours into negotiating. The noble Lord, Lord Bridges, before he took off—he is back three rows from where he was—negotiated on this, and obviously the noble Lord, Lord Barwell, did too. The lessons that they have pulled from this are different. Of course, two of them were part of the Executive, so it is no wonder that they do not want this extra parliamentary scrutiny.
That is really what we are saying: these take-note debates have no grip over the Government. As we saw, it was very hard to change the Government of whom the noble Lords, Lord Bridges and Lord Barwell, were a part. We failed. We might have kept your Lordships and the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, here late at night, but I do not think that we changed his mind at all. As we saw with the earlier two amendments, even when this House really feels something, the Government do not want to listen. It is that lack of listening to these crucial issues about our future trade relationships and whether they will be able to keep to what they signed up to in the political declaration that makes us want to try to nail it down. I fear I will not be able to get that nail into this particular coffin. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 15 withdrawn.