Amendment 17

European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill - Report (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 11:07 am on 21st January 2020.

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Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd:

Moved by Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd

17: After Clause 35, insert the following new Clause—“Involvement of the devolved administrationsAfter section 10 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 insert—“10A Involvement of the devolved administrationsThe Joint Ministerial Committee (EU Negotiations) is to be a forum that meets regularly—(a) for discussing—(i) the United Kingdom’s future relationship with the European Union,(ii) the economic and security impacts of that envisaged future relationship on the constituent parts of the United Kingdom, and(iii) means of mitigating the impacts mentioned in subparagraph (ii); and(b) for seeking a consensus on those matters between Her Majesty’s Government and the other members of the Joint Ministerial Committee.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment would place the Joint Ministerial Committee (EU Negotiations) on a statutory footing, requiring the Committee to seek consensus on the way forward in terms of the negotiations with the EU.

Photo of Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Judge

My Lords, in moving this amendment, we seek to insert a new clause after Clause 35. We are doing this in a much slimmed-down version of the clause that was before the House in Committee as Amendment 29. We do this in furtherance of the objective of strengthening the union, in this instance through the second means to which I referred yesterday, by ensuring proper consultation. We seek to set out the short principle that the Joint Ministerial Committee for EU Negotiations should be a statutory committee with clear purposes. Nowhere does the amendment seek to prescribe how the committee is to work. Neither does it require the making of Statements, or anything else at all that might be thought to impede the proper conduct of the negotiations with the European Union. It is there simply to ensure that the principle is accepted on the statute that this committee has a clear and defined purpose.

I would have hoped that, in the light of the many speeches made in Committee, it is clear that statutory recognition of this committee is required, given the way, as so many described, in which it has operated. If that was not the case in Committee, I would have thought that the debates yesterday in relation to Clause 21 would have demonstrated to Her Majesty’s Government how important it is to deal with the position of the devolved Governments and legislatures.

It is a simple fact that our constitution has changed during the period in which we have been in the European Union. We must therefore achieve a workable set of constitutional provisions to make that constitution work with the Governments and legislatures in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and not simply with this legislature and the Government in London—otherwise the union will be imperilled. This is a small step towards that end.

The conduct of international relations and negotiations is clearly a reserved matter and, as I said yesterday, there are plenty of powers not only in the existing legislation but in the clause carried yesterday to enable Ministers to ensure that in the devolved Administrations the international obligations incurred by Her Majesty’s Government are observed. But surely the United Kingdom must recognise that those are powers of last resort, and that the proper approach is to involve the devolved Governments fully in the negotiations by consulting them and trying to reach a consensus.

As this very modest amendment makes clear, it is not in any way intended to impose a veto. It is simply a way of trying to persuade and ensure that the Government will act in such a way that they strengthen the union. It takes into account, and is seen to take into account, the interests of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as expressed through their constitutional institutions. This question of perception is extremely important if the union is to be strengthened.

There is a further consideration. The effect of the arrangements relating to the Northern Ireland protocol is to give the Northern Ireland Government attendance at some of the meetings of the joint committee: that is, the joint committee for the negotiations between Europe and the United Kingdom. This amendment, relating to the Joint Ministerial Committee—it is unfortunate that we have two committees with very similar names—is designed to ensure that the other two nations have, and are seen to have, the opportunity of expressing their interests so that the UK Government can go forward, with everyone knowing that those have been heard. It is a striking fact that countries such as Germany and Canada manage to conduct international relations while respecting the competences of their states and the other institutions that make up their countries. Indeed, the EU itself has conducted its negotiations successfully by taking into account the interests of the 27 other member states.

I fear, however, that the United Kingdom Government have not caught up with the impact of devolution on our constitution. They really ought to be doing all they can to help those who seek to strengthen the union, by ensuring that devolved Governments are consulted in accordance with not only the spirit of the constitution but its letter. It is surely not too much to ask of the United Kingdom Government, as today the Welsh Government are considering the legislative consent Motion, to think again about doing something to put on the statute book a clear commitment to the Joint Ministerial Committee. This is a critical issue and, if a difference could be made here, it would be far better to see the union go forward to this important stage in the development of our nation with the consent of all the devolved Governments, and not to risk the Welsh legislature taking a different view.

Might I suggest that, if possible, the Government think again now and look at this proposed new clause? It does nothing more than embody what should be clear. I very much hope that, when the Minister comes to deal with this issue, he will give a possible commitment to this clause, but also a clear assurance that this committee is going to work as it should work—given that, as was so ably explained in Committee, it is not working. This is not a lot to ask; it asks to strengthen the union, and it is important that the Government should try to help those who wish to strengthen the union, because there are many who do not. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Howarth of Newport Lord Howarth of Newport Labour 11:15 am, 21st January 2020

My Lords, I fully support the desire expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, that there should be full consultation between the Government and the devolved Administrations and, indeed, the Assemblies in the devolved countries. I also fully support his plea for mutual courtesy and respect, but I question whether this new clause is appropriate. I doubt whether it is appropriate to lay down in statute the procedures for consultation between the Government and the devolved Administrations—to so formalise, as it were, the agenda that it is placed in a Procrustean bed. That could be too rigid and inflexible. Of course, as he urges, all concerned should seek consensus, which will be extremely important in ensuring that what emerges from the negotiations on the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the EU is viable in each of the devolved territories.

However, the achievement of consensus must be a matter of culture. I do not think that you can legislate for consensus. If you legislate and there is still not the good will and the willingness to give and take, along with the willingness to achieve mutual understanding, it will not work. So, strongly as I support the noble and learned Lord’s objectives in this amendment, the means that he proposes to achieve what we all desire may not be the right ones.

Photo of Lord Morris of Aberavon Lord Morris of Aberavon Chair, EU Justice Sub-Committee, Chair, EU Justice Sub-Committee

My Lords, I support the amendment moved by the noble and learned Lord. I do not know from whom I am quoting, but the Joint Ministerial Committee is a “poor thing, but our own.” It has not worked very well, because it has not met very frequently. There has been no programme, its membership has varied, and it has not been a particularly effective arrangement so far. Hence, in my view, it is important that it should be put on to a statutory basis, in which case a report would be made to both Houses of Parliament and we would know where we stood. So far, we do not know.

The devolved Administrations never know when the current Joint Ministerial Committee will meet. It is important, for the sake of the union, to achieve a consensus where possible. In our discussion yesterday on another amendment in the name of the noble and learned Lord, it was obvious that there had been no discussion with the Welsh Assembly. I fear that the Minister’s reply to our debate was less than persuasive. There is an alternative arrangement that could have been used under Section 109 for an Order in Council that would result in a consensual as opposed to an imposed change. Hence, I very much support the amendment in the hope that there will be a change of heart in Westminster.

I fear that there is still a denial in the Westminster establishment that devolution has taken place at all. It has been there for a long time now and it is part of our establishment. Legislators, particularly those who draft Bills for the Government, should recognise that the devolved Administrations have been set up within the United Kingdom and are there to further the union. I would hope that if this amendment is accepted, it would strengthen the union and put the committee on a proper basis, and then there would be an expectation of regular, frequent meetings with serious and senior representation of the Westminster Government.

Photo of Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, for his words in support of this amendment, which has my name attached to it. I reiterate the words of my noble and learned friend Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, who has made it clear that we are seeking to persuade the Government to think again.

I want to respond to some of the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport. Our amendment is not prescriptive; it simply requires that if there is a forum, it should meet regularly, but it does not stipulate how often it should meet. Meeting means face-to-face discussion, and the forum is there to discuss the means of mitigating the impact on the constituent parts of the United Kingdom of the economic and security aspects envisaged in the future relationship. It is to avoid problems arising in the future.

We have already heard that negotiations with the EU are likely to result in agreements that have a very direct impact on many aspects of devolved competence. I would like to highlight just a few of these, some of which are very close to my heart.

The first is the capacity of Welsh universities to access EU research funds and collaborative projects in the future. Over the last 20 years, access to these funds, and to the networks they have generated, has proved critical to boosting the research capacity of Welsh higher education institutions, including medical research. Indeed, a finding from Cardiff University made headlines yesterday about new ways to manage cancers. We have been reliant on, and have built on, the funds we have accessed. The interaction between projects funded by research and development framework programmes and those funded by structural funds has been particularly important, as the Welsh Government have demonstrated in their publication on research and development after Brexit. Whether and how the UK, and therefore Wales, can access these funds will be determined by the negotiations with the EU.

The second aspect—whether there will be any reciprocal arrangements in future between the EU and the UK to access health services—is again a matter for the negotiations. I would support such arrangements, but it needs to be recognised that if such commitments are made by the UK Government, it is the Welsh NHS that will have to pick up the cost of treatment provided in Wales.

The third issue is procurement rules. Procurement is a devolved matter, and the Welsh Government are certainly interested in strengthening the way in which procurement can support, rather than undermine, local purchasing. But we know that the EU, as part of the insistence on maintaining a level playing field, will start from the position that its approach to procurement must continue even post Brexit. Wales needs to have a voice in the discussion within the UK negotiating team about any trade-off between flexibility on procurement and unfettered access to the EU market.

I could give many more examples: the future of state aid rules governing the assistance which the Welsh Government may give to Welsh businesses; access to European markets for Welsh agri-food products, such as lamb, beef and seafood; and whether or not Welsh students and pupils will have access to the Erasmus+ programme of student exchanges—to name but a few.

The key point is that the Welsh Government and the Senedd will be bound by the outcomes of the negotiations, which will begin in only a few weeks. We have already heard that Ministers of the Crown have the powers to force the devolved institutions to comply if they disagree with these outcomes. In these circumstances, it surely makes sense for the Government to start from the position where the default is to reach agreement with the devolved Administrations in the approach to negotiations. Otherwise, I fear that the result will be bitter and very prolonged conflict between the devolved institutions and the Government, which would seriously threaten the union itself.

Photo of Baroness Randerson Baroness Randerson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport)

My Lords, I support the amendment and respectfully disagree with some of the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth. The Government can no longer afford the luxury of an underdeveloped and informal arrangement with the devolved Administrations. The proposed JMC needs to function properly and to meet regularly—ideally, frequently—to deal with the details of EU negotiations and future relationships with the EU.

If the Government want to maintain the union, which I believe they strongly do, they will need to treat the devolved Administrations with the respect that they deserve. Not least it is an issue of common sense. It is often not obvious to civil servants and Ministers here what impact their negotiations will have on the devolved Administrations. Very often it is simply a sin of omission: a failure to understand the full detail and significance of devolved powers and their impact on the countries concerned. That is understandable; after all, no one can be an expert in everything.

I have argued for years that the EU, as the origin of many rules and regulations and a source of funding, has taken the party-political edge off decisions it makes. As they are made on an EU-wide basis, they are not regarded as having party-political significance. Once that ends, I believe that the party politics will become quite vicious if we do not provide for proper channels of negotiation and discussion. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, has laid out that issue very ably. She also talked about the impact on many aspects of life in Wales. She referred in some detail to universities. I declare an interest as chancellor of Cardiff University, but I am aware that it looks constantly and in detail at the impact of each negotiation on the life of that university, on research funding and on research partnerships with institutions in Europe.

There is also the impact on Wales of the proposed, and rather confused, arrangements for Northern Ireland. As that agreement works its way through—I point out to noble Lords that the Government seem to have no understanding of what it means—it is bound to have a strong impact on Wales. The Minister will know that I am not given to flights of nationalist fantasy, nor is there any sympathy on these Benches for independence, either in Scotland or in Wales. However, bearing in mind again the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, I urge the Government to be careful what they wish for. I am well aware that there are many, both at official and at ministerial level, who still regard devolution as a bit of nuisance, yet another hurdle to be overcome and an unnecessary level of complexity, but it is well established and in Scotland nationalist sympathies are very strong. They could grow stronger in Wales if this is not sorted neatly and effectively.

At the very least, officials and Ministers here often do not understand the full implications of the decisions they make. That is what is behind this attempt by the Government to write the devolved Administrations out of the picture. It is easier to ignore them than to pay them particular attention. I say to the Government that if they succeed in ignoring the devolved Administrations, they may well live to regret it.

Photo of Lord Hamilton of Epsom Lord Hamilton of Epsom Conservative 11:30 am, 21st January 2020

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, put her finger on the nub of all this when she talked about trade-offs. Any agreement that we reach with the EU will be a series of compromises. If we have individual delegated bodies taking hard stands on one position or another, or indeed one industry doing that, we are never going to get the compromises that we need to get our deal through. That is why the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, is right: we cannot bind the Government’s hands on this issue. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, acknowledges that the union is very important to this Government; indeed, it is to all of us in this House, I think. Are we really going to sacrifice the union by reaching arbitrary decisions that discriminate against one part of the union or another? No, of course we are not, but we need to make compromises and the Government should not have their hands tied by individual bodies or regions of this country taking a hard line on one position or another.

Photo of Lord Wigley Lord Wigley Plaid Cymru

My Lords, I have my name to this amendment, but I rise with some trepidation. I will try not to have a flight of nationalist fantasy, as the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, put it a moment ago. I hesitate to bring a discordant note. We hear a lot about the strengthening of the union. We must ask ourselves exactly what we mean by that. If it is to make the union work more effectively and harmoniously, be more sensitive to the needs outside Westminster and Whitehall and have greater empathy, of course that is highly desirable. However, I wonder if that is the case. If it is to strengthen the grip of Westminster and Whitehall and impose policies that are not in the best interests of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, that clearly will cause a lot of bitterness. The mechanisms that we are talking about here are to avoid that sort of bitterness arising.

I would have thought that it was patently in the interest of those who want to hold the United Kingdom together in its present form that at least some movement is made to ensure that clashes do not arise from differences of aspiration or even a misunderstanding between the Governments of the various nations of these islands. We need Westminster to be sensitive when there are universally accepted reports on changes in the relationship, such as in Wales in relation to the legal systems. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, brought up an excellent report, the Silk report, which suggested changes for the police and prisons. When those are universally accepted in Wales and totally ignored year after year here, it is hardly surprising that there is some feeling that the system from the centre fails to work in the interests of every area.

It is very relevant that this issue arises in the context of European legislation. Noble Lords will remember that in 1979, very shortly after we joined the European Union, there was a referendum in Wales in which the vote went 4:1 against having a devolved Government. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, was very much involved in that. Several factors led to the changes between 1979 and 1997 when there was a very small majority, but still a majority, in favour of establishing a national assembly. One of the factors was the advent and development of the European dimension. With this came acceptance of a multilayered system of democracy and that the principle of subsidiarity that runs through the European vision was relevant within these islands. Some things within the strictures that we have are appropriate to be discussed and decided at Westminster, some—until the end of next week—on a European level and some that are more appropriate on a Welsh, Scottish or Northern Irish basis.

It seems there is a possibility now of turning the clock back from the vision that had developed over the last 40 years to what existed before 1979. If that is the case, that is the most likely thing that will drive a change, forced from the periphery, in the structures of these islands. It is the sort of change that many noble Lords have mentioned and are fearful about.

In the context of this specific amendment, all that is being asked for is a provision for a systematic approach that takes into account the needs of the devolved nations. That is not an unreasonable thing to look for. The fact that Northern Ireland yesterday, Scotland before, and probably Wales this afternoon will refuse the orders that are being requested in the context of this Bill is surely an indication that something has been got wrong from the centre.

I urge the Government to look at this amendment in that context and to see it as an opportunity to build a better, more harmonious relationship, rather than just stamp on it and hope that the feelings in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will just go away.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

My Lords, may I raise a short constitutional question that came up last week and which relates to this? In our debate on Clause 38 last Thursday, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, from the Government Front Bench said that Dicey is the absolute authority on parliamentary sovereignty. Dicey’s view on parliamentary sovereignty was that it was indivisible, that it cannot be shared upwards or downwards. His views were strengthened by his bitter opposition to the whole idea of home rule either for Ireland or for Scotland. He believed strongly that the imperial Parliament was therefore the only authority of British imperial law.

That doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty, strongly held, is of course one reason why those who wish us to leave the European Union have objected to the whole principle of European law interfering with the sovereignty of British law as defined by Parliament. It seems to me, therefore, that as part of the process we go through as we leave the European Union, and as we proceed towards some sort of constitutional convention, we will have to redefine the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty so as to accept that these devolved Assemblies —these devolved nations—have more than the occasional permission of the Westminster Parliament to do as they wish, and that they have certain entrenched rights that are not compatible with the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty as defined by this rather prejudiced, late-Victorian lawyer.

Photo of Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Wales)

My Lords, some of the speeches have painted on a large canvas. I would like to focus on the amendment itself. I am reminded of a discussion here yesterday about the possibility—perhaps fatuous—of moving this Chamber to York in the name of reaching out to the population of this country. I mention that because, 20 years ago, in the name of reaching out to the country at large, the devolved Administrations came into being. The 20 years in between have offered enough evidence of the fact that you do not just bring things into being; you support and sustain them by developing a relationship that enhances partnership between the devolved bodies and the United Kingdom Parliament. I wish that people on other Benches would realise just how disappointed people in the devolved areas are about what has happened over the last 20 years and the way in which—begrudgingly, as it seems to them—some concessions and developments have come into being. I just wish people could feel that.

I have three children. When they were growing up, as teenagers, the most important aspect of parenthood that we had to learn was the moment when you establish trust. You move away from authoritarian modes of existence with your own children, and you trust them, even when sometimes they make mistakes. It seems to me that, in this amendment, we are asking simply to give visibility to a stance that we could describe as trust; that is the heart of it. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, said, it does not seek to change the provisions of the Bill; it just says that we should trust each other as we go along.

I would be surprised if I am the only one who has had to educate myself, because the new clause proposed by the amendment would, if accepted, go in after clauses that describe the UK-EU joint committee, and it is terribly confusing to talk about the Joint Ministerial Committee in the context of movements that bring that joint UK-EU committee into being. It does not end there, because we are talking about the Joint Ministerial Committee European Union sub-committee. The action we are trying to establish good relations for is what will happen in the discussions with Europe to bring about our ongoing relationship, in the period following the enactment of the Bill. We should therefore remember that we are looking to have these things written into the Bill to apply for a limited period.

My noble friend Lord Howarth is quite right: of course you cannot legislate for the processes of consultation. He went on to say that willingness cannot be legislated for, but unwillingness might necessitate legislation—and there has been unwillingness. There is a lack of empathy. Even the noble Lord opposite spoke about hardness and refusing to accept a position that will create difficulties. That is never in anyone’s mind at all.

I go back to discussions in Committee and the intervention made by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, who said:

“The best option would be to include representatives of the devolved Administrations in the negotiating teams that go to Brussels when the subject for discussion is going to touch on the competence of the devolved Administrations.”—[Official Report, 15/1/20; col. 672.]

If they are going to discuss the competence of the devolved Administrations, is it not fair and proper that those from the devolved Administrations most affected might be there to add their voice to the discussions? Is that not reasonable? Are we not talking about common sense?

We are looking at this in a binary way, thinking that everybody who has a different view is somehow invested with animosity towards the Government. We are talking about bringing out of all this something that stands up and appeals to people on the basis of common decency and fair play. I am happy to rest my case there.

Photo of Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union), Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Labour)

My Lords, we strongly support Amendment 17, without which the whole nation of Wales could be excluded from preparing for input into the UK-EU negotiations. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, said, and as the letter of 16 January from the noble Lord, Lord Duncan, to your Lordships sets out—I hope people have now got it—the Government have promised that representatives of the Northern Ireland Executive will be invited to be part of the UK delegation and to take part in any meetings of the joint committee discussing Northern Ireland where the Irish Government are involved.

That guarantee is welcome; I do not undermine that at all. But where is the equivalent recognition that, where the specific issues of other constituent parts of the UK are discussed, they too can be at the table, or at the very least be assured that the JMC on EU Negotiations has been briefed and will feed into Her Majesty’s Government’s negotiating position with the EU? The Government are seen as giving scant regard to the devolved authorities’ interests and legitimate role in the negotiation, which is why a statutory role is needed. As my noble and learned friend Lord Morris of Aberavon said, the voluntary way has not worked sufficiently well.

If the Government were to disagree with the view that the Joint Ministerial Committee should be statutory, and if they share the view of my noble friend Lord Howarth, there is still a non-statutory alternative available: for the next meeting of the JMC to adopt a process whereby the devolved Administrations had meaningful engagement with the negotiations, including an expectation that UK Ministers would normally agree with the devolved authorities on the negotiating position in relation to issues within devolved competencies. The sorts of issues we have heard about include Erasmus, Horizon, reciprocal healthcare and citizens’ rights in local and devolved elections.

Both for the Assembly and for this Parliament, and indeed for the people in the devolved authorities, agreement on this process should be made, and made public—not the details of the negotiations, but the assurance that the devolved voices are being heard. We would also welcome the creation of a quadrilateral fora, building on what is already there at ministerial level, to handle some of the detailed negotiation.

None of this detracts from the timing of the talks, or from the ability of the UK Government to take full account of the whole of the UK. It does not add a veto, and it would still allow for the sorts of compromises that would be needed, which the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, spoke about. But it would add some of the trust that my noble friend Lord Griffiths said was needed, and ensure that the special interests and competencies of the devolved Administrations, including in relation to implementation, were fully factored into the negotiations, and thus part of developing a working and successful partnership with the EU, as the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay and Lady Randerson, spoke about.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 11:45 am, 21st January 2020

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, and indeed all noble Lords who have spoken on the amendment. I feel that it is appropriate for me to start by saying something with a degree of emphasis about the Joint Ministerial Committee, which, I have to say, has received an undeservedly negative press from some noble Lords, both in Committee and today.

The Government have a high regard for the Joint Ministerial Committee structure and have engaged with the devolved Administrations through it, and indeed through numerous other means, throughout the EU exit process. The Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations, which I will call the JMC (EN), was established in the months following the UK’s decision to leave the EU, and it has met 21 times since November 2016. From the Government’s point of view—and, I hope, from everyone’s—it has proved an invaluable forum for the exchange of information and views between the UK and the devolved Administrations.

Proposals for intergovernmental engagement on the next stage of negotiations formed a large part of the most recent meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations earlier this month, and are due to be discussed again at the next meeting of the JMC (EN) next week—chaired, if my memory serves me right, by the Welsh Government.

I hope that I can give a sense of how effective a forum the JMC (EN) has been for discussions on the Bill. The Bill was first discussed at the JMC (EN) in the summer of 2018, when we gave the devolved Administrations the opportunity to feed into the White Paper. We then used the forum to share our thinking on policy development through the autumn and winter of 2018, sharing iterative drafting on the Bill. It was through these discussions that we made changes to the Bill to address the concerns of the devolved Administrations. This included providing them with an important role in appointments to the board of the IMA, both in the Bill itself and through ministerial commitments.

I therefore do not accept that the JMC (EN) has been either inactive or ineffectual. On the contrary, it has contributed significantly to both ministerial and official engagement between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations, and that is exactly the way we mean to continue.

The amendment seeks essentially to set the joint ministerial arrangements in concrete. It remains the Government’s firm view that it is not in the interests of the UK Government or the devolved Administrations to place the terms of reference of the JMC (EN), or the memorandum of understanding on devolution, on a statutory footing. The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, and my noble friend Lord Hamilton of Epsom were absolutely right in what they said.

Photo of Lord Howarth of Newport Lord Howarth of Newport Labour

The noble Lord has heard serious warnings about the potentially dangerous consequences of a failure by the Government to consult adequately and work closely with the devolved Administrations. He will know that, in Wales, his rather upbeat assessment of the achievements and benefits of the Joint Ministerial Committee is not widely shared. If he will commit the Government, on their honour, to consult and work closely with the devolved institutions, along the lines laid out in this amendment, that would do a very great deal to improve trust and confidence and ensure good, practical outcomes. Will he do that?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I say again that it is our absolute wish and intention to engage constructively with the devolved Administrations over the negotiations ahead of us.

Intergovernmental relations have always operated by the agreement of the UK Government and the devolved Administrations. We wish that pattern to continue. The existing terms of reference of the JMC (EN) were agreed jointly in October 2016. In my view, and indeed in others’, those terms of reference have served us well, but to set the terms of reference in legislation would inhibit this joint process. Apart from anything else, to legislate for this would anticipate the outcome of the review of intergovernmental relations, due to be discussed with the devolved Administrations next week at the JMC (EN). Putting the terms of reference of the JMC (EN) in legislation would pre-empt those conversations and restrict the ability of the various Administrations to develop future intergovernmental structures, such as the JMC (EN), to reflect the constitutional relationship between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations once the UK leaves the EU.

I hope noble Lords will appreciate how important it is for the JMC (EN) to have flexibility in its role to develop and adapt as the negotiations progress. Indeed, the terms of reference proposed in this amendment seem to be narrower than the existing agreed terms of reference, which refer to

“issues stemming from the negotiation process which may impact upon or have consequences for the UK Government, the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government or the Northern Ireland Executive.”

This amendment would restrict the focus to economic and security matters. In fact, I believe that, if one reads the current terms of reference in full, one will find that they are miles better than those suggested in the amendment.

The essential point remains that a fixed statutory basis would not support the flexibility required to ensure that the JMC (EN) can operate as effectively as possible, which is what we want it to do. I hope I have provided noble Lords with assurances of the Government’s commitment to work collaboratively with the devolved Administrations to discuss their requirements of the future relationship with the EU. In the light of those assurances, I respectfully ask the noble and learned Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Judge

My Lords, I am grateful for what the Minister has said, but I fear that we have to address the issues of devolution and our changed constitution, and the sooner we do that the better. Looking to put matters on the statute book seems to me inevitable. However, in the light of what has been said, disappointed though I am that the noble Earl, Lord Howe, would not give the commitment that I asked for, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 17 withdrawn.

Clause 37: Arrangements with EU about unaccompanied children seeking asylum