Moved by Lord Stevenson of Balmacara
132: After Schedule 3, insert the following new Schedule—“UK SHARED PROSPERITY COMMISSION1_(1) A body corporate called the UK Shared Prosperity Commission is established.(2) The UK Shared Prosperity Commission is not to be regarded—(a) as the servant or agent of the Crown, or(b) as enjoying any status, immunity or privilege of the Crown. (3) The UK Shared Prosperity Commission’s property is not to be regarded—(a) as the property of the Crown, or(b) as property held on behalf of the Crown.Membership2_(1) The UK Shared Prosperity Commission is to consist of—(a) a Chair and five members appointed by the Secretary of State,(b) a member appointed by the Scottish Ministers,(c) a member appointed by the Welsh Ministers,(d) a member appointed by the Department for the Economy in Northern Ireland.(2) Before appointing a chair and member under sub-paragraph (2)(1)(a) the Secretary of State must consult the Scottish Ministers, the Welsh Ministers, and the Department for the Economy in Northern Ireland.(3) Before a chair can be appointed under sub-paragraph (2)(1)(a), the appointment must be confirmed by the Treasury Select Committee or a committee of either House whose remit covers the Treasury.Funding3__ The Treasury must pay to the UK Shared Prosperity Commission such sums as the Her Majesty’s Government considers appropriate for the purpose of enabling the UK Shared Prosperity Commission to perform its functions.Powers4_(1) The UK Shared Prosperity Commission may distribute sums from the Treasury across the four nations and regions of the United Kingdom following an assessment of relative need.(2) The UK Shared Prosperity Commission may conduct an assessment of relative need across the four nations and regions of the United Kingdom.(3) The UK Shared Prosperity Commission may do anything which appears to it to be necessary or expedient for the purpose of, or in connection with, the performance of its duties in sub-paragraphs 5(1) and 5(2).Accounts and audit5__ The UK Shared Prosperity Commission must—(a) keep proper accounts and proper records in relation to them, and(b) prepare a statement of accounts in respect of each financial year.Annual report6_(1) The UK Shared Prosperity Commission must prepare a report on the performance of its functions during each financial year.(2) The report must include the statement of accounts in respect of that year.(3) The report must be prepared as soon as reasonably practicable after the end of the financial year to which it relates.(4) The UK Shared Prosperity Commission must send the report to the Secretary of State.(5) The Secretary of State must lay the report before Parliament.Public records7__ In subparagraph 2 of the Table in paragraph 3 of Schedule 1 to the Public Records Act 1958 (definition of public records), at the appropriate place insert—“UK Shared Prosperity Commission.” Investigation by the Parliamentary Commissioner8__ In Schedule 2 to the Parliamentary Commissioner Act 1967 (departments subject to investigation), at the appropriate place insert—“UK Shared Prosperity Commission.”House of Commons disqualification9__ In Part 2 of Schedule 1 to the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975 (bodies of which all members are disqualified), at the appropriate place insert “UK Shared Prosperity Commission.”Northern Ireland Assembly disqualification10__ In Part 2 of Schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Assembly Disqualification Act 1975 (bodies of which all members are disqualified), at the appropriate place insert—“UK Shared Prosperity Commission”Freedom of information11__ In Part 6 of Schedule 1 to the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (other public bodies and offices: general), at the appropriate place insert—“UK Shared Prosperity Commission.”Public sector equality duty12__ In Part 1 of Schedule 19 to the Equality Act 2010 (public authorities: general), in the group of entries under the heading “Industry, business, finance etc”, at the appropriate place insert—“UK Shared Prosperity Commission.””
My Lords, I will also speak to Amendments 167 and 168, which are also in my name. I am grateful to other Members for contributing to this group. The group is about another of the black holes that we are discovering in the Bill. This one is about state aid or, as we must learn to call it, subsidy—or, as the Government would have us call it, “the UK shared prosperity fund”, although details about that are incredibly difficult to find.
State aid matters. It particularly matters if people think money is being stolen from them and used for other purposes. The Government have quite a lot to do to try to explain where they are going with this state aid issue, the timescale and how they intend to make progress in bridging the gap between people’s expectations and where they currently are.
We currently get an awful lot of money through state aid; it is certainly money that would be felt if it were not there. It is hard to get a complete picture of it; the best figures that I have been able to find come from the Institute for Government, which suggests that about £20.7 billion is currently available through state aid in two main forms, the European Regional Development Fund and the European structural funds. The regional development fund focuses on physical development—physical capital, as it were—while the ESF, the structural funds, are about employment and young people and are probably best described as human capital. The combination is a significant quantum of money, held by people who I think regard it as not being money provided directly by the UK Government, although of course money technically circulates around and presumably was originally from taxation in the first place.
Two significant points come from that. First, the headline funding from the EU at the moment is matchable. We currently think that about 40% is added on top of the just over £10 billion—£10.6 billion, I believe—that is available directly from Europe to the UK agencies that spend it, so that gives us the figure of about £20 billion when it is matched with local authority and central government funding and from the lottery.
An issue that is hidden, or at least more opaque, in terms of how state aid is organised is the way in which it seems to come in response to different requirements. For instance, the long-standing convention is that there is a regional bias based on deprivation, which takes into account the broader picture across the whole of Europe. In the UK, there are only two counties currently in the most deprived areas—or most in-need areas, I think they are described as—which are west Wales and Cornwall and the Scilly Isles. However, there were recently rumours that, had we stayed in the EU, which we are not, four more might have been put into that higher-needs category. That leaves the question: will the Government continue that process? Will they also think in terms of how individual parts of the country are treated in relation to that?
Secondly, people have recognised that the funding does not use the same indices as for the Barnett formula but with a different set of configurations, not based on population. I think it was also reasonably clear that this was different money. It was much discussed and debated—particularly at the time of the elections to the European Parliament.
We have a new Minister on the Front Bench. I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Penn. If I do not have this right, I am sure she will be able to give us much more detail. I look forward to her contribution.
This is different, important money. How it will happen does not appear to have been properly thought through yet. The only reference to it that I have been able to find, other than what is in the Bill, was in the Tory manifesto for the last election where it was described as a shared prosperity fund. We all know what happens to manifesto commitments. Nevertheless, it sounded quite good. It aimed to reduce inequality. There was also a figure of £500 million for skills—not for investment in general skills, but to give disadvantaged people the skills they would need in order to make a success of their lives. This is all good. In no sense am I knocking it. There is a bit of a gap between this figure—and the nearly £19 billion we are looking at spending currently. What about the rest? According to the manifesto, there would be consultation, but this has not happened. Announcements were also going to be made in the spending review which was due in the next month or two, though there are good reasons why this has been cancelled. When the noble Baroness comes to respond, it will be interesting to see if she can give us an update about where we are and how it will be handled in future.
We have left the EU. We have to accept that the valuable programmes on which we relied are no longer there. In the Bill, the Government have suggested that there will be a follow up through this shared prosperity fund—or subsidy, depending on how you read it. We accept that this will not happen for some time because there are existing schemes which will run out. It is not as if the money will stop immediately on
In order to bridge this gap, I have put down an amendment in my name which suggests a new body—a shared prosperity commission. It is important that it should be seen to be independent. It should have an independent board with representation from the bodies likely to be affected, particularly the devolved Administrations. Parliament should be involved, particularly in the process of appointment but also in receiving reports. There must be an annual statement as to what the fund is worth and how much is available to spend. There must be information about its spending focus. It is fine to accept that it will not be based on Barnett—which is the current way in which day-to-day spending is distributed—but it is important that we have some idea as to what its basis will be.
Luckily, the House of Lords is ahead of the game, as usual. A couple of years ago, a Lords committee recommended a new basis for doing this called “relative need”. In Amendment 167, I have set out some of the ideas that were in that report as potential ways forward. This is, of course, a probing amendment. I am not saying that these are the only options, but if you were to set out to try to replace Barnett and to come forward with a proposal, you could do a lot worse than looking at what the Lords committee recommended. Children living in poverty; those on low incomes; areas of economic weaknesses; the age structure in a particular area; ethnic balance; and the impact of climate change and—especially now—of the pandemic would all be different in relation to current government spending. Local interest groups might well be interested and involved in trying to raise funding that would match money coming from the shared prosperity fund.
In the interests of clarity, the amendment also suggests that the distribution route should be through local authorities, sectoral groups and organisations, educational institutions and other bodies. These are not the usual suspects that receive government funding directly from the departments and spend it on behalf of the people through local authorities and similar bodies. There are different ways of doing that, and I am sure noble Lords will put forward other ideas during this debate.
There is not a lot more that I can say at this stage. This is a probing amendment to try to get the Government to step up to the plate and explain what they are doing. In any final announcement, we need: certainty about the funding level; complete assurances that there will be independent processes to determine the aims and how they should be delivered; transparency; equity and, of course, the involvement of Parliaments, not just here but in the devolved areas as well. I beg to move.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, for explaining the place of this in the Bill and for his proposal to try and make something of the provision. As it stands, it seems wholly separate from the other provisions of this Bill. It should not be there, and it is profoundly undemocratic. Its only connection with the rest of the Bill is that it seems part of an attack on the scheme of devolution. I therefore seek to argue that Clause 48 should not, in its current form, stand part of the Bill.
The Bill is concerned with the internal market; it is not concerned with the allocation of government powers to spend money between the devolved Governments and the United Kingdom or English Government. It authorises the UK Government, as it stands, to spend funds in devolved areas—education, roads—and, giving Clause 48 (1)(a) and (b) their ordinary meaning, almost any aspect of government spending, including hospitals.
Therefore, I have a question for the Minister: why is this in the Bill? How is it going to work? Let me put forward some ideas as to why it may be there. First, the Government might, as the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, has suggested, have the noble aim of investing additional resources into the devolved nations and the other regions of England. If that were the case, they might be doing the work alongside the Governments of the devolved nations and doing it as the English Government in their capacity as the UK Government. If so, why do they need these powers? They have done city deals and dealt with expenditure of this kind without specific statutory versions. If that is the noble aim of this Bill, it seems unnecessary.
There may be a different aim, which again has been foreshadowed by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson: that the UK Government see themselves as taking over the role of the EU Commission, steering the use of such funding. If the Commission did it, so the argument goes, why should not the UK Government? In other words, it is an example of this Government doing something the EU has done rather well, but which they will never give it credit for. If that is the Government’s aim, it is fair to point out that the European legislation provided for the European Commission to set overall very high-level objectives for funding, and then to negotiate with the devolved Governments of Wales and Scotland as to how these objectives should be reflected in the programmes the devolved Governments designed. The European Commission, at the end of the day, had the veto, but it negotiated with the elected authorities in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, rather than bypassing them in the way the Bill would enable it to.
There may be a third aim, which is that the United Kingdom Government, the Government of England, know far better how to direct spending and cannot trust the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Governments to spend wisely. Nor, if that is their reason, can they trust the people of Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland to choose the Government they want, as that entails the choice between different manifestos regarding the way in which money is to be spent on areas of devolved competence.
As it stands, the clause strikes at that democratic choice and the devolution schemes. It will enable the UK Government to spend funds in ways that the UK/English Government think best, but which the people of Wales, for example, may have rejected. That is not democracy. In effect, it would give legislative underpinning to the now discredited principle that the Government in Westminster know best and the people of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, which have Governments with devolved competences, are not to be trusted to spend money wisely in areas of devolved competence.
In short, I can see no justification for these powers which is compatible with the commitment to the integrity of the devolution schemes. Last week, Ministers were asked repeatedly to confirm whether they supported the devolved institutions’ powers to tailor their policies and spending needs to the wishes of the people of the devolved nations. I understand that no such assurances were given. If Ministers wish to overturn the devolution settlements, let them say so. Let them show that the devolution schemes do not work and, in the light of recent experience, that we would all be better off in the devolved nations if only the UK Government could take spending decisions on matters that have been devolved, in place of the Governments in Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast.
As it stands, therefore, the clause should not be in the Bill. If there are constraints on how this is to operate, they should be set out in the Bill, or a proposal of the kind made by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, should be put in its place.
The Bill appears to invite a clutch of ironic metaphors. In moving the Bill at Second Reading in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister drew inspiration from Adam Smith’s invisible hand but, by contrast, the Bill delivers a clunking great fist, and the Prime Minister’s oven-ready deal is at best not even half baked. The Government assert that substantial powers are coming to the devolved Administrations and, on the surface, that is true. However, the lack of reference to common frameworks, which we have debated, and the subordination of the proposed office of the internal market, on which previous amendments have focused, to the Competition and Markets Authority, all points to a centralising agenda. The state aid and financial powers clauses of the Bill—which, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, said, do not appear relevant to the Bill’s stated purpose of regulating the internal market—raise serious questions, providing sweeping powers for the UK Government to intervene directly on a wide range of policy areas without even consulting the devolved Administrations, let alone securing consent and agreement.
At a time when relations between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations are at rock bottom, and with elections for the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Senedd only six months away, this is absurdly provocative and, frankly, foolhardy. Following the shambolic communication of the emerging lockdown in England over the weekend, confusion reigns today over furlough provision in Scotland. On the one hand, the furlough extension is UK-wide, which is welcome. On the other, it appears that if Scotland goes into lockdown at a later date, comparable support to that being provided in England is not assured. Scottish Conservative leader, Douglas Ross MP, is at odds with the Government over this. It raises the question of whether the Government are trying to force Scotland into a similar lockdown at the same time as England, not because the measures currently being applied north of the border are not working—it is too early to judge that—but just to secure funding for any lockdown. That is not the way to promote trust or make rational, balanced and objective decisions.
The UK Government have a strong footprint in Scotland, entirely consistent with the devolution settlement. I have to say that they do a poor job of making the people of Scotland aware of this. For all the plaudits for the First Minister’s communication skills, compared with the abysmal performance of the Prime Minister, the Scottish economy would, frankly, have collapsed without the billions of pounds of support provided to individuals and businesses by the UK Treasury since Covid-19 hit us. Statutory redundancy and unemployment benefits will sadly see costs rising to the UK Treasury, including for those occurring in Scotland.
The Scottish Government have neither the competence nor the confidence to take on the social security powers devolved. They have failed our education system and their state aid interventions have been disastrous. As such, I think the Committee can see that I do not support the present Scottish Government; in 14 years, they have taken Scotland backwards and pursued a deeply divisive obsession with independence. Nevertheless, devolution means that we have the right to make our own mistakes, and the people of Scotland should hold our elected representatives to account for their decisions or lack of them.
I welcome partnership between the UK and Scottish Governments, and I deeply regret the bad blood between them, from which the people of Scotland are the losers. We still need a strong partnership for recovery, not just from Covid-19 but the disruption of Brexit. The Government at Westminster always have the power to intervene in any part of the UK, so to take such sweeping powers without adequate explanation or justification arouses further suspicion and further damages trust.
The question one has to ask is: when did this come into the Bill? It seems to have been a late addition. It looks as if it has been inspired by Dominic Cummings. We have a Scottish Conservative leader, Douglas Ross, desperately trying to reconnect the Tory party with Scotland and at odds with his own Government, and this Bill does not help him. This is especially so when his near neighbour, my local MP, Andrew Bowie, says that
“this Bill … is just the start. The UK Government is back in Scotland. Get used to it.”
How absurd: the Government never left Scotland, and I do not want them to. I want rid of this Government, who are sowing the seeds of their own destruction.
This Bill is not good for Scotland or the UK. These powers should be removed, and we should seek a partnership in which, where the UK Government wish to put resources into the devolved areas and territories, they do so with the support and consent of the devolved Governments, either by funding those programmes in addition to the Barnett formula or by agreeing to do it jointly, as happened with the city deals. These have been remarkably successful and are sowing the seeds for development in research, economic future planning and a lot of co-operation between the public and private sectors. It can be done well or it can be done badly but, in relation to these powers, it would be better if it was not done at all.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Bennachie, and my noble and learned friend Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, who has explained, from a constitutional perspective, why Clause 48 has very little to commend it. I will illustrate why the powers that Ministers want to take for themselves might, in practical terms, be dangerous and damaging.
Under the last Labour Government, the Labour-led National Assembly chose to go in a different direction on education, which was one of the ways in which the late Rhodri Morgan put clear water between his Government, reflecting the unique circumstances of Wales, and the Government in London. The Welsh Government eschewed moves to establish foundation schools, academies and free schools. They have maintained the central role of local authorities in funding and supporting all schools, arguing, not least in rural areas, that an unplanned proliferation of schools would damage the viability of all educational establishments. They have vigorously championed comprehensive education. Whether or not you support this approach, the current Welsh Government have a mandate for it, supported by Plaid Cymru, meaning that more than two-thirds of Members of the Senedd back this policy.
Were the powers in Clause 48 to be granted, the UK Government could choose to fund free schools across Wales. This would positively undermine the policies backed by a majority of the Members of the Senedd and, more relevant still, a majority of the electorate. Even if the funding for such an initiative was genuinely additional to the block grant—I ask the Minister to give an unequivocal guarantee that that would be the case—such an intervention, even though it would give extra money, would undermine the Welsh Government’s education policy. A free school in an area such as Denbighshire could easily dramatically impact on the viability of local maintained schools. This does not seem right.
The cleanest way of dealing with and preventing this threat would be to remove the clause from the Bill. Nevertheless, for my part, I would be prepared to support alternative approaches. At the heart of this is the question of the so-called shared prosperity fund, which I am afraid some in the devolved nations suspect is a way of reallocating the funds that should come their way, especially to west Wales, to benefit the prosperity of England. The proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, to establish a shared prosperity commission would dispel such suspicions by allocating replacement funds on the basis of need, not politics. However, as my noble and learned friend Lord Thomas explained, the onus really is on the Minister to give an explanation, which has been lacking to date, of why these powers are needed now when they have never been needed before.
My Lords, I join the previous three speakers in giving notice of my intention to oppose the question that Clause 48 should stand part of the Bill. The grounds for my opposition to Clause 48 are based on paragraph 4(1) of Part 3 of Schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998. This is, after all, a devolution issue. That paragraph provides:
“This Schedule does not reserve giving financial assistance to commercial activities for the purpose of promoting or sustaining economic development or employment.”
The geographical reach of this provision is indicated by the fact that it applies to the whole of the UK. The power being sought would seem to cut across the powers of the devolved Administrations to provide this assistance in accordance with their own policies and order of preferences, although I appreciate that it extends over a wider field of activities. Providing assistance for reasons not at one with those policies and preferences would cut across the devolution settlements and for that reason be regrettable. I was very impressed by the example which the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, gave of how it could interfere with preferences felt in Wales, and no doubt examples could be found in the other devolved Administrations.
More importantly, I, like others, am looking for further information about how this clause is intended to operate. As the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, asked, what is the plan? Is it the intention that there should be consultation with the devolved Administrations before this power is exercised? If so, what weight will be given to any concerns that they may have? There is no attempt that I can see in the Bill to repeal the paragraph of Schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998 to which I referred, so presumably that power is to survive along with the power being given by this clause. To what extent, with regard to purpose and the amount of money involved, is this intended to reproduce within the UK what until now has been forthcoming from the EU? Can we expect the same amount of benefit to be spread among the nations as we have received hitherto? Will the ability of the devolved Administrations to use the powers reserved to them by the provision I quoted be limited in any way when this clause is brought into effect? If so, is that the intention? How are the funds which may be made available to be divided up between the nations? Can we be given any clarity on that point?
I hope that the Minister can shed more light on how this power is intended to operate, but at the moment, from what we have seen so far, it seems to cut across the devolution settlement and to be highly objectionable on that ground.
My Lords, I tabled Amendment 166, which would amend Clause 48. I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Hayman, and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for supporting it. As ever, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead.
Clause 48 gives powers to Ministers to provide financial assistance across the UK for a number of purposes, including all economic development and provision of infrastructure. My amendment would set out on the face of the Bill that any financial assistance to be provided must be consistent with the achievement of any applicable climate and environmental goals and targets. As we all now know, we are in the midst of a climate and nature emergency. These powers to provide assistance would be subject to almost no restrictions. The recently published Global Biodiversity Outlook 5 report from the UN highlighted how we have failed to halt environmental decline over the last 10 years, and the 2020 progress report by the Committee on Climate Change says that clear investment priorities to help support economic recovery and the transition to a low-carbon economy are now essential. We need to ensure that financial assistance helps, not hinders, this progress.
My concern is that, if we do not have this amendment, the Government could risk supporting projects, companies or industries that threaten in some way or another to undermine the progress towards meeting our environmental and climate goals. Providing financial assistance for projects that are not consistent with our climate and environmental goals could have major environmental impacts, for instance on roadbuilding, transport and housebuilding. It is also really important that the goals and targets include countries’ respective own targets on net zero—for instance, new targets set under the Environment Bill such as the Welsh recycling targets, which are extremely good.
This is an opportunity to support a progressive domestic climate and environmental policy in all parts of the UK, which is tremendously important ahead of COP 26; Amendment 166 could help achieve this. Indeed, if we do not have an amendment such as this when we turn up in Glasgow this time next year, we could be in a very embarrassing situation. What assurances can the Minister give that these powers will be exercised in a manner that is consistent and compatible with any climate and environmental goals and targets applicable in the relevant parts or part of the UK?
My Lords, it is a real pleasure to support Amendment 166 from the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, which I have signed along with the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. I also, of course, support Amendment 169, tabled by my noble friend Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. These amendments are important because they come back to the crucial question of what the market is for: does the market exist to serve us or do we exist to serve the market?
The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, used the word “progressive”. We need a progressive agenda. We have to harness and tame the market to make sure that it protects our natural world. The market does not care, and would rather see a woodland turned into logs than exist as a habitat for thousands of species, a sink for carbon, a filter for water, a protector of soils, or the hundreds of other ecosystem services that it provides. In truth, we should be seeing amendments like Amendments 166 and 169 in every single Bill that the Government bring to your Lordships’ House. Their absence is a dereliction of duty by Ministers, not only because we have made promises about the environment, but because we make things worse for everybody when we do not do these things. It is not just about making the market worse; it is society that suffers.
It is a year to the day since the Government announced that the Treasury would conduct a net-zero carbon review following the passage into law of the 2050 net-zero target. This review is still nowhere to be seen. Can the Minister please tell the Committee what has happened to the review, whether it is still happening and, if so, when it will be published?
My Lords, when the debate on this group of amendments started, it seemed that it would be another round of Westminster versus the devolved Administrations, which is a major theme of the group. Nevertheless, there are other issues.
I added my name to Amendment 166, which the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, spoke to so ably just now. I also support Amendment 169 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, in principle. Both amendments would correct a glaring omission: the absence of any reference to environmental outcomes in either the Bill and the Government’s earlier statements on a shared prosperity fund or my noble friend Lord Stevenson’s otherwise admirable attempt to set up a shared prosperity commission to administer the framework of financial aid across the four countries of the UK.
In effect, the shared prosperity fund concept is a sort of replacement for the EU’s structural funds and regional funds—probably other funding too—which have hitherto been provided back to the UK by the European Union, largely to level up economic and social well-being and performance across Europe. In principle, I like the concept of such a fund or a commission, which may well be a better home for the administration of that framework than the office for the internal market within the CMA, but I must confess to your Lordships that I do not like the term. I racked my brains as to why. I think that it is somehow a bit redolent of the euphemistic terminology of the Soviet era or, perhaps even more worryingly, of imperial Japanese militarily dominated eastern Asia during the time of the co-prosperity zone in the 1930s and during the war. Neither of those historical examples were ever cited by Brexiteers as preferable to the supposed centralisation by Brussels. If that rings alarm bells for me, no wonder it does for the devolved Administrations. Whatever we do, can we perhaps set up a body such as the one proposed by my noble friend Lord Stevenson, but find a better title?
More substantively, if the UK is to distribute aid to business and others to replace and improve on the benefits of the money that we previously received from the EU—which, quite rightly, disproportionately benefited the devolved nations of the UK and deprived areas in England—we need some objective criteria, constraints and rules surrounding that allocation. We also need an institution along the lines proposed by my noble friend Lord Stevenson. His amendment lists a lot of economic and social criteria that such an award of funds would have to take into account, but there are no environmental criteria.
As Amendment 166 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, indicates, the biggest crisis facing us all is the climate emergency. Our international obligations under the Paris Agreement and national commitments under the budget of the Committee on Climate Change surely mean that future state aid of any sort must advance progress on mitigation of and adaptation to climate change, and certainly not lead to effects that undermine our carbon and greenhouse gas targets or make worse the outcome of our industrial system. To that degree, it needs to be an improvement on the operation of some EU funding to sectors and projects that even I, as a passionate pro-European, recognise were not always done well in the EU—that is, some projects, particularly in eastern Europe, undoubtedly damaged the environmental prospects for Europe as a whole, particularly by favouring the substantial further use of fossil fuels.
It is therefore important that any such criteria are written into the terms of the proposed shared prosperity fund, and the commission must reflect those environmental aims. Indeed, any proposition for state aid subsidy, preferred public sector procurement treatment or clearance for planning permission, whether by the UK Government, a devolved Administration, local government or a quango, needs to have attached to it a clear environmental assessment of the impact on the climate, particularly regarding greenhouse gas emissions.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, takes it further than the carbon figures to cover other environmental dimensions, particularly the protection and enhancement of the natural world. Some of what she refers to may be more difficult to measure than greenhouse gas effects, but in reality, if subsidised projects lead to a deterioration in biodiversity and habitats, as did some European projects under the common agricultural policy, that is a contribution to environmental degradation and in many instances leads directly to increases in carbon, methane and other greenhouse gas effects. We should adopt the concepts in these two amendments before we move any further towards something like the shared prosperity system proposed by the Government.
The negative effects of some government subsidy need to be discouraged by the criteria, but positive investment—in renewable energy and other carbon-saving outcomes, for example—needs to be sustained through this system and written into it. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, was right to say that Clause 48 in its present form should be deleted, but if we are to provide a substitute it has to be an improvement, and an improvement on my noble friend’s amendment—it has to be greener.
My Lords, I speak in support of Amendment 166, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott. It is an honour to follow her, along with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and my noble friend Lord Whitty. I also support Amendment 167, in the name of my noble friend Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, and its inclusion of the impact of climate change—particularly flooding. That is an issue close to my heart, living as I do near Cockermouth in Cumbria, which has suffered such devastating flooding over the past 10 years.
As we heard today, and in last week’s debate, Part 6 does not rule out working through the devolved Administrations, but—and this needs repeating—sets no requirements to do so, and enables Ministers to spend money directly in otherwise devolved policy areas.
Right across the world it has been recognised that we have to combat global warming and restore biodiversity. It has been agreed that the next round of European structural funds will have tackling climate change and addressing the just transition as a major theme. In May of last year, Parliament recognised, on the Floor of the other place, that we are in a climate and environment emergency. Last week, in his response to Amendment 52, the Minister said that
“the protection of the environment and tackling climate change are vitally important, and something that the Government are, of course, already committed to.”—[
If the Government are serious about achieving this aim, they need to ensure that where direct financial assistance is given it is consistent with these climate and environmental goals. We need to commit to environmentally sustainable, transparent legislation and policies, and apply them to any future trade deals and relationships, if we are to have any hope of tackling climate change. Whatever the formal future relationship between the UK, its constituent nations and the EU, it is vital that we maintain close environmental co-operation and do not risk undermining it through poorly thought-out legislation. As the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, explained, Amendment 166 could avoid funding being provided for projects that are not compatible with climate and environmental targets and could undermine these goals.
Funding to support the environment needs to be secure as we leave the EU, because we will lose access to so much. I will give a couple of examples that have not yet been mentioned. The EU LIFE programme for environment and climate action has €3.4 billion to support, among other policies, the special conservation areas in the Natura network. The EU maritime and fisheries fund is a €6.4 billion programme, more than a quarter of which supports projects protecting marine environments, developing sustainable fisheries, and supporting the scientific and data-collection aspects of fisheries management. The concept of sustainability involves operating in a way that takes full account of an organisation’s impacts on the planet, its people and its future. That includes how Government operate and the decisions they take. Amendment 166 will help us to secure this for the future.
My Lords, I oppose the Question that Clause 48 stand part of the Bill. I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, for introducing this part of the debate so clearly. We have heard assurance after assurance from Ministers that the Bill does nothing to take powers away from the devolved Parliaments, but the inclusion of Clause 48 certainly belies their assertions.
This clause, were it to stand, would mean that powers would be returned from the EU to the UK Government to spend on areas such as economic development, infrastructure, sport and education, and will therefore give Whitehall the powers to fund projects to replace EU funding programmes in areas that are devolved to the Welsh Government. But these powers are wider than those in the EU funding programme. The EU structural funds have never funded health, housing or education, and the inclusion of this clause on financial assistance has given cause for concern. It gives rise to a number of questions, to which I hope the Minister will respond.
Our building regulations, and fire and energy safety standards are different in Wales. If the UK Government choose to fund our housing associations to build more social housing, which regulations and standards would apply? As the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, has said, there are no academies or free schools in Wales; the Welsh Government have rejected their implementation. Clause 48 would allow the UK Government to fund education projects in Wales. Does this mean that the UK Government would march in, with no consultation, and build these schools in Wales?
The intention of the UK Government to implement the M4 relief road scheme is provocative, to say the least. It is an issue the Senedd has examined and debated in detail. It made the decision to reject the scheme on the grounds of cost and impact on the environment, and to develop plans for another route. It is an arrogance that the UK Government feel they can overthrow its decision.
The UK Government fail to understand that they have no mandate to operate in these areas in Wales. In this House, we are expected to honour the manifesto commitments made by the Government in a general election and not to vote against them. In Wales, at the last Assembly elections, the people of Wales gave the Welsh Government a mandate based on their manifesto commitments. What right do the UK Government have to act against the expressed wishes of the people of Wales? For years, we have been clamouring in Wales for the UK Government to invest in projects that they have responsibility for—in our railways and the development of tidal energy, for example. I suggest that that would be a good starting point.
Wales has been eligible for £375 million a year from EU funds for almost 20 years. The management of these schemes has always been shared between the EU and the Welsh Government. The guidelines and parameters have always been clear, and the principles of co-operation and consensus have always been evident.
Now that EU funding is coming to an end, we need clarity on its replacement. The time has come for this Minister to give this House details of the proposed replacement through the shared prosperity fund. Up until now, the UK Government have failed to explain how that fund would operate and what role the devolved Governments would have in spending decisions made under it. Will the Minister do that today?
Many speakers, from all four nations of the UK, have spoken against this Bill’s attempts to undermine our devolution settlements. At Second Reading and in debates on this and other amendments, we have heard the same calls. I hope that the Minister and, through her, the Government, are beginning to understand that, after 20 years, the devolution genie cannot be put back in the bottle. I know that to this Prime Minister and his Government a bullish determination to win at all costs is important, but we have to find ways of working with and not against each other and to find solutions to our problems together. Clause 48 is a perfect example of the Government attempting to grab the devolution genie and force it, feet first, back into the bottle. Sadly, such an attitude does nothing but provide further ammunition to those who would favour the break-up of the United Kingdom.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, and to participate in the debate on Clause 48 and the financial assistance power in the Bill. I want to offer a further Scottish perspective.
I welcome the intent of Clause 48. The UK Government should be able to invest in all parts of the UK on initiatives that support and strengthen the union. I also recognise the anxiety that, if such an ability did not exist, the danger is that the UK dimension in devolved nations would become squeezed out or diminished as a relevant part of the lives of people for whom Scotland is home. So, as ever, the question with the Bill is, for me, not about its aims but about the best way in which to achieve them.
Let us not forget that, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, and the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, pointed out, the UK Government already invest in areas which, strictly speaking, fall within areas of devolved competence. For example, in government I was a very active proponent of the UK Government investing in both a comprehensive network of city and growth deals across Scotland and Scottish cultural assets important to our shared British heritage. The then Chancellor, George Osborne, was persuaded to open the Treasury’s cheque book and the Scottish Government were persuaded to come on board and invest alongside.
Today, the UK Government are investing £1.5 billion in UK city and growth deals in Scotland, with the Scottish Government co-investing a similar amount. The wide range of Scottish cultural institutions supported by UK Government cash includes the Glasgow School of Art, the Burrell Collection, V&A Dundee and a new Edinburgh concert hall. Of course, the UK Government do not get the credit they deserve for these investments, but in my view that is because there has been a tendency to “fund and forget”, just as successive Governments have over the years slipped into a habit of “devolve and forget”.
Clause 48 is a widely drawn power. It has caught many, including the devolved Administrations, by surprise. The internal market White Paper said that the Government would
“consider which spending powers it needs to enhance the UK internal market”.
However, the power in the Bill permits a potentially broader incursion into areas of devolved competence, including, as we have heard, health, housing, education, prisons and sport, and certainly beyond what is strictly necessary to support the internal market. The Government have provided very little detail on how they intend the power to be used. Like others, I hope that my noble friend, when she responds, will fill in some of the missing detail.
It may be that what the Government have in mind is, as the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, and others have surmised, to replicate, through the UK shared prosperity fund and other initiatives, the range of EU funds that will disappear at the end of the transition period—funds in which the devolved Administrations are of course involved now in deciding how resources are allocated in their areas. The lack of clarity is problematic because the scope for misunderstandings becomes greater. Uncertainty creates a breeding ground for suspicions and scare stories, with predictable but no less unhelpful, consequences.
A month ago, the UK Government announced the union connectivity review to be chaired by Sir Peter Hendy, the chair of Network Rail. In my view, this is an excellent initiative to bring communities across the UK closer together and to support the levelling-up agenda. It is just the sort of initiative the UK Government should be promoting and leading. In response, the Scottish Government have refused to co-operate and taken away their ball. Their response is profoundly unhelpful and not, I would suggest, an example of how to look after the best interests of people in Scotland, so I very much hope the Scottish Government will reconsider their stance. However, while I do not condone in any way the behaviour of the Scottish Government, I cannot help but wonder if their unco-operative approach to the Hendy review might have been avoided if the Government had adopted a more consultative and collaborative approach to the financial assistance power in this Bill.
In fleshing out how the power will be exercised in practice, I hope that Ministers will be guided by three important considerations, which, if addressed properly, will help to ensure that this financial assistance power does not inadvertently destabilise devolution itself. First, on additionality—and here I apologise for getting a bit technical—the block grant allocations for the devolved nations are worked out by reference to a population share of any change to Whitehall departments’ expenditure limits adjusted by a comparability factor, depending on the extent to which a policy area is or is not devolved. So, for example, the comparability factor for education and justice is 100%, for health it is 99.4% and for transport it is 91%. If the power in the Bill is not to undermine the existing funding arrangements, the financial assistance provided by it should be additional to the normal block grant allocations. Can my noble friend explain what effect directly spending more at a UK level in areas of devolved competence will have on the block grant comparability factors, and thus for the devolved Administrations’ budgets?
Secondly, on financial accountability, a core purpose of the Scotland Act 2016, and the fiscal framework that accompanied it, was to make the Scottish Government more financially accountable by making them responsible for raising a significant proportion of the money they spend. The Scottish Government should rightly be held accountable by people in Scotland for the policy choices they make—good and bad. Therefore, the wide scope of the Clause 48 power really does matter and should matter to the Government, too. It should most certainly matter to the Treasury, which will have to fund it. If democratic accountability in Scotland is to flourish in the years ahead, it is important that the allocation of responsibilities between the UK and Scottish Governments is clear and better understood. I suggest to Ministers that, in exercising the financial assistance power in the Bill, they will need to take care not to blur the lines of accountability in a way that lets the Scottish Government off the hook.
Thirdly, on co-operation, if the power in the Bill is to be fully effective, it will be important for the UK Government to work in partnership, not conflict, with the devolved Administrations and representatives of local communities throughout the devolved nations. It would be a retrograde step indeed if Ministers sought to substitute local priorities with the priorities of the centre, uninformed by local views. In my experience, the maxim “The man in Whitehall knows best” is never a popular one, and certainly will not cut much ice in Scotland.
There is one very good practical reason for involving the devolved Administrations in how the power is exercised: many of the delivery mechanisms are ultimately in their hands, from the planning system through to the agencies that have the responsibility for managing and improving, for example, local transport networks. Therefore, I would commend to your Lordships the Constitution Committee’s report on the Bill, which concluded that:
“to ensure practical cooperation around the use of the power, the Bill should be amended to include a requirement that ministers, in exercising their power to spend directly in devolved areas, consult with the relevant devolved administration.”
I want to make a broader point. In a week’s time, we will complete Committee Stage. I sense that the mood of the House is to make changes to the internal market aspects of the Bill, not in order to frustrate it, but in a genuinely constructive bid to advance its aims in a way sensitive to devolution. I suspect the votes will be there at Report to make those changes. Ideally, I hope that, prior to Report, the Government Front Bench will play an active and willing role in working with all parts of the House to improve the Bill. But if Ministers in this House do not have the latitude to respond substantively to suggested improvements, I would ask the Government to consider when the Bill returns to the Commons this simple point: the health of our union is, and always should be, a constitutional issue to be carried forward on a cross-party basis.
As we heard earlier from my noble friend Lord Cormack, in 2021 the union may face some very choppy waters. It will be important that, as we navigate those choppy waters, the Unionist parties in Parliament are able, on this issue at least, to present a united front. For that reason, I hope the Government will think long and hard before overturning in the Commons, on the back of Conservative votes alone, any sensible changes to bring about a better reconciliation within the Bill of the twin aims of UK free trade and respect for devolution. After all, just because you can do something does not mean you should.
It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, and to echo many of the points he has just made, caution being one of them and care for the union another. I want to illustrate some of his points in what I have to say. I must declare my interest: I am Welsh and I live in a recipient area of huge amounts of European funding.
This part of the Bill is definitely a bolt-on: it has nothing to do with the operation of the internal market or with the four countries being able to trade freely together. This is about the replacement money for the EU funds—how it will be spent and by whom. Fortunately, I asked a question of the Minister in this very Chamber a few months ago about the European money that came to Wales. I was given a guarantee, which I am hopeful the Minister will repeat today, that the people of Wales will get, pound for pound, what the European funds gave them. That was the guarantee given in this Chamber by the Minister. If he wants to check, I can refer him to the relevant Hansard. The point I am making is this. It was not a question of the receipt of the money: I am pleased to bank the £2.2 billion that the European funds have given to the people of Mid and West Wales—that is two million people—over the last six years, but I am worried about how that money will be spent and what effects it will have. Effectively, this part of the Bill puts the cart before the horse. We have to agree a whole set of rules which cross devolved boundaries in ways we can only guess at, and nowhere are we given clear answers to fundamental questions about upholding and respecting the devolution settlements in the UK.
The implication in this part of the Bill is that it will have no impact on the functioning of the Barnett formula or on additionality, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop. However, that is only an implication. Will the Minister give us today the answer to that fundamental question: will it have no impact on the normal functioning of the Barnett formula?
There has been no problem thus far with the UK Government seeking to spend money in Wales, in collaboration with the Welsh Government. Long may it continue, and I will encourage the Government. However, the key word is collaboration. Now, we are being asked to approve a law so broadly drawn that it will have a coach-and-horses effect on the powers of devolved Governments. I have to say to the Government that if it is not done collaboratively, spend does not necessarily mean approval. Approval will not automatically be given when the legal framework is in the hands of the devolved Governments. Factors such as planning approval, environmental impact assessments and curriculum development legislation all have a bearing here.
The Explanatory Memorandum implies that the UK Government will determine what moneys are available and how they are spent. The Welsh Government have had major control over the design and implementation of EU structural funds spent in Wales. For a few years, I had that responsibility in the Welsh Government. It is different, of course, for the smaller cross-EU programmes such as Erasmus and Lifelong Learning, which includes Comenius for school exchanges. These programmes were centrally designed but nevertheless locally administered.
The Government have said that they will at least match pound for pound the EU funds previously spent in Wales. As the largest recipient per head of EU funding, this has significance both in the amount to be spent and the economic impact it can have. How these funds will be managed is not at all clear. This Bill gives a strong indication of the direction of travel the UK Government wish to take. The Explanatory Memorandum on the powers in this part of the Bill says that this power will allow one-off items of expenditure or the creation of funding pots.
The clear implication I draw from this replacement funding statement is that the UK Government will spend the money they want and create biddable pots for the rest. Can the Minister confirm whether that is indeed the intention and that no block allocation of funds will be made automatically to devolved Governments, whether with or without guidelines? That is the matter of control I am referring to. If so, as I suspect, then Wales will lose financial powers and the UK Government will use these replacement funds in a way that could confound its policy objectives—objectives contained under the powers devolved to it.
Can the Government explain how they see the spending of these moneys being carried out? Will there be allocations for each of the four nations? Who will administer those funds? Will the Governments of the three nations be required to bid for funds against the UK Government’s criteria? How do the Government intend to get approval for projects that bisect the legal responsibilities of those Governments? I understand the distinction between EU funds that were universally provided across the UK and much larger structural funds which provided a financial and economic incentive to the poorest parts of the UK, most notably in Wales. While a distinction could be drawn between the structural funds and funding for such things as educational exchanges, it still makes absolute sense for them to be administered by the Government who have control of the school curriculum, for example.
There is much good work that the UK Government could do. They could become a world leader in tidal lagoon energy generation; they could electrify the railway between Cardiff and Swansea; they could provide alternative approaches to the broadband provision for the hardest-to-reach communities in Wales—all without having to meddle in the domestic matters over which Wales has control. I wonder, however, having heard the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, whether this is the rationale behind it.
The impact assessment refers to investing in culture, sport and education. When you look at the impact assessment and try to find out why the Government want to invest in those matters, it says, because of our “shared values”. I would be grateful if the Minister explained what those shared values are; it would help me to understand precisely what the intention is. The check on the unfettered use of previous EU structural funds has been that of match funding. Do the Government intend that their own projects will require financial support from the Welsh block grant or from other forms of Welsh money?
There are so many unanswered questions in this part of the Bill that I am drawn to the conclusion that what we have before us is based on political rather than economic reasons. This part of the Bill wants us to take on trust the way the Government will behave towards the other Governments in the UK. It has failed to answer the big questions that need to be answered before we can agree to enshrining so many important matters for the four countries that make up our union and, most importantly, how Wales is going to get its £2.2 billion, promised in this very Chamber.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord German. I would like to build on some of his questions, particularly the question of who administers the funds, especially in relation to regions and local authorities in England.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, for his Amendment 132 and for the chance to debate Clause 48 stand part. The noble Lords, Lord German and Lord Stevenson, and a number of others, asked about the situation going forward in respect of the Barnett formula. Is it the Government’s intention that that will remain in place, or is it the implication of this part of the Bill that the formula will be replaced by a new shared prosperity fund on the criteria that we are currently debating here?
My main concern as someone living in England, albeit of Scottish descent, is about the shared prosperity fund. Who will administer it and to whom will applications be made? How will a balance be reached between rural and urban areas? I declare an interest as a former MP in North Yorkshire for 18 years. I was delighted by the announcement in February this year that £6 million of funding has been allocated for a rural connectivity project in North Yorkshire with the specific task of helping to unlock the rural economy’s potential. It will be to the benefit of farmers and rural communities to support superfast mobile connectivity and rural broadband generally.
Looking at Clause 48(2) as it currently stands, however, rural broadband or broadband and mobile connectivity simply do not appear. Does that mean that, whichever nation or local authority or region you live in, once this shared prosperity fund comes into effect, these funds will disappear? Funds that have only just been allocated this year, presumably, under the existing European Regional Development Fund, will run their course. Is my understanding correct that the omission in the Bill of connectivity—either rural or urban, in whichever nation or region we happen to live in—means that it has been dropped from the shared prosperity fund? I will be interested to know and understand why, in particular, infrastructure has been limited in Clause 48(2) to,
“water, electricity, gas, telecommunications, sewerage or other services (for example, the provision of heat) … railway facilities (including rolling stock), roads or other transport facilities”.
It goes on over the page. I am severely disappointed—I am sure that others living in rural areas will feel the same way—that rural connectivity is being overlooked. It is not acceptable in this day and age that special provision is not being made for rural areas. The 5% who are the hardest to reach are being overlooked. I understand that the Scottish Government have given very generously to rural businesses in this regard, to their benefit and that of English customers who are buying from them.
I want to repeat a question posed by a number of other noble Lords: what is happening with regard to match funding? Will it continue to be required as it was under the ERDF and the European structural funds? How will economic development be administered? Is it going to be the case that local authorities such as North Yorkshire, Ryedale District Council, Hambleton District Council, Harrogate District Council or York City Council will have to go cap in hand to the Government? At this stage, it will be interesting to have more flesh on the bones of Clause 48. Who will determine what the balance is to be in applications from rural and from urban areas?
On the much-vaunted policy of the levelling-up agenda set out so effectively in the Government’s manifesto and to which they promised to commit themselves during the life of this Parliament, and which I entirely support, what role will the shared prosperity fund have in levelling up the regions and local authorities?
I want to end on this note. The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, referred to the ERDF and structural funds having regard to levels of deprivation. It is not generally understood that rural areas have pockets of deprivation that are every bit as bad as those which are generally better known and recognised in urban areas. With these few remarks, I look forward to the answers from my noble friend.
My Lords, this is a very important group of amendments because they deal with another recentralising measure in this Bill; that is, powers for the UK Government to spend money on wholly devolved areas of competence. Let us remember that power without spending power is hollow. At the least, this is a petty pot-shot at the devolved Administrations, while at the worst, it will lead to a direct conflict of policies and a huge waste of taxpayers’ money.
Let me give a hypothetical example on environmental spending. You could have the Welsh Government subsidising wind farms and the UK Government paying to close them down. Before anyone scoffs at that idea, in relatively recent years the Conservatives in Wales have campaigned against wind farms. In the best case scenario, it will lead to disjointed rather than joined-up policymaking.
The list of specified policy areas goes well beyond the usual devolved areas, so this is clearly a naked power grab. However, all of this is unnecessary because the UK Government can and do spend money on the devolved areas, but they do so in partnership with the devolved Administrations. City deals are a prime example of this successful approach. In these deals, the UK Government will set out pretty stiff conditions for additional funding. They do not simply hand over the cash. If we take the example of higher education, universities in Wales and Scotland receive funding from UK research funds, and here I declare an interest as chancellor of the University of Cardiff.
If the Government feel that they are not getting full recognition for their funding, they should take a leaf out of the EU’s book and put a badge on it. As the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, said in his truly excellent speech, they should not just fund and forget. In 2012 in the Wales Office, we recognised that the Welsh Government did not have enough capital funding for the significant infrastructure improvements that were needed if Wales was to compete economically. We gave the devolved Administration additional borrowing powers and we worked with the Welsh Government to agree a shared programme of funding for, for instance, the South Wales Metro. We worked with the grain of their views, but we still set the framework. Now I hear that the UK Government are threatening to build the M4 relief road, which the Welsh Government and local people have rejected.
Looking back to the days prior to devolution in Wales, there used to be huge rows about the smallest details of how social and economic support from the EU should be spent. Often, rather foolish decisions would be made by central Government, which were basically too remote from the areas concerned. The proposals in this Bill threaten a return to that centralised, counterproductive approach.
The Government have been far from clear about how their shared prosperity fund will be distributed, as several noble Lords have said. In Wales, we are of course concerned; as the poorest part of the UK, we benefited greatly from EU funding. We have the most to lose. I have listened closely to Tory rhetoric on this and have concluded that all the pointers are in the direction of a bigger share of that funding for more prosperous England and, hence, less for Wales. That comes from the repeated pointing out that richer parts of England subsidise the rest of the UK. That has to be being done for a purpose.
Anyone doubting the self-interest of the UK Government in terms of England should look at the decision on furlough. When the Welsh Government called for furlough in Wales almost two weeks ahead of England, they were refused additional funding, but it was granted when the Prime Minister announced lockdown again in England. I would therefore be grateful if the Minister could explain further the principles on which this shared prosperity funding will be based. How will decisions be made? As my noble friend Lord German and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, asked, will it be on the basis of competition or of need? If it is competition, in my experience, the money inevitably goes to those organisations well enough resourced to fill in the forms well. Forgive me for being cynical; this Government are hardly known for spending money wisely, as both test and trace and the PPE scandals have illustrated.
For all its flaws, the Barnett formula is all that we have to ensure some transparency in how and why the devolved Administrations are given their block allocation and any specific in-year additions. The proposed additional power that the Government have placed in the Bill would undermine that and make it much less possible to ensure fair funding. That is a recipe for endless wrangling. I echo the warning from the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, about the dangers to the union. Five years ago, support for independence in Wales was at 12%; one-third of people in Wales now support it. We have to take that seriously and to listen to Douglas Ross, the Conservative leader in Scotland, who warned that the Government’s mishandling of Brexit was driving Scotland to independence.
My Lords, I shall not now speak to the group starting with Amendment 134, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. As this debate went forward, I came to realise that I can perfectly adequately cover what I want to say in that context in this group.
At several points in this evening’s debate, I have been struck by the measured and telling way in which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, has said that he believes that the Bill is undemocratic. It is certainly undemocratic in the arrangements for the even distribution of resources. I do not want to become a Jeremiah; I would rather leave that role to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. However, as someone who is half-Scottish and half-Welsh and closely identifies with both families, who has northern Irish blood, and whose wife has Welsh blood, I see disturbing trouble ahead unless we get the spirit of what we are doing right.
The key to that is to recognise that what happens in the future must belong to the people of Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England. Even in the context of this debate, in an excellent speech, the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, referred to partnership. I am not sure that partnership is an adequate description; it must be a completely common approach, in which all parties are on an equal footing.
We are rather good in this House—no less than anywhere else—at talking with utter conviction about the priorities that must be faced in political and social policy, and then failing to make consensus on the detailed policy before us. My noble friend Lady Hayman of Ullock made that point about the environment very well indeed.
If the Bill is basically undemocratic, Amendment 167 in the name of my noble friend Lord Stevenson, is highly relevant. I am very glad that he has brought into it one of the big preoccupations of this House and the other place: poverty and child poverty. He has made it central to what we are doing.
I also commend the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, for bringing up the environment and climate change so seriously. Climate change is going to dwarf everything else that we are dealing with as it moves forward. We must not only speak about it and make dealing with it an aspiration; we have to make it central to everything that we do in mainstream policy and legislation. If this is not mainstream legislation, then I do not know what is. Therefore, it is crucial that climate change comes on board as well.
I was very glad to see the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, because obviously we want policies in the interests of the people in all four parts of the United Kingdom: Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England. We want long-term policies which are sustainable and tackle climate change and the nature emergency. We have a major nature emergency at the moment, not least in the sphere of biodiversity. We need all those things, and I am glad to see that amendment there to keep our eye on the ball and our feet on the ground as we move forward, not just with a constitutional arrangement but with an arrangement that will be viable because it really belongs to all the people of the United Kingdom and deals with crucial issues that will make all our tactical politics seem pretty trifling by comparison.
My Lords, I thank those who assisted me in getting the chance to speak after the accidental omission of my name from the original list. It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and welcome his front and centring of the climate emergency and nature crisis. I thank the noble Lord for his expression of support for Amendment 169 in my name. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for his expression of support.
Before I get to that, I wish to briefly speak in support of Amendments 132, 167 and 168 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara. It is notable that in the EU there are rules about the funds allocated for the alleviation of poverty and inequality—something that has been entirely lacking from UK practice and procedure, under which the Government have been able to direct money for electoral advantage without rules or oversight. The Americans have a word for that, “pork-barrelling”, and the practice is as unattractive as the metaphor.
I share the concerns expressed by other noble Lords speaking in this group about devolution issues, which other amendments seek to address, but as I have addressed those in other speeches I now speak chiefly to Amendment 169. It seeks to ensure that those who receive financial assistance, provided under the provisions of the internal market, can receive it only if a climate and nature emergency impact statement is undertaken first. This would ensure public money is granted only to development consistent with net climate, nature and environmental targets.
Amendment 169, and my argument for it, build on the comments of my noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb on the previous group, who reflected on the damage done by massive and continuing fossil fuel subsidies. As others have noted, my amendment has much in common with Amendment 166 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, to which my noble friend has already spoken, but my amendment extends further, calling for a detailed mechanism for each project, rather than the overview included in Amendment 166.
I must remind the Committee, as the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, did, that the UK is the chair of the COP 26 climate talks. We have a responsibility to be the world leader the Government often proclaim they want to be. Green finance is an issue of great interest to a wide range of international bodies and commercial organisations. All new and continuing financial schemes, whatever their sources, have to be green, given the urgency of our climate emergency and nature crisis.
I note that on
I refer to an Answer I received today from the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, to a Written Question on the green homes fund. I asked whether the programme would be extended and the funding enhanced. In his Answer, the noble Lord helpfully told me that £65 billion of investment will be needed for housing retrofit across the 2020s—£65 billion in nine years versus £2 billion of current funding. We clearly need to see some of the funding covered by this Bill directed towards this area, not nature-destroying, planet-trashing options.
Since the Government are very keen to look at league tables for education, we might look at two published in the last fortnight on the environment. One showed per capita contribution to plastic waste production. In this, we are, unfortunately, world-leading. We are second behind the United States on this plastic-choked planet—a huge and terrible responsibility. We have to use regulatory tools and funding to promote ways of cutting back on this. Secondly, the European Environment Agency reported that the UK has the third-greatest proportion of marine and land areas in bad conservation status; we are close behind Belgium and Denmark. More than 70% of our habitats
“exhibit overwhelmingly bad conservation status.”
Again, we must not only make sure we do not fund further damage but, as a matter of extreme urgency, direct funding in ways that start to repair the centuries of damage that has been turbocharged by our economic structure in recent decades.
These are not abstract, environmental, “nice to have” issues. They are about human survival. I ask your Lordships to think about the people of Nicaragua and Honduras seeking shelter and safety. To quote an NBC headline:
“Eta forecast to make landfall as a Category 4 hurricane, a rare occurrence in November.”
If noble Lords think that is an odd name for a hurricane, we are using the Greek alphabet now, because the normal alphabet has been exhausted this year.
The Committee might think about the people living now in low-lying areas around the world, including in the UK—we had a reference to flooding earlier. There have been reports from the Arctic of the failure of sea ice to form by the end of last month. That month broke the record for the lowest extent of sea ice in October. Its extent was more than 1.5 million square miles less than the 1980s average. That is an area larger than India, if noble Lords can envisage that.
The proposal in Amendment 169 is modest. Anyone asking for financial assistance needs to prove how their requests measure up to the climate, nature and environmental goals and targets, and the Government need to check to ensure that they are not boosting future hurricanes or ice melt, further treating our planet as a dumping ground or killing our wildlife. If those individual requests are put together it will enable Governments across the UK better to understand the aggregate impacts of the financial assistance—the state aid, as others have called it—and to measure them against the goals and targets to which they are already committed. Impact statements would be not an additional burden, but a necessity to reach shared goals. I conclude by noting that the Conservative Party manifesto last year promised
“the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth.”
How could any Government elected on that platform decline to include this amendment in the Bill?
My Lords, I will focus on whether Clause 48 should stand part, as my noble friends have done on this group. In so doing, I shall comment on the contributions. I agree with my noble friend Lady Randerson, who said that the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, was very important. I hope that the Government Front Bench was listening very carefully to that contribution. I see the Minister nodding, and that is very positive.
I looked again at the Explanatory Notes for Clause 48. It is quite telling that the Government are seeking financial assistance powers. I wondered for whom. The Explanatory Notes state that the power to provide financial assistance enables
“the UK Government to provide funding to local authorities, sectoral organisations, community groups, educational institutions and other bodies and persons in order to support and promote these policy areas across the UK.”
It is very telling that there is no mention of the devolved Administrations. It is fairly obvious that the Government’s intention is to have powers which effectively go over the devolved competencies of the nations, because in many respects the areas that had European structural funds are within the devolved competences. As the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, and others indicated, there is no mention in the Bill of concurrent or shared expenditure, or of supporting joint policy initiatives. This is against the thrust of what we have had over the past 20 years with devolution.
This is not purely about devolution, because this affects developments within England too, such as growth deals and city partnerships. This expenditure will go beyond the structures that have already been agreed, and in many respects all those aspects have been included in the multiannual financial frameworks of the European structural funds. So it right to ask: what is the purpose of this? If this is the mechanism through which the shared prosperity fund will be delivered, why is there no reference to the shared prosperity fund? Why is the scope of the legislation far beyond what the Government said in their 2019 manifesto about a national skills fund? Why is there no reference to the delivery mechanisms that the Government have indicated should be in place for the shared prosperity fund? Or does the legislation seek to go beyond the shared prosperity fund? There is no statement in the Explanatory Note and there is no framework in the legislation for how that expenditure will be committed.
The sums are huge, as was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, who I am glad introduced this group. I rely on the House of Commons briefing paper from September this year to give the figures. In 2018, public and private sector organisations in the UK received £5.9 billion from the EU, through various channels. On top of that, we received £4.4 billion for UK projects on infrastructure, some supporting the growth of employment, from the European Investment Bank. That is included within this clause of the legislation, but we know that UK support from the European Investment Bank will no longer be available, so what is the source of this expenditure to support infrastructure investment? How will infrastructure investment from loans or grants be delivered?
As the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, and other noble Lords have said, to date, most expenditure has been allocated to member states and then managed through our devolved Administrations, regional partnerships or local authorities. Until this point, 76% of all European investment has been allocated, first, to the member state to manage—and then it has gone through our existing frameworks. If there is to be a new system to deliver that level of expenditure, separate from our existing delivery and accountability mechanisms, the Government need to say so.
Until now, in the multiannual financial framework 2014-20, the UK partnership agreement gave granular detail—it is a 373-page document—for all projects and where they are, with a chapter for UK-wide expenditure, and chapters for England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar. Interestingly, Gibraltar is included in this, but there is no reference in the scope of the legislation to providing financial assistance to Gibraltar, so the poor Gibraltarians have been completely dropped off the ability to support.
In their manifesto, the Government said about the shared prosperity fund:
“We will consult widely on the design of the fund, including with the devolved administrations, local authorities, businesses and public bodies.”
It was to be finalised after the comprehensive spending review. That has been delayed, for understandable reasons, but can the Minister state when the conclusion of the design of the fund will be published? If the shared prosperity fund is to be in place from April 2021, as the Government said in their 2019 manifesto, it leaves little time for our public bodies, which will be managing it, to operate. If it is not the intention of the Government for our public bodies to administer it, what central government structures will be in place to administer this fund? Why does this legislation have some areas that go beyond what the Conservative manifesto said, which was that it would be spent on skills?
Secondly, as was referenced by the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, how do the intended powers of this legislation impact on the statement of funding policy? The statement of funding policy is the core document on financial relationships. It has population proportions expenditure and comparability factors, and it is applied to all spending and spending rounds. How does this power interact with the statement of funding policy? Will it be over the top of regional strategies? How will it be accounted for in the recipient public bodies? If it is to go to local authorities, how will it impact their accounting? If it goes directly to local authorities, how will it go to those areas?
I close with a tangible example. We heard references from colleagues from Wales and across England. I live in the Scottish Borders which, using the NUTS2 areas, has the lowest GVA per head in the United Kingdom, at 59.3% of the UK average. Outer London has 67.9% of the UK average. Under the Government’s current proposals, an area such as the Scottish Borders will not be eligible for this kind of support. Will the Government ensure that this funding is aligned to not only devolved but local authority strategies? Will it be aligned with the state aid maps? This separate approach will be beneficial for our country only if it is consistent with and supports our existing policies and strategies, at a local, regional and national level.
My Lords, this Government are determined to deliver on the commitments upon which they were elected: levelling up the whole United Kingdom, delivering prosperity for all citizens and strengthening the ties that bind our union together. Part 6 of the Bill helps to achieve this. This power to provide financial assistance will enable spending in the areas of infrastructure, economic development, culture and sport. It will also support educational and training activities, and exchanges within the UK and internationally. Previously, as noble Lords have noted, much of this was done at the EU level.
I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, among others, that over the course of discussion and debate on this Bill, throughout Parliament and beyond, the Government have repeated our intention to work with the devolved Administrations. This power, in addition to existing powers, will allow the UK Government to complement and strengthen the support given to citizens in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, without taking away devolved Administrations’ responsibilities.
As noble Lords have noted, the response to Covid has shown how the UK Government, alongside important co-operation with the devolved Administrations, can save jobs and support communities. This could only have been delivered strategically and at that scale by the UK Government. This power will ensure that we can invest UK taxpayers’ money nationwide on UK priorities as we leave the transition period, as well as supporting people and businesses across the UK to recover from Covid.
The UK Government are uniquely positioned to level up across every part of the UK, ensuring that the entire country can feel the benefit of increased trade, improved business conditions and a truly global economy. The power to provide financial assistance will facilitate this. Noble Lords will know that these aims support the Government’s manifesto commitments to strengthen the union, level up the country and match the current levels of EU structural funding in each nation through a UK-wide replacement programme—the UK shared prosperity fund. That is why I commend this clause to stand part of the Bill.
I will now discuss Amendments 167, 168 and 132. Collectively, they seek to remove the power to provide financial assistance in Part 6 of the Bill and replace it with provisions for the operation of a UK shared prosperity commission, detailed in a proposed new schedule. Let me begin by emphasising that the power to provide financial assistance in Part 6 would operate UK-wide to support a variety of purposes. This includes economic development but is not limited to it. It is therefore wider than any single fund or organisation. I say this in response to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, about the purposes of the power.
The effect of these amendments would be that the Bill would not confer on the UK Government the power to provide financial assistance UK-wide for infrastructure, economic development, culture or sport, or to support educational and training activities and exchanges within the UK and internationally. Although the UK Government have some existing powers to spend across the whole UK, the power we are taking now creates a unified power that operates consistently UK-wide, to deliver investment more flexibly, dynamically and in partnership with the devolved Administrations and other partners. Part 6 will make sure that the UK Government are well positioned to deliver investments following the end of the transition period, and to meet their commitment to replace EU structural funds.
I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, tabled his amendment to probe the Government’s plans on this and I hope to be able to provide some answers. On the level of funding, the Government committed in their manifesto to maintaining, as I already said, at a minimum the existing levels of investment across all four nations from the EU structural funds. The noble Lord is correct that this was based not on Barnett but on an EU formula. In future, the UK can ensure that funding reflects the needs of the UK, not the 27 other member states, as this work is taken forwards. He is also correct that there are a number of ways in which this funding could be done but, if I may reassure noble Lords about the purpose of the funding, the Government have been clear on their aim: to tackle inequality and deprivation, and level up across the United Kingdom.
On timing, the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, is right that to prioritise the response to Covid-19 and focus on supporting jobs, the multi-year spending review has been postponed. But he is also correct that we have some time, as EU funds are still being provided. Our aim is to ensure a smooth transition from current EU structural funds to the UK shared prosperity fund.
My noble friend Lord Dunlop is correct to say that the UK Government already spend in devolved nations, and the examples the noble Lord gave of city/growth deals and cultural investments were good examples of that kind of work. We would continue to work collaboratively with devolved Governments to deliver such initiatives, and this power would enable us to do so with greater efficiency and simplicity. Indeed, there is no consistent unified power to support projects that span the boundaries within the UK.
The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and others asked about the Barnett formula. The Barnett formula will continue to apply as set out in the Statement of Funding Policy.
In relation to how UK Government funds could be spent and which regulations, standards and laws would apply on housing, for example, I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, and others that the investments made through this route would need to comply with standards and requirements that exist in, and are determined by, each part of the UK.
I hope that that has answered some of the questions that noble Lords have asked on the operation of the UK shared prosperity fund. There will be more detail in the future, but I hope this is sufficient for the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment, while recognising and supporting his broader principles behind it.
I will now discuss Amendments 166 and 169. Amendment 166 would require, by law, all financial assistance given under this power to be
“consistent with the … climate and environmental goals and targets applicable in the relevant part or parts of the United Kingdom.”
Amendment 169 would require that any financial assistance provided be accompanied by the Minister’s assessment of the recipient’s climate and nature emergency impact assessment. I commend both noble Baronesses for their commitment to this agenda. It is shared by the Government, who have already committed to ambitious climate targets and will lead the world’s discussion at COP 26 next year. The Climate Change Act 2008 already requires the Government to set five-yearly carbon targets, covering the whole of the UK, to move toward meeting our net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
This framework sets the overall level of ambition, with the Government determining how best to balance emissions reductions across the economy. As policies and proposals are developed and implemented, their contributions to emissions increases or reductions are quantified and published regularly. This enables the Government to monitor progress towards meeting the UK’s carbon budgets and inform policy decisions. Therefore, any net emissions increase from a particular policy or project is managed within the Government’s overall strategy for meeting carbon budgets and the net-zero target for 2050, as part of an economy-wide transition.
Through the Environment Bill, as introduced into the other place in January, the UK Government will have a power to set long-term legally binding environmental targets across the breadth of the natural environment. The Environment Bill will also protect the environment from future damage by embedding environmental principles at the heart of policy development across government. The environmental principles will be used by Ministers and policymakers to ensure that policy and legal frameworks help to minimise the impacts of human activity on the environment.
The Fisheries Bill also includes a climate change objective, requiring fisheries administrations to introduce legally binding policies to minimise adverse effects of the fishing and aquaculture sectors on climate change and adapt their activities.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, asked about the net-zero review, and I confirm that this will be published in spring 2021.
Given the Government’s strong commitment, already, to meet their ambitious climate targets and the frameworks established under the Climate Change Act and proposed under the Environment Bill and Fisheries Bill, I do not think it is necessary to add such a legislative requirement to this power.
This power—and the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill overall—presents a critical opportunity to level up our country, strengthen our union and drive investment throughout the UK, which was previously determined by Brussels. Part 6 of this Bill will make sure that the UK Government meet their responsibility to support people, businesses and communities across the whole of our United Kingdom. This power will enable the UK Government to invest in our communities across the UK in a variety of ways, meaning that we can meet our manifesto commitments to deliver a UK shared prosperity fund that matches the value of EU structural funds. Above all, the Bill will deliver a thriving internal market, underpinned by the strength of the UK Government, which will provide opportunity and prosperity to citizens across the country.
My Lords, I have received one request to speak after the Minister, so I now call the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Bennachie.
Does the Minister not agree that shared prosperity requires an attitude of sharing—in other words, for the Government to talk with, not at, the devolved Administrations? Are they listening to Douglas Ross, the Conservative leader in Scotland, who says that the Government are completely failing to promote the benefits of the union to the people of Scotland and, indeed, that their attitude is alienating people? Will the Government recognise that, whatever the commitment behind what they are trying to do, the approach is counterproductive and deeply damaging?
My Lords, all I can say to the noble Lord is that the attitude and approach of this Government is one where we intend to work in partnership both with the devolved Administrations and with local communities to ensure that these new powers are used to the best effect and that the UK’s shared prosperity fund supports citizens across the United Kingdom.
My Lords, I thank all those who have contributed to this wide-ranging debate, which was conducted throughout at a very high level indeed with respect to the very important issues that we had in front of us. I am grateful to the Minister for her quick-fire response. She covered a lot of ground; I will have to read Hansard carefully to be sure that I picked up all her points.
I have three responses to make. First, I do not think she was convincing in her defence of why the new powers contained in Clause 48 are required. The noble and learned Lords, Lord Thomas and Lord Hope, among others, were incredulous about the reasons for them and put their case very well. I do not think she was able to be as convincing on that as perhaps she hoped to be.
However, the Minister was very positive in response to the questions that a number of us asked about the replacement for the current level of EU funds, saying that the level of funding will be a minimum to match, it will be based on need and will tackle inequality and level up spending for these issues around the UK, and there will be time for a smooth transition. She stressed the collaborative approach that will be taken, but I will want to come back to that. She also left a few serious concerns about how exactly the process would go.
I think she will want to look again at the words of the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, who spoke with great power; he made a number of points about additionality, accountability and co-operation as the necessary building blocks for any process which involves the insertion of UK Government-led funding in areas which have previously been done on a co-operative basis—bottom up rather than top down. Part of that was also raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Bennachie, who asked the Minister to recognise the differences that have arisen over time.
I shall leave with her two points. At this stage in the process when it is not certain how things will develop—even if the total amount of money and other things being said around funding are convincing—lack of information and engagement will breed distrust and suspicion. The Government need to think very hard about what approach they will take on a consultative and other basis, or else they will bring instability with them as they move forward.
Secondly, the case made by a number of people who spoke—not just those concerned about the direct impact on devolution but those concerned about other matters to do with climate change—has not been properly answered. There will not be any real return for the Government on this if they think that devolution will be assisted by what looks like a power grab without collateral arrangements being put in place. These funds need to be administered locally and planned co-operatively. At the end of the day, as one person said in the debate, the levers that are used to fund the people who are going to see the money will be local. If the Government do not get that right at the beginning, the rest will not work. However, we will read carefully in Hansard what was said. It has been a good debate on all sides. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 132 withdrawn.
Amendment 133 not moved.
My Lords, we come to the group beginning with Amendment 134. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate, and that anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division should make that clear during debate.
Clause 31: Monitoring and reporting on the operation of the UK internal market