Moved by Lord Hope of Craighead
At end insert “and do propose Amendments 1B, 1C and 1D in lieu—
1B: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—“Common frameworks process(1) The United Kingdom market access principles shall not apply to any statutory provision or requirement that gives effect to a decision to diverge from harmonised rules that has been agreed through the common frameworks process and states that its purpose is to give effect to that agreement. (2) No regulations may be made by a Minister of the Crown with regard to a matter that is under consideration under the common frameworks process while that process in relation to that matter is still in progress.(3) The common frameworks process is a means, established by the Joint Committee on European Negotiations, by which a measure of regulatory consistency to enable a functioning internal market within the United Kingdom may be mutually agreed between the United Kingdom and the devolved governments.”
1C: After Clause 18, insert the following new Clause—“Common frameworks process(1) The mutual recognition of authorisation requirements shall not apply to any regulatory requirement that gives effect to a decision to diverge from harmonised rules that has been agreed through the common frameworks process and states that its purpose is to give effect to that agreement.(2) No regulations may be made by a Minister of the Crown with regard to a matter that is under consideration under the common frameworks process while that process in relation to that matter is still in progress.”
1D: Clause 25, page 19, line 13, at end insert—“( ) Section 22(2) does not apply if the provision has been agreed through the common frameworks process and it states that its purpose is to give effect to that agreement.””
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 1B, 1C and 1D in lieu, which are in my name. The fact that the Commons have disagreed with your Lordships’ amendments about the common frameworks process is a matter for regret, but they were good enough to give us a clear and simple reason. They told us that these amendments
“will create legal uncertainty, which would be disruptive to business.”
I took this to be a reference to what the noble Lord, Lord True, said when we were considering these amendments on Report:
“No one could know for sure, until the question was determined in court, whether a regulation or requirement, or a combination of regulations or requirements, was giving effect to an agreement reached within a common framework. There would be uncertainty as to whether or not the market access principles applied”.—[Official Report, 18/11/20; col. 1466.]
I can well understand the point that he and the other House are making, but I do not believe that it is incapable of being met, so I have added some words of my own to each of my proposed amendments to suggest how this could be done.
To be given the benefit of exemption from the market access principles, the regulation or exemption would need to state that it was their purpose to give effect to an agreement that had been reached through the common frameworks process. It seems to me that, if this were to be stated in the relevant instrument, the problem that the noble Lord referred to on Report would be overcome: everyone would know what it was and why it was there. No doubt there are other and better ways of achieving this, but my point is that, if there really is a will on the Government’s part to make this system work, a solution can be found. There is surely room for further discussion on this issue; the door must be kept open—and I am encouraged by some of the points that the noble Lord, Lord True, made in opening this debate. I ask your Lordships to invite the Commons to think again, and I will be seeking the opinion of the House as to whether we should do so.
Of course, I appreciate that it is not as simple as that; there are important issues of principle too. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Paul Scully, said in the other place that to legislate the common frameworks into the Bill would,
“not sit well with the flexible and voluntary nature of the common frameworks programme.”—[
I appreciate, as has been stressed many times in your Lordships’ House, that the whole purpose of the market access principles is to enable traders to do business without internal barriers to trade across the UK. It is about
“a job, someone’s pay packet at the end of the week”,
It has to be said, too, that the issues about market access and the problems it may create are not all one way. Spare a thought for the trader in one of the devolved nations who has to have regard to the relevant requirements of all the other parts of the UK when considering whether a good which does not meet his own area’s requirements is something that he can properly market in his own area. It is not sunshine and roses for everyone.
Simply to say that the market access principles do not apply to an agreed decision, which is all that my amendments seek to do, does not seem to me to justify the concern that this would deprive the common frameworks process of its flexible and voluntary nature. Whether a given policy divergence really does create what amounts to a barrier, given its purpose, nature and effect, should be a matter for examination and assessment: that is what the common frameworks process is designed for. It is not about creating barriers, but about allowing for policy divergence in ways that are found, by agreement, to be consistent with the internal market.
The problem with the interaction between the common frameworks process and the market access principles is that, in the case of the principles, as the noble Lord has just been telling us, there is no room for any such assessment at all. Take a divergence about food standards, for example. Suppose that a devolved Administration secures agreement for a higher standard for its own purposes, because it has been judged that, overall, it was not a barrier to trade across the UK. This would be an agreement to which the UK Government were party, because that is what the process requires. It would, nevertheless, be incapable of effective enforcement because of the automatic application of the UK Government’s own market access principles—that is the conundrum. Traders from other parts of the UK who had no regard for the higher standard could simply ignore it, irrespective of how simple and easy it was to comply with. That is not where we should be going.
A balance needs to be struck here, if devolution is to be respected. We want this to be a United Kingdom internal market, after all. That means that it needs to suit the needs and aspirations of all parts of the UK, which may differ greatly from one part to another. This is particularly the case for the smaller nations, which are part of our United Kingdom family. That is why the common frameworks process is so important and why it deserves support. Ministers still say they support it, but they have to do what they say. The two approaches to the creation of the internal market need to be reconciled if that process is to remain alive. That should not be beyond the Government’s reach, if they are willing to put their minds to it. I very much hope that they are, and that discussions on these important issues can continue before it is too late. I beg to move.
My Lords, I recognise that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, and many other noble Lords who have spoken on this subject burn with a passion for their interpretation of the rule of law, but I ask them to reflect that statute needs to have more than principle; it needs to have practicality in its application as well. The effect of these clauses resubmitted in lieu would be to tie the Government’s hands completely in response to any emergency that might arise in Northern Ireland which might need to be addressed. I look in vain in these clauses for any exception that says, for example, “in an emergency”, “if the food in the supermarkets runs out” or “if there is a shortage in supply of medicines”. In such cases, those matters, as I understand these clauses, would need to be addressed through the joint committee, and if the European Union was not willing to accept them, it would need to go through a lengthy process of arbitration. I do not believe that that is acceptable.
My second point relates to devolution and democracy in Northern Ireland. The effect of these clauses is to privilege a particular interpretation of a particular international treaty, the withdrawal agreement.
My Lords, the news that my noble friend from the Front Bench gave us this afternoon is encouraging. Clearly, discussions have been taking place and issues have evolved from them. I do not think that any of us in your Lordships’ House expected every single one of the agreements necessarily to be in a state to be written in and accepted in toto. To hear that 30 agreements have been agreed in broad principle is very encouraging news.
As someone who had a commercial life before coming into the political world, I wonder sometimes whether all your Lordships really understand. A chief executive—such as I was for a division of Reckitt and Colman Group—needs to know, as a certainty, what is happening. They cannot call in the company lawyer and say, “Well, it’s no good, George, you telling me on the one hand this and on the other hand that.” They have spent 15 months producing a new product—or whatever it may be. I sat as MP for an industrial town, Northampton, and I know the industrialists there. I spoke to them on Zoom only yesterday morning, and they are deeply concerned. I then read that the reason why the Commons have disagreed with our Amendments 1, 19 and 34 is
“Because they will create legal uncertainty, which will be disruptive to business.”
I also reflect that I had the privilege—as some of my noble friends in the Chamber did—of being in the other place. They are elected by the people. They have close contact with industry and commerce. When I am told, in writing, that it will be disruptive to business and that is why these Motions A and A1 are before us, I accept it. We have done our part. We are a Chamber that asks people to reflect. We have done that bit and we have done it well. The time comes, at a certain point, when you have to decide one way or the other. In my judgment, Her Majesty’s Government have got it right at this point.
Two other Members in the Chamber have indicated that they wish to speak—the noble Lords, Lord Adonis and Lord Foulkes, and I will call them in that order. I call the noble Lord, Lord Adonis.
My Lords, in respect of the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, that because the Commons has given a view we should therefore immediately defer, the proposition is shown to be totally absurd by what is happening with amendments we will consider later. Between the Commons itself expressing a view on Monday and your Lordships meeting today, the Government have changed their mind. We have the unprecedented situation where a Minister of the Crown will move from the Dispatch Box in this House—maybe it will be the noble Lord, Lord True; I cannot wait to watch this performance take place—that this House do insist on its amendments when, 48 hours ago, a Minister of the Crown in the other House moved that the Commons should disagree with the House of Lords. If the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, is concerned that we should respect the will of the House of Commons, since its will appears to change every day at the moment—in response to the invitation of Her Majesty’s Government to take stock of negotiations in Brussels—I think our duty to the Government is to send back everything at the moment. This will give them maximum flexibility to disagree with themselves over the remaining four days of this week. Then let us see how the cards fall next Monday.
These are not trivial matters; they go to the fundamental integrity of the United Kingdom and our relationship with the European Union. I strongly urge your Lordships, in respect of all these amendments, that we obey the precautionary principle. If we are not sure whether there is an impediment to the proper conduct of negotiations or the flexibility that we wish to give the Minister and his colleagues in these negotiations with the President of the European Commission, we should send everything back so that the Government have the maximum opportunity to disagree with themselves over the next week. Let us see where we are thereafter.
The House holds the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, in extremely high regard—there is nobody who has a greater grasp of the technicalities of the issues we are addressing. We pay huge tribute to him and his colleagues, and the assiduous attention that they have given to the Bill’s passage in this House. He made a very good technical response to the Minister. In his Amendment 1B, the words at the end of his proposed new subsection (1),
“and states that its purpose is to give effect to that agreement” make it absolutely clear that any divergence will be within the framework of the common frameworks process. Therefore, it cannot be outside it under the terms of the noble Lord’s own amendments. The only issue—which I think the Minister raised; we are all very fair-minded on this side of the House and give full credit to the noble Lord where he makes persuasive arguments—is what happens if the discussions, during the conduct of which it is not possible to make regulations under the terms of the amendment from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, do not come to a conclusion. The noble and learned Lord’s proposed new subsection (2) says that:
“No regulations may be made by a Minister of the Crown with regard to a matter that is under consideration”.
I hope that the noble and learned Lord can respond to that point when he replies. As a non-lawyer—I fear to tread in this territory—my reading of this is that all parties to these discussions would have to behave reasonably. It would not be open to a devolved Government to keep these discussions going interminably purely for the purposes of avoiding a Minister of the Crown making a regulation. I say that with some trepidation, because I am surrounded by former Supreme Court judges and Lord Chief Justices who will no doubt correct me on that, but if that is the case, then I think that would give a response to the Minister.
I make no apology for speaking on this as a non-lawyer, because behind all this is a very important political point, which comes shining through the words of the Minister. The basic, fundamental political point is whether devolution is a reality or a sham. If it is a reality, then it is absolutely right that the devolved Governments exercising powers conferred by Parliament—these are no small matters—should have the right to engage in discussions about a proper level of divergence that meets the market access principles and common frameworks process. Indeed, I am amazed at how restrained these amendments are because, under their terms, it is not the case that devolved Governments can simply diverge, even if their opinion of the law is that they have the power to diverge. They can only do so with the consent of the United Kingdom Government, because there has to be consensus between them. The amendment from the noble and learned, Lord Hope, in fact gives a very narrow scope—but proper scope, it seems to me—for the devolved Governments to engage in discussion with the United Kingdom Government to meet the United Kingdom market access principle on a level of divergence that would meet their judgment of what is appropriate for their own territories. The noble and learned Lord gave the example of higher food standards. This seems be the absolute minimum, consistent with the proper operation of devolution.
The big underlying point, which we might as well flush out, because it is right to be frank about this, is that the Prime Minister believes—he has told us this—that devolution was Blair’s biggest mistake. He does not believe in these devolved institutions at all; we know that because he has told us. It is always a good idea when people tell you what they think that you take them at their word. He has said that setting up the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly was Blair’s biggest mistake. If we take the view that the establishment of the institutions was itself a fundamental mistake, then of course we would not want to give them any power—even to discuss divergence—because we would think it was a mistake. If on the other hand we take the view that devolution is a beneficial part of the arrangements for the governance of the United Kingdom—which I take to be the official policy of the Government as opposed to the unofficial view of the Prime Minister—without which that governance might well collapse, then it seems to me that the provision that noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, sets out, for a proper level of divergence to reflect the judgment of devolved governments on what is appropriate for their territories, is absolutely right. We should therefore insist on these amendments.
My Lords, I fear I will not match the eloquence of my noble friend Lord Adonis. I want to say a few words in support of the amendments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, who, like me, is a member of the Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee. In his introduction, the noble Lord, Lord True, praised my noble friend Lady Andrews and the work she and that committee are doing. If the Minister thinks that method is so good, why does he not accept these amendments, since that is exactly what we are suggesting—that it should be done through the kind of procedure that the Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee is operating? He argued that case, perhaps without realising it, from the Dispatch Box.
Yesterday, I heard a very interesting debate. On one side of the argument was the importance of a level playing field for an internal market—I thought the United Kingdom Government were arguing that case in relation to what we are discussing—and on the other was sovereignty. I thought it might have been the Scottish or Welsh Governments arguing that case. Ironically, it was not. It was the European Union arguing the case for a level playing field for a common internal market and the United Kingdom Government arguing the case in relation to sovereignty. The tables were turned; the UK Government were arguing entirely the opposite case in relation to Europe that they argue in their dealings with the devolved authorities. It is about time they got their arguments right on this and accepted these amendments.
My Lords, throughout the many stages of this debate the common frameworks have been given a great airing, and many of your Lordships have had a chance to vent their respective spleens on the subject. The Minister may be assured that my spleen will remain in its correct place, because enough has been said on this issue. Indeed, he observed that noble Lords have made their position on common frameworks very clear.
However, the Government have shown great and steadfast reticence on writing the common frameworks into this Bill. The Minister set out two reasons for this: first, in stressing the word “voluntary” on several occasions, and, secondly, in pointing out the joint ownership of the common frameworks between the devolved authorities and the UK Government. On that second point, have any of the devolved authorities objected to the idea that common frameworks might be a central part of this Bill? I have seen no such objections; on the contrary, I have seen enthusiasm from devolved authorities that this might happen.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, has drafted elegant solutions in his amendments, which I hope will help the Minister to get to the point of developing the market access principles and legal certainties—the Minister is right to say that we need them—but, at the same time, respecting the devolution settlement. A key part of the noble and learned Lord’s speech was about the respect that this Bill needs to show the devolved authorities and the settlement that has developed so well there.
I was impressed by the tone of conciliation and consultation in the Minister’s speech, which came through in his “willingness to continue to engage in discussion”, “discussions have not been exhausted” and “open to discussions.” The door is clearly open. With respect to the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, there is time; I have also worked in commercial life and while the idea of “give me certainty” works within a correct framework, if it is “give me certainty” in a terrible framework then I would rather wait a little and get it right. We can spend a few days more getting this right. A vote for the amendments set out by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, would help keep the door open for those discussions with the Minister. That is why we on these Benches will vote in favour of them.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, who is not in his place, will recall how the notion of common frameworks evolved. When we were doing the first EU withdrawal Bill, it became clear that some of the powers returning from Brussels clearly fell within devolved competences. It was therefore widely understood that, to facilitate trade throughout the UK—as otherwise the rules affecting trade could vary across internal borders—a coming together of the four authorities would be needed to balance the desire for, and attraction of, diversity on some issues with a UK-wide approach to help consumers buy and manufacturers trade throughout the UK.
From the start, it was agreed that such frameworks would be established where needed—this is from the communiqué of October 2017—to
“enable the functioning of the UK internal market, while acknowledging policy divergence” and that they would
“respect the devolution settlements … based on established conventions … including that the competence of the devolved institutions will not normally be adjusted without their consent”.
That was how they started. At that point, a list of 24 such topics was identified and, with a lot of good faith and hard work—as the Minister has acknowledged—the initial three Governments, along with Northern Ireland officials, set to work developing frameworks to enable that UK-wide market to flourish while recognising where devolved authorities might want variations for whatever reason. The basis was, to quote again from that document signed by the Government, to
“maintain, as a minimum, equivalent flexibility for tailoring policies to the specific needs of each territory”.
Until this Bill arrived, everyone thought the system was working well and would accomplish the aims set for it. This should have been something for the Government to celebrate, as they have today, and build on. In fact, it has never been necessary for the Government to use their powers to freeze any devolved authority’s power—a provision set into the EU withdrawal Act, as the Minister has acknowledged.
While this Bill was anticipated, the expectation was that it would help build a new, in some ways unique, internal market across our four nations, which have different cultural, linguistic, agricultural, geographical and industrial histories and realities. Above all, our nations have different democratic governance structures from when we ceded rule-making to the EU in 1973. We thought the Bill would respect the devolution realities while helping to ensure the UK market could prosper for the sake of business, consumers, workers, our agriculture and the environment. As we now know, in addition to throwing the quite unnecessary Part 5 grenade into the Bill, the Government pulled the pin on another grenade by writing into the Bill market access rules which trumped, rather than solidified, the common frameworks programme, which is an approach built on consensus rather than top-down diktat.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, is not a revolutionary. He is not trying to rewrite the Bill. He is seeking—rather like the Minister himself through the Government’s welcome amendments on regulation-making, for which we will give thanks when we come to them later—to start the process on the basis of consent across the four devolved authorities, and, where that is not possible, leaving it to the UK Parliament, rightly, to legislate. We support a union, and therefore we support Parliament’s right at that point to have its proper role. But we start with consent, and then move to Parliament. What we do not support is starting here in Parliament and government, rather than with the four-party common frameworks. So, we welcome the noble and learned Lord’s upending of the procedure, starting with common frameworks and, where or if those do not work, using the market access approach of the Bill in areas obviously otherwise within devolved competencies.
I think we would all warn the Government to be very careful about clawing back decisions from our now quite long-established devolved settlements. I find today’s vote in the Senedd, by 36 to 15, to deny legislative consent to this Bill extraordinarily regrettable. It is an important Bill; it is not a small one. That was denied because of the message sent to Wales and the other devolveds by the rejection in the Commons last night of this approach. So we need a backstop for any failure to agree, but we fail to understand that what should be a backstop has become the starting gun.
The amendments in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, build on the devolution settlements and would support and strengthen the union, as well as creating what we all want: a successful, growing internal market, which is in the interest of all our citizens. We are right, as my noble friend Lord Adonis said, to ask the Government very genuinely to think again about the mechanisms—because that is what we are discussing—to achieve what I think we all want.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, said that if there was a will on the Government’s part to make the common frameworks system work, a solution could be found. Along with the noble Lord, Lord Fox, we concur with that view, and we welcome the Minister’s saying that “discussions are not exhausted”—I think I have his words right. Whether we do that by recognising the framework system in some way, extending the freeze provisions when they expire or pausing market access for a period of time while the four Governments talk—as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Adonis—there is surely a way forward. But I believe we need this amendment to get the Government to continue to discuss, so that we can get that way forward. That is why we will support the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, when he calls for a vote shortly.
My Lords, I am grateful to all those who have contributed to this short debate and for the general tone of the interventions made. I was of course intrigued by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, who emerged as a tribune of the people in this august senatorial assembly with his powerful oratory—a latter-day Gaius Gracchus, who said that your Lordships should reject everything sent to us by another place as a constructive contribution to law-making. I would respectfully give to the noble Lord, and indeed to any others who may share his views, the advice I would give to an overweight gentleman like myself: rejecting some of what is set before you, whether it is legislation or food, may well be desirable from time to time, but to reject everything is not conducive to the health of the legislature or of an individual. I hope that rather “Radical Jack” approach will not carry too much weight on the Opposition Benches.
I preferred the broader tone of the debate, which, as I heard it, actually reflected this Government’s resolve and the resolve of the parties represented in this place, at least—I cannot speak for down the Corridor: that all of us are committed to the security and future of this great union, to the common frameworks process and, as part of that, to hopefully developing further the next stage of inter-governmental relations, as I have explained to the House during the course of this Bill.
This Bill, however, works in tandem with the common frameworks programme by providing a broad safety net and additional protections to maintain the status quo of seamless intra-UK trade across all sectors of the economy, and there ought to be agreement on that in your Lordships’ House. It will ensure maximum certainty for businesses and investors, both domestic and overseas. I agree with what my noble friend Lord Naseby said from his perspective and experience in business. I am sure all noble Lords at heart support that objective and understand the need for a coherent internal market.
However, the broad approach of using common frameworks to disapply elements of the Bill, put forward by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, goes too far in our judgment and could lead to legal and regulatory uncertainty. Of course, as I said in my opening remarks—and as was picked up during the debate—the Government will continue to reflect further on these matters, not only within this Bill but more widely.
But the certainty provided by this Bill, which has been sent to us by the other place, is what businesses and citizens across the United Kingdom need. I hope your Lordships’ House will come to agree that this is something we must provide.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. I must say that I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord True, that we need to create and indeed preserve a coherent internal market. I do not think anything I said in my presentation, or anything in the aims I am seeking to achieve through my amendments, is in any way in conflict with that overriding aim. It is all a matter of finding a solution that is consistent with that and with the devolution system to which the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, spoke so movingly this afternoon.
I think the noble Lord, Lord True, will agree that the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, did raise an interesting point about subsections (2) of my Amendments 1B and 1C. All I can say to the noble Lord is that I would rather not go into the details at this stage in the debate. It is, among all the things I have raised in my amendments, a subject for further consideration and discussion—if, as I hope, discussions will continue. It was with that aim that my amendment was framed for debate this afternoon.
I think we all know what the issues are; they have been thoroughly debated several times. It is time for a decision. With reference to Amendments 1B, 1C and 1D, I wish to test the opinion of the House.
Ayes 320, Noes 215.