My Lords, I will speak also to the other amendments in this group. The Sewel convention states that normally, the UK Parliament will legislate in areas that are devolved only with the permission of the relevant legislature, obtained through the legislative consent Motion process.
In recent weeks, despite the best efforts of Ministers and officials from HM Treasury and the Northern Ireland Executive, it has become clear that the legislative consent Motions for relevant parts of the Bill would not be completed before Report in this House. It is therefore necessary to ensure that certain elements of the Bill do not apply in Northern Ireland, in line with the Sewel convention.
I assure the House that the great majority of the Bill will have effect in Northern Ireland, as financial services is a reserved matter. However, it is necessary for Northern Ireland to be removed from the relevant parts of the Statutory Debt Repayment Plan and account freezing and forfeiture measures in Clause 34 and Schedule 12, with connected changes to Clause 44 on extent and Clause 45 on commencement in addition.
These are technical amendments which the Government have tabled to avoid legislating without consent. Our understanding is that the absence of a consent Motion is due to current timing constraints rather than any concern about the substance of the measures. Legislative consent was not denied—the process was simply not completed.
Amendments 50 and 51 will amend Schedule 12 so that certain provisions in that schedule will have different effects in Northern Ireland from those in England and Wales and Scotland. Amendments 38, 40, 41 and 42 amend Clauses 44 and 45 to help give effect to the changes to Schedule 12. The amendments retain the status quo in Northern Ireland regarding the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, and the changes which Schedule 12 makes to that Act will have effect only in England, Wales and Scotland. It is important to be clear that these amendments will not affect Schedule 12 as it relates to the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. Anti-terrorism is an excepted matter and the changes which Schedule 12 makes to that Act will have effect across the UK.
Amendments 8, 9, 10, 13 and 39 prevent most of the changes made in Clause 34 extending to Northern Ireland. These are the provisions relating to the Statutory Debt Repayment Plan measure.
Clause 34(4), which provides an express power to bind the Crown, will continue to apply to Northern Ireland. This is done so as not to disturb the position on Crown application that the Government consider originally applied in the Financial Guidance and Claims Act 2018 in relation to Northern Ireland.
I would like to reassure noble Lords that Northern Ireland will still be able to make its own legislation providing for a debt respite scheme of its own design, including similar provisions to those in Clause 34, if these are desired. UK Government officials will of course continue to work closely with and support their opposite numbers on the design and implementation of a debt respite scheme for Northern Ireland if this is pursued.
I urge the House to accept these amendments, which are necessary to avoid legislating for Northern Ireland without the appropriate consent. I beg to move.
The name of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, does not appear on the list, but he should have been included, so I call him next.
I am grateful to the House for allowing me to speak at this point. I put in a request, but it got omitted. The Deputy Speaker has expressed the situation well.
The substance of the issues raised by the noble Earl in his introduction are incontestable. We respect the devolution settlement and we need to make sure that everything we do is in accordance with that. He slightly misspoke in the sense that the Sewel convention now has statutory force, rather than being just a convention. Indeed, it is often now called the Sewel principle. When we were dealing with matters arising from the internal market Bill, which came to your Lordships’ House about six months ago, that was certainly the way in which we addressed this issue.
I understand the logic behind the Government’s current position and their concern that they should not take steps which would in any sense mitigate the Sewel principle, as discussed. However, I was left a little confused by the noble Earl’s remarks, despite the usual clarity with which he expressed himself.
As I understood it, the debt respite scheme was being progressed under regulations made under the Financial Guidance and Claims Act 2018, to which he referred. It therefore seems a little odd that we are still concerned that that might not go ahead or that, if it did, it would do so under regulations made in Northern Ireland rather than those which will apply in England and Wales. From memory, this will be in place from May 2021, which is not very far away. I would be grateful if the noble Earl could be a little clearer about that when he comes to respond, or perhaps he could write to me and we could discuss this. The issue is where that authority will vest going forward. Will it relate to the UK financial guidance Act or to local legislation put through by the Northern Ireland Assembly? Matters may arise regarding how that is decided, but I would like to know the answer.
The other question is how we make progress in relation to the statutory debt repayment plans. The issue here is again whether the necessary legislative consent order would have come through, when it has not, in relation to that. If that is the case, perhaps the Minister will confirm whether that is happening. If it is not happening, is not the situation a little different this time? Because, as we are going to discuss in the next group, we are now being told that the timeframe for the delivery of the SDRP is going to be the end of 2024, which is, after all, three and a bit years away. It seems unlikely that there will still be a problem if we are waiting for the Northern Ireland Assembly to consider that: we should be able to get through that in three and a half years’ time.
I would be grateful if the Minister would let us know a bit more about the Government’s plans and again, it that is not in his notes, he can write to me and we can discuss it offline.
My Lords, the minute I saw this group of amendments, I knew they were above my pay grade. I am in awe of the understanding of the noble Lords, Lord True and Lord Stevenson of Balmacara. I forwarded all the amendments to those of my colleagues who deal specifically with Northern Ireland, and I think they travelled over to Northern Ireland, as well, for review there. The message I got back was that the timing—I will not repeat the word that followed—problem, let us say, was not a problem.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing these amendments and for the explanation that was shared ahead of this debate. We will not oppose them today, as it is right that changes should not be made without legislative consent. It is, however, very troubling that these provisions will go forward without Northern Ireland’s inclusion. and that time has not been offered to allow the Northern Ireland Executive to pass a consent Motion. It is my understanding that there were also difficulties on timing for a legislative consent Motion during the passage of the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill. It cannot become a habit for this Government to carve Northern Ireland out of legislation at the last minute or treat legislative consent as an afterthought. What conversations were had with the Northern Ireland Executive on the problem of timing? Were any measures considered to allow them extra time as needed?
Have the Government identified ways to prevent this happening again? On the substantive issues, the result is that the Bill will be passed without offering the same powers and protections for communities and law enforcement in Northern Ireland as in other areas of the UK. This is of particular concern for the statutory debt repayment plans at a time when the impact of the Covid pandemic has placed extreme stress on people’s personal finances.
Finally, what options are the Government considering, with the Northern Ireland Executive, to ensure that Northern Ireland is given an opportunity to enact these provisions and that communities in Northern Ireland are able to benefit from the planned support on debt and personal finance?
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their remarks, and I stress again that UK government officials will of course continue to work closely with and support their opposite numbers in Northern Ireland. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, will accept that that is as far as I can go as regards our support for our Northern Ireland colleagues, because the ball is very much in their court as to how they wish to proceed and when. As and when they decide to proceed, they will of course get full co-operation from the UK Government.
I would like to touch on a question that the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, asked me relating to the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill. That also gave rise to an issue over a legislative consent Motion from Northern Ireland. The context for securing legislative consent for the Medicines and Medical Devices Act 2021—as it now is—was quite distinct from that for this Bill. Northern Ireland Executive Ministers were asked to consider promoting a supplementary legislative consent Motion on a second occasion as a result of amendments added to the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill during its House of Lords Committee stage. The Northern Ireland Assembly had sufficient time to consider and pass a supplementary LCM before the Bill’s Report stage in the second House—in this case, the Lords. Report is considered to be the last substantive amending stage of a Bill in the House of Lords and, consequently, the last opportunity for the Government to avoid legislating for Northern Ireland had consent been denied or not achieved in time.
Unfortunately for this Bill, it has not been possible to secure legislative consent in time, in spite of the efforts of our officials and those in the Northern Ireland Executive. The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, asked whether we can prevent this situation happening again. I respectfully say to him that it really is not within the control of the Government here to influence the order of business and the work conducted by the Northern Ireland Executive. It is largely in their domain, but I hope my earlier reassurances will have been helpful on this topic.
The background to this, to come to his earlier point and the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, is that breathing space regulations, which are the second half of the SDRP measures, that come into force on
I am afraid that the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, has the better of me in his detailed questions. I will need to write to him, if he will forgive my not answering him now, on where the precise authority vests in relation to a Northern Ireland debt respite scheme, and indeed how the Government’s plan for the debt respite scheme will pan out prior to the end of 2024.
Amendment 8 agreed.
Amendments 9 and 10 agreed.