Queen’s Speech - Debate (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:50 pm on 13th May 2021.

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Photo of The Earl of Kinnoull The Earl of Kinnoull Chair, European Union Committee, Chair, European Union Committee, Chair, European Affairs Committee, Chair, European Affairs Committee 1:50 pm, 13th May 2021

My Lords, what a pleasure it is to follow such an excellent maiden speech from the noble Baroness. I particularly resonate with her point about the self-harm of the SNP refusing to take up seats in this House, which I feel is greatly not to the advantage of all people in Scotland.

The noble Baroness hid her light under a pretty thick bushel, I am afraid. Craigmaddie means “great rock of the wolf” and is in Stirlingshire. She is the product of the Glasgow Academy—as noble Lords know, it is a star school—and Cambridge, which is the second-best university. Before going back, she stopped off briefly in London, where she enjoyed the delights of the advertising world, to which I will return in a second. She danced, I suppose, back to Scotland and to her roots.

Today, apart from being the chief executive of Cerebral Palsy Scotland, she also chairs the Scottish Government’s National Advisory Committee for Neurological Conditions and is, among other things, a board member of Creative Scotland—our version of the Arts Council—and OSCR, which is the charity regulator in Scotland. Her energy and fairness of approach are recognised by all north of the border. I for one am thankful that she employs her skills in Scotland—now, to some extent, in this House too—and not with J. Walter Thompson in London on a diet of Go-Cat, Timotei and Listerine mouthwash. Anyway, I very much look forward to her future contributions in this Chamber.

The trade and co-operation agreement and the withdrawal agreement represent the cornerstones of the most wide-ranging arrangements that the UK has had with any international partner. The mechanics of these arrangements are hugely complex. The competencies covered by the agreements range from those reserved to Westminster, through those that are shared with the devolved nations and the UK, to those that are wholly devolved. Yet the 32 committees that currently exist under these agreements contain seats only for EU Commission and UK Government representatives. The agreements are silent as to how the devolved nations interact. That is right because it is not a matter for the EU, but it is therefore a matter for the UK Government to lead on, explain and make happen.

The 24 committees of the trade and co-operation agreement were not operational until the TCA’s ratification at the end of last month. As the European Affairs Committee well knows, they are now cranking up. I note how many will involve devolved matters. Take the Specialised Committee on Fisheries. This is a wholly devolved competence. How are the devolved nations to be involved?

The Dunlop review of November 2019, which was finally published on 24 March this year, is wonderfully clear on this area, with common-sense principles that should apply. Where intergovernmental relations are concerned, it underlines that we must have a new system and that that system must be transparent. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster wrote a response of the same date that appears positive but lacks a firm commitment to implementing the totality of the Dunlop recommendations of 16 months before. The third document of that day was the Progress Update on the Review of Intergovernmental Relations. It reveals how much important detail still needs to be agreed in the review that started in March 2018.

The Government appear to be bogged down. The Dunlop review is now 18 months old. The key elements are not being acted on. The review of intergovernmental relations is more than three years old, with an ending not even on the radar, let alone in sight. Failing to address devolved Administration interaction with the relevant TCA committees will inevitably give rise to more energy and time-sapping arguments, which do no one any good. At the very least, it is vital that the Government complete and implement the review of intergovernmental relations, and rapidly.

My thoughts on the trade and co-operation agreement and the withdrawal agreement stand on top of all the other reasons for urgent action on the mechanics of our union that have been advanced today, not least in the excellent opening speeches of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, and my noble and learned friend Lord Judge. I very much wish that we could have had more than five minutes of him. Does the Minister agree with my analysis so far?

In closing, I note that the fact that the devolved Administrations have involvement in the trade and co-operation agreement committees means, of course, that the devolved Assemblies will have commensurate scrutiny duties. Does the Minister recognise this, and can he confirm that the Government will support reasonable scrutiny by those Assemblies?