UK Government Union Capability - Motion to Take Note

– in the House of Lords at 4:51 pm on 1st July 2021.

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The Earl of Kinnoull:

Moved by The Earl of Kinnoull

That this House takes note of (1) The Dunlop Review into UK Government Union capability, and (2) the progress update on the review of inter- governmental relations, both published on 24 March.

Photo of The Earl of Kinnoull The Earl of Kinnoull Chair, European Union Committee, Chair, European Union Committee, Deputy Chairman of Committees, Chair, European Affairs Committee, Chair, European Affairs Committee

My Lords, if the previous debate was about a major part of the United Kingdom’s external soul, this debate is about a major part of our internal one. The past 25 years have seen huge changes in how we are governed, with the devolution of much power from Westminster in various stages. The job of creating the mechanics as to how the UK’s resulting governmental bodies interact has, however, not kept step; this is contributing to the significant creaks and groans within the union that are of such concern today to so many here—certainly to me. I thought I would remind the House of some of the history and then draw some conclusions.

The instrument that governs the principles of intergovernmental relations in the UK is the memorandum of understanding of October 2013. This 60-page document is in fact only a draft, as it was never fully adopted by all the parties. It vests the responsibility in the UK Government for the MoU and the Joint Ministerial Committees with the Deputy Prime Minister—a position vacant since 2015. Ten pages are also taken up with a chapter entitled “Concordat on Co-ordination of European Union Policy Issues”. Those two anachronisms are not the only issues.

The Scottish independence referendum was in September 2014. The resulting Smith commission agreement led to a substantial additional number of powers being devolved, as duly happened pursuant to the Scotland Act 2016 and the Wales Act 2017. These significant changes in the devolution settlements represent yet more things that the drafters of the October 2013 MoU had not sought to address.

Under the strong chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Lang of Monkton, who will speak later, our Constitution Committee reported in May 2016. The committee went into things in impressive detail in its report, The Union and Devolution, which built on its incisive May 2015 report on the Smith commission agreement. It concluded that the UK Government must

“devise and articulate a coherent vision for the shape and structure of the United Kingdom, without which there cannot be constitutional stability.”

Indeed, the whole report is as relevant and to the point today as it was five years ago.

The Brexit process kicked off in June 2016, just one month later, and exacerbated the situation. In our report, Brexit: Devolution, the European Union Committee commented in July 2017:

“The devolved governments, and some of our witnesses, have also argued that fundamental reform is needed to give the devolved institutions a more formal role in UK decision-making post-Brexit, analogous to that of regions and states in federal systems.”

I remember well the evidence sessions. The committee could not take a formal view on this, of course, as it was outside our remit, but the very fact that we included this paragraph shows how concerned we were.

The start of 2018 was probably the low point, but in March 2018, the review of intergovernmental relations—the IGR review—was launched. This is expressly a

“joint review of the existing Memorandum of Understanding on Devolution.”

That quote is from GOV.UK. In mid-2019, the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, was asked to review the UK Government’s union capability, a task he very ably concluded in late November that year. Then, after a period of great silence, on 24 March this year we got four documents. I am now going to switch out of history mode and consider each in turn.

The first document was the Dunlop review itself. This is a seminal and well thought-through document, and it is a pity that it had to wait in the wings for 16 months. The report had four principal propositions and one notable other proposition. These were: a great new office of state in the Cabinet; a reorganisation of the devolved nation departments, with a single Permanent Secretary; UK-wide project funding arrangements; Joint Ministerial Committee reform; and new Cabinet committee arrangements.

The second 24 March document was an update on the IGR review. This would appear to be quite close to the finishing post, as almost all the text is agreed and the remaining issues would seem to me to be rather less challenging than some of those successfully tackled in the run-up to the trade and co-operation agreement, with which I am so familiar. I ask the Minister why it has taken more than three years to get to these 15 pages and when the vital process will finally be concluded. If the finishing post is passed, this draft would seem a good answer to, and endorsement of, the fourth Dunlop proposition.

The third 24 March document was the inaugural Intergovernmental Relations Quarterly Report. This very interesting document is highly significant. In his foreword, Michael Gove is quite clear that there will be not only quarterly reports from now on but annual reports into IGR activity. This transparency is as commendable as it is vital. I have no doubt it will drive the process of putting devolution as a core factor, ever present in UK Government thinking on all matters. No ministry will want to report a poor level of devolution engagement. The reports will also provide convenient documents for parliamentary scrutiny, and I hope that a debate on the annual report, in government time, will, as a matter of course, become a fixture in both Westminster Houses. Perhaps the Minister could comment on this point. I hope he will also congratulate those involved on their work on this important inaugural quarterly report.

The fourth and last 24 March document was the Government response to the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, in the shape of a letter from Michael Gove. This says on the first page,

“From the moment we received your report we have been keen to implement policies in line with your recommendations.”

However, the reality is that, despite these warm words, only the third, fourth and fifth Dunlop review propositions are addressed in the letter—admittedly, broadly in line with the Dunlop review. Things are, however, very unsatisfactory where the first two Dunlop review propositions are concerned. The Michael Gove letter does not seek to address the propositions directly and instead refers to changes to the board structures of government departments and a new advisory group to the Cabinet Office. Such changes are invisible to the ordinary citizen and miss the essential point of the Dunlop review’s two leading propositions—the symbolism.

Having a totemic office of state—an exclusive advocate at Cabinet level—would be a public recognition that the union is precious to the core and that there is a much more powerful voice in Whitehall for the smaller in our collection of proud nations. Instead, today, these responsibilities form a part only of the portfolio of one of the busiest Cabinet Ministers. This cannot be the winning answer and it cannot be consistent with the words:

“we have been keen to implement policies in line with your recommendations.”

In January 2020, I was in Canada, at a conference of Commonwealth Speakers. Our hosts had also invited the Speakers of their many regional Assemblies, and over the course of the three days, I had the opportunity to speak to many of the Canadians. The very consistent message was how much effort they put into their union, with a regular diet of meetings and gatherings, the consistent involvement of the Prime Minister and great care taken linguistically with every parliamentary speech. One especially experienced Speaker told me that after their own tensions of the mid-1990s, “We not only had to talk the talk, we had to walk the walk.”

In closing, therefore, I ask the Minister whether he accepts the enormous value of the symbolism of the first two Dunlop propositions and what further plans the Government have to provide for them. I look forward very much to the debate and I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Murphy of Torfaen Lord Murphy of Torfaen Labour 5:00 pm, 1st July 2021

My Lords, I welcome the report of the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop. It addresses very important issues and makes serious recommendations, including on the need to improve intergovernmental relations in the United Kingdom. Your Lordships’ committee dealing with common frameworks, of which I am a member, has recommended improvements to the IGR system, and the Government themselves, as we just heard, are making certain changes, but we need much more radical change to the way in which the Governments in Cardiff, Belfast, Edinburgh and London work together.

We now live in a very different constitutional world. The British political landscape has changed dramatically and, during the past year, having to deal with Covid, more and more people are now conscious of devolution in our country. The First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, has this week spoken of the need to reform the union. He is right. There must be British Government recognition of the new picture.

When I was a territorial Secretary of State, many in Whitehall adhered to the maxim “devolve and forget”. This will no longer work. There must be mutual respect between the partnership of nations in our country. We should have an independent system to deal with disputes between those Administrations. Your Lordships’ House could play a significant role in representing the different parts of our country.

Flags and United Kingdom Government offices in Cardiff and Edinburgh will not strengthen the union. Only a wholly new approach will work. I want the union to survive and prosper. It will remain only if we seriously reform it.

Photo of Lord Thomas of Gresford Lord Thomas of Gresford Liberal Democrat Shadow Attorney General 5:02 pm, 1st July 2021

My Lords, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the new leader of the DUP, said this morning:

“The Northern Ireland Protocol represents the greatest threat to the economic integrity of the United Kingdom in any of our lifetimes.”

The United Kingdom Government thrust upon one of the four constituent parts of the UK a vital constitutional and economic framework without consultation. The DUP has no ownership of any part of it. I entirely understand unionists’ frustrations, although I disagree with their stance and rhetoric.

The review of the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, points to an entirely new structure and an approach to devolution which would largely prevent these strains on the coherence of the union. I welcome his review and recommendations and I, too, regret very much that it took so long to publish it and to address its important first two propositions. The progress report makes it clear that, although there is some movement forward, there is as yet no agreement on the structure and responsibilities of the UK Government and devolved Administrations council. Will the Minister kindly update us on that issue and on the current state of any discussions?

In their report, Reforming Our Union, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, and published on Tuesday, the Welsh Government point out that there has not been a plenary meeting of the Joint Ministerial Council—the existing, feeble body for discussions on devolution—for 12 months. Mr Drakeford declares that

“it has become harder and harder to make the case for the Union, and the threat to it has never been greater during my lifetime.”

He rightly says that when the UK Government act in an aggressively unilateral way on behalf of the whole UK, without regard for the status of the nations and the democratic mandate of the Government, that inevitably creates anger and alienation. I commend the report as an excellent contribution to the debate. I regret that that is as far as my Japanese haiku—or Welsh cynghanedd—of a speech can take me.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Conservative 5:05 pm, 1st July 2021

My Lords, in the miserably short time allotted for debate on this Motion that the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, has so wisely brought before us, I will make just two points.

First, the Dunlop review is an excellent piece of work and an excellent contribution to the reformed machinery of government for a better union that we must build and must be on offer if the United Kingdom is to remain intact. Unfortunately, the Scottish independence movement is about a lot more than machinery and governance. It has to be realised that that is primarily an emotional cause, driven by a proud people in an ancient and exceptionally talented kingdom. That means that the movement is ready to sweep aside all rational, economic and administrative argument as scaremongering and project fear. It is emotions that have to be responded to. The separatist arguments can be met only by asking and answering the question as to why we need and how we gain consent for a good and friendly union in these islands, where we are all mixed together, in this utterly transformed age of new conditions. On that, frankly, we have hardly started.

Secondly, the key to the whole Scottish independence trajectory lies not in the hands of the hard-line one-third of Scottish republicans, who always wanted breakaway at any costs, but with the broad swathe across the middle—the moderate unionists who are now extremely inclined to independence of some kind, especially after Brexit. Given the emotional content, most practical proposals for more devolution will make little impact. This is about sovereignty, not just devolution—a different, although overlapping, concept.

So the question boils down to what can be done via tone, respect, language of partnership and a proper say in national and world policies for Scotland which is short of severing the link of sovereignty, yet gives Scotland a real feeling of place in the scheme of things and the comity of nations, large and small. It is time —well past time—to pin down the loudest voices in Edinburgh about what they really want and what independence actually means to them. Once that is done, we can start the steps towards a better kind of union and the full value of the Dunlop reforms can come into play. Let us hope that it is not too late.

Photo of Baroness Bryan of Partick Baroness Bryan of Partick Labour 5:07 pm, 1st July 2021

My Lords, the present Government came to power with a commitment to significant constitutional change. Their manifesto pledged that a Conservative Government would hold a constitutional review to restore “trust in our democracy”. As well as the Conservatives, every other major party had commitments relating to constitutional change. Polling showed that 85% of people felt dissatisfied with the political system. All this contributed to a sense that there would be change.

There was an opportunity for a wider debate around the Dunlop review but it was never allowed to happen. Eventually, we discovered that one of the findings was that Whitehall had little understanding of or interest in devolution. That was confirmed by the imposition of the internal market Act.

Constitutional reviews are loudly announced but quietly disappear. We heard from the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord True, on 14 June that the Government had

“no plans to establish an inquiry into the constitution.”—[Official Report, 14/6/21; col. 1657.]

He also said that there could be no sharing of sovereignty. That, in effect, means that there is no constitutional protection for the devolved Administrations. The regions and nations all face a battle to protect themselves from the centralising agenda of this Government. Will the Minister accept the suggestion that the Government should invite the nations and regions to undertake the unfinished business of devolution and ask them to lead a constitutional review?

Photo of Baroness Randerson Baroness Randerson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport) 5:09 pm, 1st July 2021

In 2009 David Melding, a Conservative Welsh Assembly Member, wrote a perceptive book called Will Britain Survive Beyond 2020? —and that was before Brexit sent a huge constitutional shock through our muddled constitutional arrangements. The UK Government are now scrambling to recentralise powers previously held at EU level but then devolved down to the four nations. Devolution settlements are messy. I steered a Wales Act through this House in 2014 and there has been another since, but piecemeal arrangements will not withstand the impact of sustained attack by the SNP, combined with Brexit and the careless, ignorant imposition of the Northern Ireland protocol.

The Government believe strains in the union are due to problems in the three devolved nations. Ministers should examine themselves and consider how Englishness has changed. They must solve the problem of Ministers who one moment are English and the next are Ministers for the whole UK. An Anglocentric UK Government cannot prevent the break-up of the UK. The practical proposals by the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, in his excellent report are the minimum needed but they must be accompanied by a fundamental change of approach.

I have been a Minister in both the Welsh and UK Governments. I understand the perceptions from both ends of the M4. Twitter tells me that the new HMRC HQ in Cardiff will feature a huge, eight-storey union jack. If I were in charge, I do not think I would start by using the tax office as an icon of Britishness. If the Government want to save the union—and I hope they do—they will have to dig much deeper than that.

Photo of Lord Dodds of Duncairn Lord Dodds of Duncairn DUP 5:11 pm, 1st July 2021

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, for his report. I too regret the delay in its publication. There are many positives in it, and I admire and applaud—

Photo of Baroness Scott of Bybrook Baroness Scott of Bybrook Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I am afraid we cannot hear the noble Lord. I suggest we move on.

Photo of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Crossbench 5:12 pm, 1st July 2021

The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, reminded us that the Government sat on their Dunlop report for 16 months and do not seem to be planning to implement it in full. They slipped it out surreptitiously, without allowing a proper debate, and their curious progress update document is still a disputed draft, 39 months into the review. Where is the drive or the urgency? Government documents are not at the level of events.

In Scotland, as in Northern Ireland, devolution is on life support. New structures could be agreed in a week if the Prime Minister were to engage and get them done. Maybe that is the problem. It is almost as if his heart is not in it; as if he meant it when he called devolution a disaster; as if he cannot see what is now the only alternative in Scotland to making it work; as if he really believes that refusing a Section 30 order would close out that alternative, and that Northern Ireland need not involve him and can safely be left to Mr Brandon Lewis.

I have time for one piece of advice only to the Prime Minister: when in a hole, stop digging. Do not repeat the Brexit negotiations mistake of excluding the devolved Administrations. Invite them into the joint committee under the withdrawal agreement now. Do not insist on an immigration policy that ignores their demography, so different from England’s. Why repeat under state aid the internal market Act’s override of the devolution settlement? Do not, with no prior warning, do trade deals with third countries such as Australia, which the three Celtic countries—possibly wrongly but deeply—believe will damage their farmers. Do not go on feeding the perception that you are not really a UK Government but an English Government. Cut out the unforced errors, stop digging the hole deeper and please scrap the hard hat, high-vis jacket photo-op visits, which only annoy. Instead, show parity of esteem, get around the table with your counterparts, settle the structures and make them work. You have not long; time is running out.

Photo of Lord Russell of Liverpool Lord Russell of Liverpool Deputy Chairman of Committees

The noble Lord, Lord Lang of Monkton, has been unable to connect, so I call the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton.

Photo of Baroness Taylor of Bolton Baroness Taylor of Bolton Chair, Constitution Committee, Chair, Constitution Committee 5:15 pm, 1st July 2021

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, on obtaining this debate and the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, on the work he did in his report. I wish that we could congratulate the Government on their response, but, while it was right to commission the Dunlop review, they have not taken on board the basic problems that exist, and there is little evidence that they understand the basic concept of devolution.

The Dunlop review was commissioned to ensure that the UK Government were working in the best possible way to “realise the benefits” of the UK. This was considered particularly pertinent post Brexit. However, the Government continue to insist that they alone always know best. If they had been working properly with the devolved institutions, we would not have seen their dismissive approach to the problems of the Northern Ireland protocol, referred to already. If the Government had been working properly with other people, we would not have seen problems of the severity that we saw when we were passing the internal market Bill. There is a very long way to go before anybody can have any confidence that the Government actually respect the devolved institutions—that is part of the basic problem.

The Dunlop review gave an analysis that most would agree with and made some serious recommendations, many of which I agree with. But even if Ministers were to turn around and tell us now that all of those recommendations were going to be implemented, along with some other ideas that have been mentioned, that would not be sufficient or the end of the problem. Structural changes will take us only so far; what is really needed is a deep-seated change of attitude on the part of the Government, including the Prime Minister.

Photo of Lord Wigley Lord Wigley Plaid Cymru 5:17 pm, 1st July 2021

My Lords, as the noble Lords, Lord Murphy and Lord Thomas, mentioned, Wales’s First Minister, Mark Drakeford, as a unionist, published this week a 20-point analysis entitled Reforming Our Union. He criticised the UK Government for acting

“in an aggressively unilateral way on behalf of the whole UK, without regard for the status of the nations and the democratic mandates of their government” and said that

“this inevitably creates anger and alienation.”

The Dunlop review addresses key issues, but one incredible restriction was that it could not consider the Barnett formula, condemned by a committee of this House 10 years ago. Until that is sorted, a festering sore in Wales will colour attitudes. The UK Government cannot seriously expect civil servants to put the interests of the union above those of the devolved Governments for whom they work.

The Dunlop review makes important recommendations that should be actioned. Points about the need to replace the discredited Joint Ministerial Committee are well made. The recommended intergovernmental council, with an independent secretariat and co-decision by consensus with a clear dispute-handling process, would be a positive step forward.

The Prime Minister’s personal role is stressed. If the union matters to him, then so should the mechanisms that make it work and he should lead by direct involvement. Sadly, the Government’s attitude to this key recommendation is ambivalence. Direct investment in Wales for economic projects that are reserved matters is welcome, but it should be made in co-operation with devolved Governments.

The review stresses the importance of UK branding. As has been mentioned, the union flag has the symbols of England, Scotland and Ireland, but not Wales; its use in Wales can be counterproductive. Non-devolved departments could do more to meet devolved needs—for example, UK embassies could have designated staff relating to devolved Governments.

This is a constructive report but it is useless if the UK Government just ignore it. The Prime Minister’s reluctance to accept personal responsibility, as recommended by the Dunlop review, undermines it, just as it undermines the union and creates the alienation to which Mark Drakeford referred.

Photo of Baroness Fraser of Craigmaddie Baroness Fraser of Craigmaddie Conservative 5:19 pm, 1st July 2021

My Lords, during the debate on constitutional affairs in May, I asked for assurance that the future of intergovernmental relations would be a conversation of co-operation, and my noble friend the Minister gave me that assurance. Two months on, embedding positive working relationships must surely run broader and deeper than simply recovery from the pandemic, important though that is. There are too few post-devolution and post-referendum voices being heard in this debate. Energy is wasted and mistakes are made that are completely avoidable, such as the ridiculous attempt to encourage schoolchildren to sing a song for One Britain One Nation Day just as the Scottish schools had broken up for the summer holidays. Intergovernmental relations should be a partnership and not a popularity contest, but every flag-waving misstep allows the First Minister to use muscular unionism to her advantage.

Too often, consultation is too little, too late, or there is a lack of understanding that a Scottish-based approach, rather than a whole-UK solution, might work better. This mutual respect for the differences of our four nations is essential for improving and developing positive relations. This stance was supported by my noble friend Lord Dunlop in his excellent review, which also found that the prevailing attitude in Whitehall was to “devolve and forget”. The recommendations proposed were “welcomed” by the Government, yet they remain unfulfilled. Why are we stuck with an intergovernmental structure that predates the Scottish referendum and the subsequent transfer of additional powers, with no concrete plans for progress? We must not “devolve and forget”.

This week, Her Majesty the Queen is at Holyrood. She has met both the First Minister and the new Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament as well as taking a tour of the Irn-Bru factory. In short, Her Majesty has respected Scottish institutions. As ever, she has set an ideal tone. May I encourage the Government of the United Kingdom to do the same?

Photo of Lord Hope of Craighead Lord Hope of Craighead Judge 5:22 pm, 1st July 2021

My Lords, the key message which I take from the seminal review of the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, is that we must find ways of ensuring that devolution as a core factor and the strength and solidarity which the union provides work together in the common interest.

The union is seen by many in Scotland to mean London, and, as others have said, hearts and minds are unlikely to be won by waving the union jack or by ridiculous events such as the Department for Education’s One Britain One Nation Day. It is the handling of the practical things that matter. The union has to be seen to be working well in Scotland in a way that persuades people that it is on their side and needs to be taken seriously. This requires the building of better relationships and improving trust and confidence at all levels within the Civil Service and, especially, across government.

The Government’s recognition of common frameworks in the final stages of the internal market Bill, which I am sure the Minister will remember well, was an important step forward; so too has been the development, in partnership with the devolved Administrations, of a framework for a UK-wide subsidy control regime, now to be found in the Subsidy Control Bill.

As for the proposals, a UK Government and devolved Administrations council, replacing the regrettable ad hoc systems that exist at present, would have key role to play, but can we expect agreement on this proposal by the end of the Summer Recess? The proposal for an annual meeting between the Prime Minister or his deputy and the First Minister or Ministers seems to fall short of what is needed to build trusting relationships. Surely at least two such meetings, attended by the Prime Minister himself and not a deputy, should be required. As it is, the proposal seems half-hearted. Strengthening the union requires much more than that.

Photo of Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Labour 5:24 pm, 1st July 2021

My Lords, 22 years ago today, Her Majesty the Queen opened the new Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, and I sat and stood that day with pride at becoming a Member of the first new democratic Parliament in the UK for 300 years. That day had so many hopes for the new institution. Many of them have been borne out by the diversity of the decision-making and the strength with which the Parliament has legislated, particularly in those early years.

However, anyone born since then would in Scotland today question the purpose of the United Kingdom—not just the UK Government or Parliament—in their lives. That is at the core of this debate, and that is why I welcome so much the initiation of this debate by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and the excellent report by the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, although I do not believe it is radical enough or goes far enough.

This debate is not about powers and the distribution of powers between Governments and Parliaments. It is about power, the exercise of power, the culture of government, the connection between the Government and people and the identity that they feel, as correctly pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Howell. If we are going to deal with those very modern political issues about disconnects with Parliament, Governments and institutions, we need to be much more radical, with not just another new Secretary of State but by replacing the three old Secretaries of State with a new powerful voice at the centre of government for the nations and the regions and the constitution of the country, reforming this institution better to represent all parts of the kingdom and with better intergovernmental relations and developing a positive case for the union.

The sentence that I like best in the report by the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, is the one where he says that

“the United Kingdom … is the most successful multinational state in the world.”

It is the first time in 22 years that any government report on the United Kingdom has used that description, a “multinational state”. That is the United Kingdom today. That is the reality, and we need a completely new, positive case for that multinational state if it is going to exist for the rest of the 21st century.

Photo of Lord Hannan of Kingsclere Lord Hannan of Kingsclere Conservative 5:26 pm, 1st July 2021

My Lords, why are we discussing the separation of this kingdom? We are not riven by some massive ethnic difference in the way that Kosovo or South Sudan or somewhere was. In all parts, we speak the same language, we watch the same TV, we follow the same sports, we shop at the same chains and we abuse alcohol in the same way, and this common affinity predates our formal union. When James VI of Scotland made his first speech in this building in 1604, he made precisely this point:

“Hath not God first united these two kingdoms, both in language, religion, and similitude of manners? Yea, hath He not made us all in one island, compassed with one sea”.

For a long time after that, people had a sense of shared nationality, of shared characteristics. We were stubborn, we were stiff-necked, we bridled at injustice, we were slow to anger, we could be morose and difficult, but we had a clear sense of union, bolstered by our habit of intermingling and intermarrying.

So what has changed? What has changed, it seems to me, is the trashing of the British brand. If the United Kingdom as a concept is systematically derided and traduced by our intellectual elites, if our history is presented to young people as a hateful chronicle of racism and exploitation, is it any wonder that people in the constituent kingdoms will start groping back towards older patriotisms? Yet I ask the question: where else in the world down the centuries would you rather have been poor, or female or from a religious minority? Which country has done more to spread liberty and law? We do not have to make up a fable, some platonic noble lie. We have a tremendous story to tell as a united people: we defeated attempts to unite the world under fascist and communist tyranny; we ended slavery; we spread commerce and law across the continents and the archipelagos. It is a great song to sing, and we have not finished singing it yet.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Labour 5:28 pm, 1st July 2021

My Lords, my experience of government until late 2008, and then as chair of the Food Standards Agency from 2009 to 2013, is that Whitehall did not respect devolution. Given that my FSA role in a UK-wide body in a devolved area involved a change of UK Government, my view covers both. The only reason that Food Standards Scotland arose was due to the manner of the machinery of government changes made by Cameron to the FSA role. The SNP Government were content with the role and action of the FSA as they affected Scotland. However, that is history.

The review letter from Michael Gove on 24 March to the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, is six pages long. One key word is missing: “England” does not appear at all. I believe that for as long as the term “UK Government” is used interchangeably for issues relating to the UK as a whole and for the Government of England, we are in real trouble. This is not sustainable, and we are more likely to see the break-up of the UK union unless it is addressed. Tinkering with the Barnett formula will not suffice. I do not know what UK culture is as far as the devolved nations are concerned.

The attempt at “UK Government branding” being the aim for both the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, and Michael Gove is nothing short of an England Government seeking more control over the other three nations without creating an English Government. It is simply part of the post-Brexit plan to hang on to powers from Brussels that should rightly have gone to the devolved Governments. I do not believe that the people in the nations of the UK are as stupid as the Johnson Government seem to think they are. There will be a backlash.

Photo of Lord Russell of Liverpool Lord Russell of Liverpool Deputy Chairman of Committees

The noble Lord, Lord Empey, has withdrawn from the debate so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley.

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Labour 5:30 pm, 1st July 2021

My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, has alighted on one of the most urgent aspects of our political life in the UK today. The long-overdue publication of the Dunlop report is to be welcomed as a positive contribution to the very tetchy discourse that has surrounded the devolution debate, especially since Brexit.

As we know, the report calls for new governance to take devolution and union capability forward, such as a new Secretary of State to represent the union and a pool of civil servants with expertise of constitutional reform and devolution alongside a growth fund that is UK-wide, and much more. For those of us who support the union but want to see the language of respect and equality infuse the devolution debate, with the UK Government as the first among equals, the Dunlop report is an important step forward.

The noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, recently gave evidence to the Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee, on which I sit along with other speakers in this debate. We agreed that renewing intergovernmental relations was a crucial aspect of opening up an economically healthy UK single market post Brexit. However, the Government’s response to the noble Lord’s report is still very much a work in progress. It is very disappointing for the devolution debate and for the developed Administrations, and is still not the cultural shift that the Government claim to aspire to. Still, it is a start—and about time, because time is running out, as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, has said, for persuasive voices and policies to secure the union into the future and ensure that the poorest across the union do not lose out. This House has its part to play.

Photo of Lord Trevethin and Oaksey Lord Trevethin and Oaksey Crossbench 5:33 pm, 1st July 2021

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Earl on his illuminating speech introducing this debate. I merely wish to make one observation about the following passage in chapter 4 of the review, which discusses intergovernmental relations:

“While the Review therefore agrees there should be a far greater role for Parliament in scrutinising discussions which take place in an IGR setting, to put their basis in statute risks dragging the courts into what fundamentally should be a political and parliamentary realm. In order to build respect and trust around IGR it is therefore important political differences are handled in a political, not legal, space.”

Litigation can be used, and perhaps misused, as a continuation of politics by other means. Some aspects of the Brexit litigation suggest that the concerns expressed in the Dunlop review about the courts being dragged into devolution issues are well founded. The Wightman case was problematic. The applicants there sought a reference to the CJEU of the question of whether an Article 50 notification could be revoked. The issue was academic at that time, although the applicants hoped that it would cease to be so. It is very unlikely that an English court would have been prepared to make the reference. In Scotland, the Outer House dismissed the application as an unacceptable encroachment on political terrain, but the Inner House made the reference and the CJEU determined the issue.

Putting the merits of the decision to one side, the case exposes the risk that politically motivated litigants may forum shop. Forum shopping and moving between the English and Scottish courts in relation to this agreement between central government and devolved Administrations is obviously very undesirable. Miller II, the Prorogation case, involved an actual—as opposed to potential—difference between Scottish and English decisions. The Scottish court made findings about the Prime Minister’s motivations which raised questions that would probably be regarded as non-justiciable in the English courts. The Supreme Court did not need to address the findings of the Scottish court directly, but the constitutional tensions inherent in the case strongly confirmed the wisdom of the preference of the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, for political solutions to devolution issues.

Photo of Lord Davies of Brixton Lord Davies of Brixton Labour 5:35 pm, 1st July 2021

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, on the debate and the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, on his report. This Government’s lack of focus has been made out clearly by previous speakers, but there is also the Government’s glaring lack of respect for the devolved Administrations. In my brief remarks, I emphasise that devolution is a moving target, moving into and developing new areas, notably—to me—those of welfare and social security.

The problem here is not so much at the official level. What the report makes clear is the lack of effective joint working. One of the most dispiriting references is to the Joint Ministerial Working Group on Welfare, which the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, says has become a forum largely for airing grievances and managing disputes rather than a forum for fostering more effective collaboration.

I add that I am proud to be British, English and even a bit Welsh, so I know that saying that we have one language in these islands is the sort of destructive attitude that is driving us apart.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green 5:36 pm, 1st July 2021

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton, and to join many others in thanking the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, for securing this debate and his introduction to it. I think he referred to creaks and groans in the union, but I would probably say that they are rather gaping cracks and heaving frustrations, as a reflection of the mood. The timing of this debate and its length perhaps reflect the way the peoples of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland very often feel their importance is regarded in your Lordships’ House and by the Government.

I rise as possibly the only person in this debate who is a Green. The Scottish Green Party is campaigning very hard for independence, and the Wales Green Party has said that, if there is an independence referendum, it will campaign for independence. I offer one very important thought in the context of this debate: I believe that the Government and your Lordships’ House need to think constructively and deeply about what might happen if the union ends—what it would look like, and how it could be done in the best possible way. If we look back to 2016, we can see that that was not done with Brexit, and we are still dealing with all the fallout. That is a very important message.

I have one other brief message. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, that we need something much more radical, although I would not particularly fault anything in this report. But I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, that a parity of esteem has to be at the foundation of this—and not just esteem but money and resources. Green political philosophy says that power and resources should rest locally and be referred upwards only when absolutely necessary. Far too much power is concentrated here in Westminster, which is the foundation of the gaping holes to which I referred.

Photo of Lord Russell of Liverpool Lord Russell of Liverpool Deputy Chairman of Committees

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Davidson of Glen Clova, has withdrawn from this debate, so we will now go back to the noble Lord, Lord Dodds of Duncairn.

Photo of Lord Dodds of Duncairn Lord Dodds of Duncairn DUP 5:39 pm, 1st July 2021

My Lords, I am very grateful, and I want to put on record my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, for his report. I regret that it has taken so long to have it published. There are many positives in the noble Lord’s review. I particularly admire the desire to embed union thinking and the machinery of government at the heart of UK government policy, development and decision-making, as well as the desire, which we should all have, to achieve the best possible collaboration and working arrangements between the UK Government and our devolved Administrations.

However, as far as Northern Ireland is concerned, their laudable aims and objectives are at complete variance, first with the adoption and implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol and secondly with the continuing and repeated lack of respect for the Northern Ireland Assembly’s areas of competence. We had another example of that from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland just a few days ago. This approach has led to the destabilisation of politics and the political institutions themselves in Northern Ireland and, if not corrected, will lead to dire political consequences which I urge the Government to act swiftly on to avoid.

If a key objective of the report is to

“strengthen the working of the Union”, how on earth can that be squared with the judgment of the High Court in Belfast yesterday, where the court found that the Government, through the European Union (Withdrawal) Act had repealed key parts of the Act of Union itself in signing up to arrangements which create an Irish Sea border? Likewise, the Belfast agreement has been breached as far as protection of the third strand of relationships, namely the east-west dimension.

Large swathes of laws for the economy can now be made without any vote in Stormont or Westminster; there is taxation without representation in a part of the United Kingdom. If we are to strengthen the union, I strongly urge the Government to take steps to replace and remedy that which is currently undermining and actively destroying the union.

Photo of Lord Lang of Monkton Lord Lang of Monkton Conservative 5:41 pm, 1st July 2021

My Lords, I am grateful to be reconnected, albeit by telephone. It is notable that the word “referendum” has ceased to dominate the constitutional debate in Scotland in recent weeks. The reality has dawned that, although the country is divided—something that demands our attention—support for separation and a referendum has fallen and is now roughly where it was seven years ago.

The years since have been wasted. Apart from the increase in powers granted from the 2014 referendum, which, like all such initiatives, made matters worse, there has been a void. The excellent report by my noble friend Lord Dunlop gathered dust for two years, just like its two predecessors from your Lordships’ Constitution Committee, which it echoes. I thank the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, on behalf of that committee for his kind remarks.

Past neglect must not be allowed to continue, and today’s rather short debate is welcome; I hope it is the first of many. Sustained action of the sensitive and well-modulated kind is now urgently needed. The experience of Covid-19 has shown not just how much the devolved Administrations depend on the UK for help and support with vaccines, expertise, money and the Army, but how much we all have in common with our fellow British citizens. We share a common identity. Covid must not be an excuse for delay in implementing the diverse, broadly based action programme.

Time does not allow for detail today, but I stress that it is at the core of the nation—the union—that action is most needed. The report on intergovernmental relations is a welcome first step, but a host of other measures is necessary, and above all we need a change of tone. Reports and reviews do not in themselves win hearts and minds and that is the essence of the challenge.

Finally, I ask my noble friend the Minister to note that structural change to the constitution has a bad record in this field. I urge him to be very cautious over any such further proposals that may come to him.

Photo of Lord Bruce of Bennachie Lord Bruce of Bennachie Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Scotland) 5:43 pm, 1st July 2021

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, for initiating this important and very timely debate. I also want to show appreciation for the very helpful review conducted by the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, which was too long delayed in publication. I thank noble Lords who have made a wide variety of extremely good speeches, for which the time constraint was not adequate.

It is clear that, if the UK is to have a constructive future, a fundamental reset of relations between nations, Governments and communities is needed. Brexit and the domestic legislation that followed, and is following, has put severe strain on the settlements. As a member of the Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee—along with four other speakers in this debate, as has been mentioned—I believe the approach being taken in this process in most cases offers a constructive way of taking policy issues forward. In particular, it seeks to allow divergence, encourage constructive engagement, avoid disputes and, where they do arise, to set out mechanisms—although as yet untested—that are fair and at least try to be objective and independent. However, the default position remains that UK Ministers have the last word. In addition, the policy areas covered by common frameworks are restricted to those areas previously under EU rules designated at the outset of the process. These can be overridden by new legislation being enacted post Brexit, ranging from the trade agreement to the internal market Act, Agriculture Act, Environment Bill and Professional Qualifications Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, called for a dedicated Cabinet Minister for the union, supported by a Cabinet committee and a Permanent Secretary. Although the noble Lord did not say so, the Prime Minister appointing himself to that role does not hack it. Not only is he personally and politically unsuited but, more fundamentally, he as Prime Minister has far too many other responsibilities to deliver on it. However, the appointment of Sue Gray to the new position of Permanent Secretary for the union is certainly welcome.

The proposal made by the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, for a new UK intergovernmental council to replace the Joint Ministerial Committee, which has been largely sidelined, makes sense. It is clear that the understanding of and commitment to devolution varies enormously across departments, so the suggestion that career development in the Civil Service should be conditional on having spent time in a role in the devolved Administrations—and vice versa for those working in the devolved Administrations—should be developed further.

Although there is scope for debate as to whether the UK should head towards a federal or quasi-federal constitutional settlement, there is nevertheless a clear opportunity to learn from the experience of federal countries. At the very least, there needs to be clarity on where powers lie—not only what is reserved and what is devolved but, perhaps most importantly, what is shared. There also needs to be a respectable process for any change in the apportionment of powers and the resolution of disputes.

This debate needs to be put into its current political context. Brexit is far from done. UK trade with the EU is declining rapidly, with none of the emerging trade agreements offering anything close to significant alternatives. Northern Ireland is subsiding into renewed and dangerous political and economic uncertainty. Although the threat of independence in Wales falls short of confrontation, the breakdown of trust between the Welsh Government and the Senedd is a manifestation of political storm clouds.

Scotland is stalemated, with pro-independence and anti-independence sentiment deadlocked. Whatever the SNP’s bluster, advancing the case for independence —or even for another referendum—is nowhere in view and beyond credible. The UK Government should resist the temptation just to say no. It may suit the short-term political advantage of the Tories and the SNP to entrench this deadlock, but it is no good at all for the people of Scotland caught between them. There must be a constructive appeal to engage in co-operation and joint working.

The changes made so far, and the strengthening of the UK Government’s presence in the devolved Administrations, need to set the foundation for a new and positive relationship, not just window dressing. The UK Government are understandably keen to ensure that the impact of UK-wide spending within the devolved Administrations is clear and understood. The city deals have been positive examples of joint working on funding involving Governments, local authorities and the private sector. Replacing UK structural funds with a UK shared prosperity fund presents another opportunity for the UK Government to be seen to be spending in the devolved areas—but only if it is done in co-operation with, not over the heads of, the devolved Administrations.

During Covid, billions of pounds have been poured into economic support through furlough, business loans and other measures. In Scotland, it is in excess of £10 billion. However, spending by the UK Government should be used not to patronise or demean but to show the value of co-operation and sharing. It requires transparency by all levels of government. By the same token, it is not helpful for the people they serve if devolved Governments misrepresent the relationship or use it to further the political argument. How many more years will voters in Scotland put up with being told that problems cannot be addressed this side of independence, which is not on the horizon and would take years even in the best-case scenario?

Covid has shown up the best and worst aspects of devolution and the relationships. The devolved Administrations have had the freedom to determine their own way through lockdown. However, the science is common and, for the most part, the differences have been cosmetic or timescale-related. The mismanagement of border controls, especially in relation to the delta variant, has been monumentally incompetent. The attempt to restrict movement between Scotland and England has degenerated to the absurd, with an unenforceable ban on travel to Manchester while unrestricted travel to London is allowed for Scottish football fans, with adverse consequences. The development, procurement and rollout of vaccines has been a positive demonstration of the benefits of the United Kingdom and co-operative working. The economic capacity of the UK has been of benefit to all our citizens.

Given that Scotland is not leaving the UK any time soon, and may never leave, there is surely an obligation to show how the Scottish and UK Governments can co-operate for the greater good of the citizens of Scotland, rather than endlessly picking fights at the expense of today’s priorities. All Governments need to show understanding of the different needs of communities. Too much centralisation has undermined effective local decision-making. Nationalism, all kinds of nationalism, is weakening the UK and its constituent parts and preventing it presenting its best face to the world. The UK Government are risking the UK’s reputation for consistency and trustworthiness. The irreconcilable conflict over the Northern Ireland border risks the Belfast agreement, yet the constant denigration of all things British by SNP politicians makes it harder to find the appropriate and, dare I say, co-operative approach to decision-making.

Trying to drive policy centrally for differing local circumstances is proving problematic. Balancing the expectations of red wall and blue wall constituencies is changing the political landscape. The tectonic plates are not just moving but crumbling. We desperately need a new settlement from all sides, and that requires more localism, less nationalism and more internationalism. It needs politicians of all shades to show integrity and contrition. Above all, it requires leadership. Is it there? Time will tell.

Photo of Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Labour), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office, Constitutional and Devolved issues) 5:51 pm, 1st July 2021

My Lords, we have heard some heartfelt speeches today, which I hope will nudge the Government to move rather more speedily than thus far, both in replenishing devolution settlements and in safeguarding the union—indeed, creating a better union, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Howell—because “snail’s pace” best describes the progress so far. The direction may have been acceptable, but not the velocity—though I have to say the picture of the English flag over HMT on Tuesday, with no equivalent Welsh flag earlier, did not really feel like a Government for all the Kingdom.

As we have heard, it took 16 months to publish Dunlop, and even then, there was not the courtesy to share its contents with the Welsh Government in the interim. The review of intergovernmental relations, meanwhile, specifically excluded consideration of the powers or responsibilities of the devolved Administrations and their legislatures, despite the need, so many years after their establishment, to think about possible changes. This was a pity, though it did cover some important areas, such as how the UK Government work within a devolved world.

The noble Lord, Lord Dunlop called for a full-time Cabinet Minister with responsibility for the union. As he said, that would be a test of whether the Government were serious about the sort of change needed to protect the union. Regrettably, the Prime Minister has instead taken to himself the title Minister for the Union—a bit like “President for Life” or “Master of all things” in some less democratic traditions—although, importantly, this is despite the fact that he clearly cannot be working full-time on this issue, as the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, has just noted. Some urgency is definitely needed.

I recently visited the Nero exhibition at the BM. Its theme was that Nero did not actually fiddle while Rome burned. However, if the Prime Minister and, indeed, Mr Gove do not put down their lyres and pick up some real constitutional tools, future historians will ask: what on earth were they doing, even as the devolved nations tired of being ignored, their decision-making rights being undermined and a fair distribution of the country’s wealth and opportunities not being shared? This is not just a Labour view. The noble Lord, Lord Lang, talked of wasted years, and I read on ConservativeHome—my reading of choice—that

“pro-Union Tories are also concerned that … the Government has instead relegated” the issue of the union

“to a lower priority. They’re squandering the opportunity … the Government is simply offering a series of announcements ‘of varying quality’ and with no obvious theme.”

In his most impressive opening speech, the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, said that this debate was about a major part of the UK’s internal soul. Indeed, many of us feel that. A genuine look at the future of the union should take account not only of the fallout of the Scottish referendum and subsequent developments but of two post-2016 factors. The first is that the different parts of our union did not all take the same view of continuing EU membership. Secondly, the repatriation of former EU powers in areas of devolved competence necessitates a far greater and embedded system of intergovernmental relations.

As the noble Earl reminded us, back in 2017 his committee heard calls for

“fundamental reform … to give the devolved institutions a more formal role in UK decision-making post-Brexit”.

Since then, we have sometimes seen consultation, but no shared decision-making. This led, as pointed out by my noble friend Lord Murphy, the Welsh First Minister to label the very future of the UK “fragile”, because of the UK Government acting too “aggressively” and without regard for the status of the nations and the democratic mandates of their Governments.

This Government’s internal market Act and its expenditure in areas of devolved competence have stretched good relations between the UK’s elected Administrations. Launching his alternative Reforming our Union document to make the UK stronger, Mark Drakeford said that relationships within the UK need to be “reset”, with the union of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland based on “a partnership of equals”. Mr Drakeford said that

“where the UK government acts in an … unilateral way on behalf of the whole UK, without regard for” the devolved nations, it

“inevitably creates anger and alienation”, and lacks the essential

“constructive and collaborative relationship between the governments”.

So change is needed if we are to prevent the break-up of the UK.

The UK is a voluntary union of four nations, a “multinational state” in my noble friend Lord McConnell’s choice of words—a successful multinational state. But it is a voluntary union of which devolution is a permanent feature, which cannot be undone without the agreement of the peoples of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Like my noble friend Lord Murphy, Mark Drakeford, the First Minister, called for the House of Lords, provided it represents all four nations, to be given the job of protecting the constitution and devolution.

Wales’s 20-point plan included a constitutional convention, which, as my noble friend Lady Bryan mentioned, was called for in the Conservative manifesto. The UK Government’s response to the Welsh plan said:

“Choosing to prioritise constitutional issues in the middle of a pandemic is an irresponsible and unwanted distraction.”

How wrong, my Lords. It ignores the fact that, since 2017, pre Covid, nothing has been done, but it also reflects a lack of urgency—indeed, a lack of concern that something is amiss in the four-nation relationship and our governance—for a post-Brexit devolved settlement, and a lack of respect for the devolved Administrations. The word “respect” was used by the noble Baroness, Lady Fraser, my noble friend Lord Davies of Brixton and the noble Lord, Lord Dodds— respect for the devolved settlements. I hope the lack of urgency and dismissal by the Government will not be repeated by the Minister as he responds to this debate.

Photo of Lord True Lord True Minister of State (Cabinet Office) 5:59 pm, 1st July 2021

My Lords, I promised my noble friend Lady Fraser that I will not break into any song—I will not talk about particular songs. If I did, it would clear the House more quickly than the timetable for this debate, which, for the record, was not chosen by the Government. I take the opportunity once again to thank the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, for bringing about today’s debate, which has been fascinating, informed and informative. I thank all those who have spoken in it.

Here, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, with whom I often agree, that the House of Lords does have a part to play in this. It may seem odd, but my personal view is that I welcome the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, from a standpoint with which I profoundly disagree and from a party that wishes to separate Scotland from the United Kingdom. In some ways, it is a great pity that the SNP refuses to take part in the whole of our Parliament.

Having reviewed the report of the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, it is clear that the UK Government are, in our judgment, proceeding not only in the spirit of his recommendations but, for the vast majority, to the letter of his recommendations, particularly as we try to conclude the intergovernmental relations review, which I hope we will do soon. The process of joint working and the production of the new intergovernmental relations structures are testament to the approach of this Government, and we should be confident that this augurs well for the new system as it emerges.

There has been a somewhat Manichean tone to the debate that everything the United Kingdom does or intends is undesirable and with bad intent, and that everything done on every other side is legitimate. However, there is a balance and an understanding. The Government recognise the need to create a more equal, transparent and accountable system for inter- governmental relations, to improve collaboration between all the United Kingdom Government and the devolved Administrations on matters of mutual interest. That is the way to benefit citizens of the whole of the United Kingdom.

As the Government continue their programme of work to strengthen the United Kingdom, the recommendations of the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, have, where they did not already coincide with our thinking, been integrated into the approach. In some areas, we have gone even further than some recommendations suggested, with an ambitious, departmental-led set of arrangements. This has already seen the Government Communications Service establish a new union hub, which is well placed, as many noble Lords have said, to remind people of the many clear benefits of our strong family ties.

I agree with my noble friends Lord Howell of Guildford and Lord Hannan and the noble Lord, Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale, who said, in their different ways, that the United Kingdom is so much greater than the sum of its parts. This Government are steadfast in their commitment, based on due respect for all, to protect and promote the combined strengths of our United Kingdom, building on our common values and hundreds of years of partnership and shared history. Our collective strength is as a family of nations working together.

The importance of the broad shoulders of the United Kingdom Government, in supporting the whole country, means we are better able to tackle big problems, from defending our borders to fighting cyberthreats, to delivering the furlough scheme to protect our jobs and being the first to secure the vaccine. We believe, as so many of your Lordships who have spoken do, that this collective strength will be more important than ever, as we work to recover from the Covid emergency.

I come to the challenge that was laid down by the noble Earl in what was, I agree, a brilliant and incisive opening speech. He asked why it has taken more than three years to get the current draft and when the process will be concluded. One would always wish to go faster, but developing a package that best reflects each Administration’s view can only be the result of detailed, joint analysis by the United Kingdom Government and the devolved Administrations. The UK Government wish to reconcile competing views, explore external perspectives and ensure all points have been fully considered before concluding. As the Prime Minister indicated at the summit on Covid recovery on 3 June, the UK Government stand ready to resolve the remaining issues, agree processes and conclude this review. Following the elections in Scotland and Wales, discussions on the review have resumed, and the UK Government would like to conclude the review and implement its findings as soon as possible.

As part of the transparency commitments announced last year, which the noble Earl welcomed, we committed to making regular statements to Parliament on the IGR, including appearances before relevant committees when requested; I pay tribute to various committees of your Lordships’ House, including the Constitution Committee, Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee and others. The UK Government deeply value the core principles of transparency in intergovernmental relations, recognising that accountability and effective parliamentary scrutiny of the Government’s participation in these structures will support Administrations to work together effectively.

We announced our transparency commitments in November 2020. In line with those commitments as undertaken, we published our first quarterly transparency report on the IGR in March this year. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, was a bit acerbic about that, saying that it was “smuggled out”; it was published at the due time as promised. We are due to publish the second report this month. I say to the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, that a report will be laid annually in both Houses of Parliament by Command Paper. This will collate the key information from the quarterly reports and will also include any written or service-level agreements reached between the UK Government and devolved Administrations over the reporting period, with due background information and a list of ministerial appearances before parliamentary committees. As the noble Earl will know, it is a matter for the usual channels, but he said that it was likely that such a report—I agree with him on the importance of that report—would attract some interest in your Lordships’ House.

There has been, as usual, a range of disparaging comments about my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. I am not sure where that really takes anybody—perhaps it subscribes to myths that serve those who do not wish to keep our kingdom together. The Prime Minister is deeply committed to strengthening the union and I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, that his visiting all parts of our kingdom is counterproductive. Our aim is to create a more regular rhythm of engagement and embed a culture of collaboration across all levels of government. As set out in the progress update on the review, the Prime Minister has committed to a formal annual meeting with First Ministers, which will sit alongside countless other interactions and discussions. As we take note of the review today, we should remember that inter- governmental relations are just one part of the system for engagement. For example, following the recent elections, as we have heard in the debate, the Prime Minister immediately sought to welcome the new First Ministers and organise a summit, which I believe was a very positive step.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor—whose outstanding work I would always praise—said, common frameworks and the UK internal market will be underpinned by strong overarching intergovernmental structures. The common frameworks are important. Intergovernmental structures will facilitate consultation between Administrations at the political level and, where, necessary, provide a route to escalate cross-cutting issues and resolve disputes. The intergovernmental relations proposals complement the existing structures, including dispute avoidance and resolution processes in place for the common frameworks and the UK internal market at departmental level.

Of course, I join those who have praised the work of my noble friend Lord Dunlop and the value of his review. The Government are in the process of implementing, or have already implemented, the vast majority of his review’s recommendations. We do not see the recommendations as a separate area of work, as many coincide with existing thinking and they are core to our overall programme of work to strengthen the union. There are some areas where the Government’s thinking has evolved since my noble friend Lord Dunlop delivered his report, but his report has always shaped and influenced the way that we are responding.

As demonstrated in the recent progress update on the IGR, much more of the intergovernmental relations review is agreed than is left to complete. The outstanding issues are set out in square brackets in the progress update, as a number of noble Lords observed. While noting that international relations is a reserved matter, the UK Government recognise that their international activity has an impact on devolved responsibilities; this is true where the implementation of international arrangements requires policy changes in devolved areas. In areas relating to international relations where there is a clear mutual interest for both the UK Government and the devolved Administrations, a ministerial discussion will be tabled on this through the relevant department’s interministerial group that oversees that policy area; this includes a forum specifically for trade. For cross-cutting issues and those related to 2021 events where the UK is taking a global leadership approach, the UK Government have proposed that engagement on international issues could also take place through specifically created interministerial groups or at a time-limited interministerial committee. In terms of present engagement, my noble friend Lord Frost is the Minister responsible for the UK’s new relationship with the EU, and he is working with the devolved Administrations on these matters.

On the machinery of government, I am pleased to highlight that all departments across the Government have made structural changes that will help to ensure UK-wide issues are properly considered and sit at the heart of policy-making. Every United Kingdom government department has, for example, made a member of its board and a non-executive director responsible for co-ordinating work across all parts of the United Kingdom. As has been stated in the debate, a Second Permanent Secretary has been appointed within the Cabinet Office to lead on the union and constitution. Senior leadership within the territorial offices continues to represent the unique circumstances relevant to each nation. A new Cabinet committee has been set up to deal with union matters. As has been said, one of the recommendations of my noble friend Lord Dunlop was indeed to create a new ministerial post: a Secretary of State for intergovernmental and constitutional affairs. Day-to-day responsibility for constitutional integrity falls to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office, who has—I think all would acknowledge—great authority within the Government. But, individual Secretaries of State also have a critical role in representing the distinctive voices and interests of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in Whitehall and in Cabinet.

The Cabinet Office will also continue to lead work to enhance civil servants’ devolution capability, and it works with other government departments—in partnership with Civil Service HR and the devolved Administrations—to improve devolution knowledge, skills and networks across the UK Civil Service. I think the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, made important remarks on this. Devolution and intergovernmental working are being embedded into core Civil Service talent programmes, strategies and Civil Service Learning.

The noble Lord, Lord Dodds, understandably spoke about the Northern Ireland protocol. Its purpose is to uphold the Belfast agreement and the gains from the peace process, but it must be implemented in a way that respects this. This means respecting the delicate balance between the interests of all communities in Northern Ireland and the economic and cultural links between east and west as well as north and south. We are committed to making the protocol work, but for it to be sustainable it must be given effect in a pragmatic and proportionate way. It is difficult to see how it could be sustainable, and command consent across the community, in the purist way it has been operated. The UK is engaging constructively with the Commission on the many issues that are having a real impact on people’s lives and livelihoods and has put forward a range of proposed long-term solutions. We are pleased that we have agreed a sensible extension on chilled meats; it shows that we can make progress, though we still need to agree a permanent solution there. It should be clear that this is just one of a wide range of challenges posed by the protocol that we need to address.

We have taken both note and stock of this Government’s active commitment and committed actions to improve intergovernmental relations. The report by my noble friend Lord Dunlop has been a considerable driving factor of the ambitious and wide-ranging programme of reform that this Government, led by the Prime Minister, pursue. We offer our thanks for the report, and we look forward to your Lordships’ continued scrutiny of and interest in the intergovernmental relations review: a more equal, transparent and accountable system for intergovernmental relations in our island.

Photo of The Earl of Kinnoull The Earl of Kinnoull Chair, European Union Committee, Chair, European Union Committee, Deputy Chairman of Committees, Chair, European Affairs Committee, Chair, European Affairs Committee 6:14 pm, 1st July 2021

My Lords, in the traditional way, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I must say that it is always remarkable, given the time constraints, that one gets an incredibly high standard of speech out of two minutes. I have been gripped at every stage. I also thank the Minister, who gave his usual thorough response to things.

A number of interesting themes came out of the debate but, as ever, there were one or two slight shocks where I felt that I had learned something. An example was from the noble Lord, Lord Trevethin and Oaksey, regarding his point on forum shopping. That is just the sort of thing that a proper intergovernmental structure would be able to think about and probably improve life on.

The key themes were, first, that the Dunlop review, which was universally welcomed all round, was not the complete answer. On that, the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, was very strong, as was the noble Lord, Lord Lang of Monkton, and others. I am sorry that there is no time to mention the names of everyone who spoke.

The second key theme was that the time has come to get to the finish of the intergovernmental review. The need is to roll up the sleeves, get on with it and get it over the line. I pointed out the anachronisms in the 2013 MoU and it is shameful that such a good, modern state as ours should be operating on that half-cocked basis. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, the noble Lords, Lord Bruce and Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, and the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, were particularly strong in their speeches on that issue, as were others.

Possibly the most important matter was the necessity for a change in attitude. I mentioned the attitude of the Canadians on something that they consciously decided to do after their own “eek” moment in the mid-1990s. The issue came back time and time again: from the noble Lords, Lord Lang, Lord Wigley and Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton—who made a good speech—the noble Baroness, Lady Fraser of Craigmaddie, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and the noble Lord, Lord Dodds. That is a very powerful full house of all sorts of parties, all making the same point.

That brings me to my final point, which is that we are all here as strong supporters of the union and here to help. We want this to succeed and that is a strong body of advice to the Government about how they can make things better. It is not meant in any competitive way but in a constructive way. I hope that the Minister will take back many copies of Hansard, plough through it, be able to talk to his colleagues and persuade them that a number of the ideas that came up today are in fact important and should be actioned as soon as possible.

Motion agreed.

House adjourned at 6.18 pm.