Sewel Convention - Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:12 pm on 13th June 2022.

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Photo of Baroness Wilcox of Newport Baroness Wilcox of Newport Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 3:12 pm, 13th June 2022

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the number of occasions that legislative consent has been rejected by the devolved legislatures since December 2019; whether they still intend to abide by the Sewel Convention; and if so, what steps they are taking to ensure that consent is secured to legislation in future.

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

The UK Government have legislated without consent on 11 occasions since December 2019, most of which relate to our exit from the European Union. These were not decisions that we took lightly, but we considered them necessary to implement the referendum result in exceptional circumstances. We are fully committed to the Sewel convention and will of course continue to seek legislative consent, take on board views and work with the devolved Administrations on future Bills.

Photo of Baroness Wilcox of Newport Baroness Wilcox of Newport Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

I am glad that the Minister noted that the Government fully support the Sewel convention, because Minister for the Economy, Vaughan Gething, confirmed in writing last week to the UK Government that the Welsh Government are unable to endorse the approach the UK Government are taking on the shared prosperity fund. They will not deploy their own resources to implement UK Government programmes in Wales, as they have been doing with EU funding for 22 years; they consider them to be flawed and undermining of the devolution settlement. Does the Minister therefore agree with me that last week’s latest development is a further significant undermining of the Sewel convention?

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

Unsurprisingly, I do not agree with that. We will of course continue to seek legislative consent, take on board views and work with the devolved Administrations, but the legislative consent process did not change and never was intended to change the sovereignty of this Parliament.

Photo of Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Labour

My Lords, earlier today, talking with some of his senior colleagues, I commended the Minister for his great ability to straight-bat my consistent questions about improper spending by the Scottish Government. However, will the Minister and the Government now consider drawing up contingency plans to make sure that when that expenditure goes beyond the pale, they are able to take some action?

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

My Lords, I always consider the interventions of the noble Lord to be consistent, and to require a straight bat. We do understand when it is a reserved matter and when it is a devolved matter, and we will obviously look very carefully at how the Scottish Government spend their money.

Photo of Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Labour

My Lords, as part of promises made during the debate about leaving the European Union, an assurance was given to Wales that it would not suffer one penny less in terms of the money that had come from Brussels when it fell to the British Government to supply that money, but I am constantly bemused by the fact that this simply has not happened and is not happening. Although the Minister’s reply to my noble friend’s Question was perhaps what it ought to be, she quoted a Minister in the Senedd who said something quite contradictory. There is a difference of view that I think this House would benefit by understanding in greater depth.

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

My Lords, it is important that we get the Sewel convention to work, and that is why it is one of two items on the agenda for the upcoming inter-ministerial steering committee. We have had a working group on the Sewel convention. I cited the figures in response to another question; considerable sums are going through the UK shared prosperity fund, and it is important that we use those funds for the benefit of all four nations.

Photo of Viscount Waverley Viscount Waverley Crossbench

My Lords, the European Union has a system of gauging GDP within rural areas, called Objective 1. Do we have anything equivalent and if so, what is it?

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

My Lords, I always appreciate the breadth of questions you can get on a Question that concerns the Sewel convention. I am not aware that we use something similar to that EU measurement, but I note that the EU has its own approach to the funding formula.

Photo of Lord Hain Lord Hain Labour

With respect to the Minister, there is a massive gap between his warm words on this matter and the views of Welsh Ministers in the Senedd about his Government’s stance, which is continuously undermining the Welsh Government—and I guess other Governments—over the devolution settlement by not properly consulting them and not making the term “consent” real, because they do not wish to consent to a lot of government legislation. I do not think that the inter-governmental machinery is working properly, either. It should be chaired by the Prime Minister, who should listen to Welsh Ministers and the First Minister properly instead of treating them with derision.

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I do not recognise that the Sewel convention is as broken down as that, in the sense that 47 legislative consent Motions for 23 Acts in the first Session and 28 legislative consent Motions in the second Session were secured and passed by the devolved legislatures. This is new machinery that obviously takes time to bed in, but I know that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has met on countless occasions—there have been 440 ministerial meetings—and the Prime Minister has met four times with the First Minister of Scotland and the Welsh leader, so those meetings are taking place. I ask noble Lords to give this machinery a chance.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Conservative

Could this constant dilemma of the edges of devolved powers in ever-changing circumstances be in any way handled better by strengthening the common framework processes, which have been successful so far in taking the difficulty out of some of these difficult areas?

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I thank my noble friend for raising common frameworks, which I know this House has spent quite a bit of time working on and refining. I am sure that they provide a guideline on how we should engage with the devolved Administrations and will help to strengthen the union as a consequence.

Photo of Lord Lansley Lord Lansley Conservative

My noble friend will be aware that treaty making is a reserved power to the United Kingdom Government, but the scope of the treaties into which we are now entering, particularly trade treaties, often impinges directly upon devolved powers and the devolved Administrations. When reporting under CRaG, Ministers have told the International Agreements Committee when they have consulted the devolved Administrations but they have not consistently told us what the DAs have told Ministers would be their objectives and what they are looking for. Will my noble friend help Ministers to ensure that their explanatory memorandum under CRaG covers this?

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I am sure that we need to get the explanatory memoranda right. In addition, the Government recognise that we need to engage early so that legislatures and Administrations have as much time as possible to consider these matters before they are signed, in the case of treaties, or become Acts, if they are Bills. Of course, I take my noble friend’s point on board.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

Does my noble friend agree that there is a very real difference between informing and consulting? Is he confident that we are properly consulting and not just informing?

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

It is for each Minister to respond on whether they are informing or consulting. Certainly, in areas where I have had ministerial responsibility, we have learned an awful lot from the devolved Administrations, particularly in matters related to building safety and other areas. It is a two-way conversation where we can often learn as much from the devolved Administrations as they can from us. It is about sharing expertise.