Northern Ireland Protocol Bill - Committee (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 2nd November 2022.
Moved by Lord Purvis of Tweed
20: Clause 13, page 7, line 27, leave out subsection (4)Member’s explanatory statementThis is part of a series of amendments based on recommendations from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee which states that a number of subsections in the Bill “contain inappropriate delegations of power and should be removed from the Bill.”
My Lords, Amendment 20 is, in many ways, connected and therefore I need not be as long about this
Let me quote from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee on Clause 13:
“Parliament has no knowledge of the Government’s plans but is meanwhile expected to rubber stamp all the regulation-making arrangements.”
That surely is not a means by which we make good legislation. The committee is highlighting Clause 13(1), which states that
“Any provision of … the EU withdrawal agreement, is excluded provision so far as it confers jurisdiction on the European Court in relation to … the EU withdrawal agreement”.
As highlighted by the DPRRC and others, it is a stretch to say that the invocation of the defence of necessity would permit the extending to all parts of the exclusion of the European court. I should be grateful if the Minister could state in clear terms why the Government’s legal position, which does not clarify this, states so.
There is a policy concern, which was aired so well by Stephen Farry MP when this was considered in Committee in the Commons. If, as seems to be the Government’s position, there will still be Northern Ireland direct interaction with the EU single market—with north-south trade as a major part of the Northern Ireland economy—without the European court having application, it puts at risk what that genuine market access is for Northern Ireland. He made that point in clear terms and I need not add to it, because the case is very strong. The policy paper The UK’s Solution, when it highlighted the problems, did not suggest the removal of the court altogether either. So is this a red line in the talks for the Government?
Secondly, concern has been raised about human rights consideration. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has highlighted the fact that the breadth of the powers in
“Clause 13 of the Bill would restrict the CJEU’s interpretive role in disputes relevant to Protocol Article 2”.
We discussed on Monday the need for that to be dynamic in relation to the obligations under Article 2, and its potential removal will create concern. I hope that the Minister is able to be clear, in response to the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, that there would be no diminution of rights.
Given that the Government have not made the case, and given the concerns about the impact on the operation of the single market and Northern Ireland’s position within that, as well as the human rights concern, I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall not repeat myself, but I shall draw attention to the fact that, in the debate on the previous group, the Minister kept telling us that the word “appropriate” had been used in circumstances like these, as if that was something to be greeted with joy. Each of those pieces of legislation was a dreadful abdication by Parliament of its responsibilities. Even if the Minister is right—I am not challenging his veracity or judgment; let us assume he is right—that so far none of them has caused any problems, it would be nice to know that and I take it from the Minister that none has, but that does not mean that they may not cause huge problems in the future, or that when we have a change of Government, which we may have, that will not cause problems when their Ministers decide that they are going to apply these regulations. I really find that argument “It has been done before; therefore it is a precedent”—and I am a lawyer—but I do not think all precedents are wise and that one is a particularly unwise one.
I know I am trespassing back on to the previous debate, but I have another concern. During his reply, the Minister offered a number of reasons why this regulatory-making power was needed. Fine, but why are they not then put in the legislation, so that we can have a look at what these regulatory powers, at any rate at the moment, are designed to address? For the purposes of this group, if there are matters which the Government have in mind which they think can be served by a regulatory-making power, fine, but let us see what the primary legislation should contain.
Finally, can we not address the question of some diminution in this wide-ranging power? We really ought to find a way. I find it astonishing that across all sides of the House there is concern about these powers. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, is approaching the issue from his concern about the fact that the EU has these wide-ranging powers. Speaking for myself— I am only speaking for myself—I do not think we should have given those powers to the EU, but it was a consequence of signing in. I also think that, having given those powers to the EU and having been obliged to pass the necessary legislation when the EU said so, we have become habituated to passing all sorts of secondary legislation without proper analysis. I think it has contributed to the habitual way we behave. With great respect, we are concerned here with whether this Bill should give this Minister, or that Minister or the Ministers to come these wide-ranging powers. For my part, I do not think they should.
My Lords, I speak to Amendments 21B, 21C, 23B and 23C, in my name and the names of my noble friends Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick and Lady Goudie. I am grateful for their support.
On Amendment 21B, Clause 13(1) removes the jurisdiction of the EU’s Court of Justice altogether, but the Court of Justice jurisdiction is essential to the operation of the single electricity market to keep the lights on in Northern Ireland, which the UK Government have said they wish to see remaining unaffected. This amendment ensures that there will be no inadvertent disruption to the single electricity market through the coming into force of this clause. Surely the Government should accept that.
On Amendment 21C, Clauses 13(4) and (5) allow a Minister of the Crown to make regulation in relation to any provision of the protocol relevant to the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice or the application, supervision and enforcement of the protocol. There is a possibility that this could inadvertently affect the operation of the single electricity market. This amendment requires the Minister to make and publish an impact assessment prior to regulating under this clause in order to prevent such a risk to the single electricity market. I do not see what the problem with my amendment might be; it seems to me entirely reasonable.
On Amendment 23B, the operation of the single electricity market on the island of Ireland comes under the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union and is required to be interpreted in the light of case law of the CJEU. The scope of Clause 14 makes this impossible. This amendment would ensure that Ministers regulating in this area under Clause 14(4) would have to make and publish an impact assessment, prior to the regulation, in order to consider its possible negative implications on other aspects of the protocol that the Government wish to protect, including the single electricity market. Again, I cannot see what objection there might be to Amendment 23B.
On Amendment 23C, the operation of the single electricity market on the island of Ireland comes under the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the EU and is required to be interpreted in the light of its case law. The scope of Clause 14 makes this impossible and puts Article 9, on the single electricity market, at risk of being excluded from the protocol by accident, even though the Government say they wish to protect it. This amendment would ensure that the functioning of the single electricity market is specifically protected from the scope of this clause to maintain its operation, which is necessary for the electricity supply in Northern Ireland. Again, surely this is a no-brainer for all of us, including government Ministers.
By way of background, a wholesale electricity market is where electricity is bought and sold before being delivered to consumers. Market arrangements require generators and wholesale suppliers of electricity to forecast their generation and consumption and to bid at the price at which they are prepared to buy and sell. Competition between suppliers with equal access to a grid system should ensure value for customers, with a market price based on the minimisation of production cost.
Power markets have been evolving across Europe since the early 1990s. Since the entry into force of the Lisbon treaty in late 2009, the EU gained formal competences in energy and embarked on electricity market reform. A core part of this was the so-called third energy package. To enable cross-border trade in electricity and gas, each coupled market adopts a common set of rules and standardised wholesale trading arrangements so that system operators can work together to allocate cross-border capacity and optimise cross-border flows. This is what is at work in the integrated single electricity market on the island of Ireland.
The SEM is a cross-jurisdictional wholesale electricity market that came into being in 2007. It allows generators and suppliers to trade electricity in a single market across the island of Ireland. Fundamentally, it helps ensure that there is sufficient capacity to meet electricity demand at all times in both Ireland and Northern Ireland. Being part of an all-island market brings benefits to electricity customers in Northern Ireland by reducing electricity prices and increasing the security of supply. It was further cemented in 2018 with the integrated pan-European market design of the third energy package.
An intergovernmental UK-Ireland memorandum of understanding co-ordinates non-mandated market arrangements, but the SEM functions through an overarching European Union-mandated convergence of energy policy and market structures, as governed by certain parts of the European Union acquis. The Ireland/Northern Ireland protocol to the withdrawal agreement provides the basis for the continued operation of the single electricity market after Brexit by including the minimal amount necessary of EU laws on energy markets.
To do this, Article 9 states:
“The provisions of Union law governing wholesale electricity markets listed in Annex 4 to this Protocol shall apply, under the conditions set out in that Annex, to and in the United Kingdom in respect of Northern Ireland.”
Annexe 4 then lists seven Acts that apply to the
“generation, transmission, distribution, and supply of electricity, trading in wholesale electricity or cross-border exchanges in electricity.”
These key elements of European energy law applying in Northern Ireland are, notably, largely in devolved competences. For example, the EU’s regulation on energy market integrity and transparency—REMIT—prohibits insider trading and energy market manipulation and makes provision for the monitoring of the market by regulators. REMIT continues to apply in Northern Ireland through the protocol.
The application of these Acts entails circumscribed participation in the EU market, which requires acceptance of EU governance. In practice, this means that the ultimate arbiter of EU law is the Court of Justice of the European Union. An essential criterion for transposing EU law into single electricity market rules is that single market rules cannot be differentiated across jurisdictions and alignment must be guaranteed for the future.
Article 13 of the protocol states that
“the provisions of this Protocol referring to Union law or to concepts or provisions thereof shall in their implementation and application be interpreted in conformity with the relevant case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union.”
This includes the provisions listed under Annexe 4. This is to secure the governance of the internal energy market, as it covers the single electricity market. This is removed by the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, Clause 13(1) of which sets out:
“Any provision of the Northern Ireland Protocol, or … the EU withdrawal agreement, is excluded … so far as it confers jurisdiction on the European Court in relation to … the Northern Ireland Protocol”.
The Explanatory Notes underline:
“That is the case whether the CJEU jurisdiction relates to excluded provisions or any other matter.”
With the removal of the CJEU and no means of referencing its case law or jurisprudence, the governance of the single electricity market is put in jeopardy and, thus, the continued functioning of the all-island market is as well. This is happening at a time when the pricing of electricity, security of supply and balancing supply and demand are at an almost unprecedented level of concern to consumers this winter on the island of Ireland and elsewhere in the world, including Great Britain.
A lot of concern has rightly been expressed about the unknowable consequences of the Bill, given that so much of its effect will come through powers that are neither clearly demarcated nor spelled out—the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, has spoken at length on this. However, I draw to noble Lords’ attention the dangers in what we do know about the Bill’s actual, if unintended, effects. On coming into force, even this skeleton Bill will be powerful enough to undermine the foundations of the protocol completely, with direct, immediate and practical consequences for Northern Ireland. This is primarily because the Bill removes the Court of Justice of the EU from having a role in the oversight of the protocol. Clause 13(1) sets out that any provision of the Northern Ireland protocol or withdrawal agreement is excluded so far as it confers jurisdiction on the Court of Justice,
“whether the jurisdiction relates to excluded provision or any other matter”.
As such, Court of Justice jurisdiction is removed altogether. Furthermore, Clause 20 means that domestic courts and tribunals cannot refer any matter to the Court of Justice in relation to the Northern Ireland protocol, and that they will not be required to follow the jurisprudence of the CJEU from the day the Act comes into force.
This is not merely a theological matter. Article 12(4) of the protocol spells out what the Court of Justice of the European Union has been given jurisdiction over for Northern Ireland. This includes customs and the movement of goods entering Northern Ireland and technical regulations and certification for goods, but it also includes the single electricity market. In addition, Article 13 states that the implementation and application of the protocol provisions referring to union law, concepts or provisions should be
“interpreted in conformity with the relevant case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union.”
The EU has been absolutely clear that Northern Ireland’s free access to the EU single market is contingent on the jurisdiction and jurisprudence of the Court of Justice of the EU.
I am sorry that I am speaking at some length on this, but it is quite complex and important. To change the position of the Court of Justice as proposed in the Bill would immediately erode the basis for an open Irish border. It is either naive or disingenuous of the Government to claim that the single electricity market will be unaffected by the Bill: the position of the Court of Justice is absolutely essential to its operation. The prospect of the collapse of the single electricity market at one point led UK officials to consider putting generators on barges in the Irish Sea in the event of a no-deal Brexit, which tells us that this is deadly serious.
I remind the Government, keen as they are to claim sovereignty over Northern Ireland, that it is their duty, not the European Union’s, to keep the lights on in Northern Ireland. If the EU decides to prevent the continued free flow of goods and electricity across the Irish border because of the removal of the CJEU from the protocol, it would be not a sign of its malintent but rather a well-flagged consequence of the wanton recklessness of the Government in writing the Bill in this way.
I will refer to another skeleton analogy: the Government are trying to claim that the benefits of the standing, walking protocol can be retained at the same time as cutting off its head and removing several of its major bones. Equipping the Government to fashion new plastic limbs over time to fix the problems that the Bill is deliberately inflicting on the protocol is one thing, but removing the head, in the form of Court of Justice jurisdiction, will of course mean that the protocol simply cannot function, and thus neither can things that it sustains, such as the open border and the single electricity market.
I am not arguing that there could not conceivably be a situation in which Articles 12 and 13 of the protocol are adjusted to allow for some finessing of the Court of Justice’s position, but this would have to come through negotiation and agreement between the UK and the EU—and, for this, trust between them will need to be built. However, by its very existence, this Bill does quite the opposite: it destroys trust. By amending the Bill to avoid the removal of the Court of Justice’s jurisdiction having unintended consequences for the operation of the single electricity market—which the Government have been clear they wish to see kept fully functioning—we would at least ensure no disruption to electricity supplies in Northern Ireland, even if it loses free access to the EU’s single market for goods.
Finally, I appeal to Ministers to look again at the drafting of these amendments. If there are some technical issues, I am happy to discuss them. However, I do not see why they cannot accept the principle behind them, which is to keep the single electricity market functioning smoothly.
My Lords, in declaring an interest as chairman of the Climate Change Committee, I wish to follow on from what has just been said. As the Democratic Unionist Party knows, we have reached out to Northern Ireland particularly because of the difficulties the economics of that part of the United Kingdom have in meeting the climate change requirements. Indeed, I found myself in what my noble friends might well feel are the unusual circumstances of defending the Northern Irish Government against an assault by Sinn Féin and the Greens, demanding answers in Northern Ireland that were, in our view, not possible. The Climate Change Committee is clear that we do not ask of people things they cannot do. Therefore, Northern Ireland has a much more limited demand on it: to reach something like 85% of the 100% we want for net zero in 2050. That means that the rest of the United Kingdom must do better to make this possible.
I beg my noble friends the Ministers to recognise that, although they know that I am deeply opposed to this Bill in every aspect, I am asking for their help on this because the Bill presents a peculiar and particular difficulty: the single electricity market in Ireland is crucial to trying to meet the requirements that we place before it. First of all, it is crucial to keep the lights on Northern Ireland—I ask noble Lords to forget climate change for a moment because this is absolutely vital, and this is why it is set up in this way. I know this because I had to understand it to do the work that we did to help the DUP present its case to the Northern Ireland Assembly for not doing what most of us would love the Assembly to do: to reach the net-zero target that we have as a United Kingdom by 2050.
I beg the Minister to take this very seriously indeed, and to think of it differently from the way he wishes to think about the rest of the Bill. There will be issues if we interfere with the single electricity market; I cannot even see how we keep the lights on now. We must make enormous changes to meet the net-zero target, which the Prime Minister reaffirmed today as essential for our economic future as a United Kingdom. So if we are talking about the protection of the United Kingdom —the union—this is crucial to get right. This is not just about keeping the lights on; it is about ensuring that we can go on keeping the lights on without costing the earth. That is going to be very difficult for Northern Ireland to do—I recognise that. We have had extremely good conversations about how we might do it, but we will not be able to do it if we throw this bit of co-operation into debate or dispute, because Ireland as a whole—as an island—must meet this target together.
Indeed, one of the arguments properly put by the DUP when we were discussing all this was that the Republic of Ireland has not explained how it is going to meet its targets—we accepted that. We said that this does not excuse us from being detailed about meeting our targets. Instead, it means that we must recognise that those targets are not going to be met on a north of Ireland basis; they will have to be met by Northern Ireland within the context of the whole of Ireland meeting them.
The detailed examination of this, as put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, is crucial in debating the Bill. In a sense, I wish that I liked the Bill, because that would enable my noble friend the Minister to see that I am being specific about this issue, wholly separately from the fact that I think the Bill gives the Government powers they should never have. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, again pointed out that, every time we discuss any of these things, the big problem is that we are uncertain as to how these powers would be used. The problem here is not that, but rather, without excluding the single electricity market, we explicitly say that neither the European Court of Justice nor its previous decisions can be used in these circumstances. There is no way that the single electricity market can be run unless we maintain and protect the mechanisms which have in fact proven perfectly reasonable ever since they were put in place. Consequently, unless we maintain those mechanisms, there is no way we can keep the lights on because there is no way we can make that mechanism work.
Similarly, to those of us who are passionate about the serious issue we have so short a time to fight—climate change, the biggest physical threat to our society—I say that we are now throwing into doubt, maybe for years, the mechanisms without which we cannot do that job in Northern Ireland or Ireland as a whole. I plead with my noble friend the Minister to forget all the other arguments and recognise that there is something here that the Government must change in passing this Bill, whatever else happens. The Government know perfectly well that I hope the Bill will not pass and that I will do anything in my power to stop it passing, because it is a very bad Bill. However, this is so disruptive that it must be looked at, even by those who believe in the Bill.
If the Government want the co-operation they are hoping to get through this Bill, I hope the Democratic Unionist Party will explain to them why they must protect the electricity supplies. There is no way of doing that—or of ensuring that we fight climate change in Ireland—unless we accept that the electricity system be excluded from the operations of this Bill.
My Lords, I continue to be worried by the interrelationship between the trade and co-operation agreement and the withdrawal agreement. I mentioned this before in Committee on Monday, but I did not develop the point at all. The trade and co-operation agreement is 1,246 pages long. If you get to Part 7, “Final Provisions”, on page 402, you find a provision called “Relationship with other agreements”. I will just read it out because I think it is critical; we have been talking about Rumsfeld problems, but I think this is a kryptonite problem. It says:
“This Agreement and any supplementing agreement apply without prejudice to any earlier bilateral agreement between the United Kingdom of the one part and the Union and the European Atomic Energy Community of the other part. The Parties reaffirm their obligations to implement any such Agreement.”
This provision has been the topic of quite a debate around the place in articles, conferences and things, but it is an interlinking provision between the critical trade and co-operation agreement and the withdrawal agreement. As an interlinking provision, it means that, if something happens to the withdrawal agreement, that in turn—so goes the argument—could come back and torpedo part of, in some way, the trade and co-operation agreement, which, as I have said, is such a critical piece of our trade with our largest trading partner.
I feel that it is very important to consider that. First, I would like to ask the Minister—I am not sure who is answering this section; I now know it is the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad—whether he accepts that this an extremely important thing to consider. If by doing something to the Northern Ireland protocol and the withdrawal agreement you are causing damage to the trade and co-operation agreement, that could be very serious. Certainly, as you sought to make a change to the protocol, you would need to come back to a parliamentary process. You would need to stop and think very carefully about what would happen. That is why, when I look at Clause 13(4), naturally I agree with everything that the noble and learned Lord the Convenor said earlier about this, but I have an additional worry that any old Minister of the Crown could rush into making some regulations and not remember page 402 of the trade and co-operation agreement.
My Lords, I want to make yet another appeal to my noble friends on the Front Bench to pause this ridiculous Bill. We heard a very powerful speech from my noble friend Lord Deben, following another powerful speech from the noble Lord, Lord Hain. Although I understand what both of them said and endorse what both of them said, nothing that they said can make this Bill any better than it is—and it is useless.
In fact, it is worse than useless because on the one hand the Government are saying to us, “We prefer and want to have a negotiated settlement”. Amen to that. But how can you have proper negotiations if at the same time you are obliging Parliament to put you in a straitjacket—one that also confers on you frankly uninhibited powers. The whole thing is contradictory in so many ways.
Yes, we accept that the protocol is not perfect, although it was thrust on us by the Government and willingly entered into by them. Every amendment that comes before us shows that, yes, you can tinker here, you can tinker there, but you cannot make this Bill a good Bill. All the scrutiny from all the learned minds, including that of my noble and learned friend Lord Judge, cannot make this pig’s ear into a silk purse. It is impossible. If we are going to have unfettered negotiations, then for goodness’ sake let us pause the Bill and, as I said the other day, not continue, frankly, to waste Parliament’s time.
I strongly urge my noble friends to accept the good sense of this proposition. Yes, negotiate. You say you want to negotiate. Well, negotiate. Negotiate without tying your own hands or obliging others to tie them, and go forward in a spirit of genuine desire for reconciliation and agreement. My noble friend Lord Deben just pointed out that, in this one vital area of climate change, the supply of electricity to the island of Ireland, the lifeblood that it needs and without which it cannot survive, is something that this Bill can only make more difficult and make the whole situation one that becomes increasingly impossible to overcome. To quote those famous words, we have “sat too long” on this one and it is time we moved on.
I keep hoping that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, will say something with which I can disagree—but he keeps on letting me down. I strongly support Amendment 20, of course, for the obvious reasons that I need not repeat. I also support Amendment 21B, put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and strongly supported by the noble Lord, Lord Deben.
I ought to declare an ex-interest. I used to be a director of a power company and, if I remember right, Northern Ireland is a net importer of electricity but a large net exporter to the Republic. The trade with the Republic is less than the trade that comes in from Scotland on the interconnector. It follows that, if the Bill goes through in the form it is in now, unamended by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, the collapse of the common electricity market will do very grave damage to the Republic as well as to Northern Ireland. For Northern Ireland, it is important for security of supply and to keep costs down; in the Republic, it is much more important because the Republic is a net importer; it is very short of generating capacity.
So I say to the Minister that I really hope he will buy Amendment 21B from the noble Lord, Lord Hain —I cannot see any reason why he should not. If he does not buy it, would the Government please produce before Report a clear statement of the discussions they will by then have had, if they have not already had them, with the Government in Dublin about how the crisis that this would create for the Government in Dublin is to be avoided or mitigated.
I will also add a word on the very important point made by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull. He made it very gently. There is no doubt that the European Union means what it says when it says that, if we put this Bill in its present form on our statute book, the TCA bets are off. We are heading for a trade war if we do this. I hope the DUP will bear that point in mind because, although the trade war would be acutely damaging to the whole United Kingdom, it would do particular damage to the economy of Northern Ireland.
I understand what the noble Lord is saying—that the European Union would likely invoke some kind of trade war—but does he understand that, for many people in Northern Ireland, this Bill is the only thing that is giving them some hope that there will be real change? A trade war is very worrying, but there are also very worrying signs in Northern Ireland of deep unrest, concern and instability. That is why the suggestion from the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, that we should get rid of this Bill would be deeply damaging to relations in Northern Ireland.
With great respect to the noble Baroness, that is not what the public opinion polls are telling us. At present, they seem to be telling us that what a majority of people in Northern Ireland, and a great majority of younger people in Northern Ireland, are looking for is certainty, and they are reasonably content with the protocol.
The opinion polls told us that remain was going to win the referendum—they were very wrong.
I have no expertise to match that of the noble Baroness. But I do think we need to remember that, in the last Northern Ireland election, the voting for the DUP was about one in five of those who voted—and, since the turnout was about 60%, it was a pretty low proportion of the electorate. It is worrying, or at least curious, that the DUP, which constitutes, on its voting last time around, 0.4% of the UK electorate, should be able, it seems, to wag the dog. It is a very small tail that is wagging the dog—and, if we all end up in a trade war with the European Union, it will be the tail that gets the most pain.
Will my noble friend accept this, just to get the two noble Lords together—if I may put it like that? The fact is that nobody in Northern Ireland is going to accept measures that turn the lights off. Most people in Northern Ireland actually want to do something about climate change; the polls are absolutely clear about that. This Bill will mean that we will not be able to fight climate change properly, and the lights are certainly in danger—and, if the lights went off, I do not think that people would thank the DUP for that.
My Lords, I rise to support Amendments 21B, 21C and 23C in the name of my noble friend Lord Hain. It is a pleasure to follow him as well as the noble Lord, Lord Deben, the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and the noble Lord, Lord Kerr.
I am in absolutely no doubt, and all the research indicates, that the protocol is essential to allowing the lights to stay on in Northern Ireland and on the island of Ireland—because we have been in a single electricity market since 2007. The evidence is there to suggest the support of young people for ending political and economic uncertainty, plus their support for action on climate change. I declare an interest as a member of your Lordships’ protocol committee; we took evidence in Northern Ireland and from community groups, and the most important issue to them was not the protocol: it was addressing the cost of living crisis and the cost of doing business crisis.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, referred to the fact that a significant proportion of people are opposed to the protocol. I acknowledge that there is unionist opposition to the protocol, but I also acknowledge that a large majority of Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly who wrote to the then Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, indicated their support for the protocol—and, in so doing, indicated their support for an end to that political and economic uncertainty. One way in which we can have economic certainty in Northern Ireland is through the continuation of the single electricity market, which deals with issues to do with decarbonisation and climate change. It is essential that the lights keep functioning, but it is fundamental to our businesses on the island of Ireland.
It is worth noting that the protocol provisions addressing the single electricity market on the island seek to ensure the continued operation of that wholesale electricity market from the end of the transition period. That is to be achieved by Northern Ireland continuing to align with a number of European Union directives on wholesale electricity. A report from the House of Commons some years ago indicated that Article 9 of the protocol, alongside Annexe 4, secures the continuation of Northern Ireland’s participation in the single electricity market on the island of Ireland. In that 2017 parliamentary report on Brexit and energy security, the parliamentary committee expressed its support for the preservation of the single electricity market, noting that it benefited Northern Ireland in energy security, decarbonisation and energy prices.
For those reasons, I make a special plea, as a resident in Northern Ireland, to support the amendments proposed by my noble friend Lord Hain. I urge the Government to accept them, because it is vitally important that there is a means to prevent unintentional and indirect negative consequences of excluding the jurisdiction of ECG on the functioning of the single electricity market. In that respect, I look forward to the Minister’s response.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, referred to a large section of the population not supporting the protocol. We took evidence this morning from Peter Sheridan, the chief executive of Co-operation Ireland—and I freely admit that I am a member of that board. It was excellent evidence that clearly highlighted the fact that yesterday he was talking to loyalists and, in their evidence, they did not highlight any particular issues about any return to violence. He had a very constructive meeting with them, from what he told us. So things are not as acrimonious or about to tip into violence as some would suggest.
I urge support for the amendments and, in so doing, support to underpin the single electricity market, which has been an excellent product since 2007.
My Lords, I wonder whether we should stop and think for a moment. The electricity issue that has just been raised is the most serious—but not the only—disastrous situation that will occur if this Bill is passed in its present form. Since we appear to be having the opportunity for constructive discussions between the United Kingdom—or parts of it—and Ireland and the EU, rather than killing the Bill, which I would like to do, perhaps we might look pragmatically at what might be achieved. Perhaps the Government would seriously consider not proceeding with the Bill until they can see whether the current constructive discussions are bearing fruit. If they do not bear fruit, perhaps they could bring the Bill back in a considerably altered form.
I will add one small point to the splendid speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, about necessity or appropriateness. It may just be that the Government could think about whether they could not require “appropriateness” in every single clause. There must be some clauses where “necessity” would be the reason for changing. I understand why we do not have a Bill with a great deal of information, because it might cut across the negotiations that are being made—but, while they think about how they could improve the Bill, if they were prepared to pause it, they could look at this point about why much of what they are asking by way of regulation could not be by necessity and not appropriateness.
As always, the noble and learned Baroness speaks great sense. I shall address very briefly a point that is not about electricity, although I hope it may spark some general interest.
It is getting late—we are almost at dinnertime, I hope. The point is about international law. Clause 13 would exclude the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union, which is conferred by the protocol. The test of necessity under international law requires consideration of the necessity for resiling from the protocol by reference to each individual provision: we do not look at it as a whole, we ask whether there is a necessity for this or that. My question to the Minister is: what is the necessity in international law for excluding the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice? What is it about the European Court of Justice that so concerns Ministers?
We have debated at some length, and I agree with all the speeches that have been made on the subject, the difference between “appropriate” and “necessary”, but the test in international law is necessity. Ministers may well think it is appropriate, for political reasons, to exclude the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice—I well understand why that may be the case—but can the Minister please tell me how it satisfies the test of necessity to exclude that jurisdiction?
My Lords, this is the third day we have been debating the Northern Ireland protocol and I know Members may be tired or exhausted, but it seems from a unionist point of view that a lot of Members of this House are either tone deaf or totally blind—because they desire to be—about the reality of the situation with the protocol. I do not know how many times Members have to be told that the protocol is totally unacceptable to any unionist elected representative, any unionist within the Northern Ireland Assembly, or indeed any unionist Member who sits in either of the Houses here. That seems to have been just cast aside.
A few moments ago, we listened to the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, who stressed how important it is that the protocol is not just re-established but is put fully into operation. Then she stressed how important it is that the Northern Ireland Assembly is given its place to support this protocol. I say gently to the noble Baroness, for whom I have a personal respect, having known her for many years in the other place and in the Northern Ireland Assembly, that maybe she has forgotten that majority rule is no longer in existence in Northern Ireland. In fact, the behest of her community, and indeed the marches on the streets and other activities by others she would not necessarily associate herself with, ensured that majority rule was no longer in existence in Northern Ireland. She is basing her remarks upon the acceptance of the Northern Ireland Assembly, debating and then supporting the protocol with Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the Alliance, the Greens and a few other parties, but not one unionist.
Maybe the Committee needs to learn this fact: the very basis of the Belfast agreement was predicated upon cross-community support, not majority rule. That was decided, and indeed lauded and applauded, by every part of this House. We are also constantly reminded that nothing, but nothing, must be done to undermine the Belfast agreement. I noticed that when the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, was speaking, he mentioned the polls and what the polls are saying. I suggest we should be very careful about what the polls are saying, because they certainly got it wrong on Brexit and it seems that they got it wrong on the election in Israel just yesterday. I suggest that, since we listened to the Secretary of State say that Northern Ireland is heading to the polls, rather than telling us what the polls are saying, when the people of Northern Ireland speak we will find out what the unionist community believes about the Northern Ireland protocol.
It may surprise noble Lords, but there is a party in this House that when it takes a manifesto to the people, actually stands by its manifesto. I know that is a novel thing for the Government Benches over the years, but it is not novel for the Democratic Unionist Party. I suggest that noble Lords refrain from telling us, because to be honest, I am fed up with people telling us what the people of Northern Ireland want. Let the electorate speak. The Minister, or rather the deputy at the Northern Ireland Office, has told us that we will shortly hear the date of the Northern Ireland election. Therefore, the Northern Ireland protocol will be put to the electorate and we will see what the unionist population believes concerning that protocol.
I note, before I finish, that on a previous occasion when I was speaking the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, said that it was novel for us to support or base our opinions on the Belfast agreement when we opposed that agreement. I remind him why we opposed it. It was because the Belfast agreement was putting unreconstructed terrorists into government who would not support the police or law and order. In fact, it took another agreement, the St Andrews agreement, to bring them to the place where they had to say that they would give up their weapons, that the IRA weapons would have to go and that they would actually support the police and call upon their community. So, when noble Lords mention that we did not support the Belfast agreement, that was on the basis of the Belfast agreement at that time bringing in unreconstructed terrorists.
As one who suffered from those terrorists, I say without apology to the noble Lord and to the Committee that I did not agree at that time, but I am also long enough in public life to know that the Belfast agreement is an international agreement and therefore this House has constantly told us that we must do nothing to undermine that agreement. I can tell the Committee clearly that, day by day, those who say that the protocol must continue are undermining the Belfast agreement within the unionist community. I trust and pray that the Government will wisely accept that the Bill is not perfect, but it is certainly better than anything I have heard anyone else suggest we should move forward on.
My Lords, this group of amendments brings us to the role of the European Court of Justice, with Clause 13 classifying any provision of the protocol or withdrawal agreement that confers jurisdiction on the ECJ as “excluded provision”. When the Government negotiated and signed the withdrawal agreement, they agreed to a limited role for the ECJ in certain cases. This clause ends ECJ jurisdiction, even when it does not directly relate to excluded provision, and there is a question mark about whether the Government are acting in bad faith on this matter.
Subsections (4) and (5) have been included, according to the Explanatory Notes, to allow Ministers to make arrangements for the sharing of relevant information with the EU. Can the Minister say more about this? To our knowledge, the UK has still not given the EU access to real-time customs data, as required under the withdrawal agreement.
The scope of the power in Clause 13 is very wide. The DPRRC said:
“Parliament has no knowledge of the Government’s plan but is meanwhile expected to rubberstamp all the regulation-making arrangements.”
This point has been made by a number of noble Lords, not least the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge.
Amendments 21B to 23C, tabled by my noble friend Lord Hain and the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, on the potential consequences for the operation of the single electricity market, are very important. I hope the Minister will be able to clarify the legal position. I also hope he will rise to the challenge put to him that the UK Government have every intention of maintaining an all-Ireland electricity market. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I thank again all noble Lords who have spoken on this issue. I will approach the question on the single market in electricity, and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hain, for tabling his amendments in this respect. I will start with Amendment 20, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tweed of Purvis.
Did I say “Lord Tweed of Purvis”? It is written in my notes as “Tweed of Purvis”. It is getting late. I am picking up on the noble Lord, Lord Campbell—it is catching. Maybe there is a suggestion in there—I would be the noble Lord, Lord Wimbledon of Ahmad. My apologies to the noble Lord.
The Government have references to the potential use of powers in Clause 13(4), which several noble Lords mentioned. In short, these would ensure an effective assurance and enforcement regime that could give confidence in the protection of the UK and EU markets. This includes fulfilling our ongoing commitment to provide data to, and to co-operate with, the EU, an intrinsic part of the overall model. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, also raised the issue of data sharing and I will come to that in a moment.
The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, rightly raised the protection of Article 2. I assure the noble Lord—I believe I said this on one of the previous Committee days and my noble friend Lord Caine also answered on this—that my noble friend Lady Altmann and I have discussed this, and we have made sure that the response is fully integrated. The UK is committed to ensuring that rights and equality protections continue to be upheld in Northern Ireland, in line with the provisions of Article 2 of the protocol. That is why Article 2, as my noble friend Lord Caine also made clear, is explicitly protected from being made an excluded provision in Clause 15. My noble friend discussed this with and responded to the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, and I know from exchanges between the two departments that we will respond in writing to the noble Baroness, as promised. We will share that with noble Lords, placing a copy in the Library. I assure noble Lords that this point is not lost. As I have said, where further clarity can be provided during the passage of the Bill, my colleagues and I will seek to provide it.
I thank the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, for pointing out the importance of one treaty and its relation to the others. He has drawn attention to an important point, particularly when it comes to the TCA. If I may, I will write to confirm that fact specifically. To my mind, it is necessary that when we bring forward legislation we reflect on its importance and its impact on existing treaties, particularly those with key partners. The point is well understood and I will confirm in writing to the noble Earl.
As set out in the Northern Ireland protocol, the UK’s solution is to put in place a trusted trader scheme and share data on its operation and data from relevant customs systems. This is an integral part of providing assurance, the need for which I understand, to the European Union on the operation of the new regime and the protection of its single market, while recognising that arrangements within the United Kingdom should be a matter for the UK Government. If I heard correctly, the noble Lord, Lord Hain, who speaks with great insight and experience, said that the British Government were seeking sovereignty. That is the crux. Northern Ireland is an integral part of the United Kingdom and the concerns raised about the protocol and its operation are exactly why the Government are seeking to act in the way that the Bill would introduce. At the same time, we understand that we must work constructively with the European Union, which is why I have alluded previously—and do so again—to the constructive nature of our engagement with EU partners. I accept that these are highly complex arrangements that will require sufficiently flexible powers to be effective, as technology and our relationship with the EU evolve.
I turn now to Amendment 21, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman of Darlington. I think we have covered this but, at the risk of repeating myself, the Government have made their position very clear, although I look to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, on this issue. I heard what he said about its importance and I take on board the fact that previous Bills may have passed and may also be working. The point is understood about the nature of the debate we have had, and will continue to have, over “necessary” and “appropriate”. However, the Government feel that to allow maximum flexibility, “necessary” is the avenue they are pursuing.
I turn now to Amendments 21B and 23C in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hain. I am grateful to the noble Lord for bringing this important issue before the Committee. Let me put on record that the Government have always been clear that we want to cement the provisions in the protocol that are working. I heard very clearly the passionate remarks and insights of my noble friend Lord Deben about the importance of the single electricity market. Irrespective of where we are sitting or what perspectives we have, no one would disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Hain, about the benefits the single electricity market provides to all citizens across the island of Ireland including, importantly, citizens in Northern Ireland. It is precisely for this reason that we assure my noble friend Lord Deben, the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and all noble Lords, that the Bill does not seek to exclude Article 9 or Annexe 4 of the protocol, which would maintain the single electricity market.
It is the Government’s view that it is inappropriate for the CJEU to be the final arbiter of certain disputes between the UK and EU law under the protocol. The Bill removes the effect in domestic law of the jurisdiction of the CJEU in enforcing or interpreting law that applies in Northern Ireland. The Government are confident—notwithstanding the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, which ignited my response, if I may continue with the bad jokes at this hour—in the ability of UK courts to interpret the law which applies in Northern Ireland. But, of course, the powers in the Bill enable the Government to deal with any issues that might arise in relation to the interpretation of EU law underpinning—
The noble Lord said that the Government take the view that it is inappropriate for the court of justice to retain jurisdiction, but why is it necessary—that is the test in international law—to exclude its jurisdiction?
I have given the Government’s position, and I am going to totally digress at this point from my speaking notes. I am reminded of something my noble friend Lord Howard, who is not in his place, said to me during my introduction back in 2011, regard people’s various insights. This also relates to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr. I remember a debate on the withdrawal Bill, taken by my noble friend Lord Callanan, during which certain specific issues were discussed and we talked about the case against the Government at that time. I remember the interventions that were made as I sat next to my noble friend. One was in reference to the actual case. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, corrected the Minister, saying that, actually, as lead counsel on the case, perhaps he could provide an insight. As my noble friend fought the defence of Article 50, the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, stood up and suggested, “What would I know? After all, I only wrote Article 50”. So, on this issue, where I am testing a principle of law, I repeat what the Government’s position is but I take note of what the noble Lord has said in this respect.
I am glad to be of service to the noble Lord.
The Minister has been very generous and kind in saying that he was grateful that I raised the single electricity market, but he has not addressed any of the issues I put to him. If he is not going to do so in his closing speech, could he write to me and say in what way, apart from seeking not to jeopardise the single electricity market, which nobody wants to do, obviously, he is going to prevent it being jeopardised, for the reasons I enunciated?
I do not know if I disappoint or please by saying that there are several more pages in my speaking notes which may address in part what the noble Lord, Lord Hain, said, and this relates also to his amendments on the issue of assessments on non-excluded provisions. To make a general point, whether it is the perspective of the Government in introducing the Bill or the sentiments we have heard from our noble friends, including those within the DUP, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, I think we are all coming at this with the end objective of ensuring that the benefits there have been from the market should be protected. I am quite happy to discuss the specifics with the noble Lord, together with officials, after the debate to see if there is a specific insight we perhaps have not picked up on in respect of these amendments, and how we can have a further discussion in this respect. I fully accept the key principle—I think we all do—regarding the protections that have been afforded and the gains that have been made. Of course, no one wants any lights going off anywhere.
It is the Government’s view that Amendments 21C and 23B, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, would prevent any regulation being made under the powers in Clauses 13 and 14 before an impact assessment had been carried out with regard to the regulation’s effect on non-excluded provisions of the protocol. Regulations under Clauses 13 and 14 should not be presumed to have any impact on non-excluded provisions of the protocol. They are not excluded and will continue to apply—indeed, they will continue to attract the benefit of the EU law principle of supremacy.
However, if the noble Lord is simply after a more general economic impact assessment—this is where I am saying that a discussion may be helpful—I am not sure that these amendments are required either. Regulations under the specified clauses could be highly technical, with little economic impact. For example, Clause 13(5) specifies that regulations under Clause 13(4) may make provision about arrangements with the EU relating to the operation of the Northern Ireland protocol, including information sharing. As such, the Government could be forced to provide an impact assessment on, for example, a data-sharing system between two competent authorities, which has little or no impact on wider parts of the protocol or economic operators—or, indeed, any impact outside of government at all.
I assure noble Lords that the House will have the opportunity to scrutinise any regulations in the usual fashion, and that the Government will provide all the usual accompanying material under the normal parliamentary procedures, including economic impacts where relevant. However, it is the Government’s view that mandating by statute that impact assessments must be provided for every single regulation under Clauses 13 and 14 would be overburdensome, and it does not tally with the standard principles for impact assessments. To add to the point I made earlier, on the specifics that have not been covered in my concluding remarks, I will write to the noble Lord, Lord Hain. As I said, I believe that there is a common cause to be had here, so if time allows, I am quite happy for us to schedule a discussion on this as well.
Clause 13 outlines the exclusions that seek to redress the feeling that a democratic deficit is created by the arrangements for the implementation and enforcement of the protocol. First, via subsection (1), it provides that any provision of the protocol which confers jurisdiction on the CJEU over the arrangements in Northern Ireland is an excluded provision. This means that CJEU decisions, including infractions, will no longer have effect in domestic law across the entire protocol. Secondly, via subsections (2) and (3), it assists in restoring the Government’s sole oversight of arrangements on the ground in Northern Ireland, providing that the provisions relating to the powers and presence of EU representatives are excluded. Finally, to address the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, via subsections (4) and (5) it allows for the establishment of replacement arrangements, which provide the ability to put in place new supervisory and data-sharing arrangements with the European Union. This will support assurance processes to protect both the UK and EU markets and facilitate co-operation between UK and EU authorities. That is why we believe that the clause should stand part of the Bill.
Again, I am grateful for the discussions and debate on this group. While I am not suggesting that all noble Lords will have been fully satisfied by my response, I hope that they will be minded not to press their amendments at this time.
My Lords, I am grateful for the Minister’s response. I reassure him that I am not precious either about my name or my title. My former constituency was Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale, and I was once introduced to the Massachusetts state assembly by the Speaker as, “Jimmy Purve from Twiddle, Ettick and Louder”. He managed to get every single word wrong, and then he kept asking, “So, where is Twiddle, Jimmy?”
I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate and for the Minister’s remarks on Article 2 rights. The point stressed by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission was that the rights are only ongoing rights if they can be both interpretive and dynamic. If you remove the court of justice’s ability to do that, they stop being rights. We are obliged to make sure that they are “ongoing interpretive”, but the power in the Bill puts that at risk. It would be quite straightforward to simply say that that can carry on.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hain, for outlining the second aspect regarding the electricity market in very clear detail. The point that has been stressed is that the electricity market is of such significance that it is probably—I am happy to be corrected—an issue of consensus among the political parties in Northern Ireland that it carries on, and that it should carry on in a seamless, undisturbed manner. I do not want to fall foul of the warning from the noble Lord, Lord McCrea, that there are things I am not aware of, but that is my understanding.
For these Benches, it would be helpful if the Minister could write to the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and put the correspondence in the Library, rather than just having a dialogue, so that we are able to test it. If he does that, I would be grateful if he could outline what formal contact the Government have had with the SEM Committee, which operates the wholesale market for the regulator in Northern Ireland and the regulator in Dublin. That body is tasked with regulating that market and the Government must have consulted it; it would be an astonishing admission of failure if they have not formally consulted the regulatory body that operates this.
We know that the Europeans are concerned—this is linked to the previous group on subsidy—that if a GB-subsidised electricity company wishes to enter the wholesale market, that puts at risk the operation of that market. This is now potentially at risk because of the Government’s removal of the court’s competence in these areas. It is of the most significant importance, alongside the issue raised by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, on interconnectedness—I am glad I am not the only one who reaches for page 402 when I read documents.
We have reached some very significant and important issues in the consideration of this Bill. I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, said about pausing it. I do not know whether we should put this Bill into limbo or purgatory. I would rather pause it before it goes to hell than have it going to heaven. In the meantime, before it goes to either limbo or purgatory, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment. However, I hope the responses from the Minister to these very important points will be substantial and thorough.
Amendment 20 withdrawn.
Amendments 21 to 21C not moved.
Clause 13 agreed.
My Lords, I hope we can make slightly faster progress on the Bill after dinner, having completed only two groups so far.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.18 pm.