Amendment 9

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill - Report (1st Day) – in the House of Lords at 6:42 pm on 11 July 2023.

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Earl Howe:

Moved by Earl Howe

9: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—“Statement of levelling-up missions: devolution(1) In the course of preparing a statement of levelling-up missions, a Minister of the Crown must—(a) have regard to any role of the devolved legislatures and devolved authorities in connection with the levelling-up missions in the statement, and(b) carry out such consultation as the Minister considers appropriate with the devolved authorities.(2) A Minister of the Crown must prepare a document which sets out how the Minister has complied with subsection (1)(a).(3) A Minister of the Crown must lay the document mentioned in subsection (2) before each House of Parliament, and publish it, at the same time, or as soon as is reasonably practicable after, the statement of levelling-up missions is so laid and published.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment requires a Minister of the Crown to have regard to the role of devolved legislatures and devolved authorities, and to consult devolved authorities, in preparing statements of levelling-up missions. It also requires a Minister to report to Parliament on how they have so had regard.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, in moving this amendment, I will speak also to Amendments 13, 15, 16, 21 and 23. The Government are committed to respecting the devolution settlements. The UK Government and the devolved Administrations share a common ambition to deliver the best possible outcomes for people and to make sure that opportunity is spread more evenly across the whole of the country, even if the way we articulate and measure these objectives may sometimes differ.

We have listened carefully to the views of the devolved Administrations, and to views expressed in this House, on the importance of ensuring that Governments in all parts of the UK are properly engaged as we take forward the levelling-up agenda, and that the devolution settlements are not undermined. There is work under way between officials in the UK Government and in the devolved Administrations to explore collaborative work on various missions—for example, on research and development and well-being. These amendments provide further assurance as they make our commitment to work collaboratively explicit and binding in the Bill.

Amendments 9, 15 and 16 would oblige the UK Government to have regard to any role of devolved legislatures and devolved authorities, to consult devolved authorities when preparing or reviewing statements of levelling-up missions or making revisions to mission progress methodology, metrics or the target date, and to report to Parliament on how they have done so. Amendment 13 would place a further duty on the UK Government to consult devolved authorities when preparing a report on the delivery of the missions.

Amendment 21 defines the devolved authorities and legislatures for the purposes of Part 1. Finally, Amendment 23 would clarify the meaning of “His Majesty’s Government” in Part 1 to provide further assurance to the devolved authorities that the duties created by Part 1 are placed on His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom.

I hope the House will agree that these are positive and sensible steps to ensure that all parts of the UK can benefit from levelling up, while ensuring that the devolution settlements are respected. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Chair, Consolidation, &c., Bills (Joint Committee), Chair, Consolidation, &c., Bills (Joint Committee) 6:45, 11 July 2023

My Lords, I welcome the Minister’s statement and will say how grateful I am, and I am sure that people in the devolved nations are, for the Government’s change of heart. It is important to recall that the devolved Administrations have responsibilities in the areas covered by the Bill. For example, in relation to Wales, both the Government and the Senedd have a responsibility for economic development and for levelling up.

One has seen this in policies and in the legislation that has been passed. I will give three examples. The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, passed by the Senedd, showed how far-sighted the Welsh Government and the Senedd were in addressing inequalities and improving the well-being of people in Wales. Secondly, in 2020, A Framework for Regional Investment in Wales set out another set of policies designed to deal with economic regeneration, but in a way that dealt with inequality at every level of society and did so in conjunction with sustainable economic growth. Thirdly, in 2021, Welsh Ministers published their Economic Resilience and Reconstruction Mission, outlining very similar policies. It is important that the policies, although they have the same objective as one hopes the Government’s policies have, are being pursued with very different objectives in terms of how they are done and the methods.

It was this problem that arose when the Bill came to this House. The UK Government simply did not seem to understand that they were trampling over devolved policies. It was their view that Part 1 did not require the legislative consent of the Senedd, and they had taken the position that the UK Parliament could legislate and place duties on UK Government Ministers to set missions in areas where there was substantial responsibility in Wales and active promotion of those of the levelling-up agenda. It seems that they did not understand that Part 1 makes provisions that are within the legislative competence of the Senedd. The provisions therefore should not have been introduced in Part 1; the Government should had left this to the Senedd where matters were within its competence.

However, this important constitutional point need not be dealt with now. This is what I would call a pragmatic compromise, which is why I welcome it, because it underlines what I hope many have been trying to say in this House: the union will not work unless we work together.

I take this legislation as a commitment by the UK Government to work with the Governments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and with the legislatures in those nations to ensure that the objectives and the means of getting there are pursued with some degree of co-ordination.

The one area that concerns me, and I telegraphed this a little earlier when I spoke, is how the shared prosperity fund—as it was once called, now the levelling up fund—is going to be dealt with. Unfortunately, the United Kingdom Internal Market Act and the way it dealt with what was then called the shared prosperity fund brought to an end 20 years of co-operation between the devolved Governments and others to see whether we could pursue a consistent policy for the distribution of funds. It is clear from the way the shared prosperity fund was first dealt with, and the amendment to try to ensure that it is dealt with in a co-ordinated way, that it has been lacking in co-ordination. Therefore, I very much hope that what the Government have said in this amendment will ensure that we go forward as a union with spending the money in a co-operative way, avoiding duplication, waste and, above all, any use of funds for political advantage.

That is why I strongly support this amendment. It is not ideal, as it does not grapple with the constitutional points, but it is a vast improvement on the attitudes that began to be shown in 2019. Fortunately, since about August of last year, things have got a lot better, so I welcome it. I hope I am not being unduly optimistic. My name should really give cause to say, “Well, there should be doubts”, but, having looked at what has happened over the past few months, I think one can look forward to this with a degree of optimism and leave the constitutional issues to be argued about at another time—I hope, never.

Photo of Lord Hope of Craighead Lord Hope of Craighead Judge

My Lords, I offer my support for these amendments from a Scottish perspective and for very much the same reasons as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, has just been expressing. I also support it as a member of the Constitution Committee because one of the points which the Constitution Committee made was that if we are to make the union work, the key words are “respect” and “co-operation”, and this is a very good demonstration of respect for the devolved Administrations and the way in which they can co-operate.

I am glad too that the document that the Minister must lay before Parliament is to be published. The Minister is not being required to lay a document before the devolved Administrations—that is not the way it will be done—but because it will be published it will be perfectly plain to the devolved Administrations what the mission will do. The amendment is well phrased. It is extremely desirable for the reasons of principle that I have expressed. I am delighted that these amendments are there.

Photo of The Duke of Montrose The Duke of Montrose Conservative

It is a privilege to follow the two noble and learned Lords who have just spoken and to see their enthusiasm for the way the Government are going. I was waiting to see whether there was any mention of a legislative consent Motion from the Welsh Government. I think the Scottish Government are still a long way from getting there.

I spoke at a previous stage about my concerns regarding agreement on devolved competences. It looks from these amendments that the Government have been working hard to find all the places where consultation might help. In Committee, my noble friend the Minister said that

“the Government are continuing to work with the devolved Administrations to understand whether there is scope to extend the EOR powers to provide a shared framework of powers across the UK. Once those discussions have concluded, the Government will bring forward any necessary amendments to both Part 6 and Part 3 to reflect the agreed position between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations”.—[Official Report, 22/3/23; col. 1803.]

I was grateful to hear my noble friend the Minister just now reassure us that these amendments are part of that negotiation with the devolved Governments.

The amendments all deal with the actions the Government will be solely bound to carry out. I understand that the Government, and particularly the Treasury, do not want to yield any powers that might end up costing money, but can my noble friend the Minister say whether what we have is anywhere near constituting the framework that they hope to achieve with the devolved Administrations or do they regard the framework as something to be left for further primary or secondary legislation? In my unprofessional view, a framework would be something that laid down the competences and responsibilities of each party and that was acceptable to all. Each Act of Parliament that has granted devolution is, to me, a framework. They are not set in stone. The difference here is that each of these Acts was set up by the UK Government on their own, but now we have to get agreement from the other parties. I realise that these are questions that the Minister may not want to go into at the moment, but they must be asked.

Photo of Baroness Pinnock Baroness Pinnock Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, we on these Benches welcome this group of government amendments, which are in response to the strong arguments made in Committee by the noble and learned Lords, Lord Hope of Craighead and Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd.

It is astonishing that those who draft legislation continue to do so without recognising the implications of devolution. One would think that by now the lesson would have been learned. This is not the first time in this or other Bills that late-stage amendments to recognise the facts of devolution have had to be made. It would be good to hear the Minister confirm that in future the implications of devolution for draft legislation will be considered at an early stage, not at the last minute, but we welcome these changes that have been made.

Photo of Baroness O'Neill of Bexley Baroness O'Neill of Bexley Conservative

I remind the House that I am the leader of the London Borough of Bexley and therefore have associated connections with London Councils and the Local Government Association. As leader of the London Borough of Bexley, my experience of devolution in London has been under three different mayors. I am a firm believer in devolution, but it must always be to the lowest common denominator. That spend must be to address local issues and allow local government to be answerable to the electorate.

London’s devolution deal is more than 20 years old; it is therefore very different from the other devolution deals. In the other devolution areas the mayor is answerable to the leaders in that area. That is not the case in London. What does that mean? It means that the Government give money to the mayor that is actually meant for the councils and local people, which can then be top-sliced, or parameters can be set that deny councils that money and therefore deny taxpayers their fair share. Likewise, as we have seen recently, the mayor can decide to extend ULEZ to the outer boroughs, on very little evidence. He will not listen to the fact that there are better ways to achieve better air quality in London, completely ignoring consultation.

Devolution to the lowest common denominator must be the answer because it means that the electorate have the last say and can therefore make the difference in how that money is spent. It will help to deliver levelling up. I support the amendments.

Photo of Baroness Hayman of Ullock Baroness Hayman of Ullock Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government) 7:00, 11 July 2023

My Lords, I just want to say that we also welcome these amendments and that I support everything that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, said.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble and learned Lords, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd and Lord Hope of Craighead, as well as to my noble friends the Duke of Montrose and Lady O’Neill, in addition to noble Lords opposite.

The levelling-up missions have been set by the UK Government but outcomes are a shared interest for the whole of the UK. We fully recognise that some of the missions cover areas where public services are devolved. The purpose of the missions is not to alter existing areas of responsibility but rather to align and co-ordinate how different areas of government work towards a common goal. As I have mentioned, work is already under way between officials in the UK Government and devolved Administrations to explore collaborative work on various missions.

However, what I want to stress is the point well made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, about working together across the union. We are committed to working with the devolved Administrations to align policy, and towards a goal shared by everyone: to reduce geographic disparities across all of the UK. These amendments provide further assurance of that commitment by making it explicit and binding in the Bill.

To pick up a further point raised by the noble and learned Lord, we are taking specific action in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, including putting local voices at the heart of decision-making through the UK shared prosperity fund, launching an innovation accelerator in Glasgow City Region and establishing a UK national academy to provide a first-class education to all children in the UK.

My noble friend the Duke of Montrose spoke about establishing a framework. My best response to that is that one of the benefits of devolution is that it allows local places to take tailored approaches to tackling common challenges, enabling experimentation and innovation. We want to do more to bring together evidence and insights from across the UK, learning from our different approaches and experiences, so that we can improve our collective evidence base about what works and what does not work in different contexts. That, to my mind, is a win-win and it could be described as a desire to establish, over time, a framework that works for everybody. Ultimately, working together to improve our collective evidence base will help us all deliver better outcomes for people across the UK.

Amendment 9 agreed.