I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 338, in clause 10, page 7, line 14, at end insert—
“(2) But regulations made under Schedule 2 must not be incompatible with the full provisions of the British – Irish Agreement 1998 and the Multi-party agreement (the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement) to which it gives effect, including—
(a) the preservation of institutions set up relating to strands 1, 2 and 3 of the Good Friday Agreement,
(b) human rights and equality,
(c) the principle of consent, and
(d) citizenship rights.”
This amendment seeks to ensure that the rights provided for under the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement continue to be implemented and are protected.
Clause 10 stand part.
Amendment 307, in schedule 2, page 16, line 12, leave out
“the devolved authority considers appropriate”
and insert “is essential”.
This amendment would limit the power available to a devolved authority to deal with deficiencies in retained EU law arising from withdrawal in such a way that it could only make provision that is essential to that end.
Amendment 209, page 16, line 13, leave out “appropriate” and insert “necessary”.
Amendment 308, page 16, line 18, leave out “they consider appropriate” and insert “is essential”.
This amendment would limit the power available to a Minister of the Crown acting jointly with a devolved authority to deal with deficiencies in retained EU law arising from withdrawal in such a way that they could only make provision that is essential to that end.
Amendment 210, page 16, line 18, leave out “appropriate” and insert “necessary”.
Amendment 166, page 16, line 33, at end insert—
“(6) Sub-paragraph (4)(b) does not apply to regulations made under this Part by the Scottish Ministers or the Welsh Ministers.”
This amendment would include the power to confer a power to legislate among the powers of the Scottish Ministers and Welsh Ministers to make regulations under Part 1 of Schedule 2 to fix problems in retained EU law arising from withdrawal, in line with a Minister of the Crown’s powers under Clause 7.
Amendment 211, page 17, line 1, leave out paragraph 3.
Amendment 167, page 17, line 9, at end insert—
“(3) This paragraph does not apply to regulations made under this Part by the Scottish Ministers or the Welsh Ministers.”
This amendment would provide that the power of the Scottish Ministers and the Welsh Ministers to make regulations under Part 1 of Schedule 2 extends to amending directly applicable EU law incorporated into UK law, in line with a Minister of the Crown’s power in Clause 7.
Amendment 168, page 17, line 13, at end insert—
“(2) This paragraph does not apply to regulations made under this Part by the Scottish Ministers or the Welsh Ministers.”
This amendment would provide that the power of the Scottish Ministers and the Welsh Ministers to make regulations under Part 1 of Schedule 2 includes the power to confer functions which correspond to functions to make EU tertiary legislation, in line with a Minister of the Crown’s power in Clause 7.
Amendment 169, page 17, line 20, at end insert—
“(2) This paragraph does not apply to regulations made under this Part by the Scottish Ministers or the Welsh Ministers.
Requirement for consultation in certain circumstances
5A No regulations may be made under this Part by the Scottish Ministers or the Welsh Ministers acting alone so far as the regulations—
(a) are to come into effect before exit day, or
(b) remove (whether wholly or partly) reciprocal arrangements of the kind mentioned in section 7(2)(c) or (e),
unless the regulations are, to that extent, made after consulting with a Minister of the Crown.”
This amendment would replace the requirement for consent from a Minister of the Crown for regulations made by Scottish Ministers or Welsh Ministers in fixing problems in retained EU law that arise from withdrawal if they come into force before exit day or remove reciprocal arrangements with a requirement for Scottish Ministers and Welsh Ministers to consult with a Minister of the Crown before making the regulations.
Amendment 135, page 20, line 18, leave out paragraph 10.
This amendment is intended to remove the proposed restriction in the Bill on devolved authorities modifying retained direct EU legislation etc.
Amendment 322, page 20, line 25, after “Crown”, insert
“and excluding any provision that could be made under paragraph 7(2) of Schedule 7B to the Government of Wales Act 2006”.
This amendment, and Amendments 323, 324 and 325, would prevent the Welsh Ministers from using powers proposed in the Bill (to deal with deficiencies in retained EU law arising from withdrawal) to amend the Government of Wales Act 2006.
Amendment 323, page 20, line 41, after “5”, insert “or”.
This amendment, and Amendments 322, 324 and 325, would prevent the Welsh Ministers from using powers proposed in the Bill (to deal with deficiencies in retained EU law arising from withdrawal) to amend the Government of Wales Act 2006.
Amendment 324, page 20, line 41, leave out “or 7”.
This amendment, and Amendments 322, 323 and 325, would prevent the Welsh Ministers from using powers proposed in the Bill (to deal with deficiencies in retained EU law arising from withdrawal) to amend the Government of Wales Act 2006.
Amendment 325, page 20, line 43, at end insert—
“(f) the provision does not modify the Government of Wales Act 2006.”
This amendment, and Amendments 322, 323 and 324, would prevent the Welsh Ministers from using powers proposed in the Bill (to deal with deficiencies in retained EU law arising from withdrawal) to amend the Government of Wales Act 2006.
Amendment 309, page 21, line 38, leave out
“the devolved authority consider appropriate”
and insert “is essential”.
This amendment would limit the power available to a devolved authority to prevent or remedy a breach of international obligations in such a way that it can only make provision that is essential to that end.
Amendment 212, page 21, line 39, leave out “appropriate” and insert “necessary”.
Amendment 310, page 21, line 43, leave out “they consider appropriate” and insert “is essential”.
This amendment would limit the power available to a Minister of the Crown acting jointly with a devolved authority to prevent or remedy a breach of international obligations in such a way that they could only make provision that is essential to that end.
Amendment 213, page 21, line 43, leave out “appropriate” and insert “necessary”.
Amendment 287, page 22, line 9, after “or revoke”, insert
“, or otherwise modify the effect of,”.
This amendment would ensure that the restriction in this paragraph could not be undermined by the use of legislation which does not amend the text of the Human Rights Act but modifies its effect.
Amendment 288, page 22, line 10, at end insert “, or
“(f) amend, repeal or revoke, or otherwise modify the effect of, any other law relating to equality or human rights.”
This amendment would broaden the restriction in this subsection to protect all legislation relating to equality and human rights (and not only the Human Rights Act 1998).
Amendment 326, page 22, line 10, at end insert—
“(f) amend, repeal or revoke the Government of Wales Act 2006.”
This amendment would prevent the Welsh Ministers from using powers proposed in the Bill (to comply with international obligations) to amend the Government of Wales Act 2006.
Amendment 170, page 22, line 10, at end insert—
“(4A) Sub-paragraph (4)(d) does not apply to regulations made under this Part by the Scottish Ministers or the Welsh Ministers.”
This amendment would provide that the power of Scottish Ministers and Welsh Ministers to make regulations under Part 2 of Schedule 2 includes the power to confer a power to legislate, aligning those Ministers’ powers to the power of a Minister of the Crown under Clause 8.
Amendment 136, page 22, line 25, leave out paragraph 15.
This amendment is intended to remove the proposed restriction in the Bill on devolved authorities modifying retained direct EU legislation etc.
Amendment 171, page 22, line 32, at end insert—
“(3) This paragraph does not apply to regulations made under this Part by the Scottish Ministers or the Welsh Ministers.”
This amendment would provide that the power of the Scottish Ministers and the Welsh Ministers to make regulations under Part 2 of Schedule 2 extends to amending directly applicable EU law incorporated into UK law. This brings the power into line with the Minister of the Crown power in Clause 8.
Amendment 172, page 23, line 11, at end insert—
“(4) This paragraph does not apply to regulations made under this Part by the Scottish Ministers or the Welsh Ministers.
Requirement for consultation in certain circumstances
16A (1) No regulations may be made under this Part by the Scottish Ministers or the Welsh Ministers acting alone so far as the regulations—
(a) are to come into effect before exit day, or
(b) are for the purpose of preventing or remedying any breach of the WTO Agreement, or
(c) make provision about any quota arrangements or are incompatible with any such arrangements,
unless the regulations are, to that extent, made after consulting with a Minister of the Crown.
(2) In sub-paragraph (1)—
“the WTO Agreement” has the meaning given in paragraph 16(2),
“quota arrangements” has the meaning given in paragraph 16(3).”
This amendment would replace the requirement for a Minister of the Crown to consent to regulations made by the Scottish Ministers or the Welsh Ministers to ensure compliance with international obligations if they come into force before exit day or relate to the WTO or quota arrangements, with a requirement for the Scottish Ministers and Welsh Ministers to consult with a Minister of the Crown before making the relevant regulations.
Amendment 311, page 24, line 11, leave out
“the devolved authority considers appropriate”
and insert “is essential”.
This amendment would limit the power available to a devolved authority to implement the withdrawal agreement in such a way that it could only make provision that is essential to that end.
Amendment 214, page 24, line 12, leave out “appropriate” and insert “necessary”.
Amendment 312, page 24, line 16, leave out “they consider appropriate” and insert “is essential”.
This amendment would limit the power available to a Minister of the Crown acting jointly with a devolved authority to implement the withdrawal agreement in such a way that they could only make provision that is essential to that end.
Amendment 215, page 24, line 16, leave out “appropriate” and insert “necessary”.
Amendment 289, page 24, line 32, after “or revoke”, insert
“, or otherwise modify the effect of,”.
This amendment would ensure that the restriction in this paragraph could not be undermined by the use of legislation which does not amend the text of the Human Rights Act but modifies its effect.
Amendment 290, page 24, line 33, at end insert “, or
(h) amend, repeal or revoke, or otherwise modify the effect of, any other law relating to equality or human rights.”
This amendment would broaden the restriction in this subsection to protect all legislation relating to equality and human rights (and not only the Human Rights Act 1998).
Amendment 327, page 24, line 33, at end insert—
“(h) amend, repeal or revoke the Government of Wales Act 2006.”
This amendment would prevent the Welsh Ministers from using powers proposed in the Bill (to implement the withdrawal agreement) to amend the Government of Wales Act 2006.
Amendment 173, page 24, line 33, at end insert—
“(4A) Sub-paragraph (4)(d) does not apply to regulations made under this Part by the Scottish Ministers or the Welsh Ministers.”
This amendment would include the power to confer a power to legislate among the powers of the Scottish Ministers and Welsh Ministers to make regulations under Part 3 of Schedule 2, in line with a Minister of the Crown’s powers under Clause 9.
Amendment 174, page 25, line 11, at end insert—
“(3) This paragraph does not apply to regulations made under this Part by the Scottish Ministers or the Welsh Ministers.”
This amendment would provide that the power of the Scottish Ministers and the Welsh Ministers to make regulations under Part 3 of Schedule 2 extends to amending directly applicable EU law incorporated into UK law, in line with the Minister of the Crown power in Clause 9.
Amendment 175, page 25, line 15, at end insert—
“(2) This paragraph does not apply to regulations made under this Part by the Scottish Ministers or the Welsh Ministers.”
This amendment would provide that the power of the Scottish Ministers and the Welsh Ministers to make regulations under Part 3 of Schedule 2 includes the power to confer functions which correspond to functions to make EU tertiary legislation.
Amendment 176, page 25, line 28, at end insert—
“(3) This paragraph does not apply to regulations made under this Part by the Scottish Ministers or the Welsh Ministers.
Requirement for consultation in certain circumstances
25A (1) No regulations may be made under this Part by the Scottish Ministers or the Welsh Ministers acting alone so far as the regulations make provision about any quota arrangements or are incompatible with any such arrangements unless the regulations are, to that extent, made after consulting with a Minister of the Crown.
(2) In sub-paragraph (1), “quota arrangements” has the meaning given in paragraph 25(2).”
This amendment replaces the requirement for Minister of the Crown consent to regulations made by the Scottish Ministers or the Welsh Ministers to implement the withdrawal agreement if they relate to quota arrangements, with a requirement for the Scottish Ministers and Welsh Ministers to consult with a Minister of the Crown before making the relevant regulations.
Amendment 317, page 25, line 31, at end insert—
“Part [ ]
Welsh Ministers—Power to make consequential and transitional provision
[ ] (1) The Welsh Ministers may by regulations make such provision as is essential in consequence of this Act.
(2) The power to make regulations under sub-paragraph (1) may (among other things) be exercised by modifying any provision made by or under an enactment.
(3) In sub-paragraph (2), “enactment” does not include—
(a) primary legislation passed or made after the end of the Session in which this Act is passed, or
(b) any provision of the Government of Wales Act 2006.
(4) The Welsh Ministers may by regulations make such transitional, transitory or saving provision as is essential in connection with the coming into force of any provision of this Act or the appointment of exit day.
(5) No regulations may be made under this Part unless every provision of them is within the devolved competence of the Welsh Ministers for the purposes of Part 2.”
This amendment would provide a power to the Welsh Ministers to make consequential and transitional provision within the devolved competence of the Welsh Ministers.
That schedule 2 be the Second schedule to the Bill.
Amendment 313, in clause 7, page 5, line 7, at end insert—
“( ) But the power in subsection (1) may not be exercised to make provision for Wales to the extent that that provision would be within the devolved competence of the Welsh Ministers for the purposes of Part 1 of Schedule 2.”
This amendment would prevent a Minister of the Crown from making provision to deal with deficiencies in retained EU law arising from withdrawal to the extent that the provision would be within the devolved competence of the Welsh Ministers.
Amendment 89, page 6, line 11, at end insert—
“(da) apply to Wales unless they relate to matters specified in Schedule 7A to the Government of Wales Act 2006,
(db) apply to Scotland unless they relate to matters specified in Schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998,
(dc) apply to Northern Ireland unless they relate to matters specified in Schedules 2 or 3 to the Northern Ireland Act 1998.”
This amendment prevents Ministers of the Crown from making regulations under the powers in Clause 7 that apply to Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland other than in relation to reserved (or, in the case of Northern Ireland, excepted and reserved) matters.
Amendment 158, page 6, line 13, after “it”, insert—
“() modify the Scotland Act 1998 or the Government of Wales Act 2006,”.
This amendment would prevent the powers of a Minister of the Crown under Clause 7 of the Bill to fix problems in retained EU law from being exercised to amend the Scotland Act 1998 or the Government of Wales Act 2006.
Amendment 318, page 6, line 13, after “it”, insert—
“() modify the Government of Wales Act 2006,”.
This amendment would prevent the Government of Wales Act 2006 from being amended by regulations under Clause 7.
Amendment 144, page 6, line 14, leave out from “1998” to end of line 18 and insert
“or otherwise affect any legislation derived from the Belfast Agreement of 10 April 1998 or the intention of that Agreement.”
This amendment is intended to ensure that the EU Withdrawal Bill does not affect any legislation derived from the Good Friday Agreement or the intention of the Good Friday Agreement.
Amendment 161, page 6, line 25, at end insert—
“(9) The consent of the Scottish Ministers is required before any provision is made in regulations under this section so far as the provision would be within the devolved competence of the Scottish Ministers within the meaning given in paragraph 9 of Schedule 2.
(10) The consent of the Welsh Ministers is required before any provision is made in regulations under this section so far as the provision would be within the devolved competence of the Welsh Ministers within the meaning given in paragraph 10 of Schedule 2.”
This amendment would require a Minister of the Crown to first seek the consent of the Scottish Ministers or the Welsh Ministers before making any regulations under Clause 7 on Scottish or Welsh devolved matters.
New clause 39—Provisions of the Good Friday Agreement—
“Before making any regulations under section 9, the Minister shall commit to maintaining the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement and subsequent Agreements agreed between the United Kingdom and Ireland since 1998, including—
(a) the free movement of people, goods and services on the island of Ireland,
(b) citizenship rights,
(c) the preservation of institutions set up relating to strands 1, 2 and 3 of the Good Friday Agreement,
(d) human rights and equality,
(e) the principle of consent,
(f) the status of the Irish language, and
(g) a Bill of Rights.”
Amendment 315, in clause 9, page 6, line 45, at end insert—
“( ) But the power in subsection (1) may not be exercised to make provision for Wales to the extent that that provision would be within the devolved competence of the Welsh Ministers for the purposes of Part 2 of Schedule 2.”
This amendment would prevent a Minister of the Crown from making provision to implement the withdrawal agreement to the extent that the provision would be within the devolved competence of the Welsh Ministers.
Amendment 147, page 7, line 5, at end insert—
“(bc) amend or repeal the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (except with the intention of preserving the effects of the Belfast Agreement of 10 April 1998 after exit day).”
This amendment is intended to maintain the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement after the UK leaves the EU.
Amendment 320, page 7, line 8, at end insert “, or
(e) modify the Government of Wales Act 2006.”
This amendment would prevent the Government of Wales Act 2006 from being amended by regulations under Clause 9.
Amendment 160, page 7, line 8, at end insert—
“(3A) The consent of the Scottish Ministers is required before any provision is made in regulations under this section that modifies the Scotland Act 1998.
(3B) The consent of the Welsh Ministers is required before any provision is made in regulations under this section that modifies the Government of Wales Act 2006.”
This amendment would prevent a Minister of the Crown from using the power to make regulations under Clause 9 implementing any withdrawal agreement to change the devolution settlements for Scotland and Wales without the consent of the Scottish Ministers or Welsh Ministers.
Amendment 157, page 7, line 9, at end insert—
“(5) No regulations may be made under this section unless the requirement in section [Provisions of the Good Friday Agreement] has been satisfied.”
Amendment 163, page 7, line 9, at end insert—
“(5) The consent of the Scottish Ministers is required before any provision is made in regulations under this section so far as the provision would be within the devolved competence of the Scottish Ministers within the meaning given in paragraph 18 of Schedule 2.
(6) The consent of the Welsh Ministers is required before any provision is made in regulations under this section so far as the provision would be within the devolved competence of the Welsh Ministers within the meaning given in paragraph 19 of Schedule 2.”
This amendment would require a Minister of the Crown to first seek the consent of the Scottish Ministers or the Welsh Ministers before making any regulations under Clause 9 on Scottish or Welsh devolved matters.
Amendment 321, in clause 17, page 14, line 4, at end insert
“or the Government of Wales Act 2006.”
This amendment would prevent the Government of Wales Act 2006 from being amended by regulations under Clause 17.
Amendment 316, page 14, line 9, at end insert—
“( ) But the power in subsections (1) and (3) may not be exercised to make provision for Wales to the extent that that provision would be within the devolved competence of the Welsh Ministers for the purposes of Part 2 of Schedule 2.”
This amendment would prevent a Minister of the Crown from making transitional, transitory or saving provision to the extent that the provision would be within the devolved competence of the Welsh Ministers.
Amendment 145, in clause 8, page 6, line 30, at end insert
“including the Belfast Agreement of 10 April 1998.”
This amendment is intended to maintain the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement after the UK leaves the EU.
Amendment 346, page 6, line 30, at end insert
“including those arising under the British-Irish Agreement 1998”.
This amendment would allow Ministers to make regulations to fulfil obligations arising out of the British-Irish Agreement (which commits to implementation of the Multi-Party Agreement).
Amendment 314, page 6, line 30, at end insert—
“( ) But the power in subsection (1) may not be exercised to make provision for Wales to the extent that that provision would be within the devolved competence of the Welsh Ministers for the purposes of Part 2 of Schedule 2.”
This amendment would prevent a Minister of the Crown from making provision to prevent or remedy any breach of international obligations to the extent that the provision would be within the devolved competence of the Welsh Ministers.
Amendment 146, page 6, line 35, at end insert—
“(bc) amend or repeal the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (except with the intention of preserving the effects of the Belfast Agreement of 10 April 1998 after exit day).”
This amendment is intended to maintain the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement after the UK leaves the EU.
Amendment 159, page 6, line 38, at end insert “, or
(e) modify the Scotland Act 1998 or the Government of Wales Act 2006.”
This amendment would prevent the powers of a Minister of the Crown under Clause 8 of the Bill to ensure compliance with international obligations from being exercised to amend the Scotland Act 1998 or the Government of Wales Act 2006.
Amendment 319, page 6, line 38, at end insert “, or
(e) modify the Government of Wales Act 2006.”
This amendment would prevent the Government of Wales Act 2006 from being amended by regulations under Clause 8.
Amendment 347, page 6, line 38, at end insert—
“(e) be incompatible with the British-Irish Agreement 1998 and the Multi-party agreement (the Belfast / Good Friday Agreement) to which it gives effect, including—
(i) the preservation of institutions set up relating to strands 1, 2 and 3 of the Good Friday Agreement,
(ii) human rights and equality,
(iii) the principle of consent, and
(iv) citizenship rights.”
This amendment is intended to ensure that the power to make regulations to fulfil obligations arising out of the British-Irish Agreement could not be used in a manner incompatible with those obligations.
Amendment 162, page 6, line 40, at end insert—
“(5) The consent of the Scottish Ministers is required before any provision is made in regulations under this section so far as the provision would be within the devolved competence of the Scottish Ministers within the meaning given in paragraph 18 of Schedule 2.
(6) The consent of the Welsh Ministers is required before any provision is made in regulations under this section so far as the provision would be within the devolved competence of the Welsh Ministers within the meaning given in paragraph 19 of Schedule 2.”
This amendment would require a Minister of the Crown to first seek the consent of the Scottish Ministers or the Welsh Ministers before making any regulations under Clause 8 on Scottish or Welsh devolved matters.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon on this very important Bill, Mrs Laing,
I am enormously grateful to the Members who put their names to my new clause 70. I am sorry that Democratic Unionist party Members did not find time to do so. I am sure they wanted to, but they have obviously been busy with other things, such as speaking to the Prime Minister. When, or if, I press my new clause to a vote this afternoon—I am clearly signalling to the Government and to you, Mrs Laing, that if I do not receive a satisfactory response from the Government, I intend to press it to a vote—it will be quite difficult, as I sit as an independent, to provide the Tellers. However, my hon. Friends—I call them friends—in the Scottish National party and the Labour party have kindly indicated that they will provide the Tellers.
I find myself in an extraordinarily difficult position. When I hear the Prime Minister and the Brexit Secretary repeat their commitment to the Good Friday agreement, as I often do, I welcome that enormously. However, I of course expected the Government to match their words, rhetoric and promises about the Good Friday agreement with actions. When I first collected my copy of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, I expected to see a commitment written in bold that the Good Friday agreement—otherwise known as the Belfast agreement—would be protected, even though the UK is going to leave the European Union.
I have read the Bill very carefully. As right hon. and hon. Members will know, the Good Friday agreement or Belfast agreement was an international agreement between the Irish Government and the British Government. As an international agreement, it had to be incorporated in our domestic law, and that was done by the Northern Ireland Act 1998. The Good Friday agreement is absolutely fundamental. It has given us peace and stability for the past 20 years in Northern Ireland, and there can be no denying that. Unfortunately, the first mention of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, which incorporated the Good Friday agreement in our domestic law, is in clause 7. It is not at the beginning of clause 7 but in subsection (6), and it is not at the beginning of subsection (6) but in paragraph (f) at the end.
For the benefit of Members—including DUP Members, who have been busy doing other things, as I have said—let me take a moment to read out clause 7(6). Ministers will be given sweeping powers under clause 7 to do what they consider appropriate to prevent, remedy or mitigate deficiencies in retained EU law. The point I must emphasise to the Committee is that the sweeping powers provided in clauses 7 to 10 are replicated or duplicated in schedule 2 for the devolved authorities. The reference to the Northern Ireland Act 1998, which I struggled to find, is in clause 7(6). It states:
“regulations made under this section may not…amend or repeal the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (unless the regulations are made by virtue of paragraph 13(b) of Schedule 7 to this Act or are amending or repealing paragraph 38 of Schedule 3 to the Northern Ireland Act 1998 or any provision of that Act which modifies another enactment).”
I commend the legislative draftsmen and women, because I am sure it is technically correct, but what on earth does it mean? The legislation has to be clear to those people who read it who are not lawyers, and the vast majority of Members of this House are not lawyers. The language is not clear.
May I say to the Clerks of the House—the brilliant Clerks, who serve the House long hours into the night and with such enthusiasm—that I am enormously grateful to them for their patience personally with me and for their diligence and great wisdom in drafting new clause 70? The new clause puts in black and white a bold statement of the commitment to the Good Friday agreement and to the principles which I call in shorthand in the new clause “the Belfast principles”. Those are the principles enshrined in the Good Friday agreement.
For Northern Ireland Unionists, the Belfast principles include the constitutional guarantee, through the consent principle, that Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom unless and until there is a border poll and the people of Northern Ireland, and only Northern Ireland, say otherwise. It is not in the gift of No. 10, thank goodness; it is not in the gift of Dublin; it is governed by the people of Northern Ireland in a border poll. The constitutional principle is guaranteed among the Belfast principles in the Good Friday agreement, as is the principle of mutual respect for all communities across Northern Ireland, who were so divided by the troubles—respect and equality, irrespective of how a person votes, their political opinion and views or their religion. Non-discrimination and equal respect for all is guaranteed in the Belfast agreement.
There are many other principles—I could go on—in that document, which is enormously important for people not just in Northern Ireland, but particularly in Northern Ireland. I stand here as a Unionist and I am proud to defend the Belfast agreement—the Good Friday agreement. I say that with great pride because I grew up, not in in some stately home but on a 50-acre farm west of the River Bann in County Tyrone, very close to what unfortunately became known as the “murder triangle” for the number of people, both Catholic and Protestant, who were murdered by the IRA and subsequently by loyalist paramilitaries as well. Our postman was murdered at the end of our lane. Many of our farming neighbours were attacked on their tractors, or went out to a shed and opened the door, and there was a booby trap that blew off their head or face. My late father made it to 92, but he had to attend innumerable funerals of our neighbours, both Catholic and Protestant.
There is no monopoly on pain and suffering—every single one of the DUP Members in this House, their families and neighbours, suffered as well—but likewise in County Tyrone in 1981, when we had a Conservative Government led by the late Margaret Thatcher, we had the hunger strikes, which unfortunately became the best recruiting agent the IRA did not have in 1981. Ten young men starved themselves to death—highly emotive within the Catholic community, the republican community, the nationalist community. They were the sons of neighbours of ours in County Tyrone. All communities suffered.
Many Members of this House will have no idea who Jack Hermon was, because they are all so young. My dear late husband, who died with Alzheimer’s nine years ago, was the longest serving Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. During the appalling terrorist campaign waged by the IRA and subsequently by the Provisional IRA, which morphed into something called the Real IRA, and by loyalists—do not forget the woe, the suffering, the grief that was caused by loyalist paramilitaries—he described his officers as extraordinary men and extraordinary men doing an extraordinary job, and they did. In Northern Ireland, with a population of 1.8 million, 302 RUC officers were murdered. That is an awful lot of dead police officers.
In the 10 years that Jack was Chief Constable, he had to attend almost 100 funerals, and that undoubtedly affected him, but I tell the House that when the Good Friday agreement was signed and I talked to him about the constitutional consequences of having Sinn Fein in the Executive, Jack listened to me patiently and then lifted one finger and said, “If it saves the life of one police officer, I’m voting for this.” Jack supported publicly the Good Friday agreement, the late Mo Mowlam and her efforts at that time.
The Good Friday agreement has brought all of us in Northern Ireland stability and peace, from which the whole of the UK has benefited, the Republic of Ireland has benefited, and—since we are talking about Brexit—the European Union has benefited. After all, the IRA placed bombs in Germany, Spain, Gibraltar and elsewhere. Underpinning the Good Friday agreement—the foundation for it—was the fact that the Republic of Ireland and the UK had joined the European Union on the same day, at the same time. It was the cornerstone, the foundation of the Good Friday agreement. Under the agreement, those born in Northern Ireland could choose to identify themselves as British or Irish, or indeed both, but they also regarded themselves as Europeans.
The border became virtually invisible where once we had had watchtowers, murders, security checks and unapproved roads. The roads had been cratered, so that someone going to school on the other side of the border, or to a community hall, or church, or chapel, had to get out of their car and tiptoe around on the uncratered part of the road. Those roads have been filled in again. We have normality in Northern Ireland, we have peace, and we undoubtedly have people alive today who would not otherwise be alive.
Let me say ever so loudly and strongly to senior members of the Conservative party that I do not want to hear them or see them on television talking about pushing ahead and no deal—“Let’s just move on with no deal.” It is an absolute nonsense. It is so reckless and so dangerous. The Home Secretary stood here yesterday and made a statement about counter-terrorism. Dissident republicans are active. They are dangerous and ruthless—utterly ruthless. If I had a child or grandchild choosing a career—I have no grandchildren, by the way; I have two children, both of whom have chosen careers other than politics, sadly, because we need leadership in Northern Ireland and young people to come into politics—I would not encourage them to join the UK Border Force or Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs in the event of no-deal Brexit, because inevitably we will have a hard border.
It must be a moral responsibility and duty on this Government to take care of all personnel, all officials, in HMRC, in the Police Service of Northern Ireland and in the UK Border Force. It is all very well and good to have talked about “taking back control” of our borders—that was a catchy refrain during the EU referendum—but I never could, and still cannot all these months later, get any clarity on how exactly we proposed to take back control. However, in the event of no deal, we would certainly face a hard border, and dissident republicans would regard Police Service of Northern Ireland and HMRC officers, and UK border officials, as legitimate targets. I do not want that on my conscience, and I do not believe for one moment that the Prime Minister or the Government want that either. I plead with senior Conservative party members to stop the nonsense of talking up no deal. The Home Secretary wisely described no deal as “unthinkable”, and it is. She may not be here, but I quote her anyway, because I agree with her and hold her in very high regard.
Why am I so committed to this issue? It is because half my life has been blighted by the troubles. I was not involved in politics when the Good Friday agreement was signed. I was not then a member of the Ulster Unionist party, of which David Trimble was leader. He and I had taught together in the law faculty of Queen’s University Belfast. If anybody cares to look, they will see that my specialism was EU law; that is another reason why I am so passionate about this subject. David Trimble, who was such a remarkable, courageous leader of the Ulster Unionist party, never quite liked or understood my interest in EU law, yet now he is in another place and is asked for his views on so much. He and I will never fall out, but we have always disagreed over the EU. My love for it continues.
I accept that Brexit will happen. We as the United Kingdom have to come out together, and the Prime Minister made that quite clear at Prime Minister’s questions today, but in doing so we cannot risk undermining all that has been gained through the Good Friday agreement—the lives that have been saved and the normality that we have had. That will carry on, but people in Northern Ireland are extremely nervous. There is one party, the Democratic Unionist party—and I am just describing, factually. DUP Members are colleagues and friends, though sometimes I wonder, given the tone of voice that they use towards me. Let us remember the history: a previous Conservative Government, led by Margaret Thatcher, caused such divisions, hurt, anger, rage and outrage in one part of the community in Northern Ireland—the republican nationalist community —and there was the way that the hunger strikes were handled. It is critical that the Conservative Government, who are supported by the DUP, bear in mind all the people of Northern Ireland, and that the DUP do not speak for or represent all of them.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
Of course; I would be delighted.
I do not think that I am one of the senior members of my party whom she is criticising. Does she agree that the Prime Minister, 48 hours ago, reached an agreement with the Taoiseach that seemed to show that the Prime Minister shared the hon. Lady’s concerns? We cannot have an open border without having some regulatory and customs convergence on both sides. That all came to an end when the DUP vetoed it, which makes it extremely important—more than it was—that her new clause be put into the Bill to make sure that we are not back-sliding. Of course, the DUP could always rescue its reputation by confirming that its only objection was to not having regulatory and customs convergence across the whole United Kingdom, and by agreeing, as she and I do, that regulatory and customs convergence across the whole island of Ireland is in the interests of inhabitants on both sides of the border.
That was very interesting. Lots of points were raised there. The DUP will have to speak for itself, and I am sure that at some point this afternoon, its Members will want to contribute to the debate. I am hugely grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for confirming that he feels that the Government should accept my new clause; I thank him.
I felt deeply embarrassed for the Prime Minister on Monday. What was so interesting in her demeanour during Prime Minister’s questions today was her confidence at the Dispatch Box, and her response to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who had a question on the Order Paper. It was a very interesting question, and the Prime Minister’s reply was significant. She seemed so calm, not that she does not normally seem calm—forget about the party conference; that was a very difficult experience for her, and we would not like that to happen to any of us. I suspect that she has spoken a lot to the leader of the DUP since Monday; that is what I hope, but I am not in that inner circle. I am not a member of the DUP, and its members do not come along to me and say, “Here’s the draft memorandum; have a look at it.” I hope that I am right in saying that there has been progress. If I am not, I am sure that a DUP Member will quickly get to their feet to contradict me, and they are not doing that.
I did not think it was worth it.
Well, that is very disappointing.
Could the hon. Lady answer the question posed by the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), who asked whether she accepts, as he does, that it is a good idea to have regulatory convergence and common rules between Northern Ireland and the Republic? Could she give a straight answer to that, because many in Northern Ireland now view her as being on the side of the Dublin Government on these issues?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman so much for that. [Interruption.] Yes, what do you do in response to that?
I can hear. If the right hon. Gentleman gives me a chance, instead of chuntering away, I might actually reply to him.
The Prime Minister, and yesterday the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, made it absolutely clear—at least this is what I understood by the Secretary of State’s statement—that it was always the intention of the Prime Minister and the Government to have the same regulatory alignment right across the United Kingdom. For the record, if the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Nigel Dodds) wants me to say this again, I am a Unionist. I am not in the pocket of, am not propping up, and have not spoken to, the Dublin Government, and I strongly resent the implication, in his question, that I am doing that.
The hon. Lady and I have got on very well since entering the House together—16 years and I think four months ago, as the Speaker might say. Does she agree that my right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast North (Nigel Dodds) asked her a very specific question relating to what the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) said about convergence across the island of Ireland? In the few minutes that have elapsed since then, I have not heard an answer to it.
I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman—or the hon. Gentleman; I just promoted him. That is not what I understood, so there is no point in putting up a straw man for me to knock down. I understood that the proposal that the Prime Minister took with her to Brussels was always to have been that the entirety of the UK should have the same alignment. The Prime Minister is no one’s fool. She has made it quite clear that she will protect the integrity of the whole United Kingdom. She had already ruled out having a border down the Irish sea. I therefore believe and trust that when she went to Brussels, she had always planned that there would be convergence throughout the United Kingdom, and that Northern Ireland would not be treated differently from the rest of the United Kingdom. That is the confidence that I have.
The hon. Lady may share with me a certain amount of bemusement. There can be no question for me, as a Unionist, of a separate regulatory arrangement for Northern Ireland, permitting it to have regulatory equivalence or convergence with the Republic. Convergence either applies to all of us, or cannot apply at all. I have to say that all of us having regulatory convergence with the Republic, and indeed the rest of the EU, strikes me as a very good idea.
I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend. Even though he sits on the other side of the Chamber, I have always regarded him as a friend. He has just summed up how I feel. I will not stand here and criticise our Prime Minister—she is the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and I believed that her stance when she went to Brussels on Monday was that the convergence would apply to all of the United Kingdom. I did not believe for one moment that she would cast Northern Ireland off somehow to a regulatory framework and convergence on the island of Ireland, and not with the rest of the United Kingdom.
Of course, I do not want Northern Ireland to be treated any differently from the rest of the United Kingdom. We are all coming out of the EU—sadly—on 29 March 2019. The referendum result in Northern Ireland was in favour of remaining, but the UK-wide result will be honoured. The Prime Minister has said that repeatedly. As we move towards that, I urge and encourage the Government to adopt, in some form of words, new clause 70, because the principles of the Good Friday agreement, which I and the other Members who have put their names to the new clause are proud to support, must be protected in black and white on the face of that Bill. That is the assurance I need from the Government this afternoon, otherwise I will test the House’s commitment to the Good Friday agreement.
I do not intend to speak at length. I listened carefully to the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) and I completely agree with all the sentiments she expressed about the benefits that the Good Friday agreement has conferred on our country generally and on our international relations with the Irish Republic. It has been a step change in improving the quality of life for all citizens in this country, particularly those in Northern Ireland, about which the hon. Lady spoke so eloquently.
It is clear that the Brexit process is challenging in the context of maintaining those benefits. I regret that, during the referendum campaign last year, those of us who highlighted the consequences that could flow did not get as much register as we would have liked. In the cost-benefit analysis between staying in and leaving the EU, the Good Friday agreement was a factor that should have been taken into account properly, but I regret to say that some of the enthusiasts for our leaving the EU seem to have systematically ignored it.
However, we are where we are. It is clear that we will have to try to manage the Brexit process in a way that does not adversely impact on the Good Friday agreement. I listened carefully to DUP Members, and I can well understand that any suggestion that leaving the EU involves uncoupling Northern Ireland and putting it into a separate regulatory regime for the benefit of maintaining the Good Friday agreement, or regulatory equivalence with the Republic of Ireland, is a complete non-starter. It is totally unacceptable to me, and I did not understand the Prime Minister’s words and the agreement she reached as being indicative of her intending to do any such thing. If she was, all I can say is that she will not long survive her party’s views, which are unanimous on this matter, irrespective of whether Members most enthusiastically embraced Brexit or most vigorously sought to prevent it. We therefore need to park that on one side.
I rise to speak in support of new clause 70 and amendment 174. I applaud the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) for her initiative in seeking to put the principles of the Belfast agreement on the face of the Bill and for a wonderful speech. I think that all of us who listened to her were moved by her memories of times past, to which none of us wants Northern Ireland to return. So much progress has been made in the peace process in recent years, not all of it in the public eye, and it would be an appalling betrayal of the good work done by so many people in sometimes dangerous situations if that was not protected.
A huge range of legacy issues is being addressed, not least the higher rate of unemployment and the consequential effects for the coming generations. Having the principles nailed into the legislation helps to ensure that Ministers here take note of the needs of the communities of Northern Ireland.
It has been clear throughout the whole process since the triggering of article 50 that the Government and their Whitehall machine have had little, if any, time for the devolved Administrations or their opinions on how to proceed with negotiations, what the final outcome should look like or what kind of continued links with the EU we should aim for. The obvious exception, of course, is the leader of the DUP, who appears to have a veto on things. What a tangled mess an ill-judged election and a poor campaign created.
The importance of Northern Ireland having a border with Ireland that facilitates the continued trade and social interaction between the communities on either side cannot be overstated. Clearly, it is in the best interests of the communities there to continue within the customs union and single market, and why any politician, from Stormont or anywhere else, would want to destroy that relationship is beyond me, especially given that the people voted to remain in the EU.
There is a parallel issue, in that people who have been ripped out of the EU against their will should also receive whatever minor and insufficient recompense is on offer, and that is where amendment 174 comes in. If there is no longer any EU membership, the Scottish Parliament should be able to amend the legislation handed down from the EU. The original imposition in the Scotland Act 1998 of a requirement to follow EU legislation was intended to ensure that the devolved Administration complied with EU law, and if that is no longer needed, the devolved Administration should have the right to change the law concerned. There is much more to be done to balance the devolution settlements properly after Brexit, but one small step would be accepting amendment 174.
Let me end by complimenting the hon. Member for North Down again on new clause 70.
I rise to speak in favour of new clause 70, and to make it clear that unless I hear some good reason why I should not vote for it, I shall do so, because I think it is eminently sensible. I think we are now reaching a point in all this when people have just got to be big and strong and brave and say that they will do what they believe is right, and put the interests of our country—the United Kingdom—before political allegiance and everything else. This is bigger and more important than anything else. We are embarking on a course of a magnitude that we have not seen for decades, and it is important that we get it right, not just for my generation but for my children and my grandchildren.
Like, I think, everyone else in this place, I was extremely moved by the wonderful and wise words of the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon), whom I am going to call my friend. I think I am about her age, and in one respect I am like her and unlike the young people whom she rightly identified. I say that with no disrespect, because it is good to see young people in this place, but they probably cannot believe what it was like during the period of the troubles.
I was fortunate—I was not living in Northern Ireland then, as the hon. Lady and other Members were—but I remember that time incredibly well. I remember the terrible bomb that exploded in Birmingham when I was a child. I remember that, almost every night, my television screen was filled with terrible pictures of brave soldiers and remarkable police officers who were putting themselves absolutely on the frontline, and were doing so in a unique way. They were not engaged in some terror in another country; this was happening on their doorstep. This was their community, and these were their people. What they went through was even worse than what soldiers in a foreign field go through, because those soldiers will eventually return home to their own country, but these brave men and women returned to homes that were literally around the corner. It was a truly dreadful time, and the terror did not just come from the IRA in all its various guises: it also came from some of the extreme protestant movements. And, of course, caught up in the horror were real human beings. I never thought that this would happen. I could not see, as a young woman, how we could ever reach the period that we have now reached, a period of peace in Northern Ireland.
When I was a defence Minister, I had the great pleasure of going to Northern Ireland myself. It was the first time I had ever been to—I was going to say Ulster, but to Northern Ireland. I was delighted to be there, and, if I may say so, particularly delighted to be there with the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), but one of the things that really troubled and appalled me was the fact that the military covenant, which applies throughout the rest of the United Kingdom, did not extend to Northern Ireland in the way that it should have. One of the young men whom I met there had lost a limb in Afghanistan. It was nothing to do with the troubles; he had fought for his country somewhere else. He was denied the treatment and services to which he was absolutely entitled, for no other reason than that he had served in the British Army. That was a symbol of the disharmony, the pure prejudice, that still existed in some quarters. Equally, however, much progress has been made.
As we heard from my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), Brexit reality is unfurling. People are now recognising the reality of what 17 million voted for. I am going to be frank about this: I made a compromise. I put aside my long-held belief that our future should lie in the European Union and voted against my conscience, and I have accepted that we are leaving the European Union. What saddens me is that others cannot compromise in the same way. There are still people “banging on about Europe” from a hard-line, ideological position: Notwithstanding the fact that we lost our majority in the general election, they are still banging on in that hard-line, hard-Brexiteer way, and it is not acceptable. Let me respectfully say to my right hon. and hon. Friends that if I can compromise, and if my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) can compromise and accept that we are leaving the European Union, they too must compromise. They must drop the rhetoric and come and find a solution to the Brexit problem, which will undoubtedly be a nightmare unless people compromise.
That is why I will no longer vote against my conscience. I am going to go through the Lobby with the hon. Member for North Down because it is the right thing to do. We must put aside our political differences—and in some instances, such as mine, put aside our long-held views—and vote for what is right and best for our country.
Let me gently say to Ministers that it does not help when we are told that we will be leaving the customs union, and we will be leaving the single market; we have to find a compromise. I think that the Prime Minister moved towards that with the idea of “regulatory alignment”, which makes a lot of sense. People are coming together. A consensus is forming, and I think that the consensus neatly lies with the customs union. I do not care what we call it—regulatory alignment, and all the rest of it. I am not interested in terminology. All I am interested in is getting the right result, and the right result in Northern Ireland and Ireland is no hard border. How do we achieve that? Through the customs union. It is very simple, and it will win support.
The danger of what is happening is that we are not bringing the people of this divided country back together. The more people bang on with their rhetoric, the more alienated other people are becoming, especially younger people. I have said this before, and it is a bit of an old joke, but in my terms that means anyone under the age of 45. They are looking at this place and listening to these debates and arguments, and what they see and hear is a bunch of older grey-haired men who seem determined to decide their future in a way that is not beneficial to their interests. I have said that before, and I am sorry to say that I was proved right. I warned my party that those people would punish us at the ballot box, and on 8 June that is exactly what they did.
I agree with much of what the hon. Member has said, and I commend what was said earlier by the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon). Does the hon. Member agree that the Government need to recognise that if they are to take courage, it will be from the peoples of Northern Ireland who endorsed the Good Friday agreement on an 81% turnout and voted 71.2% in its favour, and that the Government should listen not to the ne-er-do-wells on the Back Benches of any political party but to the cross-party, cross-community roots in Northern Ireland?
I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I think that this is a good way for me to end my speech. The hon. Member for North Down said exactly the same: if the Good Friday agreement meant that one person’s life was saved, it was worth supporting. Northern Ireland is an example of how people can put aside rhetoric and long-held beliefs, and come together to secure a peaceful, prosperous future for all generations, including generations to come. That is what the Committee must do now: it must find the compromises and find the solutions so that we can come back together, get on with the rest of what we have to do, and deliver a Brexit that works for everyone.
It is a pleasure to follow the excellent speeches of the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), and of course the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon). I was not planning to speak at great length about new clause 70 and other issues this afternoon, but I was profoundly moved by what she said. I think she speaks for many people in Northern Ireland whom I know and love, and it is a shame that there are not more voices like hers calling for that moderation and focus on what really matters, which is peace and stability.
When indicating the substantial contribution and progress made in recent decades in Northern Ireland, I caution the hon. Gentleman and other Members against attributing that in total to the process that started in 1998. The ceasefires—among those who should not have started killing people in the first place—commenced in 1994, four years before the Belfast agreement. So a process of people converging, to use the in-phrase, in a very realistic way away from violence and towards embracing peace had begun long before the Belfast agreement. I say that merely to bring a note of historical accuracy to the debate, as we are in danger of rewriting the past, as many do in Northern Ireland.
Indeed, many men and women of courage and conviction on all sides in that process pushed forward the need for peace and stability and an end to the violence and killings on all sides. I pay tribute to all of them, including some of the many fantastic individuals whose names we do not know; I think particularly of those in the Quaker community and others who worked behind the scenes so tirelessly to bring sides together. This is clearly a process over many years, and it is not yet fully resolved; there are still some who would seek to undermine that process, and that stability and peace.
This touches me as well. My family served in Northern Ireland in the British Army. Parts of my family originate from what is now the Republic and others from Northern Ireland itself—the Cassidys in my family came from Northern Ireland over to Kirkcudbrightshire in Scotland. I have friends, too, in all parts of the island of Ireland. In fact, I travelled as a young member of the Welsh Labour party to a conference organised by an organisation called Encounter, which brought together young members of all the parties in all parts of the British Isles and the Republic of Ireland. Despite having those family connections and having heard the tales from those in my family who had served, I was utterly shocked and astounded to walk through the Falls and the Shankill roads, to see the peace lines and to hear the stories of those from all sides of the conflict whose lives had been so dramatically affected and who had lost loved ones. It is incumbent on all Members in all parts of the House to remember where we were, where we have come from and what remains to be done.
Speakers today, particularly the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon), the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) and my hon. Friend, have reminded us of how the troubles affected everyone in Northern Ireland. I visited Northern Ireland during those times. Brief mention has also been made, in particular by the hon. Member for North Down, of how the troubles affected us in this country. I was a child living in Birmingham when those bombs went off. My father was a magistrate and we had to look under the car every morning before getting into it to go to school. Of course , the Conservative party suffered the most appalling attack at its heart. The troubles affected us all—
Order. The hon. Lady is not making a speech; she is making an intervention, and there will be plenty of time for her to make a speech, with the full rhetoric, later. If she has a point to intervene on, will she do it very briefly, please?
My sincere apologies.
Does my hon. Friend agree that we were all affected by the troubles, and that this is an opportunity to remind the House that we cannot go back to those days? This debate is so important for that reason.
I wholeheartedly agree, and who can forget the Warrington bombing, for example, and the many other tragic events that affected young and old and people from all walks of life, in mainland UK as well?
How extraordinary it is that we would even contemplate putting any of the progress that has been made at risk. It was particularly important to hear what the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield and the right hon. Member for Broxtowe said. This goes beyond party politics and wider issues that we will have disagreements on in this House. This is about stability, peace and the constitutional settlement, and, ultimately, respect for the will of the people on the island of Ireland about their future. It is about understanding where that lies. It is not about games that some might choose to play for other purposes around this whole Brexit process.
That also draws into stark relief the role the EU has played in being a force around peace processes and stability, and not just in the UK. I do not claim that the EU was responsible for all the progress in Northern Ireland. I do not claim anything of that nature, but we have seen the role it has played in preventing a further outbreak of violence in Cyprus and in encouraging countries and different communities to come together in the Balkans. This was substantially lost from the debate we had around the referendum. Our coming together in Europe around shared values, peace and stability has helped to bring people together.
I am listening very carefully to what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Of course none of us here—heaven forbid—would use this situation to do impure things like politics, but does he agree that there are those who would seek to manipulate the current situation for other goals? I am thinking in particular of the French intention to take business from the City of London and of some—I emphasise some—in Dublin who perhaps see an advantage in the current situation, which has led to a lot of discomfort on the island of Ireland.
We are not here to talk about France’s intentions as regards the City of London; we are here to talk about the constitutional settlement in these islands, and I cannot understand why the Government would not want to accept new clause 70, given that it clearly sets out an agreement that they as a Government are committed to. I certainly will proudly go through the Lobby, or happily act as a Teller for the hon. Member for North Down later to make sure that that vote goes forward.
I shall now move on to other amendments, relating to clause 10 and schedule 2, tabled in my name and those of Members of other parties, regarding Wales and Scotland, the wider devolution context and the constitutional settlement we have. Clause 10 gives effect to schedule 2 and sets out the power of the devolved authorities to correct deficiencies in domestic devolved legislation that arise from withdrawal from the EU and to remedy potential breaches. Those infamous Henry VIII powers are included in those provisions. Using those powers, devolved Ministers would be able to modify retained EU law to correct those deficiencies and to act in various ways to deal with the circumstances of leaving. The crucial point, however, is that the same powers are given concurrently to UK Ministers in areas where devolved competence is absolutely clear, and those Ministers are free from the scrutiny of the devolved legislatures.
UK Ministers have been given the exclusive power to amend retained direct EU legislation—that which comes from EU regulations rather than from directives—which covers otherwise devolved competences, as we discussed at great length the other day. There is therefore a significant inequality in the powers that have been given to Ministers. I am delighted that those on the Labour Front Bench and others are opposed to that, as are Welsh Labour and many others from across the parties. Our amendments seek to address that issue. The Welsh Government have argued:
“Direct EU legislation (such as EU regulations) can only be amended by a Minister of the Crown, and would fall to be scrutinised by Parliament even if the subject was one that was devolved to the Assembly.”
When we discussed the amendments the other day, I was disappointed by the response from the Minister. Despite the assurances that we had had from the Secretary of State for Scotland when he appeared before the Scottish Affairs Committee, and despite other commitments that had been made about respecting reasonable and constructive amendments tabled by the devolved Governments, there was no willingness to take on board any of the amendments. We had no commitments on them, which was extremely disappointing.
The amendments are not about wrecking the Brexit Bill or about stopping the process. We all have different views on where we should go, but the amendments are about ensuring that we continue to have a stable and effective constitutional settlement and do not suddenly start grabbing back powers or giving UK Ministers new powers to interfere in areas that have long since been devolved. Let us not forget that it is almost 20 years since the advent of the first devolution Acts.
The hon. Gentleman refers to the importance of having stability. Does he also think it important to have legal certainty, and therefore to have mechanisms to ensure that our laws work well and quickly as soon as Brexit happens?
Indeed, but why did the Government reject the amendments that we tabled on putting the Joint Ministerial Committee on a statutory footing and on establishing framework-making powers? Many of those amendments would indeed have provided legal stability. The hon. and learned Lady surely knows that many of the legal powers in these areas are devolved in relation to both Executive and legislative competence. I am sorry to say that the attitude of UK Government Ministers has worsened in the last few days. The Brexit Secretary yesterday described the Welsh First Minister and the Scottish First Minister as “foolish”. That is hardly the attitude that we expect, especially when Ministers keep telling us that we are in a relationship of respect.
Would the hon. Gentleman agree, however, that Ministers in the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament have called UK Ministers of the Crown far worse things than “foolish”?
I am speaking about the context of these negotiations. Lots of things get said in all the legislatures of the UK that I am sure some of us would perhaps not say at certain times, but we are talking about a serious set of negotiations.
I have taken assurances from Ministers in good faith about the nature of those negotiations, only to hear another part of the UK Government saying something quite different. The Bill as it stands is highly deficient. Many Scottish Conservative Members were very clear about the deficiencies in clause 11 the other day. They were very unhappy with those provisions. I urge the Government, in line with what the Secretary of State for Scotland has said, to look carefully at these amendments and to accept some of them. Otherwise, I warn them again that there will be serious problems with the Bill on Report and when it reaches the other place in relation to the legislative consent motions. The Secretary of State for Scotland told the Scottish Affairs Committee in October:
“As a UK Government, we are discussing those amendments with the respective Governments to understand fully what is sought to be achieved…It may be that some amendments can be accepted with a little bit of modification…it is ultimately for this House to determine whether amendments are successful in relation to the Bill.”
However, we have yet to see any movement so far from Ministers on these amendments.
I want to turn to two important amendments tabled in my name and those of my colleagues. They are grouped for debate today, which makes perfect sense, but I understand that we will not vote on them until a later date. Amendments 158 and 159 get to the heart of the matter. The constitutional settlement relating to Wales and Scotland is governed by the various Wales and Scotland Acts. One of the big issues that was trumpeted in the Wales Act 2017—I am sure that the same was true of the various Scotland Acts—was the permanence of the constitutional arrangements, the permanence of the Welsh and Scottish Governments and their legislatures, and the permanence of their legislation, yet powers are now being granted in this Bill to amend the very Wales and Scotland Acts that form the basic constitutional building blocks of the devolution settlement. That is why amendments 158 and 159 are so important. Amendment 158 would prevent the powers of a Minister of the Crown, under clause 7 of the Bill, from being exercised to amend the Scotland Act 1998 or the Government of Wales Act 2006. Amendment 159 relates to international obligations but essentially does the same thing.
The Secretary of State for Wales stated on Third Reading of the Wales Bill—now the Wales Act 2017—in September last year:
“The Bill meets the commitments in the St David’s Day agreement. It delivers a devolution settlement for Wales that is clearer, fairer and stronger, and it…delivers a historic package of powers to the National Assembly that will transform it into a fully fledged Welsh legislature, affirmed as a permanent part of the United Kingdom’s constitutional fabric, enhancing and clarifying the considerable powers it currently has.”
He also said that that Bill introduced the reserved powers model, yet we saw on Monday how that model is now being undermined by moving to a conferred powers model again. He went on to say:
“As part of the clear boundary of devolved and reserved matters…the Bill draws a clear line between those public bodies that are the responsibility of Welsh Ministers and the Assembly, and those that are the responsibility of the UK Government and Parliament.”
He said that the Wales Bill would draw
“a line under the constant squabbles over where powers lie”.—[Official Report, 12 September 2016; Vol. 614, c. 727.]
I therefore find it extraordinary that, at this stage in the negotiations, we have a Bill that will give UK Ministers the power to undermine that permanency of settlement and blur the lines between what is devolved and what is not, which will undoubtedly lead to further expensive squabbles in the Supreme Court and elsewhere about where the powers lie. I cannot understand why the Bill has been drafted in this way, despite the repeated concerns that have been expressed by the Welsh and Scottish Governments and others about the Bill as it is framed. I cannot understand how we got to this stage, without finding a solution to this issue. I will certainly want to press amendment 158, and potentially amendment 159, to a vote at the appropriate point, because they go to the heart of this group of amendments.
It is really important that all the devolved Administrations retain powers, and it has been said that they will actually increase their powers, which overall would be a good thing. The hon. Gentleman has stated, however, that there will be a reduction in powers for Wales. Does he accept that that cannot be the case in circumstances where it is stated for all the devolved Administrations and all the devolution Acts that the UK Parliament has the power to change the laws of the devolved Administrations? Therefore, as a matter of law, the UK Parliament already has the power—under section 28 of the Scotland Act 1998, section 107 of the Wales Act 2006 and section 5 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998—to change the laws of those devolved Administrations.
I would gently say to the hon. and learned Lady that I do not think she fully understands the legislation or the devolution settlement. The big point that was made by the Secretary of State for Wales in the passing of the Wales Act 2017 was about the permanency of the Assembly and the Welsh Government and their powers and responsibilities. This Bill undermines all that. It opens up a back door to allow the UK Government to amend, by Executive fiat, the very legislation that establishes the Welsh and Scottish Governments and the two legislatures. That is an extraordinary situation, and it should not be the case.
I agree with the thrust of the hon. Gentleman’s argument, but in relation to a point made earlier, why would anyone in this House ever give powers to or take back powers from the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly or the Northern Ireland Assembly without the proper scrutiny of this Chamber?
Indeed. I might have taken some Ministers at their word in the past, but there are others who would love to take back powers or to act without reference either to this Chamber or to the Chambers of the devolved legislatures, as we have seen on a whole series of issues. Ultimately we would end up in the Supreme Court, wasting lots of taxpayers’ money and in dispute. That cannot be the way to keep stability in the constitutional settlement.
My amendments are in no way intended to wreck the Bill or to undermine the process that the Government have set out, but they are absolutely essential to maintaining a stable settlement with Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The events of the past 36 hours have shown why the Government have simply not paid enough serious attention to the unintended consequences of their various grand rhetorical statements. I will therefore seek to press amendment 158 to a vote at the appropriate time.
It seems to me that the Brexit negotiations have finally started to reach a serious stage over the past two or three days. It is rather unfortunate that it is now 18 months since we held the referendum and more than six months since we invoked article 50, but we are still at the stage, which the British Government agreed to, of discussing the three preliminary points, based on our withdrawal, before we can get to discuss our new trade arrangements.
In my opinion, the rights of EU citizens could have been settled in five minutes, with a mutual recognition allowing British people who have moved to the continent and EU citizens who have moved here to retain the rights they expected to have when they made that important move. The financial arrangements should have taken about half an hour, because it was perfectly obvious that there would be financial obligations. We would not have known what the obligations were until we had concluded the negotiations, but the heads of agreement—the basis upon which the mathematics could eventually be done—should not have taken very long. The difficulties were political, and they were here in British politics and in the Conservative party. That delayed progress for a long time.
It is the extremely important Irish question that has posed the first really big issue that has to be solved properly. The hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) made an extremely eloquent and moving speech—I will not attempt to rival it. Like her, I certainly remember the Irish troubles. I lived in Birmingham at the time when there were serious bomb attacks there. My first visit to Northern Ireland was with other Conservative MPs. We caused the security people a little consternation by entering a no-go area in Derry with John Hume, who I think had got us a laissez-passer from the IRA so that we could get in and see the conditions there. More seriously, several MPs were killed. I knew Airey Neave and the Rev. Robert Bradford, and Ian Gow was a good friend of mine.
The hon. Lady put it eloquently and movingly. I hope that nobody in this country still underestimates the huge achievement that the Good Friday agreement represents, or indeed the huge achievement it represents that Northern Irish politicians of all complexions have turned it into such a success, making Northern Ireland a more cohesive and peace-loving society, because nobody wants to return to anything resembling the troubles.
We agreed to address the Irish border problem as a preliminary issue, but nobody seemed to pay it any serious attention until about a week ago. Certainly, it was scarcely mentioned in our rather agitated British debate in this country. It was thought a rather odd feature that the Irish Government had somehow persuaded the other members to raise with us. But the effect on the Irish border of our leaving the European Union is of immense significance, for all the reason we have now been stressing.
I thought that the Government’s policy on the border was slightly ludicrous. They keep saying that they are committed to an open border, and that is absolutely right and consistent with the Good Friday agreement. They then say that we are leaving the single market and the customs union. I have said many times in the House that those two outcomes are completely incompatible; the two together are an oxymoron—I think that is the correct phrase—because we cannot have one with the other.
I thought that at last the light had dawned and that the Prime Minister had moved in her discussions with the Taoiseach and reached an agreement. Despite the assertions she had been giving all the way through, but consistent with them—obviously she would say—she had agreed on behalf of the Government, and no doubt believed that she would get the approval of this House, to have regulatory convergence, in certain areas at least, across the border. I, like my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), took that to mean the whole United Kingdom, because we cannot have separate arrangements in Ireland.
At last common sense was dawning, I thought, because, whatever we call it, we cannot have any trade agreement with any other country in modern times unless we have agreed to mutually binding arrangements for regulatory and customs convergence—either harmonisation or mutual recognition in set areas. We will not get a trade agreement with Samoa—I think the Secretary of State has just headed there to make exploratory noises—if we tell them that we are not going to agree to any binding regulations or rules that will be mutually acceptable in whatever goods and services we trade.
That satisfied me, but then came this bewildering veto.
I am glad that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has returned to the veto, because vetoes have been mentioned several times in the debate thus far. Does he agree that what has been thoroughly unhelpful in the past 10 days is the arrival of Donald Tusk in Dublin, in effect to hand the Irish Taoiseach a veto by saying, “We in Europe stand with you, and whatever you want, we will back you.”?
That is hardly surprising. I do not think that Donald Tusk would go to any of the other 27 member states without saying that he accepts that their consent is required, and in this case, in particular, the Government of the Republic of Ireland has to be party to any agreement.
That seemed to be addressed by the fact that our Prime Minister was able to reach an agreement with the Taoiseach on regulatory arrangements—the precise details would have to await the ultimate free trade deal—in order to obviate any necessity for a closed border. I hope that the reason the DUP vetoed it was not that it was tempted by the idea of going back to border posts and controls; I do not think that the DUP is any more in favour of that than any other Member who has spoken in this House. I hope that it was sheer incompetence that the DUP had not been shown the text or kept party to the negotiations.
I will go no further than this, but I find it absolutely astonishing, if we are moving on to this issue, that the closest possible relationship would not be maintained with the devolved Government in Belfast. Had I been a member of the Government in Belfast—a highly unlikely prospect—I would have been rather indignant at not being closely consulted, and I certainly would have wanted to know what the terms were likely to be rather well in advance. If that is the explanation—the expression of the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) gives the impression that might have quite a lot to do with it—I hope that the devolved Government will share with us all the importance of getting this right and maintaining the Belfast agreement and will therefore lift this veto, reach some understandings and let it proceed.
That brings me to the amendments. I think the negotiations are likely to succeed in the end. I take an optimistic view because, on both sides of the channel, an overwhelming number of politicians, diplomats and officials are perfectly sensible people. On the whole, the ones involved in the negotiations have a better understanding of what we are talking about than the average citizen. They all realise that the public interest in every one of the 28 countries is in reaching a sensible agreement that minimises the damage and maintains, as far as possible, the freedoms of trade and movement.
It is always a mixed blessing to speak after the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke). Mixed because, obviously, I agree with much of what he says but could never possibly match the way in which he says it.
I begin by addressing amendment 167 and the other amendments in my name and in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford). I would like to bring both sides of the Committee together by taking the opportunity to wish Finland a happy 100th birthday today, and to wish all Finns in the UK and around the world a happy 100th independence day. Finland, of course, is a fully sovereign and independent nation, and a member state of the European Union to boot, demonstrating that the two are entirely compatible. Once again, the Finns are a lesson for us all. As a historical footnote, Finland declared independence at a time of political mayhem in the state from which it seceded—there are always lessons from history.
Today’s debate is set among the chaos of the Prime Minister’s inability to get a deal on Monday. We were promised a coalition of chaos after the general election, which is one promise the Prime Minister has been able to keep.
The hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) made an extraordinarily powerful speech in moving new clause 70. I hope that all Members, even those who may not agree with her, listened closely to what she had to say—we listened, and other Members did, too. The new clause seeks to preserve the principles of the Good Friday agreement. Years of hard work have gone into peace in Northern Ireland, as noted in the powerful speeches by Members on both sides of the Committee. I hope colleagues from Northern Ireland will not mind, but it would be remiss of me not to mention that the St Andrews agreement, which was part of that process, was signed in my constituency. Some hon. Members were there at the time.
Given the precious goal of long-term peace in Northern Ireland, it is astonishing that this Bill fails to address the issue, and that even in Committee we are having to remind the Government of their responsibilities. That reflects the Bill’s wider issues on the devolved Administrations. The previous Member for Moray, Angus Robertson, rightly raised the problems of the Irish border earlier this year, and the Prime Minister told Angus, just as Vote Leave told us, that there was nothing to worry about. I bet the Prime Minister wishes she had listened to Mr Robertson—there was plenty to listen to.
Mr Robertson was not alone. The Committee on Exiting the European Union noted in its report published last week—I hope members of that Committee will not mind my quoting it—that it is not possible to see how leaving the customs union is reconcilable with the imposition of a border, and it concludes:
“In the light of the recent statement from the Irish Government about the border, Ministers should now set out in more detail how they plan to meet their objective to avoid the imposition of a border, including if no withdrawal agreement is reached by 29 March 2019.”
The Minister will be keen to tackle that when he speaks shortly.
The Prime Minister travelled to Brussels on Monday to discuss a deal on regulatory alignment. It is not for me to comment on when other Members may or may not have seen the detail and on what discussions were had—I am sure hon. Members will take the opportunity to comment themselves—but SNP Members think that regulatory alignment is quite a good approach. The Scottish Government first proposed such a resolution about a year ago in “Scotland’s Place in Europe”. It is also notable that in that publication we took on board the views of other political parties and experts—we are okay with listening to experts on the issue of Europe. The Government would do well to listen.
Of course, we believe that remaining in the single market would make it a lot easier for the UK Government to give certainty to business and the economy, and it would also be helpful on Northern Ireland. Yesterday Peter Hain, a former Labour Member, called on the Prime Minister to keep the whole UK in the single market and the customs union in order to avoid “sacrificing” the Good Friday agreement. We in the SNP obviously wholeheartedly agree with him. We recognise the historic and constitutional importance of the Good Friday agreement, and we will vote to protect it tonight if the hon. Member for North Down presses new clause 70 to a vote.
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady’s tireless efforts. There are areas on which she often disagrees with us and with many Members of the House, but there are inherent dangers if this Government only take on board the views of the DUP. They should, of course, take on board the DUP’s views, but they should also take on board those of all political parties, and I pay tribute to the hon. Lady’s efforts to ensure there is the strongest possible voice for everybody in Northern Ireland. That might sometimes make for uncomfortable listening for me and for others across this House, but it is extraordinarily important, and I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for doing this.
I turn to the amendments standing in my name—amendments 166, 167, 170, 171 and 174. Some of these points have been raised by the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty). Amendments 166 and 167 were put together by the Scottish and Welsh Governments, and confer further powers to legislate and give Scottish Ministers the ability to make their own amendments to the directly applicable EU law. The ability of Scottish Ministers to have these powers is vital for the proper functioning of the Scottish Parliament and it also keeps consistency of law where we have different legal systems across—
I see the hon. Gentleman shaking his head, but of course this is not just my view; it is shared by other Members and by the Law Society of Scotland. Amendment 167 gives Scottish Ministers the ability to make a different change in Scotland, where Scotland’s circumstances require it. After all, that was the entire point of having a devolution settlement in the first place. Preparing our laws for exiting the EU will be technical, but it will require significant policy choices, such as those in environmental areas, where organisations such as the Scottish Environment Protection Agency will co-operate with its counterparts in Brussels directly. That brings me to another point, which I am sure the Minister will deal with. One matter we will have to address in readying for exit is who should replace the EU regulators within the UK—we are not entirely clear on that. This might be technical but it is extraordinarily important, and I am sure the Minister will pick up on it.
Amendment 167 expresses deep concern from the devolved Administrations that if only UK Ministers have the ability to make fixes in EU regulations, the UK Government could subsume powers coming back from Brussels and act as regulator for the whole of the UK in relation to an area of devolved policy, such as environmental standards. Again, that is incredibly important.
Amendments 170, 171 and 174 aim to ensure that devolved Ministers should have the same powers in respect of matters falling within devolved competences as UK Ministers are being given in clauses 8 and 9. As the Bill stands, if the need arose to deal with a power to make subordinate legislation in a devolved area, the Bill would require Scottish or Welsh Ministers to go to the UK Government to ask permission for them to do it on their behalf. That is clearly not acceptable to the devolved Administrations and to Members across this House. Amendment 170 would lift this unnecessary restriction on devolved Ministers’ powers. It would equalise the powers between the UK Government and devolved Administrations, giving each their proper role on reserved and devolved laws.
To give everybody a little break, I shall give way to the right hon. Gentleman.
Given the thrust of the hon. Gentleman’s amendments, has it occurred to him that these powers were ceded to the EU in order to maintain an integrity of the internal market? Equally, when these powers return to the UK, there will be a need, in the interests of many Scottish businesses, to maintain the integrity of the UK market, which is of vital importance to the Kingdom of Scotland.
I have many face-palm moments when it comes to Tory Brexiteers and that was another one. To compare the internal market of the EU, with its independent member states, with that of the United Kingdom is astonishing and it demonstrates the lack of understanding of the EU that lay at the heart of vote leave and continues to lie at the heart of these arguments. It also misunderstands the state of the United Kingdom now. It is not the same state as it was 40 years ago. Devolution, whether one agrees with it or not, and I know that many Conservative Members would rather we did not have devolution, has changed the framework in which the United Kingdom exists. The right hon. Gentleman makes the point: we must have these powers devolved to the Scottish Parliament to make them work.
The hon. Gentleman and I agree on many of these matters, but I have to take him up on this point. It is not on to say that Conservative Members do not agree with devolution. Let us be clear that we do, which is why we happily voted for an Act—I believe in the last Parliament—that conveyed even more powers of devolution to the Scottish Parliament.
I thank the right hon. Lady for her point, but I should make it clear that I said that some Conservative Members have perhaps not come to terms with the devolved Administrations. [Interruption.] If Ministers have come to grips with it and believe in devolution, and believe it should exist within a devolved settlement, they will back our amendments. If they do that, they will be able to prove me wrong in my point. I look forward to their backing our amendments and doing that later on today.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Not at the moment. I want to move on and there is plenty to go through.
The Bill gives UK, Scottish and Welsh Ministers the power to make instruments needed to ensure that our laws are still compliant with our international treaty obligations when we leave the EU. However, the Bill, as drafted, means that, unlike the UK Ministers, devolved government cannot use this power to amend directly applicable EU laws—amendment 171 aims to rectify that. Of course, the Minister will be backing that.
Amendment 174 is equally important. In fact, it would be good to understand exactly what is going on with the UK Government’s position on this matter. The Bill gives UK, Scottish and Welsh Ministers the power to make instruments needed to implement the withdrawal agreement. However, unlike the UK Ministers, devolved Administrations cannot use this power to amend directly applicable EU laws, and this amendment would rectify that anomaly, too.
Leaving the power restriction aside, the UK Government have planned to introduce separate primary legislation on the withdrawal agreement. What purpose, then, does clause 9 actually serve? And will the Minister explain how this restriction on devolved Administrations can exist, given that there will be a separate piece of legislation to give effect to the withdrawal agreement? These amendments were not drawn together just by the SNP; they drew support from across this House. If Members do not mind my saying so, that was not the most important part of this; the most important part was Scottish and Welsh Government officials sitting down together—this is not always easy—with SNP and Labour colleagues, and Plaid Cymru colleagues in Wales having significant input, too, to pull these amendments together. I hope the Minister will give them serious thought. I do not want to leave the EU, but this is a way of compromise. The right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) may disagree with me on some things, but we agree that we are both willing to compromise on this, and the Minister needs to look at it. If he is serious about the devolved Administrations still working after we leave, I urge him to examine these amendments.
I turn to the devolved delegated powers. A lot of discussion and consultation has gone on in Holyrood on the subject, and I know that Liberal Democrat, Labour and Green Members, and others, have raised this. A lot of discussion and consultation has gone on with Scottish Ministers and members of other political parties to try to reach some consensus. On difficult issues such as this that is a good way of trying to reach out, and I commend Scottish Ministers for having done that. I also commend Opposition politicians in the Scottish Parliament for having sat down and tried to reach an agreement on this, as that was a responsible thing to do. Once again, the devolved Administrations are leading, where Westminster should perhaps follow.
As a result of that, the Scottish Government are committed to working with the Scottish Parliament and its Committees to agree a set of principles and a process that will ensure that the instruments that are made under the Bill receive the appropriate scrutiny. We hope that the UK Government will do the same for the UK Parliament, and we on these Benches look forward to those discussions. Again, I wonder whether the Minister can tell us what plans he has to reach a consensus across this House.
Is this not one of the key differences? I refer to the undertakings the Scottish Government have given about how they will use the delegated powers that we are seeking through these amendments, as opposed to the naked power grab, through the Henry VIII clauses in this Bill, which we will come to on another day, by the UK Government?
My hon. Friend makes a good point about the power grab, but of course Government Members do have the opportunity to prove us wrong and back the amendments that have been drawn together in a cross-party way. I very much look forward to doing so.
We are speaking about a power grab. Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the power grab the SNP wants is for Scotland to become independent and then give all these powers that he wants back in Scotland straight back to the EU?
Today is the day Finland celebrates its 100th birthday as an independent sovereign state, and it has no problem with full membership of the European Union and with the sovereignty that comes with it. I concede that sharing sovereignty is sometimes okay. Some Conservative Back Benchers, including the hon. Gentleman, may not agree with that, but sharing sovereignty in some areas with the EU is a good thing: on areas such as trade and the environment, there are benefits for his constituency as much as for mine. Such areas are crucial and we do not have a problem with sharing sovereignty on them. For instance, we would have our own say when fishing becomes a political priority in a way it never was for the United Kingdom Government.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
No. I am going to move on, but I would like to see the hon. Member for Moray (Douglas Ross) table some amendments. The Secretary of State for Scotland said in questions earlier that there will be amendments. I accept that Scottish Conservative Members have their misgivings, and they have made some valuable points, but I was disappointed that they have not tabled any amendments themselves. That was remiss of them, especially at a time when we are able to work on a cross-party basis.
I shall move on, because there is quite a lot of technical stuff to consider. The SNP has tabled a series of amendments in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber that would delete the word “appropriate” and insert the word “necessary”. This is relevant to the discussion on delegated powers. The recommendation came not from the SNP or Labour, or even from the Liberal Democrats or anybody else, but from the Law Society of Scotland. We have been happy to work with external stakeholders who, I concede, know a great deal more about this stuff than I do. I am always happy to take guidance and advice on these issues, and I recommend that all Members think about doing so.
The need to rein in the meaning of the word “appropriate” was first highlighted by the House of Lords Constitution Committee, which published its report on the great repeal Bill and delegated powers back in March. That report gave credence to amending the legislation, with particular attention to the use of the word “appropriate”. The House of Lords Committee suggested that
“a general provision be placed on the face of the Bill to the effect that the delegated powers granted by the Bill should be used only…so far as necessary to adapt the body of EU law to fit the UK’s domestic legal framework; and…so far as necessary to implement the result of the UK’s negotiations with the EU.”
Our consequential amendments 209, 210, 212, 213, 214, 215 take into account those recommendations.
I welcome the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock), who I believe is seeking to achieve with them an outcome similar to what SNP Members seek. There are outstanding concerns about how in practice powers excluded from Scottish Ministers may work. A number of private international law instruments may need specifically Scottish adaptations, given the separateness of Scots law and the Scottish judiciary. It is clear that this Bill needs to be significantly amended. When senior legal experts are speaking out on almost every single clause, we have to wonder whether we should continue with the Bill or just start again from scratch, but we are where we are with this. I hope that Ministers will take on board the amendments that come not just from political parties but from across the board.
The hon. Gentleman should be in no doubt that amendments cannot be a Trojan horse and they cannot frustrate the democratic will of the people of the United Kingdom. The question is really simple: does he accept that the Bill is necessary, and that it is largely procedural?
It should not be incumbent on any Member of Parliament to pass any old law that the Government want us to pass. If this place does not believe that the Bill is fit for purpose, we have a responsibility to interrogate it. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he is allowed to make amendments. That is something that he, as an MP, can do. There are hundreds of amendments, many of them tabled by Opposition Members but some tabled by Government Members. I hope that, in due course, Scottish Conservative Members will start to table amendments to Bills, because that is something an MP is allowed to do and I encourage them to do it. If we do not think that a Bill is fit for purpose, we will not vote for it, and I would not expect any other Member to otherwise.
I pay particular tribute to the Scottish and Welsh officials who have worked so hard on this legislation over the past few months. Often, when we discuss amendments in Parliament we are doing so at the end of a process, but there are officials in the devolved Administrations and elsewhere working extraordinarily hard on this. The Secretary of State for Scotland said earlier that he will table amendments—at 500-plus days on from the EU referendum, I am glad to hear that—so will the Minister tell us when those amendments will be tabled?
On a historical note, I noticed earlier that Brexiteers were hailing Henry VIII as a great Brexiteer. Henry VIII was never King of Scots, but he was responsible for the rough wooing of Scotland.
I am not going to woo the hon. Gentleman, but I thank him for giving way. Of course, Henry VIII and the Tudors originate from Wales—I am sure he knows about Tudor/Tudur and all the connections there. Given that we heard the Secretary of State for Scotland talking about amendments to clause 11, if we do not get the necessary changes to clause 10, would the hon. Gentleman welcome votes on amendments 158 and, possibly, 159, which I have tabled, to make sure that the Government cannot just amend the Scotland and Wales Acts willy-nilly?
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman made what will be, I am afraid, the final intervention, because he makes an excellent point. I agree with him wholeheartedly and thank him for bringing that up. Henry VIII’s Welshness does not excuse the rough wooing, and nor does it excuse the Henry VIII powers taken in the Bill. We have to learn from history and we have to learn from bad legislation. Significant amendments need to be made because the Bill is not fit for purpose as it stands. I look forward to an extensive speech from the Minister in which he addresses the many points that have been made. Should the hon. Member for North Down wish to press her new clause to a vote, we stand ready to support her.
Thank you, Mr Streeter, for calling me to speak. I have sat through several of the Committee’s debates so far, but have only been able to intervene. This is the first time I have had the chance to make a speech and give my take on the amendments before us.
I feel fortunate to have been in the Chamber to listen to the speech by the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon). We share something in common in that my wife is a police officer—just a sergeant in Keith, I have to say; not quite at the level reached by the hon. Lady’s husband. When she spoke about the troubles in Northern Ireland and the efforts her late husband went to with so many colleagues, it touched a raw nerve for those of us who are so closely connected with our police, fire and ambulance services and the sacrifices they still make on a daily basis to protect us.
I listened carefully to what the hon. Lady said about new clause 70. It is useful that we have had this opportunity to discuss the Belfast agreement, because although she gave a thoughtful and moving speech, I hope she accepts that nothing with respect to our departure from the European Union and, indeed, nothing in the Bill, will compromise the Belfast agreement. Her words were very useful in giving us an opportunity to discuss and debate this issue, but I am not sure it is necessary for us to support new clause 70, because there is already clear information to show that the Belfast agreement is secure.
The Good Friday agreement created cross-border institutions and policies that have been supported and, indeed, financed by the European Union, and lots of finance has gone into improving the border areas. That commitment is going to go when the UK leaves the European Union, so it is inevitable that the terms of the Good Friday agreement will be altered. My new clause would keep the changes to an absolute bare minimum, making only those changes that are absolutely necessary on account of Brexit.
I am grateful for that intervention, but the Government have been clear about their ongoing support for the Belfast agreement, and nothing that will materialise from Brexit or, importantly, the relevant clauses of the Bill we are discussing, will diminish that in any way.
The issue is not whether the Government are in agreement, but that they are co-guarantors of an international agreement.
I am not saying anything against that, but what I am trying to put across is that it is quite clear that there is support for the Belfast agreement without the need for new clause 70.
I accept everything that my hon. Friend is saying, and join him in paying tribute to the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon), but does he not agree that perhaps this is a time where some form of underpinning of the Good Friday agreement, by one means or another, might be helpful in building trust?
My hon. Friend makes a valid point. We are doing some of that by debating this very issue today. By proposing new clause 70, the hon. Member for North Down has allowed us the opportunity to discuss that in this place today.
My hon. Friend is very generous in giving way. On the institutions that were set up under the Good Friday agreement and with regard to peace and prosperity on the border, does he agree that there is an ongoing duty on the European Union, established by article 8 of the Lisbon treaty, to promote neighbourliness, which will underpin all of the institutions to which the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) has referred?
I agree with my hon. Friend, and believe that it is useful to get that on record.
I want to move on to the amendments on the devolved Administrations under discussion today. My constituency of Moray was split right down the middle on Brexit. Of all the 382 areas in the United Kingdom that counted the votes on the European Union referendum, Moray had the closest result of anywhere. Out of 48,000 votes, just 122 votes, including my own, gave remain the edge over leave. None the less, Moray did come within a whisker of being the only Scottish local authority to vote leave.
Moray is not a bitterly divided community. Like most communities in Scotland, and indeed in the United Kingdom as a whole, people in Moray want Brexit to be done with as little disruption as possible. It is in that spirit that this Bill works to ensure that our statute book—our legal and regulatory infrastructure—continues to operate as normal after exit day. Due to the sheer amount of tweaks that will need to be made after more than four decades of our laws becoming ever more intertwined with those of the European Union, it is only right that the Government have delegated powers to effect those adjustments where appropriate.
Likewise, in the light of our devolution settlement, it is only right that the Scottish Government and the other devolved Administrations have delegated powers to make their own adjustments where appropriate.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept the concerns that have been raised by the Law Society of Scotland on the areas of this Bill relating to the separate legal system in Scotland?
I know Michael Clancy very well, and have seen the briefing that the Law Society provided for this debate. I accept its concerns on this, just as I accepted the many concerns that it had over plans in the Scottish Parliament that I debated in my time there. The Scottish Government were quite happy to ignore the evidence—
The hon. Gentleman is shaking his head, but the Law Society was absolutely against the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012 and continues to be. The Scottish Government and the SNP Members north of the border are happy to ignore the views of the Law Society of Scotland when they do not suit their argument. Now SNP Members in this Chamber tell us that we have to agree with absolutely everything that the Law Society says.
On that point, did the Scottish Parliament not vote that that 2012 Act should be repealed?
I believe that we may be straying slightly from the point. I may now have to declare an interest as a football referee in Scotland. Yes, my hon. Friend is correct that the Scottish Parliament has voted for that Act to be repealed, and the SNP has still done nothing about it.
Much of what we are discussing today should not be controversial. Quite simply, it is what is needed to keep this country operating after exit day with as little disruption as possible. There should, therefore, be consensus behind the broad principles of clause 10 and schedule 2 of this Bill. Where there is not, I suspect that it is because of a burn-it-down mentality that is less concerned with the real world and more intent on achieving some other ideological goal. However, no amount of ideology will keep our industries properly regulated on 30 March 2019. Brexit is happening; it is happening to the entire United Kingdom, and it is our duty now to ensure that it goes as smoothly as possible.
There appear to be two broad themes in the proposed amendments to schedule 2. Some amendments restrict the powers given to the devolved Administrations, while others expand them. Some of my Scottish Conservative colleagues have spoken about the need for a middle ground on clause 11. Well, with respect to clause 10 and schedule 2, it occurs to me that we have already got the middle ground. Amendments 209 and 307 take issue with the provision that a devolved authority may use its delegated powers as it “considers appropriate”. The SNP, it seems, would prefer to replace that with as it “considers necessary”, while Welsh Labour would prefer that a devolved authority make such provision as “is essential”. I welcome the SNP’s new-found restraint when it comes to the powers of the Scottish Government, who have spent the last decade centralising as much power as possible in their own hands. We are seeing it with the NHS in Scotland— centralisation from the SNP. We have already seen it with the police and fire services—centralisation from the SNP.
I will give way in a minute. The SNP is obsessed with centralisation and it is to the detriment of communities such as mine in Moray and swathes of Scotland which have been let down by this centralising SNP Government.
The hon. Gentleman refers a great deal to the Scottish Parliament. In the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Government are bringing everyone together on the issues pertaining to this Act and trying to seek consensus. Does he think that his Front-Bench team should follow the same example?
What I would really like to see is the SNP spokesperson on this issue discussing this very matter with the SNP’s Brexit Minister in Scotland. What we are seeing north of the border is a Brexit Minister and the Deputy First Minister engaging with the First Secretary of State and the Secretary of State for Scotland. Over the weekend, we heard some positive noises from both of my Governments—at United Kingdom level and at Scotland level—but that does not seem to be replicated by SNP Members here who simply want to show that they are against Brexit at all costs, and they want grievance politics over and above actually delivering for Scotland, which is very unfortunate.
I will not give way, as I wish to make some progress.
If the SNP wants to limit the power of the Scottish Government, it may do well to tell their colleagues in Holyrood to start returning power to local communities in Scotland. However, in this instance, SNP Members should be more trusting of themselves. “Appropriate” is, in fact, the appropriate word. Perhaps it is even the necessary or essential word. “Appropriate” gives the devolved Administrations the right latitude to make adjustments that are genuinely effective. As I have said, it is crucial that the statute book continues to operate effectively after exit day, and we cannot risk setting our restrictions so tightly that we compromise that goal.
On the other hand, some of the proposed amendments aim to expand the powers of the devolved Administrations, and they risk, ultimately, undermining the vital internal market of the United Kingdom.
The difficulty is that it will be in the interests of Scotland that there is a swift increase in the volume of trade as a consequence of new trade agreements that are negotiated. That will be significantly limited if the powers to deliver those agreements have been diffused throughout the United Kingdom.
My right hon. Friend is completely correct. The SNP and its Members here seem to want to go for their ideological aims rather than protecting the vital internal market that is so important for Scotland and the United Kingdom. Let us take, for instance, allowing the devolved Administrations to amend directly applicable EU law. That would be inconsistent with the spirit of clause 11, which at least provisionally returns all that is currently the EU’s power to Westminster, and thus ensures that there is no divergence, and therefore no trade barriers, between the four nations of the UK after exit day.
Now, clause 11 is not perfect—we heard that earlier today from the Secretary of State for Scotland at Scottish Question Time and indeed from my colleagues on Monday—but I expect it to be improved. It should be improved through negotiations between the UK Government and the Scottish Government, and between the UK Government and the other devolved Administrations, not through the amendments before us today.
Once again, I urge the SNP to have more confidence in their own colleagues in Holyrood. I, for one, fully believe that these negotiations will reach a satisfactory conclusion by Report. As with the proposed amendments to clause 11, these amendments today are unnecessary and, indeed, even harmful. At a time when negotiations are taking place, it is totally wrong for these amendments to go through and shift the very ground on which those negotiations are based.
So we come to the middle ground, which is where I started my speech today. We maintain the existing restrictions on the devolved Administrations as a basis for the ongoing negotiations between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations, and in order to preserve the internal market of the UK, which is vital to businesses in my Moray constituency, vital to businesses in Scotland, and vital to businesses the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. We should maintain the existing provision—that the devolved Administrations may act where appropriate in order to ensure that they can use their delegated powers as effectively as possible and make Brexit as smooth as possible. The many proposed amendments to clause 10 and schedule 2 pull us in many different directions, none of which are good. The middle ground and the best ground is where we are already.
I wish to speak to amendments 338, 346 and 347 in my name and the names of my hon. and right hon. Friends. I also wish to make it clear that my party and I would support new clause 70, should it be put to a vote. I was heartened by the intervention of the hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr), who said that he also supports the new clause.
As the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) argued so eloquently and persuasively, new clause 70 protects the Belfast principles throughout and beyond our departure from the European Union, just as Labour’s amendment 338 prevents delegated powers from being used in any way that would undermine the Good Friday agreement. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith) for his thoughtful guidance in devising amendment 338.
Too many—including, I suspect, many of my constituents—see the Good Friday agreement as an event that took place almost 20 years ago, already consigned to the history books. The agreement was, and is, the result of years of work by too many committed souls to name each one. It is an agreement that is as moving to read now as it was then. Beautifully simple are the words that drew to an end the decades of brutality, misery and conflict that had befallen the island of Ireland and beyond for decades. None of us living on this side of the Irish sea can truly comprehend the opportunity for a new beginning for Northern Ireland that was made possible by the Good Friday agreement. The declaration of support for the agreement says it best:
“The tragedies of the past have left a deep and profoundly regrettable legacy of suffering. We must never forget those who have died or been injured, and their families. But we can best honour them through a fresh start, in which we firmly dedicate ourselves to the achievement of reconciliation, tolerance, and mutual trust, and to the protection and vindication of the human rights of all.”
To say that the Labour party is proud of its role in bringing the agreement into being does not convey sufficiently the time, political and emotional investment made by Tony Blair, Paul Murphy, Mo Mowlam, Jonathan Powell and countless others, by choice, in the process. Peace and security in Northern Ireland mattered to the Labour party then and it matters no less to us now. But it is important to say, too, that the work of John Major and many in this Chamber should be recognised, appreciated and acknowledged.
We have seen this week that all the challenges involved with implementing the UK’s decision to leave the European Union unite and are magnified in the context of Northern Ireland. The separation by sea from the rest of the UK and the joining by land of Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland quickly expose the weaknesses of any flippant attempt to provide a single line answer to the question of our future relationship with the EU.
Northern Ireland finds us out. It is the test by which any proposed deals can be said to succeed or to fail. Ruling out the customs union and a changed relationship with the single market before trade talks have even begun fails the Northern Ireland test. Why? Because of the potential reappearance of a hard border, which all parties say they do not wish to see. But we cannot wish away problems. If we have different tariff arrangements from the EU, we will need to collect tariffs from the EU, and the EU will need to collect tariffs from us. If we have different product standards and regulations, goods will need to be inspected to see if they are allowed in each other’s markets, particularly agricultural produce. In Norway and Sweden, that means a hard border. In America and Canada, that also means a hard border. Ambition is not enough to prevent it from meaning a hard border on the island of Ireland too.
To my knowledge, the United Kingdom Government are not proposing to erect tariff barriers, and they do not want to have regulation. Therefore, there would be no need for a hard border in the way in which the hon. Lady describes. If the European Union wishes to collect tariffs or erect regulatory barriers, the European Union will have to erect a hard border, but the UK Government surely cannot be answerable for that.
I struggle to see how the originator of the border—who would erect it—is of any consequence to the people of Northern Ireland. A border is a border and it needs to be avoided at all costs.
It is quite clear that the proponents of Scotland remaining in the UK during the 2014 Scottish independence referendum were right to argue that taking Scotland out of the UK single market would mean the erection of a hard border at Berwick. Given what we have just heard from the hon. Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison), does my hon. Friend think that the situation would be any different in the context of Northern Ireland?
As earlier contributors have made clear, this issue is the one that finds out the fantasists from the realists. If the Government have the ambition of avoiding a hard border in Northern Ireland, they need to explain exactly how they intend to achieve that.
Is not the hon. Lady putting the cart before the horse? The next phase of the negotiations will determine the future relationship between the EU and the UK. Is not she presuming an outcome that very few people would actually be in favour of?
I am just making it very clear to the Government and all other observers that this matter is not something on which the Labour party is prepared to compromise. That point may need to be made again as we proceed, but it absolutely ought to be made now too.
Perhaps the hon. Lady can help us. Does she agree that it is absolutely agreed by everybody—the EU, Ireland, Northern Ireland and everybody here—that we do not want a hard border, and that the Government have accepted that there will be a hard border unless we get a proper deal, which is why they conceded that point and offered up solutions in their White Paper? Would she further agree that the difficulty is that the solutions that have been offered up are unworkable unless the Prime Minister’s excellent idea is put across the whole United Kingdom? It is a great idea, but it should not apply only to Northern Ireland because we are a Union.
I agree with the right hon. Lady, and she can probably guess that I will be making the point later in my speech that we need a solution that works for the whole United Kingdom.
The next issue is north-south co-operation. The Committee will know that strand 2 of the Good Friday agreement sets out a framework under which the Administrations in Belfast and Dublin can establish some common policies across the island of Ireland. I am sorry, Mr Streeter; I have missed out an important section of my speech. I will just go back and ensure that I do not omit any important issues. This is the peril of taking too many interventions.
The point I wanted to make is that we cannot simply wish away problems, that if we have different tariff arrangements from the EU, we will need to collect tariffs from the EU and the EU will need to collect tariffs from us, and that the Government’s ambition is not enough to prevent the reintroduction of a hard border on the island of Ireland. Therefore, the north-south co-operation that has been established is incredibly important, and the United Kingdom has a solemn commitment to support this co-operation.
From strand 2, the island of Ireland has the six north-south implementation bodies, and the co-operative work of the North South Ministerial Council. The European Commission reportedly estimates that there are 142 areas of north-south co-operation that are affected by EU rules and regulations. The Government may quibble with that number, but there can be no doubt that common EU rules and regulations facilitate co-operation in areas such as the environment, health, agriculture, energy, higher education and telecommunications.
It was always envisaged by the parties to the peace process that EU rules and regulations would help to facilitate north-south co-operation. The Belfast agreement states that the North South Ministerial Council will
“consider the European Union dimension of relevant matters, including the implementation of EU policies and programmes and proposals under consideration in the EU framework.”
As Britain leaves the EU, it falls to this generation of political leaders to face up to the challenges that Brexit poses to the Good Friday agreement and make good on the efforts of those who worked so hard to reach agreement in 1998. We must cherish and respect what was achieved almost 20 years ago.
We need to preserve not only the institutions that were set up in relation to strands 1, 2 and 3 of the Good Friday agreement, but human rights and equality, the principle of consent and citizenship rights. The understanding that it is for the people of Northern Ireland, and the people of Northern Ireland alone, to determine their future is the principle that underpins the Good Friday agreement and subsequent agreements. The UK Government and the Irish Government are co-guarantors of the agreement and together must ensure that that promise is kept.
Yes, the Irish Government and Her Majesty’s Government are co-guarantors, but does the hon. Lady agree that the Irish Government have acted in very bad faith by dismissing the views of a vast number of people in Northern Ireland on the issue of Brexit?
No, I do not agree with that at all and I will not be tempted into some kind of debate about it. If the hon. Gentleman wants to make a speech to that effect, he is very welcome to do so, but I will not agree with him.
Those elements of the agreement matter not only because they were necessary to bring lasting peace, but because they have enabled the economic rebirth of Northern Ireland. Nothing harms the prospects of young people or businesses like uncertainty and instability. Northern Ireland benefits from natural beauty, the ingenuity, creativity and resilience of its people, and a shared determination to never return to the suffering of the past. As a non-partisan coalition of businesses put it, we must ensure that
“society in Northern Ireland does not become collateral damage in any Brexit discussions.”
The Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the Confederation of British Industry in Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action and the Ulster Farmers Union got it right when they produced an agreed position on the Brexit negotiations. They say that an “open frictionless border” must be maintained between Ireland and Northern Ireland, and between Great Britain and the island of Ireland. They say that
“Brexit must not be used as a pretext to dismantle hard won workers’ rights or to drive down employment standards”.
On this and on many other issues, the Labour party is as one with the people of Northern Ireland. There must be no hard border, the preservation of the common travel area between Ireland and the UK, no undermining of the Good Friday agreement, and full involvement of workers’ representatives, business and the community and voluntary sectors in articulating the concerns and protecting the interests of all citizens of Northern Ireland.
Indeed, everybody sensible who examines this issue in any depth soon reaches the conclusion that the Government must do what they have as yet failed to do and answer the question of how they plan to achieve their objective of no physical infrastructure and no customs border, as outlined in their position paper earlier this year. But answer it they must, because a hardening of the border will undoubtedly harm business and the economy. I was left in no doubt about that when I met farmers and business leaders in Northern Ireland recently. It will also harm the everyday lives of those who frequently cross the border for social, cultural, leisure, educational or health reasons. Whether it is because of the outstanding work that has been done by CAWT—co-operation and working together—in recent years to make sure that the border is not a barrier to accessing healthcare or the thriving agri-food trade that makes up 33% of north-south trade, avoiding a hard border must be our ambition.
If we are to have non-negotiable issues, the avoidance of a hard border in Northern Ireland should be the thickest and most indelible of red lines. As the Brexit Select Committee said in its report:
“We also recognise the unique challenges posed by the need to preserve the peace settlement in Northern Ireland, including issues that go far beyond trade and customs.”
Everybody knows that this is not just about moving butter; it is about daily life and identity for thousands of people. The Select Committee goes on to ask: how will the Government avoid a hard border if no deal is reached by 29 March 2019?
Continued progress in Northern Ireland goes hand in hand with prosperity and stability. The Good Friday agreement and subsequent agreements have provided certainty about the continuation of an approach to the future of Northern Ireland that is shared between the British and Irish Governments and the people of Northern Ireland. Putting a commitment to the agreement on the face of the Bill and preventing Ministers from legislating in any way that is contrary to the agreement would provide some of the clarity, certainty and reassurance that the businesses and citizens of Northern Ireland say they need.
Let us pause to reflect on the heart of the issue that the Good Friday agreement settled: the violence between communities and traditions that raged for generations and that took and scarred so many lives in Northern Ireland. Today, the people of Northern Ireland, so many of whom were affected by the troubles, will be watching, waiting and hoping that the Government can offer a cast-iron guarantee that the Good Friday agreement will be protected and preserved in every sense. There has been much talk of red lines as we have debated Brexit since the vote to leave. Maintaining our commitment to the Good Friday agreement and guaranteeing that Ministers cannot legislate incompatibly with it should be a red line for every last one of us in this Parliament.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman) and I echo many of the sentiments she has voiced from the Dispatch Box.
I have reordered my speech so that I can turn quickly to the new clause tabled by the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) and to the importance of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. First, I will speak briefly to clause 10 stand part. As those who have studied the Bill will recognise, clause 10 is very short. Schedule 2, which relates to it, is rather more complex and we have a huge number of amendments to schedule 2. I therefore ask whether interventions on those various amendments can wait until we have dealt with the important issue of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement.
Clause 10 and schedule 2 are straightforward but essential. They provide the devolved Administrations with the powers they need to prepare our statute book for leaving the EU by dealing with deficiencies in retained EU law, ensuring ongoing compliance with international obligations and implementing the withdrawal agreement. As we set out in the White Paper, the task of preparing our statute book for exit is one that we share with the devolved Administrations. The law that will be preserved under the Bill has effect in areas that are devolved, as well as those that are not. We will leave the EU as one United Kingdom, but devolution is a vital part of that United Kingdom, and it is right that ensuring that there is certainty and continuity should be a shared and collective endeavour in which every Parliament and Assembly plays its part.
It is absolutely right, therefore, that we equip the devolved Administrations with the powers they need to correct the laws for which they are responsible, just as it is right for the UK Government to have powers to correct those laws that affect the UK as a whole. It is important, as we have, to set the parameters for those powers. We believe that we have achieved the right balance by focusing on the specific aims of the powers and by applying safeguards. That will ensure, for instance, that they are not used in ways that might disrupt the ongoing EU negotiations or the workings of our internal market. Today is an opportunity for the Committee to examine how we have struck that balance, and I will continue to listen with great interest to the views of Members across the Committee.
I am grateful for the contributions that have been made by committees in the devolved legislatures to the debate that we are having today. I am also grateful to those who gave evidence to those committees. These are complex matters and I welcome their engagement and the attention that these issues have been given. We will consider carefully all the evidence that has been put forward by those committees in today’s debate.
We have heard a huge amount in this debate about the importance of the Belfast agreement. I say to the hon. Member for North Down that we appreciate enormously the attention and work she has put into the new clause. Her new clause seeks to clarify that any Ministers using the powers in the Bill would have to have regard to, and abide by, the Belfast agreement. We absolutely recognise the importance of the issue that she raises. I think I can safely say that her opening speech was one of the most powerful evocations of the importance of that agreement. I pay tribute to her for the courage and clarity of her remarks.
The Minister has told us that he is not going to accept new clause 70. Timing is important, too. Does he realise the signal that will be sent out if Ministers ask their party to vote against it at the end of this debate?
Let me reiterate to the right hon. Gentleman that we are absolutely committed to the Belfast/Good Friday agreement.
I will now turn to some of the technical detail on new clause 70, because it is important to reflect that, as I said at the beginning, we support the principles behind it.
If my right hon. Friend will give me a moment, she may be interested in what I have to say next.
I do appreciate the enormous effort that the hon. Member for North Down has put into drafting new clause 70, but we could not currently accept it. There are some concerns around it. It goes further than requiring Ministers and devolved Departments to have regard to the key principles. Subsection (4)(a) would require the Secretary of State to refuse consent to reserved provisions in devolved legislation unless the provision is necessary only as a direct consequence of the UK’s exit from the EU. This would place a much greater constraint on the provision than can be made for Northern Ireland as compared with the rest of the UK, even in circumstances where there is no impact on the Belfast agreement. As I said earlier, this Bill cannot be used to amend the Belfast agreement. It would create doubt and uncertainty on the use of these powers if we suggested otherwise. The Northern Ireland Act can be amended only in the very limited circumstances that I have already addressed.
I therefore urge the hon. Lady to withdraw the motion, but to work with us. We will work with Members across the House to absolutely ensure that the Belfast agreement is respected as we move forward.
I have a very high regard for the Minister, but I have to say that I am profoundly disappointed by what he has said. I am not a legislative draftsman. Technically, there may be difficulties with this new clause, but, for goodness’ sake, the Government absolutely have to put the principles of the Good Friday agreement into this Bill. That is where the Government need to stand with all the people of Northern Ireland and say to them that, even if we are leaving Europe, as we are doing—Brexit is going to happen—we are not going to allow that decision to undermine the sterling work and the peace and stability of the Good Friday agreement. I am pleading with the Government to give a commitment that they will look at the technicalities, and change the technicalities, but accept this new clause this afternoon.
Our commitment to the Belfast agreement is absolutely clear. We are committed to it. We are not changing it as a result of this Bill. The Bill would not allow us to do that. We are protecting the Northern Ireland Act in this Bill. We will work with the hon. Lady and with hon. Gentlemen and hon. Ladies in all parts of the House to secure the legacy of the Belfast agreement.
My hon. Friend keeps reiterating, with ever greater passion, the Government’s 110% commitment to the Belfast agreement. The reason for not putting it into the Bill is, with great respect, an extremely obscure drafting point, which I have tried to follow but cannot quite, because the provision that he refers to is extremely narrow indeed. It applies to possibilities that may arise after withdrawal from Europe—minor consequences. If there is anything wrong with the drafting, the Government can correct that on Report and they will probably not meet any passionate resistance from anyone in the House. In view of what the Minister said, the Government should show their commitment by accepting the new clause, and all this other footnote stuff can be sorted out at a later stage.
I have great respect for my right hon. and learned Friend. On the point that he makes, the Government have absolutely accepted their commitments to the Belfast agreement. It is already a matter of international law. We are committed to that agreement. It is annexed to the British-Irish treaty, and we will continue to respect it in the way in which we approach this whole issue. We will work across the House, as we always have, constructively to ensure that the approach that we take is absolutely in line with the Belfast agreement, and we have done that throughout this process.
I, too, share the serious disappointment expressed by the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon). I reiterate the comments that have just been made by the Father of the House. It would send the strongest signal if the Government accepted the new clause, coming back to the House to correct any technical deficiencies at a later stage. The Government are going to ask Members to vote against the principle of the Belfast agreement, which is an extraordinary thing to do. [Interruption.] No matter what the Minister says, that is a very dangerous situation.
Let me make it clear to the hon. Gentleman that no one who supports the Bill will vote against any principles in the Belfast agreement. It is absolutely clear that the Belfast agreement is protected and is something that we intend absolutely to continue to deliver on. We cannot accept an amendment that, in this case, would create doubt about the protection of the Northern Ireland Act. We need to ensure that through this process we create continuity and certainty. I again urge the hon. Member for North Down not to press the new clause, because our commitment is absolute. We will meet that commitment to the Belfast agreement. If she does press the new clause to a vote, that could create the wrong impression for some people outside the House.
In all honesty, no one in the House who has ever been a Minister or has had any responsibility at all understands what the Minister is talking about. Minister after Minister has accepted amendments with which they agreed, then asked their draftsmen to sort out any technical issues. Instead of doing the sensible thing and doing that, the Minister and Government Whips—if, as I hope, the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) pushes the new clause to a vote—will ask their MPs to vote against the principles of the Good Friday agreement. That is how it will be seen by people who look at votes in the House.
Let me repeat to the hon. Gentleman what I have made very, very clear: no one in the House would be voting against those principles. The Government absolutely support those principles, which are enshrined in the Northern Ireland Act, which is protected under the Bill.
I urge the Minister to hold his ground. My principal difficulty with new clause 70 is that it is purely declaratory. He has made it as clear as he possibly can that the Government are committed to the Good Friday agreement, as are we all. The Minister and his colleagues have resisted declaratory amendments to the Bill, and they should do so again on this occasion.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who chairs the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs. I was pleased to give evidence to his Committee the other day on the importance of these issues. I can assure hon. Members across the House that we absolutely have put the importance of no hard border in Northern Ireland and the importance of our commitments under the Belfast agreement at the heart of our approach from the beginning.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way once again. I have to say to him ever so gently but firmly that that is a high-risk strategy. The message will be sent from the House that there is no support in the Government for the principles of the Good Friday agreement if that is not taken up—[Interruption.] Would the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) give me a moment? It would be enormously helpful—it is the principles of the Good Friday agreement: that is what new clause 70 embodies. It does not expand on them—it reflects the principles of the agreement—so will the Minister, instead of putting that high-risk strategy to the House, give a clear commitment that he will take away my new clause and work on it, with a view positively to reflect the tone and spirit in which it was drafted in the first place?
I absolutely give the commitment that we will take away the hon. Lady’s new clause and will ensure throughout the whole of the process that we protect the principles of the Good Friday/Belfast agreement. That is something that we are absolutely committed to doing and I can tell the hon. Lady that nobody in this House will be voting against any principles in the Belfast agreement. It is crucial that we make that point clear.
I have great sympathy with the approach of the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) in her anxiety about seeing the Good Friday agreement respected. That said, it is right that it is an international agreement and I have some difficulty seeing how that can easily be incorporated in a statute relating to another matter. It is either declaratory or it has some effect—one or the other. I simply say to my hon. Friend the Minister that this is an area where the Government may seek and need to provide reassurance, but whether the hon. Lady is right that it needs to be specific on the face of the legislation is, I think, more complex, because it raises as many problems as it may provide answers.
I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for that point. I will now move on to other areas of the Bill, because I recognise that there is a huge interest in the 60 or so amendments on which we need to touch.
Will the Minister give way?
I will, briefly.
I am grateful to the Minister, who is being extremely generous with his time. We do not for a minute doubt his commitment to the Good Friday/Belfast agreement. However, we on the Opposition Benches take incredibly seriously our bipartisan approach on Northern Ireland, and in that context I put it to him that he must listen to the statement from the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon), who says that in Northern Ireland this will be perceived as a backward step in support for the Good Friday/Belfast agreement by the Conservative Government. That is why he must think again.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, and for his comment earlier. I agree that we should continue to work on this issue in a bipartisan way, and not just in a bipartisan way but with all parties in Northern Ireland, and with the hon. Member for North Down, in taking this issue forward and providing all assurances that the legal protections in international law and the Northern Ireland Act, as well as all our commitments under the Belfast agreement, are met.
I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman, but this is the last one on this issue.
May I just say to the Minister that I have not had a single email, letter or phone call, or any contact, from my 100,000 constituents in Northern Ireland asking me to vote for this new clause? The idea that people in Northern Ireland are sitting back with bated breath waiting for the new clause of the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) to be passed so that the Good Friday/Belfast agreement can be secured is unreal.
The Good Friday/Belfast agreement is and will continue to be secure.
I want to move on, and will turn to amendment 89, tabled by the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams), along with amendments 313 to 316, tabled by the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock). These amendments would prevent UK Ministers from being able to use powers in the Bill in areas of otherwise devolved competence. Additionally, the hon. Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins), who we have heard from today, has tabled amendments 161 to 163, which would require the consent of devolved Administrations for UK Ministers to exercise their powers in devolved areas.
I would like to take this opportunity to stress a simple but important fact: the concurrent powers in the Bill do not undermine the devolution settlement. Rather they give the UK Government and devolved Administrations the tools required to respond to the shared challenge of ensuring the operability of our statute book in a collaborative way. This reflects current practice. Concurrent functions have always been a normal part of our devolution arrangements and they are an important tool in ensuring that we can work together in the most efficient way. Take, for instance, new schedule 3A to the Government of Wales Act 2006, which lists no fewer than 34 laws containing concurrent functions for UK and Welsh Ministers, including powers to make subordinate legislation. We should not forget that section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972 is concurrent and is routinely used to make a single set of regulations to implement directives relating to devolved matters, such as the Marine Strategy Regulations 2010. Removing the concurrent tool would remove the vital flexibility from which we and the devolved Administrations already benefit in preparing our statute book. Such flexibility and greater efficiency will be crucial if we are to achieve the considerable task ahead of having a complete and functioning statute book on exit day.
Amendments 161 to 163, tabled by the hon. Member for North East Fife, would add to the process additional layers that have not previously been needed for equivalent powers by requiring consent from devolved Ministers. This might render the Government and the devolved Administrations unable to ready the statute book for exit day, and they therefore threaten the legal certainty that the Bill is meant to deliver.
Let me remind Members on both sides of the Committee that the Government have already committed that we will not normally legislate to amend EU-derived domestic law relating to devolved matters using any of the powers in the Bill without the agreement of the devolved Administrations. The powers build on the existing successful ways of working between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations, and the Government have committed to this ongoing collaborative working. I therefore urge those hon. Members not to press their amendments.
I now turn to amendments 158, 159, 318, 320 and 321, tabled by the hon. Members for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) and for Aberavon. Taken together, the amendments would prevent amendment of the devolution statutes using the powers in clauses 7 to 9 and 17. In addition, amendment 160, in the name of the hon. Member for North East Fife, would require the consent of Scottish or Welsh Ministers if the Scotland Act 1998 or the Government of Wales Act 2006 were amended using the power in clause 9.
I want to start by saying that I have listened to and I am grateful for the debate we have already had on these amendments both in this Parliament and in Committees in other Parliaments. The Committee is right to pay careful attention to any changes to the devolution settlements, so I thank the hon. Members who have tabled these amendments and the Committees of the devolved legislatures that have drafted some of them for drawing attention to these issues.
A number of references in the provisions of the devolution statutes will not make sense once we leave the EU and will need correcting to ensure our statute book continues to function. We recognise the standing of these Acts, and for this reason we have corrected as many deficiencies as possible in the Bill—in part 2 of schedule 3. As Members will no doubt have noticed, these corrections are technical and I stress that they are devolution-neutral. They do not substantively change the boundaries of competence; nor will any of the corrections that are still to be made.
I want to reassure the Committee that we intend to correct the remaining deficiencies by working collaboratively and transparently with the devolved Administrations. Where possible, this will include correcting deficiencies using the existing powers such Acts already contain for amending the reservation schedules. This process with the devolved Administrations is already under way.
Specifically on the power to implement the withdrawal agreement—the topic of amendment 320, in the name of the hon. Member for Aberavon—it can be used to modify the devolution statutes only where it is appropriate to implement the agreement that will result from our negotiations with the EU. It cannot be used to modify them in any other way, and it simply is not true that any UK Minister can make any change they like to the devolution settlements. I hope I have reassured the Committee that the Government do understand that concern, but the amendment does not support our aim of a smooth and orderly exit.
Similarly, amendments 159 and 319 seek to restrict the use of the international obligations power to modify the Scotland Act or the Government of Wales Act. I want to be clear that these powers cannot be used to unpick or substantively change the devolution settlements. As I am sure the Committee will recognise, it is quite normal to use delegated powers in such a way. They have previously been used to amend the devolution statutes to ensure that our laws reflect the most accurate position in law, and ultimately to ensure that we fulfil our international obligations.
I am slightly concerned that the Minister will sit down before he has had a chance to make any comment on amendment 338, in my name and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends, which would prevent Ministers from legislating in any way incompatible with the Good Friday agreement. I am sorry to refer him back to that, but I am concerned that he has not yet said anything about this amendment.
I apologise to the hon. Lady. I think I mentioned that amendment in the run-up to addressing the detail of new clause 70 in the name of the hon. Member for North Down, but let me say that Ministers will not and cannot legislate incompatibly with the Good Friday agreement. We are bound by that agreement, and I have been very clear that this Government remain absolutely committed to the Good Friday agreement and have already put our obligations under it at the heart of our commitments.
On amendment 160 in the name of the hon. Member for North East Fife, I want to comment on the fact that such powers have previously been used, because it is important to recognise that this issue has already been addressed. For instance, the Treaty of Lisbon (Changes in Terminology) Order 2011, which was made under section 2(2) of the European Communities Act, amended the Scotland Act 1998, the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and the Government of Wales Act 2006 to give effect to new terminology relating to the European Union. Leaving the EU will require changes of a similar technical nature across the settlements, and that is what the powers enable.
I thank the Minister for going into such detail. Earlier today, the Secretary of State for Scotland said he would be introducing changes. To which amendments might those changes refer and when might they take place?
I cannot say at this stage, but let me repeat that in both this debate and the debate on clause 11, we have been clear that we are listening to the Committee and engaging with it, and we will give the matters raised careful consideration. I think the comments made by Secretary of State for Scotland reflect that approach. It is important that we move forward together with all the devolved Administrations and ensure that the United Kingdom and each part of it can deal properly with their statute book.
I know the Minister wants to make progress, but I have grave fears. Is there not some way we can sort out the business of new clause 70? I am not saying that the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) should withdraw it, but it seems to me that there is a better way. I do not know whether the hon. Lady has met the Minister and the Solicitor General, but we should put a meeting together and get it sorted out—get the assurances. I trust the Minister and what he says at the Dispatch Box, but there is going to be a big problem with misinterpreting any vote against the new clause. It needs to be sorted, and I suggest that the hon. Lady and the Minister meet to see whether this can be sorted out.
I am happy to take up my right hon. Friend’s suggestion, and to work with the hon. Member for North Down and Members in all parts of the House. The hon. Lady has expressed a strong position and I will work with her to ensure that, as we go through this process, we do everything in our power to continue to protect the Good Friday agreement. My right hon. Friend makes a constructive suggestion, which I welcome.
Clause 17 is the subject of amendment 321, tabled by the hon. Member for Aberavon, whom we have missed in these debates. I emphasise that we have sought to include the majority of consequential amendments needed to the devolution settlements in the Bill, in schedule 3 part 2, but we must be equipped to fix any additional problems that come to light and this standard power, constrained by case law, is the right way to do any tidying up—for example, of cross-references—that could be needed as a result of the Bill coming into force.
The hon. Gentleman also tabled amendments 322 to 327, which would constrain Welsh Ministers’ ability to modify the Government of Wales Act 2006, including removing their ability to correct those parts of the Act that currently fall within devolved responsibility. The 2006 Act is, for the most part, a protected enactment, which means that it cannot generally be modified by the devolved institutions. That makes sense, because the Act sets out how powers are devolved to Wales, but there are certain exceptions to that protection: that is, where it is agreed that it should be within the legislative competence of the Assembly to modify that Act. That was agreed by this Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales when the 2006 Act was passed and again when the Wales Act 2017 was passed.
Ensuring that devolved Ministers have those powers follows the reasoning and decisions made in enacting those Acts and respects the decision of this House and that of the National Assembly for Wales in giving consent. We think it right that, in those areas, Welsh Ministers should be able to use their power to correct deficiencies. Where Welsh Ministers need to make corrections to the 2006 Act, the National Assembly will of course have the ability to scrutinise any changes and to set out the approach to scrutiny that it proposes to take. We do not think, therefore, that the amendments would place a reasonable restriction on Welsh Ministers, as it would put them at significant disadvantage in ensuring that the 2006 Act is fit for purpose, legally sound, and reflects the context of leaving the European Union. I urge the hon. Member for Aberavon not to press those amendments.
The cross-party amendments would not have been tabled, or indeed recommended by the Welsh and Scottish Governments, if everything was hunky-dory and fine in the negotiations between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations. We got some movement from the Secretary of State for Scotland this morning. Will the Under-Secretary of State also move on amendment 158, which stands in my name, and perhaps on some of the other concerns that the Welsh and Scottish Governments have set out so clearly?
I absolutely respect the effort of, and have referred a number of times to the evidence collected by, Committees; some of these amendments are tabled by Committees, and we respect that. We want to engage with them, which is why I am trying to give a comprehensive response on all these matters. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be pleased with some of the things I have to say. We absolutely want to engage with the Committees, because I recognise that we are talking about important institutions that we need to engage with successfully. With that in mind, I have been to give evidence to Committees of the Assembly and the Scottish Parliament, so I say to the hon. Gentleman: keep listening.
I am grateful to the Minister for his detailed responses. He talks about consulting. In an internal market, about which the Minister has spoken, there are different states that have an equal say. What will the arbitration mechanism be and will the Government go further than merely consulting the devolved Administrations?
As we discussed in great detail on day 4, direct Government-to-Government contact is happening on those issues. We have the JMC process—it will meet next week—and I hope that we can all agree ways to move forward that allow this to be delivered for each part of the UK. The consultation process will ensure that we take the approach that works best for the UK as a whole and takes into account the needs of each part of the UK. It will also ensure that existing common approaches are not undermined while we work through with the devolved Administrations where they will and will not apply.
The Minister failed to answer the question that my hon. Friend the Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) asked. What will the arbitration mechanism be for deciding that?
I do not want to pre-empt the agreement that I believe can and will be reached in the not-too-distant future through the JMC process. That is not what we are legislating for. We are legislating for providing continuity and certainty across the UK. I have just described how we can ensure that that delivers for every part of the UK. That is important.
Amendments 168 and 175 are related to the amendments I have just discussed. They would remove the restrictions on devolved authorities using the correcting power and the withdrawal agreement power to confer functions that correspond to EU tertiary legislation. Examples of tertiary legislation include the vast majority of the technical detail of financial services law, which is set out in a form of tertiary legislation known as binding technical standards. They are functions that are currently exercised at EU level. Just as with direct, retained EU laws, the rules made under them apply uniformly across the UK. We therefore believe that where such functions need to continue, it is right and consistent with our overall approach for the decisions about who should exercise them to sit at UK level. Of course, it will be possible for UK Ministers to confer such functions on the devolved Administrations or devolved public bodies, if we agree together that that is appropriate. That will be subject to the wider negotiations on shared frameworks.
I will deal with amendments 166 and 170, again tabled by the hon. Member for North East Fife and amendment 173, which the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth tabled. They would allow the devolved Administrations to sub-delegate the powers conferred on them by schedule 2. We do not advocate prohibiting sub-delegation by the devolved Administrations in every circumstance. It is explicit on the face of the Bill that sub-delegation is permitted for rules and procedures for courts and tribunals. Rather, it is our view that these powers should not be broader than is appropriate, and that sub-delegation by devolved Administrations should therefore not be admitted in every circumstance. However, as I said to the Committees, I should welcome any examples of areas in which Members believe that sub-delegation by devolved Administrations would be needed, and I will take away and consider any examples that are provided today. We are having discussions with the devolved Administrations as well, so they will also have opportunities to provide such examples.
Amendment 317 would take the unusual step of conferring on Welsh Ministers the power to make consequential and transitional provision. That is because the corresponding amendment to clause 17 would prevent UK Ministers from using the power in relation to matters that are within the competence of Welsh Ministers. It is not normal to confer such powers on devolved Ministers in an Act of Parliament. The Wales Act 2017 contained the power, but conferred it only on UK Ministers. Despite the great constitutional significance of that Act, there were neither calls for the power to be taken from UK Ministers in relation to devolved matters in Wales, nor calls for it to be granted to Welsh Ministers.
In the interests of transparency and accountability, we have sought to include in the Bill a number of significant consequential and transitional provisions that are necessary in relation to devolved matters. I should welcome any further explanation of instances in which devolved Administrations would need to make such types of consequential amendment. We do not currently think that there is any need for the power to be conferred on devolved Ministers as a result of the Bill that would reverse usual practice, and I urge Members not to press the amendment to a vote.
Let me finally deal with amendments 169, 172 and 176. I thank Members for their careful consideration of these technical provisions. The amendments relate to clauses that provide safeguards to ensure that due consideration is given when Ministers in devolved Administrations use their powers in ways that have implications for the rest of the UK. The amendments would, in effect, convert the requirements for devolved Ministers to gain the consent of UK Ministers when exercising the powers in certain circumstances into consultation requirements.
Let me turn first to the requirements included for international obligations and withdrawal agreement powers. Here the safeguards are focused principally on obligations that will need to be met at a UK level: the management of UK-wide quotas and our UK-obligations under the World Trade Organisation agreement. We therefore believe that there is an important role for the UK Government to play in agreeing such amendments in these limited circumstances, given the broader consequences for other parts of the UK. Indeed, where the powers exist in order to implement the UK’s international agreements, it is important that that can be done expeditiously and fairly within the UK so that we can meet those international obligations, and that requires a common view across the UK.
Again, we have taken the view that the right approach is to require consent for that purpose. A requirement of consent provides a clear and decisive process for us to ensure that the interests of each part of the UK are taken into account. The requirements included for the correcting power are primarily concerned with our relationship with the EU. It is right that we consider any use of such powers that could prejudice the EU negotiations, and that is why we think it is right to include the consent requirements in the Bill.
I have made it clear that the Government stand ready to listen to those who have sincere suggestions for how we might improve the Bill. Today we have had a useful debate on this subject, and hon. Members have made the case that requiring consent might not be the right approach to the practical problem that I have described in relation to the correcting power in particular. Scottish Conservative Members and others have expressed concern about the issue. However, I assure the Committee that we will take away and carefully reflect on the suggestions that have been made today, and consider whether sufficient assurances can be provided through different means.
I will give way to the hon. Lady briefly, on that point.
May I take the Minister back to new clause 70? Given the signals and impressions given by the House over many years in relation to British-Irish relations, he will appreciate the importance of what is happening today. Can he tell us when the Government decided not to accept the new clause? I understand that it was tabled several weeks ago. Did the Government make that decision before the weekend, or in the last few days?
The Government have made their position absolutely clear, but let me again reiterate our firm commitment to the principles of the Belfast agreement, and to ensuring that we respect and meet those principles throughout this process. I have offered to meet the hon. Member for North Down to continue this conversation and ensure that we do everything we can to meet those commitments throughout the process. I think it is important that we are listening and responding to these debates on behalf of the whole United Kingdom.
I conclude by extending my gratitude to Members for their thoughtful consideration of all these provisions. To allow us the time to consider the comments made and their important practical implications, including for our negotiations, I urge Members to withdraw their amendments today, but I reiterate the offer to continue to work with the hon. Lady and all others across this House, to ensure that we deliver on the principles and our commitments under the Belfast agreement.
Order. I just point out that 15 Members still wish to speak and there is one hour to go.
I will keep my comments as brief as possible.
I congratulate the Members who have managed to bring various new clauses before the Committee of the whole House; they add to the debate and to the colour and tapestry of this place. In particular, I congratulate my colleague, indeed my cousin, the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) on introducing the lead new clause. Even though, as she knows, I do not agree with her on the principles, it has added to the debate.
I will give way to the hon. Lady later, but I first want to explain some of my detailed points, given the warning we have just had from Mr Hoyle.
On new clause 70, the hon. Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) said that the DUP does not speak for all of Northern Ireland. He is, of course, absolutely right, and we have never claimed to do so. However, there are seven Members who could be in this place tonight but who do not bother coming, and they could make many of the points that they claim they are so passionate about and support the provisions they wish to support. There is no reason in principle why they cannot be here; the reasons are political cowardice and political convenience only. But others cannot chastise my party and the people we represent in this place, because we do come here, we do make our voices heard, and we do raise the issues that we care passionately about and that are put to us. As the Member who received more votes in Northern Ireland than any other Northern Ireland Member, I am more than happy to speak for those people and ensure my constituents’ voice is heard on these issues. We will not take a vow of silence—which would be convenient to many in this House—out of some form of false shame.
I rise to be helpful to the hon. Gentleman. When I made my comments, what I meant was that an issue as big as Brexit should require the Government to take on board as many views as possible. The hon. Gentleman is right to make the point he made: the SNP does not represent everybody in Scotland and the DUP does not represent everybody in Northern Ireland, and that is precisely why the Government should be reaching out.
I only go so far with that point, because it is wrong in this sense: every issue that comes before this House—whether a minor constituency petition or a major European withdrawal Bill—is important to the people we speak for, and we must give it the full weight and dignity that it therefore deserves.
I was delighted that tonight the Minister from the Dispatch Box nailed the fallacy that new clause 70 would bring about—the fallacy that that new clause is the only way that Her Majesty’s Government can show their commitment to the Good Friday agreement. That is common unnecessary grievance; this matter does not need to be brought before the Committee, as the Minister explained well. In fact, I would venture to suggest that the lives of soldiers and police officers, and the money from taxpayers from across the whole of the United Kingdom, as well as an international treaty, have in many ways demonstrated the Government’s commitment to the Good Friday agreement—the Belfast agreement—and the follow-on agreements. It is wrong to support this grievance culture that we are so good at in Northern Ireland. The Government are clear that they do support the Good Friday agreement, and it would be wrong to add it to this Bill. It diminishes an international treaty to say it has to be reinforced again in a Bill to which it is not relevant.
The Belfast agreement makes scant comment and reference in all of its 35 pages to the EU and its activities. It makes several references to the European convention on human rights, which is outwith the EU, and it is right to do so, and it makes one reference to the process of d’Hondt—a European mathematical mechanism for electing people in a particular way and sharing out political office—in its 35 pages, but there is no reference whatsoever to key elements of the EU.
The hon. Gentleman is making a logical and thoughtful case. Does he not agree that all the substantive protections that were intended after 1998 to protect the Belfast agreement in Northern Ireland’s domestic law were introduced either in the Northern Ireland Act, or in specific statutes that still apply or will apply in retained law as a consequence of this legislation, and that all the substantive protections will therefore still exist? The declaratory or mandatory provision that would be introduced by new clause 70 would simply cut across those protections and introduce significant legal uncertainty.
The hon. and learned Gentleman has nailed it extremely well. By agreeing to this proposal, we would be diminishing the principles that many colleagues say they are signed up to and support, because we would be limiting the provisions to a few words on the front of this Bill. That would be unnecessary and the wrong way to treat an international treaty signed by Her Majesty’s Government and the Government of the Republic of Ireland.
No case has been made that demonstrates that the Belfast agreement will be directly impacted by this withdrawal Bill. People have talked about its impact tangentially, but no specific case for a direct impact has been made. That is because, as I have said, the claim that the agreement is in some way under threat from the Bill is a made-up grievance by the Irish. It is not under threat. It is irrelevant to the Bill. To entertain that claim plays into the domestic politics of the Republic of Ireland, and it is not our place to do that in this House. We should stay well away from that.
I do not often quote David Trimble—Lord Trimble, as he now is—but I am going to make an exception tonight, given that he was one of the authors, principal negotiators and signatories to the agreement. His words are extremely helpful. He has said:
“It is not true that Brexit in any way threatens the peace process. There is nothing in the Good Friday Agreement which even touches on the normal conduct of business between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Leaving the European Union does not affect the agreement because the EU had nothing to do with it—except that Michel Barnier turned up at the last moment for a photo opportunity. The European Union does have a peace and reconciliation programme for Northern Ireland but there is no provision for it in the EU budget. It is financed from loose change in the drawer of the European Commission.”
It is also the case that Her Majesty’s Government have committed to provisions for a reconciliation programme, which they will take forward post-Brexit. That will probably be a much more targeted and beneficial fund for many of the representatives of the third sector who are knocking on the doors of Northern Ireland Members of Parliament to demand that the money should be used a lot better. That helpful insight from David Trimble should be borne in mind by all Members on both sides of the House.
For those who say that they are so committed to the principles of the agreement, the Father of the House, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), pointed out what he called the oxymoron of the border issue. The fact of the matter is that the Irish foolishly got the matter of the border into phase 1 of the agenda. I believe that they were wrong to do that. They should have made sure that they got it into phase 2 or phase 3, because the real issue that concerns them is trade. The Irish have overplayed their hand considerably. They need a trade deal more urgently than Northern Ireland does.
Let us look briefly at the cost to the Republic of Ireland of having no deal. That is something that is never done in this place. We are always looking at what the cost to us would be, but the cost to our partner would be significant. If the Republic of Ireland does not get a trade deal, its GDP will collapse by 4% almost overnight. That is the figure that has been produced in its own Dáil report. The Republic of Ireland’s largest trading partners are the United Kingdom—with which it will no longer have a free trade arrangement—the USA, Canada, India and Australia. Those trading partners are more important than the EU to the Republic of Ireland. In the area of fishing alone, 40% of the Republic’s fishing market is in our waters. If we close those waters to the Republic of Ireland, the Spanish and Portuguese boats and other boats from across the EU will be fishing in the Irish box rather than in our fishing waters. Ireland would soon find that its fishing trade had gone completely.
It is utter madness for the Republic of Ireland to make this a key issue, because a closed border would damage it more. It is not my party saying that it wants to build a border, and it is not the Unionists of Northern Ireland or Her Majesty’s Government. Who is going to build this border? Is it the Republic of Ireland? Is the EU going to instruct people to build it? We have indicated that there are other mechanisms by which we will control our border, and that is what we will do.
Finally, Mr Hoyle, much time has been taken discussing the regulatory consequences for Northern Ireland. Today at the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, industry representatives agreed that perhaps the tables should be turned on the Irish Government and they should follow UK regulations post Brexit, rather than us following EU regulations. I suggest that maybe the Irish should be the ones who compromise. The hon. Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) said that he supports regulatory alignment, but he seems to support it only if it applies to the whole UK, and not if it applies solely to Northern Ireland. I think that matter should also be nailed.
Finally, Mr Hoyle—[Interruption.] Those words often galvanise, Mr Hoyle. The utter confusion that the Labour party has shown on this matter is what confuses me most. The economic spokesman, John McDonnell, has said that we must leave the single market in order to respect the referendum result. The deputy leader, Tom Watson, has said that we should stay in the single market and the customs union permanently. Jonathan Ashworth and Jenny Chapman, the Front-Bench spokesman here tonight, have said that we have to leave the single market. [Interruption.] Diane Abbott has said that we should keep freedom of movement—
Order. Mr Paisley, you know the rules on using Members’ names, and you did promise me that this was your final point. I think “Finally” is now here. You have two seconds before I call the next speaker.
The fact of the matter is that the utter confusion on the Opposition Front Bench on an issue as important as Brexit is only amplified when they give us this hand-wringing sanctity about supporting the Good Friday agreement but then give no evidence as to why provisions such as those proposed should be in the Bill.
I will be brief, Mr Hoyle. I would like to start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) on a truly spectacular speech. I wish that her new clause was a probing amendment, because then I would be even more fulsome in welcoming it. She has done us a great service by giving us this opportunity to affirm our commitment to the Good Friday agreement, and I am pleased that the Minister made that abundantly clear. It is important that we do that regularly, because although we might think that it is self-evident, it needs to be restated time and again.
I am ever so slightly disappointed by one Member—he is not in his place, so I will not name him—who seemed to suggest that those of us who will not support the new clause, if it is pressed to a vote this evening, are in some way villainous. That is not good. That is not the right thing to be suggesting to people outside this place. If the new clause falls this evening, that will in no way suggest that this House’s support for the Good Friday agreement is diminished. We have made it abundantly clear today that that commitment stands and is embodied in international law, and nothing we need to do with the Bill will amend or alter that in any way.
My worry with the new clause is that it is declaratory. We are lucky to have our hon. and learned Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr Cox) here to opine on the matter and on the complexity that would be introduced into legislation, perhaps giving his colleagues a bean feast in picking apart competing bits of legislation, were we to accept the new clause.
I am put in mind of similar amendments considered in Committee on previous days. I am thinking particularly of the pressure placed on me, and I suspect on every hon. and right hon. Member, by concerned constituents urging an amendment to include sentient creatures in the Bill. It was quite difficult to face that down, because of course we all believe that animals are sentient creatures. Indeed, the Animal Welfare Act 2006 makes that clear and goes well beyond the measures currently on the European Union’s statute book. Such amendments are unnecessary because they are declaratory and virtue signalling, and I believe that new clause 70, notwithstanding the technical flaws touched on by the Minister—I suspect those flaws would be remediable—is incorrect because it is declaratory. I very much respect the hon. Member for North Down, and it is with great regret that I will not be able to support the amendment this evening.
I rise to support new clause 70, tabled by the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon). Let me begin by paying tribute to her courage, and to her wonderful and moving speech at the start of this debate. The aim of the amendment is both simple and important: to place in the Bill the continuing importance of the Belfast or Good Friday agreement in the new post-Brexit context in which it will have to operate.
We have already seen the difficulties that contradictory red lines from the Government have caused; red lines on the single market, customs union and no border infrastructure have been jostling and competing with one another, producing the tensions we have seen this week. Fundamentally, this is a tension between two things. We can be part of a rule-based European-wide system, whatever language is used, be it “regulatory alignment”, “convergence” or some other form of words, in which case we keep the economic benefits from the UK and there is absolutely no need for a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Alternatively, we can make a decision to leave the system in its entirety, in which case we have different systems and regulations on either side, we have major consequences for our economy and we necessitate a border. We either have a border or we do not. It is not a negotiation—it is a decision. All the way through, this kind of decision will have to be confronted. If we get a deal and we get approval to move on to phase two of these negotiations in the coming days, this kind of decision will confront us more and more. Avoiding the decision and pretending it is not there or that we can simply pick and choose from what we like in both options is what produced the chaos and humiliation this week.
On the issue of the Good Friday agreement, the amendment seeks to ensure that any changes are only those arising directly as a consequence of the UK’s decision to leave the European Union. It therefore places obligations on the Secretary of State and on Ministers in the devolved Assembly to act in line with the principles of the agreement. Those principles are hugely important. First and foremost was a rejection of violence and a commitment to exclusively peaceful means in the pursuit of political ends. Secondly, this was about consent. The agreement respects whatever choice the people of Northern Ireland make about their constitutional status and says
“it would be wrong to make any change in the status of Northern Ireland save with the consent of a majority of its people”.
That was hugely important, but the agreement is also a package. What it says about equality and the equal status of people from every community is very important.
We are under some time pressure, so I would rather continue.
The agreement is also important in what it says about identity, and I wish to stress this point. It gets to the heart of the old problem that dogged Northern Ireland politics, which was the view that if one community gained, the other had necessarily lost. The tyranny of identity politics can be that it forces people to choose between multiple and overlapping identities—are they one thing or the other? When it comes to identity, the genius of the Good Friday agreement is that it does not force people to choose. Instead, it talks of
“the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both”.
Let us not forget the “or both", as it is very important. It gives everyone in Northern Ireland an equal status and a legitimate sense of belonging.
I am going to continue. The point about identity is crucial, because we have to understand that the Good Friday agreement’s effects were not just economic or governmental, but profoundly psychological. By enshrining these principles, the agreement turned a page. The great danger is that Brexit is seen as going back, and we must not go back in any sense of the term. So if hon. Members want to know why the amendment is important and why it is necessary, I say to them that that is why it is necessary. It is because we must hold dear to these principles in a new political context, where, for the first time in history, one country is going to be outside the European Union and its neighbour is going to be inside it. We have never had that before.
When the agreement was signed, it was different: both countries were members of the European Union. Twenty years on, we must guard against any complacency that would see the agreement as a 20-year-old document that can simply be put aside. The agreement was the basis for a new normality, which has not only saved many, many lives—although it certainly has done—but led to a new normality in trade, in relations between the UK and Ireland, and in relationships within Northern Ireland and on both sides of the border. There is peace, but it must not be taken for granted, be treated harshly or be subject to complacency. Great care must be taken.
The Minister and Government Members have, essentially, put forward two arguments for not accepting the new clause: first, that it is technically flawed and, secondly, that it is declaratory and does not add anything. Both those things cannot be true. The truth is that if the Minister wanted to avoid a vote tonight, he should have accepted the new clause. That would have shown that he was willing to legislate for what he said at the Dispatch Box. The excuses he has given for not accepting it are out of the standard book of Ministers’ excuses for not accepting amendments. He said, “I agree with the sentiment, but it is technically flawed. I will give the hon. Member a meeting.” Ministers have been standing at that Dispatch Box saying that kind of thing for decades. The truth is that if he wants to avoid a vote, he has to go much further and guarantee that he will legislate to put in the Bill a commitment to the Good Friday agreement in the new post-Brexit context in which it will have to operate. By doing that, he would be making a statement confirming that we hold dear to the beliefs enshrined in the agreement.
I return to the question of identity. Those in Northern Ireland should be able to choose freely to be British or Irish or both. Brexit must not become a divisive wall that separates those identities. It must not mean losing those all-important words “or both”, and all the beneficial consequences that have come from them.
I remind everybody that there are still 12 speakers to go.
I apologise to you, Mr Hoyle, and to the Committee, for slipping out at a critical moment and missing part of the Minister’s speech.
I wish to address new clause 70, moved by the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon). I wholly sympathise with the sentiments she expressed. I worked on Merseyside through the ’80s and ’90s, and I remember the bomb scares and the real horror. We did huge trade buying hides in Northern Ireland and southern Ireland, and I remember just how difficult and grim it was. I totally sympathise with all those who lived through it. I wholly concur with the hon. Lady’s tribute to her sadly late husband and all those in the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the security forces, the British Army—I proudly wear the wristband of the Royal Irish, which is stationed in my constituency and represents Irish men and women from every single one of the 32 counties—and the Ulster Defence Regiment who held the peace. Under intense, miserable provocation and terrorism, they enabled the peace process to take place.
It is worth remembering that there was extraordinary bipartisan unity in the House. John Major’s Government took some hideously difficult decisions, including to start talks while terrorism was still being conducted. The Labour party under Tony Blair took up the process, and that resulted in the Belfast agreement, but do not forget the bipartisan support in Dublin and Washington. It was the absolute unity among the two main parties in the three capitals that helped to bring about the peace. We have to pay tribute to all the local players who also had to swallow hugely difficult decisions. I pay particular tribute to Lord Trimble, who brought about the agreement.
It is at this stage that I shall mention the European Union. As the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) mentioned, the European Union is mentioned only twice in the Belfast agreement—first in the preamble and then in article 17 in a quick mention about the North South Ministerial Council. Obviously, the European Union has been supportive. There has been significant peace money. In the Government’s position paper, it is clear that that peace money could be continued after 2020.
My right hon. Friend might well reflect on the fact that section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 creates quite a complex but rather delicate mechanism for the enforcement of many of the Belfast agreement principles. It relies not on a court, but on the Equality Commission, and the Secretary of State is at the apex, the decision maker, and decides whether or not a public authority is obeying the principles of equality in the Belfast agreement. If this new clause is introduced into Northern Ireland’s law, it will unquestionably create a situation of complex uncertainty as to how it sits with the Northern Ireland Act.
I am grateful that my hon. and learned Friend, who knows considerably more about the law than me, concurs with my comments that this new clause could be justiciable. On those grounds, I will not be supporting the hon. Lady’s new clause, but I hope that she has a satisfactory meeting with the Minister.
I am more concerned about the promise in the Prime Minister’s article 50 letter—it was in the position paper published in the summer—about the border:
“We want to avoid a return to a hard border between our two countries, to be able to maintain the Common Travel Area between us, and to make sure that the UK’s withdrawal from the EU does not harm the Republic of Ireland.”
That is absolutely spot on. As I see it, the real risk to the Belfast agreement comes from some of the developments over the course of this week. As the customs paper said in the summer, the border issue is soluble with technical measures. If we look at the figures: of Northern Ireland’s sales, 66% stay in Northern Ireland and 21% go to Great Britain. Therefore, 87% are within the UK—the single market of the UK. Only 5% of Northern Ireland’s sales go south of the border to the Republic of Ireland. Going the other way, only 1.6% of the Republic of Ireland’s exports go north over the border. That is according to the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency.
I am concerned that the issue of the border is being blown up out of all proportion in relation to the size of the problem. There is a border today—a currency, tax and excise duty border. It is a tax point; it is not a customs inspection border. The Government’s position paper, published in the summer, includes proposals such as electronic invoicing, authorised economic operators, and derogation for small businesses in the border area. “Farming Today” this morning reported that the majority of Northern Ireland’s milk goes to dairies in the Republic. It is milk from the same farmer in the same tanker on the same road and with same destination every day. The situation is manageable with modern technology and good will on both sides.
I know some members of the Irish Government. I went there regularly as the shadow Secretary of State and very regularly as the real Secretary of State. When I was Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, I worked closely with Simon Coveney, who I am delighted is the Tánaiste. He is a thoroughly practical and effective politician, who got a grip on the common agricultural policy around the time that Ireland had the presidency of the Council of the European Union, and drove the reform through with real determination.
I really hope that, with good will, the issue of the border can be settled. A hard border is completely impractical. It cannot work. Nobody wants it on either side. The problem can be resolved. The issue that blew up earlier this week is that there can be no difference in regulation between one part of the United Kingdom and another. Any change in regulation has to pertain to every part, including Northern Ireland, to keep the integrity of the United Kingdom.
We have 11 speakers left, with something like 20 minutes to go. It is just not going to happen if this continues.
Unfortunately, I do not share the optimism of the right hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) about how easy it will be not to have a border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
I will park Liberal Democrat amendments 144 and 147 on the basis that new clause 70 seeks, perhaps more effectively than my amendments, to ensure that the Good Friday agreement is honoured. Therefore, if the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) seeks to push her new clause to a vote, she could also have me as a Teller. I am not sure of the collective noun for Tellers, but a troop of Tellers would be available to her.
The hon. Lady illustrated, in a moving speech, the importance of the Good Friday agreement and ensuring that it is not damaged in any way. She did that with great credibility. She said that the impact of no deal on Northern Ireland could be catastrophic, reckless and dangerous. I was pleased to hear about her legal expertise in relation to the European Union. Now, she may not have heard this because she was on her feet at the time, but one of the DUP Members—I think it was the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell), who is no longer in his place—said, from a sedentary position, “That explains a lot.” I am sure that the hon. Member for East Londonderry will not mind me mentioning that because he meant, of course, that it explains why the hon. Member for North Down has as much in-depth legal knowledge about the European Union as she was clearly demonstrating in the debate. I am sure that the comment was not intended to be disrespectful. The hon. Lady has, indeed, set out her expertise in this matter during many debates in this place.
The hon. Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) mentioned the role that the Scottish and Welsh Governments have played in engaging all parties in the process of drawing up amendments. I am aware of that and I very much welcome it. I agree with him entirely that that is something that, unfortunately, is not being reciprocated by our Government in this place. I made a very generous offer to the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. I said that I would sit down with him and go through the Liberal Democrat amendments, because I was sure that they could help him in seeking to achieve some improvements to the Bill. I made that generous offer on 24 October, but I am still waiting for a reply. If the Government want to engage, the willingness is there; they just need to respond positively.
The Minister said that the Government are very committed to the Good Friday agreement. I take him at his word—he is a Minister who says what he means and means what he says. I am not sure I can say that for all the other Members on the Government Front Bench. He could demonstrate that simply by putting it on the face of the Bill. Perhaps that is declaratory, but we often make declaratory legislation in this place. The commitment to 0.7% of gross national income for international development is perhaps an example of declaratory legislation that Members support.
I listened carefully to the Minister. I will support the hon. Member for North Down if she presses the new clause to a Division. One thing is certain: whether or not the European Union is mentioned or referred to in the Good Friday agreement, it is very clear that what the Government do in relation to the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland has a heavy bearing on the ability of Northern Ireland to maintain the relative peace and prosperity that it has experienced in recent years. I will not press my amendments to a vote.
I echo many of my colleagues when I say that as we leave the European Union, our main goal must be to ensure that we leave in an orderly manner, with minimal disruption to businesses and individuals. Like the rest of the Bill, clause 10 and schedule 2 work to achieve that aim. Quite simply, like clause 11, they make sure that there is no scope for the UK Government or any of the devolved Administrations to make changes that lead to the four nations of the Union diverging from each other. Such divergence would damage the internal market of the United Kingdom; although that sounds abstract, in practice it means new pointless barriers being erected that make it more difficult and expensive for trade between the four nations to take place. That market is worth billions of pounds in exports to businesses right across Scotland.
The chaos of such divergence must be avoided. That is why I oppose the various amendments to clause 10 and schedule 2 that seek to increase the delegated powers of the devolved Administrations. There is no power grab in the Bill, just common sense. However, it is important that the devolved Administrations have appropriate delegated powers to correct legislation to ensure that it continues to function after Brexit. Maintaining the statute book and minimising disruption is the entire point of the Bill, after all.
Giving delegated powers to the devolved Administrations is a necessary consequence of our devolution settlement and of the fact that—much like here in Westminster—in Holyrood, Cardiff Bay and, in time, Stormont, the changes that need to be made cannot be made just by primary legislation. As the Minister stated, it is important that the devolved Administrations’ powers are substantial enough for them to be able to make the right tweaks, rather than feeling unable to do anything more than make bare-bones tweaks that leave the statute book barely functioning. We want a fully functioning statute book after Brexit, not a barely functioning one.
I therefore oppose the amendments that aim to restrict the delegated powers of the devolved Administrations. It is right that the Administrations should be able to make tweaks as they deem “appropriate” and not be restricted to a tighter definition of what is “necessary”.
I suspect that when we revisit the Bill on Report, we will have a much clearer idea of exactly what powers will be devolved to the Scottish Parliament and the other devolved legislatures after Brexit. I look forward to another great devolution of powers under a strong Conservative UK Government. SNP Members must remember that just because we support the Union, it does not mean that we oppose devolution. Quite simply, it patronises the majority of Scots who voted to remain part of the United Kingdom to suggest otherwise.
We need the UK Government and the Scottish Government to work constructively together. I hope that we will soon see progress on common frameworks and an agreement on how we can best preserve our most important internal market—our United Kingdom.
While I of course support the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins), I will address my speech to the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon), who is no longer in her place.
The issues of Ireland and the Good Friday agreement and its relevance to the people who live in the border areas are of genuine personal interest to me and to many of my constituents. It would not have been that long ago that my late grandfather would have walked from Convoy into Strabane. Back then there was no border, and none of us would ever want go back to the border that came in during those intervening years.
I am aware of time restrictions, Mr Hoyle, so I will not take any interventions. I shall speak to amendments 174 and 169. It will come as no surprise to hon. Members that I do not support amendment 174 and other amendments tabled by Scottish National party Members. The reason for my opposition, and my party’s opposition, to those amendments is that they expand powers to amend directly applicable EU law, undermining the proposed UK frameworks that the devolved Administrations indicated that they favoured.
I may be new to the Commons, but devolution is even younger than I am. Although it is still evolving, the Bill and subsequent Bills will provide us with a real opportunity to progress the discussion and the devolution settlement. I want to make one or two points very clear, as they have been raised by Opposition Members. No Government Member is threatening the permanence of any devolved institution. In fact, any change would have to come to the Commons, where Members represent Scottish, Welsh, English and Irish constituencies. We will make sure that any change goes through the House and is subject to scrutiny.
Finally, devolved consent and operation are not necessarily better. I suggest that Members look at the SNP Administration in Edinburgh, and the performance on education and health—devolution does not always produce better results. Devolved legislatures are not models of efficiency. The Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh was starved of legislation for over six months last year, and it spent more time debating Brexit and international affairs, which are reserved, than education, justice and health combined, which are explicitly devolved.
I am sorry, I am completely out of time. [Interruption.] It is completely true; those are facts. One thing that has been made clear—
I said that I would not take interventions; I am really sorry, as I usually would. What has been made clear by Members across the House—
I am sorry, I am not going to give way to the hon. Lady, who arrived late. The hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) spoke powerfully about the sacrifice and dedication of many people to the United Kingdom. Opposition Members did not only hear her words but understood them. I hope that most Members, with some exceptions, want us to be committed to the United Kingdom and want amendments to the Bill to strengthen it, both in devolved and reserved matters, so we had better serve our constituents and not political dogma.
I am an MP from Northern Ireland, but not a Northern Ireland MP, which makes speaking in debates such as this one rather peculiar, because everyone from Northern Ireland has a background or perceived affiliation. I find, when I say something that nationalists agree with, that they say, “Well, he hasn’t forgotten where he has come from.” When I say something with which they disagree, they say, “He should be ashamed of himself, given where he has come from.” Similarly with Unionists, when I say something with which they agree, they say, “Fair play to him, given where he is from.” When I say something with which they disagree, they say, “Well, what would you expect?” I have a knack of annoying everyone, which I hope to continue in the two minutes available to me.
I want to make a couple of quick substantive points, then say something about the Good Friday agreement. First, the only people seeking to change the border, or who have proposed a fundamental change to the border, are those who propose that we leave the single market and the customs union. It was the UK Government who fundamentally altered the nature of the border when they suggested that, not the Irish Government. The principle of consent is firmly enshrined: Northern Ireland will remain part of the United Kingdom until the majority of the people there decide otherwise. Notwithstanding that, there is a unique position, because people born in Northern Ireland have a right to Irish citizenship by virtue of their birth there. My constituents in St Helens do not have a right to be Irish because they are born in St Helens, nor do people in Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow or Cardiff.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way at this late stage. Like him, I am deeply disappointed by the Government’s inadequate response to arguments made today to protect the Good Friday agreement. I am also disappointed that they appear to be prepared to risk a vote that could be perceived as challenging bipartisan support for the agreement, but we are not prepared to do that, so we will not seek to divide the Committee. I thought my hon. Friend should know that before he continues.
I thank my hon. Friend for that; the position is very strong and very clear.
The legacy of the peace process is not a Labour legacy; it is a legacy shared between us all. I hope that the Conservative party will reflect on that in these debates, and I am disappointed that the Government have not accepted the new clause today. It is disingenuous to say that the European Union is not mentioned in the Good Friday agreement. Its writ runs through the Good Friday agreement, which was predicated on the basis that we would both remain members of the European Union, and around strand 2, which is north-south co-operation, and strand 3, on east-west co-operation, it is mentioned specifically in terms of areas we can discuss, and there are shared competences.
I want also to remind the Committee that although we talk a lot about the referendum to leave the European Union and its result, the Good Friday agreement was passed by referendums on both parts of the island of Ireland by a majority of people exercising their democratic right. We need to respect that referendum as well as the referendum on the European Union.
The debate focuses primarily and largely on trade, tariff and regulatory alignment. The Good Friday agreement and the peace process are much more than that. I said in this House in my maiden speech that there was no contradiction in being British and Irish, or to having feelings of loyalty, affinity and affection for both countries. That is being tested by this process, but I stand by it. I plead with the Government: through this Brexit process, do not make people choose.
This has been a wonderful debate, and I greatly appreciate the contributions from all sides, even when they disagreed with new clause 70 and even when they were made by Members of the DUP who disagreed with new clause 70. Despite my disappointment, which is real, and that of other Members, the greater objective is to maintain the Good Friday agreement and its respect and integrity, and to ensure that we do nothing in this House that gives succour to dissident republicans or increases the risk of terrorism. I will therefore not press the new clause to a vote.
I will, however, accept the very nice invitation to tea with the Minister, but I do not just want tea and buns. I want a commitment from him now—I want him to intervene on me—that the Good Friday agreement will be preserved in some other form, if not today.
I give the hon. Lady that commitment. The Good Friday agreement is an absolute commitment that we stand by and it will be preserved. I will work with the hon. Lady, as I have been invited to do, to ensure that through the whole of the process we deliver on the principles.
I will take that as a commitment that at tea we will agree that the Good Friday agreement will be written into the next Bill—perhaps the withdrawal Bill. The Minister just has to nod.
As I said to the hon. Lady in the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, we are in the process of negotiating the withdrawal agreement and therefore we cannot pre-empt the detail of the Bill. Clearly, we want to enshrine the principles in the withdrawal agreement and that Bill will legislate for that. There is a logic to what she says and I am happy to follow up and discuss it further.
With that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the new clause.
Clause, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Corresponding powers involving devolved authorities
Amendment proposed: 167, page 17, line 9, at end insert—
“(3) This paragraph does not apply to regulations made under this Part by the Scottish Ministers or the Welsh Ministers.”—(Stephen Gethins.)
This amendment would provide that the power of the Scottish Ministers and the Welsh Ministers to make regulations under Part 1 of Schedule 2 extends to amending directly applicable EU law incorporated into UK law, in line with a Minister of the Crown’s power in Clause 7.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 80—Transparency of the financial settlement—
‘(1) Financial provision may be made for a financial settlement agreed as part of any withdrawal agreement under Article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union.
(2) Subsection 1 applies only if the financial settlement honours obligations incurred by the United Kingdom during the period of its membership of the EU.
(3) The Treasury must lay before both Houses of Parliament an estimate of the financial obligations incurred by the United Kingdom during the period of its membership of the EU, together with reports from the Office of Budget Responsibility, the National Audit Office and the Government Actuary each giving its independent assessment of the Treasury’s estimate.
(4) Any financial settlement payment to the European Commission or any other EU entity may be made only in accordance with regulations made by a Minister of the Crown.
(5) Regulations under subsection (4) may be made only if a draft of the regulations has been laid before, and approved by resolution of, the House of Commons.”
This new clause ensures that any financial settlement as part of leaving the EU must reflect obligations incurred by the UK during its membership of the EU, must be transparent, and must be approved by Parliament.
Amendment 54, in clause 12, page 9, line 4, at end insert—
‘(5) No payment shall be made to the European Union or its member states in respect of the making of a withdrawal agreement or a new Treaty with the European Union or any new settlement relating to arrangements that are to be made after exit day unless a draft of the instrument authorising the payment has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of the House of Commons.”
This amendment would ensure that there is a vote in the House of Commons to approve any settlement payment agreed by Ministers as a consequence of negotiations on a withdrawal agreement or new Treaty with the European Union.
Clause 12 stand part.
Amendment 152, in schedule 4, page 32, line 35, leave out “(among other things)”.
This amendment would limit the scope of regulations modifying the levying of fees or charges by regulatory bodies to only the effects set out in sub-sub-paragraphs (a), (b) and (c).
Amendment 339, leave out lines 1 to 3.
This amendment would remove the power of public authorities to levy fees or charges via tertiary legislation.
Amendment 340, page 33, line 3, at end insert—
‘(3A) Regulations under this paragraph may not be used to prescribe fees or charges that go beyond that which is necessary for recovering the direct cost of the provision of a service to the specific person (including any firm or individual) who is required to pay the relevant fee or charge.”
This amendment would prevent delegated powers from being used to levy taxes.
Amendment 153, page 35, line 8, at end insert—
‘(3) Modification of subordinate legislation under sub-paragraph (2) may not be made for the purposes of—
(a) creating a fee or charge that does not replicate a fee or charge levied by an EU entity on exit day, or
(b) increasing a fee or charge to an amount larger than an amount charged by an EU entity for the performance of the relevant function on exit day.”
This amendment would prevent Ministers using the power for public bodies to alter fees and charges either to create a fee or charge that does not currently exist for the purposes of EU regulators, or to increase a UK charge to be higher than an existing EU fee or charge.
That schedule 4 be the Fourth schedule to the Bill.
New clause 17 relates to clause 12 —[Interruption.]
Order. Will Members leaving the Chamber please do so quietly so that the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie) can continue?
Clause 12 relates to the financial provisions of Brexit. New clause 17 seeks to clarify that a specific legislative instrument is needed to authorise payment in relation to a withdrawal agreement settlement and that that can be permitted only if approved by a resolution of the House of Commons.
It is important that we do not glide by some of the big aspects of Brexit. It has massive ramifications, one of which is the fabled “divorce bill” as it is sometimes characterised. Some people say that it is simply the settlement of obligations and liabilities, but phase 1 of the discussions, which the Government have agreed with Michel Barnier to conduct before we move on to phase 2 on the framework of future trade relations, has to include a financial settlement. It is therefore important that Members of Parliament understand it, approve it and enter into the arrangement with their eyes wide open.
We are not considering small sums of money. Last week, it was widely reported that the financial deal had been made, but we can never be absolutely sure about such reports. It was also reported that the Prime Minister had a deal with the Republic of Ireland and the rest of the EU on the Northern Ireland border, and we all know what happened to that in recent days. However, it feels as though Ministers, the European Commission and others have sort of agreed a financial settlement, so last week we tabled an urgent question to press the Government. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury responded to it, but unfortunately she was a bit coy about the divorce bill. We were not allowed to know how much it would be. We were told that it was still part and parcel of the negotiation process, and how dare we ask? We were also told that it was unreasonable of us to intrude on sensitive negotiating arrangements. It seemed peculiar to me that it was all right for the British Government to tell Michel Barnier, Jean-Claude Juncker and the European Commission how much HM Government and British taxpayers were prepared to pay, but somehow Members of Parliament, never mind the British public, were not grown up enough to know the real sum.
It seems peculiar that, when we are supposed to be taking back control, the House has not been given any kind of figure that we can scrutinise. The only figure we have is £350 million a week for the NHS, which we know is a complete lie.
That was the surprise, and not just for us. Perhaps we were a bit cynical and did not expect the £350 million a week for the NHS on the side of the red bus to come to fruition, but I think that the British public were genuinely surprised when it turned out that, rather than Brexit’s giving us that fantastic dividend, it was actually going to cost us a considerable amount.
It is not surprising that the public were surprised. We may have accepted that much of what was promised during the referendum might fall apart subsequently, but even after the event the Government were telling us a very different tale. My hon. Friend will remember being with me on the International Trade Committee when the Secretary of State came along and said, “I don’t expect us to pay anything to leave.” My constituents heard that said not just during the referendum, when they might expect to hear things that were somewhat fanciful, but many months later. The Government were saying, “We won’t be paying anything to leave.” What we are hearing now is very different.
It is worth listing the promises that were made to the British public in the run-up to the referendum, not just by Vote Leave but by individual Members of Parliament, including the Environment Secretary and the Foreign Secretary. On 22 June 2016 they wrote, on behalf of Vote Leave:
“We will take back control of our money”.
The International Trade Secretary said:
“Instead of handing over £350m a week to Brussels we should be spending that money on local priorities”,
such as the NHS.
I am delighted to see that the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) is present. He is very assiduous when it comes to these issues: I will grant him that. Before the referendum, he asked “How should we spend this Brexit bonus?” It was suggested that riches would be available for our vital public services. Those were the promises that were made to the British public.
Is it not all the more extraordinary that we are told not only that we will have to pay tens of billions as a divorce bill, but that the Chancellor has already put aside £3 billion—on top of the £750 million that has already been spent—just to cope with the costs of preparing for a potential no-deal Brexit?
We saw that £3.7 billion of supposed Brexit preparations in the Treasury Red Book at the time of the Budget, but I suspect that it is quite a modest sum. I know that there are former Chancellors of the Exchequer and others who have more experience than I do in this regard, but I think that those sums may have been set aside for a softer Brexit. If we ended up with a cliff edge with people saying, “We don’t need even a free trade agreement; we can cope on our own in a WTO scenario”, those Brexit preparation costs could be significantly higher.
The hon. Gentleman is making an extremely important point. Lots of people who had become really fed up and disaffected with politics and politicians took out their frustrations in the referendum. As the hon. Gentleman has said, many of them genuinely believed that if we left the European Union, there would be more money to be spent on our NHS. He is right: not only will we not have that money, but our economy could begin to retreat—and if we do not get a good deal but fall back on WTO rules, it undoubtedly will—and we will have to put aside, by way of example, £3 billion for Brexit, money that could have gone to the NHS. So my question to the hon. Gentleman is this—
Order. The intervention is too long.
May I just ask this question? Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that there are many forms in which that disaffection may be manifested as we see our NHS actually—
Order. The right hon. Lady must make short interventions. If the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie) wishes to give way, he can do so again, but the right hon. Lady must make short interventions.
The right hon. Lady was making an incredibly important point, Mr Hanson. It is not just a question of the divorce bill—the financial settlement—and it is not just a question of the billions to be set aside for Brexit preparations. The bigger issue that the right hon. Lady was raising is what will happen in a dynamic economy if our trade opportunities shrink, and if obstacles and tariffs are put in the way. This is not just our assessment, or opinion. The Chancellor himself published a table in his Red Book which showed what he and the Office for Budget Responsibility expected to happen to tax receipts over the next few years. He anticipates that by 2021 tax receipts will have fallen by not just £10 billion or £15 billion, but by £20 billion. That is £20 billion less revenue for the Exchequer to spend on the vital public services we want. This is a triple whammy, therefore, in terms of the costs of Brexit, and it is a surprise to many members of the public, who were told precisely the opposite.
May I suggest that in fact it is a quadruple whammy, because the hon. Gentleman has not yet referred to the fact that the mythical impact assessments that the Government have or have not conducted—we are not quite sure—probably contain some very large figures about the damage Brexit is going to cause to the 58 sectors on which those reports were apparently conducted?
It almost beggars belief that we are hearing not only that the Cabinet has not yet discussed the sweeping of the single market and customs union from the table, and has not yet had the chance—it is very busy—to discuss the future relationship between the UK and the EU, but that it has not even bothered to commission impact assessments. If ever there was an example of a no-questions-asked Brexit—we just career headlong towards the cliff edge, blindfold, and we do not want to ask questions—this is it. We want no information, say the Government. That is the situation we are in.
The hon. Gentleman is very well informed and of course, as we know, very bright, so perhaps he can inform the House of the cumulative net cost of the EU—our net payments over the last 42 years.
People have speculated that the net cost in terms of payments was about £10 billion a year, although some have said it was less, depending on how we look at it, but there is a cost to be paid for being a member of any club. We have to weigh against those fees and charges the benefits we get from being a member. If we are a member of a club and are gaining benefits from it, we have to ask whether the advantages outweigh the disadvantages and the benefits outweigh the costs. It is clear in terms of the wider economic expectations, and the Chancellor’s own assessments of what is going to happen to tax revenues in the future, that we are potentially going to be poorer as a result of some of the Brexit scenarios we are seeing.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the net benefits has been peace and prosperity across Europe?
Yes, it is true that the benefits are not simply financial. There are social benefits as well as economic benefits, and environmental benefits, and general welfare benefits that we have had in terms of the stability of the continent for such a prolonged period of time. Those benefits should not just be idly swept away; they should certainly be assessed, and the Cabinet should certainly be discussing them.
Not only is the hon. Gentleman very wise, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) pointed out, but he is also very fair. In the interests of fairness, and in the context of the point about the £350 million a week, does he accept that greatly exaggerated claims were made by right hon. Members, some of whom remain in this House and some of whom are no longer in this House, about what would happen on day one after we voted to leave the EU? So far as I am aware, there have been no plagues of frogs and locusts, and the sky has not fallen in.
And we have not left the EU left. The hon. Gentleman makes the point that in any election or referendum campaign there are of course claims and counter-claims, but the success of the leave campaign has caused the situation we are now in, compounded by the choices made subsequently—the interpretations that were not on the ballot paper about sweeping away the single market and the customs union. These have led not to my assessment of what will happen to tax revenues, but to the hon. Gentleman’s own Chancellor of the Exchequer’s assessment. We can talk about our expectations during the campaign, but the hon. Gentleman must acknowledge that the public feel that a result was reached during the course of that referendum and they will look to those who advocated leave and think of the promises made at the time, and expect them to be fulfilled.
We rightly debate all the figures, including the infamous £350 million on the side of the bus, but do we not also need to look at the real impact on the ground? The fact is that we are now having to recruit new customs and border officials to deal with the potential consequences of Brexit instead of spending Home Office budgets on new police officers.
Yes, there is a sense that the nation should be talking about how to tackle the massive challenges that we face—questions of productivity, of opportunities for young people and of the kind of healthcare improvements we can expect in the 21st century—but they have now been put on the back burner while we try to negotiate an inferior free trade arrangement to the one that we currently have. This is a kind of salvage operation.
I am a new Member here, and most of the people around the House do not have a clue who I am, but as a new Member, I think I might bring a slightly fresher approach to the debate. Nobody in their right mind would sign a blank cheque for this amount of money, but if I tried to explain to my constituents why I am not going to be consulted about the final sum, I could not do it. It’s nuts!
At the very least, we should know what we are being asked to pay. We know that the Foreign Secretary told the European Union to “go whistle”, and perhaps that is still the Government’s official policy. We also know that only in September the Brexit Secretary was saying that a figure of £50 billion was “nonsense”. Since then, of course, we have seen completely different reports. Parliament and the people deserve to know the sum involved. The idea of a blank cheque is completely unacceptable.
I am worried that my hon. Friend is going to move on from the important point that he has just raised about the impact assessments. There is a serious question about the competence of the Government if they have gone ahead with this without producing those assessments. There is a more important question, however. We as Members of Parliament were told that there were 58 documents that went into excruciating detail, but it now appears that that was not true. Amid all the talk about what happened outside this place, we must not forget the central point that the Secretary of State stood at the Dispatch Box and told us that those documents existed and that the Prime Minister had looked at a summary of them. He is now saying that those documents do not exist, so what he said was not true.
My hon. Friend’s anger about this is correct. For all the bonhomie and swagger of the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, this is unacceptable. He always has a cheeky little smile and a glint in his eye, but we should not let him off the hook. With all that bluster, he was saying, “Oh, don’t worry, there are oodles of detailed impact assessments but you must realise that they are commercially sensitive. We can’t possibly share them, but don’t worry, detailed impact assessments have been produced.” It now turns out that his bluff has been called, and when the curtain was pulled back we saw that those things did not exist, and he is now cycling away. Nobody expected this to be quite so threadbare.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I would like to make another point before I give way again.
This brings in the wider theme about sidelining Parliament and creating a sense that we should not have proper scrutiny of these issues. The new clause is about scrutiny, as is the debate going on in the Brexit Select Committee. It is also about the fact that sovereignty lies not in the hands of Ministers but in the hands of Parliament as the representatives of the people, and we need to do our job. The massive land grab of legislation, under the Henry VIII clauses in the Bill, is not acceptable. The cloak and dagger pretence about the impact assessments is not acceptable. Also, the idea that the divorce bill will be somehow covered over in some grubby hidden backroom negotiations, itemising only the textual liabilities rather than showing us the pounds, shillings and pence figures, is not acceptable.
The new clause goes to the heart of the argument made for the UK leaving the European Union: this House would take back control. It was done in the name of parliamentary sovereignty. Does my hon. Friend not find it curious, therefore, that the Members who argued in the name of parliamentary sovereignty that we should leave—I see the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) in his place, and the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) and others—do not support his new clause? I find it remarkable. That this House should approve any divorce bill would be the ultimate reassertion of parliamentary sovereignty.
I see the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) nodding his head, so he agrees. He is an honourable gentleman, because he does believe in parliamentary sovereignty. Many hon. Members agree that the new clause is not about whether we believe in the single market or the customs union; it simply states that when the withdrawal agreement comes to fruition there needs to be a specific vote on the money, because it will come from the taxes collected by the Exchequer—by the Government—and authorised by Parliament. There needs to be authority. I want to see hon. Members who advocated the whole process, on both sides, having to put their mouth where their money is and go through the Lobbies to state an opinion about the amount of money involved.
Has the hon. Gentleman considered whether his new clause would achieve that, because it is phrased so that a draft of the instrument authorising a payment must be approved, but that would not require a specific sum? It could simply be a framework regulation allowing for such a payment to be made. Surely his new clause is not to the point.
The hon. and learned Gentleman, who considers these matters in great detail, will understand that this matter relates to clause 12, which details financial provisions. Clearly it would be impossible for the Government to bring forward such a motion that did not have the clarity that the House expects. In my generosity, I drafted the new clause so as to make it as broad and flexible as possible. Any information would be better than no information. I know that he is urging me to be firmer with the Government on the issue—a manuscript amendment is always possible, so I look forward to that. Let us give the Government a chance to accept the new clause, because it is perfectly reasonable.
My hon. Friend is exposing whether the Government are hiding facts from the House over the cost of the divorce bill. Is he concerned, as I am, that the lack of scrutiny means we do not know what we are getting for the money? For instance, we have heard from Government Members that we are leaving a club. Well, we have to settle our tab before leaving a club. They are also confusing that with the future trade deal. We are not seeing what the cost of the trade deal will be. There seem to be two figures here: the cost of leaving and the cost of a trade deal—but we are not getting that detail from the Government.
No, and of course we are talking about the divorce bill now, even though we have had no sight of it, because the Prime Minister is naturally anxious to move on from phase 1 to phase 2 of the talks. I almost feel sorry for her, because she is being pulled from pillar to post, with the hard Brexiteers wanting one thing and the DUP always yanking her chain in another way. The EU is of course a stickler when it comes to sufficient progress, but sufficient progress is what she wants to achieve, so she will give them a nod and say, “We will give you a divorce bill settlement, but please don’t publish how much it is, in case Parliament and the public find out.” If it is in the order of £67 billion, which is in the back of the OBR’s red book—I doubt it will be that high—that equates to £1,000 for every man, woman and child in this country. Members should just think about that when they are next in their constituencies: £1,000 for every single person they see will be part of that divorce bill.
Does the hon. Gentleman believe, as I do, that the Government have managed to convince themselves that the EU is going to “go whistle” and that leaving will not cost us a penny because they get their information from too limited a number of sources? I do not know whether he is familiar with the Legatum Institute—I know that the Minister on the Front Bench is a fan—but the Government seem to give it undue access, and possibly influence, and it has a specific agenda.
I do not want to get too side-tracked into my opinions on the advice given by the Legatum Institute. Let alone the Government, I suspect the Legatum Institute has not been doing many impact assessments. The Legatum Institute might be a good cheerleader for the cause—there are many good cheerleaders for that particular cause—but that emotional response is not necessarily evidence-based.
A minute ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) raised the question of what we will get for this divorce bill settlement. That raises the next natural question. Many commentators are assuming that, by moving on to phase 2, we part with this £50 billion or £60 billion and, at last, we are finally able to talk about trade. Actually, under article 50, we will not be entering trade deal territory; we will be entering territory that is about a framework for the future relationship with the European Union.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I will give way in a minute.
It is important the Committee realises that phase 2 is not trade talks. The £50 billion does not secure a trade deal. Article 50 refers to:
“an agreement...setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union.”
Phase 2 of these article 50 talks will look at only the framework, not the substance of future relationships. The details of that full trade deal will begin only when the UK becomes a third country, which is important because we are getting to the notion that this is the only financial commitment for which we are on the hook. Phase 2 is actually a bit of an interregnum period. The actual detail of the trade relationship will come after we have left, after exit day. The whole Committee needs to appreciate that.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Bill is paving the way for a hard Brexit? The Bill is dealing with everything up to exit day, and thereafter, if we get a deal, it will be sorted out after we have left the European Union.
That is why so many of the amendments tabled by the right hon. Lady and by other hon. Members are crucial to ensuring that Parliament keeps its foot in the door in this process so that we do not just give things away, money for nothing, by giving Ministers total power on exit day to negotiate these arrangements and treat Parliament as a rubber stamp after the fact. We have a duty to make sure we get whatever best deal is possible. Phase 2 could simply be heads of agreement. It could be a couple of sides of A4 simply saying that, after exit, we intend maybe to talk about the details of a particular trade deal. This £50 billion or £60 billion is not purchasing a trade deal.
Is my hon. Friend arguing that this country will spend up to £67 billion, over which Parliament will have no say, to leave a club and to take us on to a stage to create a framework to re-enter a relationship with that club?
More or less, and that that relationship may never match, even partially, the arrangements that we have at present.
If my hon. Friend and other hon. Members will bear with me, we then have to imagine that we have just gone past exit day. We might have a heads of terms framework. We then, of course, enter a two-year transition period, if we are lucky. How much will we have to pay during that transition phase? The notion that our divorce bill is the end of the money is, of course, not right. I anticipate that, during the transition, if we are on the exact same terms as now, which is the impression we have from the Government, we will obviously have to continue paying into the club for those years of transition.
If we want to get any deal at all, especially one that is better than Canada’s comprehensive economic and trade agreement, we will also have to pay into the club for future years. If we are lucky enough to get the inferior arrangement that is the Norway deal, which is certainly better than absolutely nothing but is not as good as the single market and customs union membership we have right now, we will have to pay to be members of the club. The idea that the full benefits of Brexit are to come is a fallacy. The Norwegian people pay £140 per head each year for the Norway arrangement. We pay about £210 to £220 per head per year, so roughly two thirds of that cost will continue, for the inferior relationship. These are costs to our taxpayer that they need to know about, so that they can make assessments of the these things.
Is my hon. Friend aware yet of the evidence the Chancellor gave to the Treasury Committee this afternoon, when he, in effect, confirmed that there has been no Cabinet decision or agreement about the desired end position of the British Government? So we are leaving the single market and the customs union—that is not a decision taken by the Cabinet—but if we ask any Minister what the form will be to deliver on the Florence speech, they will not be able to give us a Government position. What an absurdity this is.
It is not just an absurdity; it is massively irresponsible for the Government to run headlong in a direction without knowing where they are going and without doing any assessments of potential costs. It is important that the British public see this, because they need to understand that this is not a fait accompli. We do not just have to throw up our hands and say, “Nothing can be done about this. It is all just going to happen.” The British people do have power. They do have a chance to change course. I believe we will see the clock ticking away and there will come a moment when we have to make a judgment and say, “Are we just going to continue to this timeframe?” Article 50 can of course be revoked or put on pause, and we need to consider that as an option. The British people do have the right to think again if, on reflection, they see that this process is too costly and potentially too damaging.
My hon. Friend is making a good case. There is a further cost that he is not taking into account, which is the cost to the public finances. We know that the Red Book takes no account of the £40 billion or £50 billion in the divorce bill, which means that the Government’s forecast—or the OBR’s forecast—for the public finances will be shot to pieces. That means interest rates will go up faster than anticipated and the cost of Government borrowing will go up. This is a major economic event and we need an assessment of that as well from the Government. Does my hon. Friend agree with me?
Yes. All hon. Members, not just the Government—there are such hon. Members even on the Labour Benches—will want to commit public resources to all sorts of things, and they need to recognise that if the cost is £60 billion, that is not something to be sniffed at. In a couple of years’ time the deficit is projected to be about £30 billion a year, so we are talking about the equivalent of two years of deficit to be added, presumably, to the national debt at that point in time. That is all notwithstanding what happens to our wider economic circumstances. These things should not just be dismissed.
We should be putting the House of Commons at the centre of this process and not treating it as a peripheral part of the Brexit arrangements. That is why this new clause is so important. Brexit is a costly exercise and Parliament needs to have the chance to properly reflect on it. A potential divorce bill of £1,000 for every man, woman and child in this country certainly should not just be brushed aside. When we ask ourselves what we are getting for this arrangement, we see that we are getting the chance to rip up the finest free trade agreement—a frictionless, tariff-free agreement—of anywhere in the world, for the chance to have something inferior. The current path we are on is not about taking back control; this is about losing control. The idea that Parliament should simply step to one side and agree to have control taken away from it is not acceptable to me and to very many hon. Members. This new clause would at least drag Brexit back into the sunlight and let the public hold those responsible to account.
With his customary eloquence, the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie) has given a splendid speech about many things. I wish to divert slightly from his path by taking his new clause seriously as a legislative object, rather than engaging in the interesting questions he raised about the utility or otherwise of the whole of Brexit. The Committee is called upon to decide whether proposed amendments to the legislation are meritorious in terms of achieving the objects of the Bill, and that is what we have done in Committee on many other occasions as we have gone through the Bill.
It is obviously right that Parliament should control public expenditure. The withdrawal agreement will be an element of public expenditure, so one might think that new clause 17 was meritorious. However, it is clear that the payments that the new clause describes will, if they arise at all, be part of an agreement. The Government, rightly, have already said that Parliament will have a vote on the agreement. We cannot vote on an agreement without voting on the financing of an agreement, because the agreement will stipulate the financing. Therefore, new clause 17 is entirely otiose and there is no reason for the House to vote in favour of it. The House should reserve its voting for a later moment when the Government introduce the amendment to allow us to control the agreement, which I shall certainly support.
I think the Government have gone further. They have said that if there is an agreement, primary legislation would probably be needed to implement it, which means that the full procedures for statutory approval would be required in order for there to be the power to make any payments—as I understand it, there are no legal grounds for making additional payments to the EU, and if the Government wish to do so, they will need legal grounds—and then to cover the full implementation of the agreement.
As so often, my right hon. Friend snatches the next words from my mouth. I was about to say that the House will, as he rightly observes, be called on to vote on primary legislation, as we understand it, which will of course require something called a money resolution, with which I know the hon. Member for Nottingham East is fully familiar because I have heard him make long speeches about them on several occasions. He is an expert at doing so, and no doubt he will enjoy doing so again when the relevant resolution comes before the House, but new clause 17 is not necessary to achieve the objective.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a fair point about wanting to probe the details of the new clause, which is specifically about amounts of money paid out without authorisation. He must agree that despite their name, money resolutions do not always specify a sum of money. A draft withdrawal agreement would not necessarily have to set out the amount of money, either. If he has heard otherwise from the Government, I would be interested to know.
I do not think there is the slightest chance that a withdrawal agreement will be put before the House that does not specify, or enable one to calculate, an amount of money, because there is no indication that the EU would accept such a thing. Whether or not we should be paying such an amount is a separate matter. In any event, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire (Sir Oliver Heald) just said from a sedentary position, if that is a deficiency of a forthcoming money resolution, it is a deficiency shared by new clause 17, which also does not stipulate anything about an amount. One way or the other, I fear that the new clause is otiose. It has given an admirable opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to make an interesting speech, but that is its only virtue. The House should have nothing further to do with it.
It is a real pleasure to be called to contribute. I wish to speak to new clause 80 and amendments 339 and 340 in my name and the names of my right hon. and hon. Friends.
New clause 80 would require a vote in the House on the financial settlement that the Government agree with the European Union. Further, it would require the House to be informed in its decision on that matter by reports from the Office for Budget Responsibility and the National Audit Office. Amendments 339 and 340 would prevent tax or fee-raising powers from being established via tertiary legislation and limit any fees that are levied by public bodies to the cost of the service that the fee is intended to cover.
I should start by referring Members to the third report of the House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee from September, which examined the Bill before us today. The report draws our intention to the fact that the delegated powers memorandum notes that those powers would enable
“the creation of tax-like charges, which go beyond recovering the direct cost of the provision of a service to a specific firm or individual, including to allow for potential cross-subsidisation or to cover the wider functions and running costs of a public body.”
The report alerts Parliament to the danger of allowing organisations full-cost recovery of their services without parliamentary scrutiny as it could allow them to gold-plate the services that they offer. As the report says:
“A tax-like charge means a tax.”
“should not be allowed in subordinate legislation. They are matters for Parliament, a principle central to the Bill of Rights 1688. Regulations under clauses 7 and 9 cannot impose or increase taxation.33 But regulations under Schedule 4 may.”
The report goes on to make the point that that means that Ministers can tax. They can
“confer powers on public authorities to tax and they can do so in tertiary legislation that has no parliamentary scrutiny whatsoever.”
New clause 80 also addresses this issue of a lack of parliamentary oversight. As we all know, the Government are in the process of attempting to conclude the first phase of negotiations with the European Union. Part of that process is agreeing a financial settlement, which reflects the obligations that the United Kingdom has incurred as a result of its membership of the European Union. Labour has always been clear that Britain should meet its obligations. We cannot seriously hope to make new agreements on the international stage if we are seen to go back on what we have already agreed. Britain is a far better, fairer and more reliable ally than that.
As the Chancellor said when he attended the Treasury Committee today:
“I find it inconceivable that we as a nation would be walking away from an obligation that we recognised as an obligation.”
“That is just not a credible scenario. That’s not the kind of country we are and frankly it would not make us a credible partner for future international agreements.”
On that, we are agreed. But we have also been clear that the deal must be fair to the taxpayer. Already the Government are attempting to bypass the scrutiny that should take place in this Chamber. This money belongs to the UK taxpayer and they have a right to know how much, and for what they are paying. It is true that the public interest in discovering more about the financial settlements that the Government intend to make with the EU is great, and that there will inevitably and rightly be extensive media coverage. The details, some certain and some speculative, will be pored over by commentators. Estimates will be made and objections proffered on the basis—sometimes, I venture to say—of inaccurate or incomplete information. That is not a satisfactory way to proceed. The House must get a grip of this process and demand the ability to scrutinise and take a view on the deals reached.
Our new clause argues that this House should have a vote, and also that the vote should be properly informed. Being properly informed means that independent analysis by the OBR and the NAO must be provided to assist this House in its consideration of the deal. We are going to need that, because the financial settlement will not be straightforward, and unvarnished truths will be hard to come by. Crudely speaking, the Government will try to make the amount look as reasonable as possible and the EU will try to show that it has everything that it thinks it is due.
The Government will want to highlight estimates that show how payments will be less than half the €100 billion liability, once UK projects have been taken into account. As Alex Barker in the Financial Times put it last week:
“Ministers are banking on Treasury budget wizards making the exit price look as small as possible.”
The two sides in the negotiation could look at the same agreement and come up with net estimates that are quite different.
I am just puzzling over how the Government think this will work. Has my hon. Friend thought about this: it is highly likely that we will make not one big payment, but a number of payments over a period of time, which means that the payment could be spread into another Parliament? Given that no Parliament can bind its successor, how does she think that the Government can make this agreement?
That is a very interesting point. As a fellow member of the Select Committee on Procedure for several years, I am not surprised that my hon. Friend has spotted this. I would be fascinated to hear what the Minister has to say about that when he gets to his feet later this evening.
Parliament ought to have the ability to debate, scrutinise and reach its own conclusion on this matter. If we do not, we will be the only people not tussling with it. This Parliament wants to do as the people said we should: take back control. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury said in response to an urgent question from my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie) that to give Parliament details about the settlement
“would not be in our national interest”—[Official Report, 29 November 2017; Vol. 632, c. 327.]
That is not good enough. She said that she will “update the House” when there is more to say, but we do not want to be updated; we want the ability to decide.
I was slightly not expecting to be called to speak then. I am very glad that I have been—honestly. It is good to have the opportunity to speak in this debate, particularly on the financial aspects of the Bill. Given the rumours that we heard last week in the press about the divorce bill, which have not yet been substantiated by the UK Government, this is a good time to be having this discussion.
As a number of hon. Members have said, it is clear that the divorce bill is likely to be significant. But the reason that we are making assumptions—or trying to come up with ideas about what the divorce bill might look like—is because there are no solid facts coming out of the Government. It would be incredibly useful for all of us if the Government were to say, “This is how we expect the divorce bill to be structured. This is what we expect the money to be spent on. This is how we expect it to be allocated.” We would then be able to provide appropriate scrutiny, which is the job not just of the Opposition, but of Back-Bench Government Members. It would be useful if we were able to do that.
The Government say that they have not pinned down exactly how much money we are talking about, but they have not even said that they will tell us the breakdown of the money in the end. They have not promised that level of certainty. It is all well and good for Conservative Members to say, “I’m sure that the Government will give us this information.” It would be a positive step forward if the Government actually committed to doing that.
We cannot have the devolved Administrations having to pay money towards the divorce bill. It is ridiculous that this Parliament would in any circumstances suggest that the devolved Administrations should have to pay towards something that Scotland and Northern Ireland did not vote for as those countries. It would be incredibly galling if it were suggested that we had to use the money that we would spend on public services, over which the devolved authorities have discretion, to pay any portion of the divorce bill. We would completely disagree with that.
My best guess, given the lack of information from the Government, is that the divorce bill that is being spoken about is not for future trade access, or to allow us to get into the single market or to use the customs union. In fact, the Government have been clear that they do not want us to be in the single market or the customs union. This £50 billion or €50 billion or up to €100 billion—who knows how much it will actually be—is just for our ongoing liabilities. It is not to give us access. As I have said, if the Government said what it was actually for, we would throw less accusations across the House at them about it.
New clause 80 on the transparency of the financial settlement pretty well covers what we are seeking from the Government. We need to see all that detail and it would be good to see it as soon as possible.
We have seen how the Government have behaved. The Prime Minister’s speeches have not been made to this House and she has had to come to the House afterwards to make statements. I think that, when the divorce bill is agreed—when there is a signature on the dotted line—the UK Government should have to come to tell the House first. If we are talking about bringing about sovereignty, that is the way in which such things should be undertaken. There should not just be an announcement or a speech; there should be a proper announcement to this House so that the divorce bill can be effectively scrutinised. That would be the best way to do business.
I will move on to parliamentary scrutiny and the issue of sovereignty. The hon. Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman) spoke about fees and levies being put into statutory instruments. She was absolutely correct that, if something is a tax-like charge, it is a tax. Therefore, it should not go through a Delegated Legislation Committee; it should be in primary legislation that is discussed on the Floor of the House.
The statutory instrument system we have is already pretty rubbish. We are given the SI without much notice. When we go into the Committee, we do not know how things will go. It tends to be made up of a number of MPs who are pretty disinterested, most of whom have not read the legislation. I have been on two SI Committees over the past couple of weeks. One took about five minutes and the other took much longer and involved a much more in-depth discussion. Before we go into an SI Committee, we do not know which one of those it is likely to be, because no measure of priority or importance is given to them in advance. If we are going to put everything, from taxes to the replacement of EU workers legislation, through an SI Committee, we need a better SI system in this House to ensure that there is proper scrutiny.
To have another slight rant about proper scrutiny, the estimates process in this House is utter nonsense and does not provide proper scrutiny. I have been shouting about that for a very long time and I will not stop. If the UK Government decide that the £50 billion will go through the estimates process and will not, therefore, be properly scrutinised, there will be an awful lot of incredibly upset Members in this House, and not just on the Opposition Benches. I would like the Government, if possible, to be very clear that if there is to be a vote on this money in Parliament, there will be a proper vote—not a vote as part of the estimates process, during which we are not allowed to discuss things in great detail.
As well as upset Members in this House, does the hon. Lady not envisage thousands of upset people outside this place—namely, our constituents?
I absolutely agree. If the incredibly inadequate estimates procedure were used, an awful lot of my constituents would say to me, “Why did you not talk about this?”, and I would have to say, “Because it didn’t happen to be picked by the Liaison Committee and therefore we had to talk about something else and couldn’t vote on specifically amending this matter.” That would be a major concern to people here and people outside. It would be great if the Government could give the commitment today that any vote on the divorce bill will not happen through the estimates procedure and will be properly scrutinised on the Floor of the House.
It is really important that we do get House of Commons approval for any financial settlement that is agreed on. It absolutely has to be agreed by this House. I would prefer it also to be agreed by the House of Lords. It would be sensible for it to have as much scrutiny as possible before any agreement happens. We are making it very clear that that is very important to us.
Last week, I called for the Chancellor to bring forward an emergency Budget. The Budget that we had the week before last made no mention of payments in relation to a withdrawal settlement, but the Chancellor must have had some idea about this. I can only assume that he did, but given that the DUP did not know what was going on with the agreement that had been made on Monday, perhaps he did not. He should have had some idea of the ballpark figure that was going to come out in the news the following week, and therefore it should have been in the Budget. As it was not in this year’s Budget, the Chancellor needs to come to the House and introduce an emergency Budget explaining how he is going to pay this bill—which taxes he is going to raise, perhaps—and where the money is going to come from, and then this House should properly debate the matter.
I agree with the hon. Lady to a large extent. We do not want hidden protocols whereby certain secret agreements about expenditure do not come before the House. We want full exposure and a comprehensive view of this.
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman, with whom I used to serve on the Scottish Affairs Committee. This does need to be as transparent as possible. Every bit of money that is agreed between the UK Government and the EU as part of the withdrawal settlement needs to be itemised. We need to know what the UK is agreeing to pay for and the timescale over which we will be paying it.
I entirely agree with the points that the hon. Lady is making. It was interesting that this afternoon in the Treasury Committee, the Chancellor acknowledged that the cost to the UK of settling any outstanding debts with the European Union will be small beer compared with the costs if we do not get a good long-term trading relationship with the EU. There are two issues: the short-term cost and the impact on the scorecard, and the long-term cost to the economy and the damage that that will do if we cannot move on to phase 2 of these talks.
I absolutely agree. I will come on to the more indirect costs in a moment, but first I want to mention one more thing in relation to direct costs.
There is still ongoing uncertainty about the replacements, or possible replacements, for EU structural funds—for example, the Horizon 2020 money, the social fund and the common agricultural policy payments. We have a level of certainty on some of those in the very short term, but what happens after April 2019? What happens to the projects that currently receive money, or are likely to be bidding for money in future? What are the UK Government going to do to replace those funds? We do not have any certainty on the replacements for most of the direct funding.
I now move on to the indirect costs of Brexit. I am totally baffled as to whether or not there are economic impact assessments. The UK Government told us that there were impact assessments. They were incredibly clear that there were impact assessments and so they definitely knew how this was going to impact on the economy. Then, at the Brexit Committee, the Secretary of State said that there are no economic impact assessments. Any kind of responsible organisation does an economic impact assessment—before it takes an action, preferably. If an organisation is in this crazy situation where it has signed up to an action and drawn all these ridiculous red lines, it will probably be wise to do the economic impact assessments then so that it has an idea of quite how much of a mess it has got itself into.
I do not know whether the hon. Lady is one of a number of MPs, including me, who put in a freedom of information request to access these reports. The response we got was that they could not be released because the information contained therein would damage the UK’s negotiating position. I do not know whether she has been to see the reports, but frankly there is nothing in them that could not be obtained by googling different sectors. I am not quite sure why that was used as an excuse for not releasing them to Members of Parliament.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments. I have heard that pretty insubstantial information has been provided, particularly on the numbers.
I was concerned to note that the UK Government have made a call for evidence on trade remedies. They want information from companies, organisations and sectors about which trade remedies are important to their sector. The UK Government do not know which remedies are important, because they have not done the work. They do not have a good enough understanding of the sectoral impact of Brexit.
I shall highlight a few things in relation to that. The Bank of England recently asked what would happen to cross-border derivative contracts and insurance policies after Brexit. The UK Government have not answered the question. I asked them what would happen to rules of origin and what would happen to companies that, for example, made cars in the UK. What would happen to free trade arrangements that call for cars to have 55% or 60% UK content? Currently, it is EU content, but in the event of Brexit we would seek 55% or 60% UK content. Our cars do not have that much UK content, so I asked the UK Government for their position on rules of origin and what they were doing about that. Basically, the answer was “We don’t really know.”
There has been a complete lack of understanding. An awful lot of companies and organisations are going to the Government and saying, “This is our problem. You need to fix it—and you can do it this way.” Most of them have come up with solutions and have suggested ways to fix things. Insurance organisations, for example, have a huge problem. If they sell insurance to someone in an EU country, after exit date they will no longer be able to collect premiums or pay out in the event that someone makes a claim, and they will not be allowed to write to those people to tell them that they cannot do those things, because that is how the rules work.
The UK Government could attempt to give certainty now on a number of such issues, including customs. The economic impacts of this are unbelievable, and the regulatory impacts are baffling even the Government. The impacts are going to be too big for anyone to comprehend. Most of the stuff that we will look at in future, according to how the Bill is drawn up, will be dealt with in SI Committees. It is totally inadequate to discuss incredibly important regulatory regimes, levies and taxes in such Committees. That is not how the Government should proceed. They should change their mind on that and look at the amendments that have been tabled, particularly by the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie). The SNP is willing to endorse them, and we thank him for introducing them.
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman). I share her bemusement at where we have got to on the impact assessments, which we have now been told do not exist. Like her, I would have thought that that work would have been done—it certainly should be done. If it has not been done—we have been told that it has not been done—it urgently needs to be done so that the Government and the House can take an informed view about where we are heading.
I wish to speak briefly to my amendments 152 and 153 to schedule 4, which touch on the matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman). She pointed out that while it was a good thing that Ministers could assure us that no new taxes would be introduced as a result of the sweeping powers that the Bill gives to Ministers—I am glad that new taxes are not going to be imposed on us through the use of these powers—nevertheless the Bill gives them the powers to impose charges. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to make the point, which was also made by the hon. Member for Aberdeen North, that there is frankly precious little difference between taxes and charges. There are wide powers in the Bill to impose new charges, so my amendments 152 and 153 are intended to constrain the power of Ministers to impose charges, which could be almost limitless in scope. I hope that the Minister, in winding up the debate, will be able to give assurances to the House that these powers will not be used in ways that none of us would want. I hope that by probing the Minister’s intentions through my amendments I will receive the assurances I seek.
Amendment 152 would amend line 35 of schedule 4, on page 32. The schedule is slightly alarmingly worded, and the amendment is to part 1, which deals with the power to provide for fees or charges. Paragraph 1(3) lists various things that Ministers can introduce regulations to do: to prescribe fees or charges; to provide for recovery of any sums payable; and to confer power on public authorities to do rather similar things. The sub-paragraph explicitly allows Ministers to introduce regulations on those three things, but its first line also reads:
“Regulations under this paragraph may (among other things)”.
Apart from the three specific things, which, frankly, sound rather alarming, it seems that there are some other, non-specified things that the schedule would empower Ministers to do. Amendment 152 simply proposes the deletion of the words “among other things”, so that at least Ministers can do only three things to demand money from taxpayers or charge payers.
I just want to make sure that I have understood what my right hon. Friend is saying. Surely what is being proposed here is that Ministers’ ability to use secondary legislation to impose taxes should be constrained, and they will be allowed to impose charges—not that if the Brexit bill is ginormous and the public finances are in a mess, Ministers will have stood at the Dispatch Box now and committed never to increase income tax. That is the correct understanding, is it not?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The amendment simply constrains Ministers’ ability to introduce new charges—she calls them taxes, and she has every right to do so—under the secondary legislation envisaged in schedule 4. What I hope the Minister will do is assure us that by “among other things” he is not envisaging some great long list of new money-raising powers.
Before my right hon. Friend moves on, is it not worth considering those EU agencies, such as the European Medicines Agency, that are financed by charges on the industry, not by the taxpayer? We should really be hearing from the Minister how the Government propose to fund such agencies in future.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We come directly to that point in amendment 153, in which we propose to add to schedule 4 the words set out on the amendment paper, which I shall read out. We propose to constrain Ministers’ powers by saying, first, that regulations
“may not be made for the purposes of…creating a fee or charge that does not replicate a fee or charge levied by an EU entity on exit day”.
That is exactly the point my hon. Friend has just raised. We of course recognise that a lot of charges are imposed at the moment by EU bodies of one sort or another—she mentioned a very important one—and that, in future, comparable fees or charges may well need to be levied by UK entities, but the aim of the first paragraph of amendment 153 is to make it clear that Ministers cannot impose new fees or charges for which there is not already a counterpart from the EU entity.
The right hon. Gentleman is doing exactly what needs to be done in Committee, and I have considerable sympathy with his ambitions. Has he considered whether the reference to remedying deficiencies as the basis for secondary legislation powers under the Bill would in any case have the effect he is describing?
I had not considered that, and the right hon. Gentleman may well have a point. I would be interested to know whether that is indeed the case. That interesting point is certainly worth pursuing, and I would welcome it if he expanded on that later.
Secondly, amendment 153 states that Ministers cannot bring forward regulations for the purpose of
“increasing a fee or charge to an amount larger than an amount charged by an EU entity for the performance of the relevant function on exit day.”
Let me take the example my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) mentioned. The European Medicines Agency does very important work, and it charges the industry for that work. I am suggesting that the secondary legislation powers in schedule 4 should not be used to introduce a charge for the same function that is higher than the one currently charged by the European Medicines Agency. There may well be a loss of economies of scale in leaving the European Medicines Agency, and it may well be that undertaking that function purely for the UK will be a less efficient process than doing it EU-wide, as the European Medicines Agency does, but I do not think the secondary legislation powers in the schedule should be used to impose on industry or any charge payer a fee that is higher than the one currently charged by the EU entity.
I accept that there may well in due course need to be some higher fees or charges than those currently levied by EU entities, because the process may well be less efficient when carried out at a UK-only level, but I do not think the secondary legislation powers should be used for that purpose. If Ministers want to bring forward a proposal to impose a higher fee or charge, they should do so through the proper parliamentary process, with scrutiny by this House, not through secondary legislation powers.
One of the points made to me by those in the industry is that if these fees and charges shoot up, that will have an impact on their competitiveness, which is the last thing we want. Does that not reinforce my right hon. Friend’s point?
Once again, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. Indeed, my amendments arise specifically from the discussions I have had with those in the tech sector who are worried about the prospect of being hit by substantially larger fees and charges in the future, which is exactly what the powers in the schedule would allow Ministers to do.
I very much hope that the Minister will give us an assurance that these powers will not be used in that way, and that we will not find that industry and charge payers of other kinds are hit by fees or charges that are not being charged at the moment or are higher than those currently being charged. I very much look forward to the Minister’s response.
Although new clause 17 may be otiose, to echo the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin), it does at least give Members the opportunity to express strong views on aspects of Brexit. I wonder whether among Government Members there is any sense of humility, shame or embarrassment about what they are inflicting on the country. Looking at the chaos and instability, and indeed the loss of influence, the UK has experienced in the past few months, I would have thought that some Conservative Members would be starting to question their enthusiastic endorsement of action that is weakening the United Kingdom and leaving us much, much poorer.
I know there are Members on both sides of this House who were remain supporters and who are keeping quiet and biding their time. They tell me that they are waiting for the polls to shift before coming out and voicing their concerns about the impact of Brexit more openly. I point out to them that they do not have much time to wait for the polls to shift before Brexit goes ahead—if it goes ahead. I say “if” because there is nothing final about it. Clearly article 50 is revocable, and although the will of the people on 23 June last year expressed itself one way, current polling suggests a majority in favour of a vote on the deal.
The right hon. Gentleman’s remarks so far are interesting. Is it not telling that those who urged the country to take this course—those who feel that Brexit will provide this dividend, these great riches—are amazingly mute today? When it comes to the crunch, they do not want to be seen to defend Brexit and the impact it will have on the public finances. I think they should be made to vote for the consequences of the actions they argued for.
I agree absolutely. That is why new clause 17, which the hon. Gentleman moved, is not otiose at all. It would put people on the spot: they would have to vote, hopefully for a figure. I hope the Government will want to do that, in the name of accountability and transparency. We need a figure, because there is a real risk. We have seen press reports that some arrangement will be reached whereby the Government and the leading leave campaigners within the Government will be saved the embarrassment of a very large—£45 billion to £50 billion—figure being put into the public domain. As several Members have said this afternoon, that is the down payment, not the final divorce settlement.
Speaking as one who voted to remain, I was disappointed on that Friday morning, but I accept the will of the people. Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that we ignore that decision made by the people of the United Kingdom?
I am absolutely not doing that. That is why I just referred to the idea of having a vote on the deal. The whole point of that is to have a public popular vote. We, the Liberal Democrats, have made it clear from the outset that the only way democratically to answer the question posed by the marginal result on 24 June last year—52% to 48%—is through a vote on the deal for everyone in the country. Before the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie) intervened, I was talking about current polling. The Survation poll suggested that 50% of the population now support the idea of a vote on the deal, and only 34% oppose it.
Does my right hon. Friend not agree that we should call this process a confirmation of the first decision? Then we could keep things very neutral: people could confirm that this really was what they voted for. What should any of us who are democrats be afraid of? If there is confirmation of the original decision, fine, but let us wait and see whether people want to confirm their original decision.
I certainly agree with the intent behind what my hon. Friend says, although I would hesitate to call the vote confirmation of the original vote; this vote would be different in nature, given the facts now available to us—given that the initial settlement will be £45 billion or £50 billion; that huge problems have been created at the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland; and that 16 or 17 months on, the issue of EU citizens here is still not resolved.
The right hon. Gentleman has sparked a highly relevant debate. The referendum asked whether we should leave or not. What we are debating in the Bill is how we leave. We have learned that the process is a series of decisions; there is not one way to leave the EU. We need to keep every option open, not shut doors as this Government are doing, so that if the public mood shifts, as it might well do, all options are open.
I agree. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will regret, as many Opposition Members and I do, that very early on, the Government shut down some of the options available to us regarding the single market and the customs union. There was no attempt by the Government to negotiate with the European Union on whether there was scope for the EU to give ground, including on freedom of movement. I know from contacts that I have had that there would have been some appetite among some EU countries to give ground on freedom of movement, but that is not something that the Government sought.
We have had a huge election within the past six months. The Conservative party went into that election with a manifesto commitment to honouring the outcome of the June 2016 referendum. I am not sure that I quite understand what the right hon. Gentleman does not understand about what the result of that election meant for the representation of the parties in this House. The majority of Members in this House are elected on a platform of leaving the European Union.
The clearest outcome of the general election was that the hon. Gentleman’s party lost its majority and is now in an unwieldy and dangerous relationship with the Democratic Unionist party. The route that the Government are going down—a particularly hard Brexit—was not endorsed in the general election.
We have discussed the Irish border an awful lot this week. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one obvious solution to the Irish border situation is for the whole UK to remain in the single market and customs union?
Absolutely; that is probably the only safe solution to the question of Ireland and Northern Ireland—and it is one that, unfortunately, our Government ruled out at the outset. They probably rue the consequences of that decision.
I have strayed slightly from new clause 17, but I certainly do not think that the new clause is otiose. When the right hon. Member for West Dorset called it that, it reminded me of his term in the Cabinet Office. I am absolutely convinced that as a senior Minister with an overview of the activities of all Government Departments, he would never have accepted the Government’s going forward with an economic project on the scale of Brexit without insisting that each Department conducted a decent impact assessment for all sectors for which it was responsible. If he disagrees and wants to say that when he was at the Cabinet Office, he would have been perfectly happy with the Government forging ahead in this way with the single biggest economic—and, I would say, most damaging—project that the country has undertaken in 50 years, I give him the opportunity to do so now. Members will note that he has not taken it. I think that must be taken as an indication that he not happy with Conservative Front Benchers, who have decided to proceed without conducting any impact assessments of Brexit.
When Opposition Members heard from Ministers about impact assessments and sectoral analysis, we rightly expected the Government to have conducted an impact assessment of hard Brexit, of perhaps the Norway model and the Turkey model, of no deal and of our current arrangements to inform the House properly about the impact of Brexit. We would then have known about not just the down payment of £45 billion, or whatever it will be, but the long-term financial consequences for the automotive, pharmaceutical and agricultural sectors and all the other sectors that will be so greatly affected.
The right hon. Gentleman is making an incredibly powerful case about the importance of data. Just today, John Curtice has released information that proves that a majority of the British public now believe that Brexit will be bad for our economy, so even the British people have twigged that something is awry. Does the right hon. Gentleman think that the lack of impact assessments will compound that sensation?
The British public cannot but note the incompetence that our Government have shown. Whether they were leave or remain supporters, when they see a Government in chaos, conducting negotiations in a cack-handed manner, it is not surprising that they are beginning to worry about the impact of Brexit.
The right hon. Gentleman mentions impact assessments. I wonder whether our 27 friends in the EU might do a retrospective impact assessment of the time when David Cameron went to Europe to ask for some concessions on our arrangements as a member of the EU. He went for a basket of bread and came back with a basket of crumbs. The impact assessment should be directed at them. We would not be where we are today if things had been different. We should ask ourselves who has brought us to where we are. The answer is our friends in Europe.
We are here today debating the impact that the hon. Gentleman’s Government will have on every single man, woman and child in this country by pursuing a hard Brexit agenda. I do not think he believed what he was saying when he tried to shift the blame to the EU for what happened to David Cameron’s negotiations. However, I made the point earlier that if the EU had been faced with the realistic prospect of the UK leaving, I think it would have been much more amenable to making more substantial concessions.
Hon. Members may be pleased to hear that I am about to conclude—[hon. Members: “Hooray!] Thank you. Apparently, Brexit is about taking back control. We therefore need to ensure that new clause 17 is put into statute so that Parliament has the opportunity to take back control and demonstrate whether we think that the down payment of £45 billion, £50 billion or £55 billion is a price worth paying for the views of a relatively small number of Brexit-obsessed Conservative Members of Parliament.
I want to speak in support of the new clause. I have listened to several hon. Members compare the purchase of houses and cars with Brexit. I have also heard Members point to the necessity of knowing exactly what we are buying. With such a large transaction looming, a simple figure is the least one should expect. Beyond that, however, I think it perfectly reasonable to ask how the figure was calculated. When I receive my bill in a restaurant, I expect to be able to see how much each item cost. I look at the bill, and then—hopefully—I pay. Alternatively, I dispute the bill, and say, “I was not taken with the main course.” Similarly, if I am looking at cars, I may say, “This car is not worth that.” If a survey has shown that there are serious problems with a house, I say, “I am not prepared to pay that: I expect you, the owner, to put it right first.”
My hon. Friend is making a powerful case for parliamentary sovereignty, clarity and transparency. Do his constituents, like mine, not expect that when they elect a Member of Parliament, that Member of Parliament’s job is to exercise sound stewardship of the money that they part with—the money that they give to the Chancellor and the Treasury when they pay their taxes? Would they not be mystified, and very angry, if they thought that we were nodding through £40 billion or £60 billion without specific authority? Would they not be absolutely astonished at the Government’s implied proposition?
That clearly must be the case. There is an expectation on us to explain how the pounds, shillings and pence are spent, rather than just say, “Oh, it was just nodded through,” and when asked how much it cost, say “I have no idea.” That is unacceptable to those who send us here, and rightly so, because it is their taxes that pay for this; it is their work, their productivity and their hard graft—to use a phrase I heard earlier today—that raises the money to meet these bills.
The draft of the instrument in new clause 17 and of the regulations in new clause 80 are put there on the expectation that there is some transparency. The events of the last few days, weeks, and certainly months would have seriously benefitted from having had far more transparency about what is happening. It is not necessarily the case that keeping hidden a sector title of “Forestry” aids our negotiations. If there was more transparency, the Government would have had far more useful and sensible advice from various industries around the UK. If they consider, even or stumble upon the idea of, an impact assessment for the regions, and perhaps if they share with the regions that that is being carried out, the regions—and indeed the devolved powers—could share some of their expertise, so that, as with these amendments, when measures come back to this House we may make a reasoned decision based on facts, influenced by our constituents’ views and genuinely aiming to make the best of a situation that, much like the vaunted driverless cars, could be heading for an absolute disaster.
When the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie) moved new clause 17 he made a number of worthy points that need to be addressed. I will obviously be voting against the new clause if it is pressed to a vote, and I hope that that is the point, but in terms of the raison d’être of all of these amendments, the cat has been let out of the bag: the hon. Gentleman wishes to revoke article 50 and thereby overturn the will of 17.4 million people. That is the be-all and end-all—that is the raison d’être of what we have heard tonight. The whole tactic of these amendments—no matter how reasonable they might sound and how powerfully supported by some Members—is essentially to do-over the will of the British people.
[5th Allocated Day]
[Relevant documents: First Report of the Exiting the European Union Committee, European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, HC 373; First Report of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, Devolution and Exiting the EU and Clause 11 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill: Issues for Consideration, HC 484; Sixth Report of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee of Session 2016-17, The Future of the Union, part two: Inter-institutional relations in the UK, HC 839; First Report of the Scottish Affairs Committee, European Union (Withdrawal) Bill: Implications for Devolution, HC 375.]
Further considered in Committee
[Mrs Eleanor Laing in the Chair]
New Clause 70
Northern Ireland: the Belfast principles
“(1) The Belfast Agreement implemented in the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (which made new provision for the government of Northern Ireland for the purpose of implementing the agreement reached at multi-party talks on Northern Ireland) remains a fundamental principle of public policy after exit day.
(2) Accordingly, in the exercise by a Minister of the Crown or any devolved authority of any powers under this Act to make any provision affecting Northern Ireland the Minister or authority must have regard to the requirement to preserve and abide by the Belfast Agreement and the principles implemented in Northern Ireland Act 1998 (“the Belfast principles”).
(3) The Belfast principles include (but are not limited to) partnership, equality and mutual respect as the basis of relationships within Northern Ireland, between the North and South of Ireland, and between the islands of Ireland and Great Britain.
(4) In particular, in relation to this Act—
(a) the Secretary of State must not give consent under paragraph 6 of Schedule 2 to this Act (requirement for consent where it would otherwise be required in dealing with deficiencies arising from withdrawal) before any provision is made by a Northern Ireland department except where the Secretary State has considered the requirement to preserve and abide by the Belfast principles and considers the provision is necessary only as a direct consequence of the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU, and
(b) the powers under paragraph 13(b) of Schedule 7 to this Act to make supplementary, incidental, consequential, transitional, transitory or saving provision (including provision restating any retained EU law in a clearer or more accessible way) may not be exercised to do anything beyond the minimum changes strictly required only as a direct consequence of the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU.
(5) Section 11(3) (legislative competence of the Northern Ireland Assembly) of this Act does not permit the Northern Ireland Assembly to do anything which is not in accordance with the Belfast principles.”—(Lady Hermon.)
This new clause is intended to preserve the principles of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement which underpin the Northern Ireland Act 1998.
Brought up, and read the First time.
The hon. Member for North Down is right that that raises a major challenge. There is no point in pretending that it can be magicked away by soft words. We must face up to the consequences of our adherence to the Good Friday agreement in the way in which Brexit unfolds and is done, and regulatory equivalence is one part of that. That said, I hope that when Ministers respond, the hon. Lady will get sufficient reassurance that the United Kingdom Government understand that very well. Unless I am being misled by my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench, I believe that they do. The problem will remain that that requires us, as we proceed with Brexit, from time to time to face up to some of the realities that it brings in a regulatory context. If we do not, we cannot fulfil our obligations under the Good Friday agreement. That is the reality check. The problem we have always had in our debates on this matter is that, too often, I hear comments that are mired in a fantasy vision of what people would like in an ideal world that bears no resemblance to the reality of our international obligations and our interdependence with our closest neighbours, one of which happens to be the Republic of Ireland, with which we are blessed to enjoy a good relationship.
If we keep those factors in mind, we will maintain what is best for our country and succeed in carrying out the highly risky operation of Brexit as well as we may. I thank the hon. Member for North Down for properly raising the Good Friday agreement in our debate this afternoon. I look forward to hearing from my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench a response that reaffirms that our commitment to the agreement and to maintaining collectively peace on the island of Ireland and good relations with one of our closest neighbours and trading partners is paramount in our approach to the problem.
I shall speak to amendments 168, 169, 172, 173, 175, 176, 158 and 159 in my name and the names of cross-party colleagues, who I am delighted have chosen to support the amendments. I also want to make clear my support for new clause 70 and amendment 338 and to briefly comment on new clause 70.
The Good Friday agreement is the foundation of the peace process on the island of Ireland. Let us be clear—without it many more lives would have been lost and ruined, and we would not have seen the emergence of the new normality that has characterised both UK-Irish relations and Northern Ireland-Republic of Ireland relations in the past 20 years. Given the events of recent days, whatever our views on them might be, it is more important than ever that this amendment receives strong support. There is nothing in it that threatens the Government’s position to preserve and uphold the Good Friday agreement. It seeks not to change the Good Friday agreement, but to preserve it and to put it in the Bill. I am sure that many Members will make that clear today.
What has always worried me, particularly in light of the pathetically slow progress so far, is that, despite the good will on both sides, it will all collapse by accident and we will suddenly find we have no deal because the parties have contrived to put themselves into a deadlock from which they can no longer get out or because events have put them into a deadlock situation and it suddenly stops. This week, on a serious subject, was the first indication that that could happen. If the DUP feels indignant about the fact that it was not properly involved, I hope it will put the larger interest ahead of other things and decide that, after a bit of consultation and with some reassurances, it is probably okay and that there will be some regulatory and customs convergence across both sides of the border.
I think I was misunderstood by the Westminster leader of the DUP, the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Nigel Dodds), in his brief intervention earlier. I share the view that these arrangements have to be United Kingdom arrangements. What is necessary to preserve the free border in Ireland has to be, if necessary, put in place and replicated in every other part of the United Kingdom. The Irish border is such an important question because, in many ways, it will determine what arrangements we have and, in my opinion, it will move us in the highly desirable direction of some regulatory and customs convergence in our future trading arrangements.
With any luck we have had a near miss and, in the next few weeks, we will at last be able to begin the serious negotiations on future trade arrangements. This mishap underlines the case for accepting new clause 70 for the avoidance of future doubt and to avoid future accidents. As we are all totally agreed on what an extremely important diplomatic agreement the Belfast agreement is, let us all agree to put it in the Bill and bind, by statute, those who will have to take part in the negotiations not to do anything that puts the Belfast agreement in doubt.
I see that the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), is replying for the Government. If I may say so, he always draws the short straw. When it is a little difficult to see quite what the Government will say in answer to the questions they face, they turn, as ever, to him. At this moment I cannot see what on earth he can say to reject this amendment. I cannot see why acknowledging the Belfast agreement poses any difficulty for the Government. Perhaps, at last, he has the pleasant task of standing up to say there is absolutely no reason why the Committee cannot accept the amendment. It is the policy of this Government, as it is the policy of every other party in this House, to be firmly committed to the Good Friday agreement. By accepting the amendment we could avoid the little mishaps of the kind that have taken place in the past 48 hours and that have caused us all such concern.
The Belfast agreement is of vital significance. We welcome the opportunity to put this issue at the forefront of this debate and emphasise how the Belfast agreement and our commitment to it will be unaffected by our exit from the European Union and by this Bill. The hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) spoke passionately about this issue on day four of the Committee. I pay tribute to his work and that of many current and former Members, who sadly are no longer with us, who worked so hard to bring the agreement forward and to secure its legacy. I thank all those who have contributed to that.
I will, if I may, return to the hon. Lady’s new clause in more detail towards the end of my speech. I note that this issue has also been raised in amendment 338 in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. That amendment does not provide for anything that is not provided for by our current obligations under the Belfast agreement and the British-Irish agreement. The Government remain absolutely steadfast in our commitment to those agreements and to our associated obligations under international law. Those include, as the amendment lists, the institutions; the commitment to human rights and equality reflected in the European convention on human rights; the principle of consent, which many Members have referred to; and the citizenship rights, which we have been clear that we want to protect through the withdrawal agreement.
Similarly, new clause 39 and amendment 157, tabled by the hon. Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn), and amendment 147, in the name of the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), are concerned with maintaining the provisions of the Northern Ireland Act and the Belfast/Good Friday agreement in relation to the withdrawal agreement power in clause 9. Amendments 145, 146, 346 and 347, in the name of the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington and the Leader of the Opposition, replicate those protections for the Belfast/Good Friday agreement in the international obligations power, clarifying that that power can be used to remedy breaches of the agreements.
I recognise the strength of feeling across the whole Committee, which has been expressed today from both sides, on the principles underpinning all these amendments. The Government fully recognise the standing and significance of the Belfast agreement. From the Prime Minister’s article 50 letter to the Northern Ireland and Ireland position paper published in August, to which the hon. Member for Darlington referred, our message has been consistent: the Belfast agreement is a top priority and the Government are fully committed to it. To avoid any shadow of a doubt, none of the powers in this Bill enables Ministers to undermine or amend the Belfast agreement.
For that reason also, I assure hon. Members that amendment 144, tabled by the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington, is not necessary. The clause 7 power is already restricted from making corrections to the Northern Ireland Act, specifically because—I gave evidence on this to the Exiting the European Union Committee and to committees in the Scottish Parliament—that is the main statutory manifestation of the Belfast agreement. The only exception to this restriction—the hon. Member for Darlington sought some clarity on this point—is to enable us to fix the deficiency in the Northern Ireland Act, as described in the Bill, relating to the existing reservation found in all three devolution statutes on the technical standards and requirements arising from EU obligations. UK Government officials want and need to engage further with their counterparts in all three devolved Administrations, including Northern Ireland, to ensure that the correction made on this detailed matter does not change the boundaries of devolved competence. I assure the Committee that it is purely for this reason that we have not addressed this so far in the Bill for any of the three devolution statutes.
Our commitment to and implementation of the Belfast agreement shapes all the Government’s work in relation to Northern Ireland. I point to the recently agreed framework principles that explicitly reference the Belfast agreement and the ongoing talks led by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to restore the Northern Ireland Executive as further demonstration of our ongoing commitment to the Belfast agreement. The Government are wholly committed, as my right hon. and learned Friends the Members for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) and for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) have said, to the Belfast agreement, and we have accepted our commitments to that under international law. Nothing about our leaving the EU will change that. These amendments, well intentioned as they may be, are therefore, in many cases, unnecessary.
However, while also observing the Belfast agreement, we do need to be able to give effect to whatever we agree with the EU and ensure that we comply with our new international obligations under the withdrawal agreement. Inserting additional restrictions such as that in amendment 146, in the name of the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington, removes the flexibility necessary to ensure that we can deliver maximum legal certainly on day one of exit across the UK. That is in no one’s interests.
Amendments 209, 210, 212 and 215 in the name of the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) and 307 to 312 in the name of the hon. Member for Aberavon are about whether the powers in schedule 2 should follow “necessary” or “essential”, rather than “appropriate”, corrections. Similar amendments have been tabled to clauses 7 to 9, which we will debate next week. The amendments in the name of the hon. Member for Aberavon were proposed by the National Assembly for Wales’s External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee. I acknowledge the detailed work and scrutiny of the Committees in the devolved legislatures, particularly on these amendments. I am grateful to those Committees for their invitations, and for the opportunity to provide evidence in Cardiff and Edinburgh alongside Secretaries of State and the Minister with responsibility for the constitution, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore). I reaffirm the commitment to ongoing engagement with devolved legislatures.
Hon. Members will not be surprised to hear—my hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Douglas Ross) brilliantly pre-empted this point—that “necessary” or “essential” would be very strict tests and could be interpreted by a court to mean logically essential. Where two or more choices in how to correct EU law are available to Ministers, arguably neither one is strictly necessary, because there is an alternative. Ministers need to be able to exercise discretion in choosing the most appropriate course. For example, if two agencies could arguably carry out a similar function, the UK Government, or in this case the devolved Administration, must propose which would be the more appropriate choice. “Necessary” or “essential” would risk constraining the use of the power to such an extent that the programme of crucial secondary legislation that is to be made using these powers might not be deliverable.
I repeat the assurance that I gave to the Scottish Parliament’s Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee: the purpose of these powers is not to make substantive changes to policy, but simply to allow devolved Administrations and the UK Government to prepare our laws for exit day. The decisions that we take in doing so will be subject to the scrutiny of the devolved legislatures and this Parliament.
Of course we recognise that there are concerns, in this House and outside, about the breadth of the UK Government and devolved Administrations’ powers and how they will be used. In order to increase understanding, we intend to place in the Library ahead of next week’s debate two draft statutory instruments on employment rights that illustrate how these powers will be used in an area that I know is of particular interest across the House. I hope that on that basis, hon. Members will feel able to withdraw their amendments.
Amendments 287 and 290 in the name of the hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) are aimed at protecting our citizens’ rights in relation to powers conferred on devolved Ministers. Let me first reiterate the Government’s firm commitment not to roll back rights. We share this commitment and ambition with the devolved Administrations, as is set out in the Scottish Government’s White Paper “Scotland’s Place in Europe”, and the Welsh Government’s White Paper “Securing Wales’ Future”. As we said in previous debate, clause 4 sets out that any rights that existed before exit day will continue. The UK has a long-standing tradition of ensuring that our rights and liberties are protected domestically, and of fulfilling our international human rights obligations. The decision to leave the EU does not change this.
In addition, the powers in the Bill are already restricted. They cannot amend, repeal or revoke the Human Rights Act 1998 or any subordinate legislation made under it. Yesterday, meeting the commitment given to this House, we published our article-by-article analysis of the charter of fundamental rights, showing how every substantive right within it is protected in every part of the UK, either through our international obligations, or through domestic law. The restrictions sought by these amendments are therefore unnecessary, and I ask the hon. Member for Glenrothes to withdraw them.
I deal next with amendments 135 and 136, tabled by the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), amendments 167, 171 and 174 tabled by the hon. Member for North East Fife, and amendment 211 in the name of the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber. The amendments would permit the devolved Administrations to use powers to change direct, retained EU law, such as regulations. However, those laws apply uniformly in every part of the UK, and it therefore follows that the modifications necessary to ensure that they function correctly on exit day are made at UK level.
We discussed at great length the merits and challenges of clause 11 on day 4, and there were excellent speeches from my Scottish Conservative colleagues and from across the Committee, but the Committee supported the approach of maintaining existing frameworks, which is subject to the JMC (EN) and wider framework process, and the agreement of principles. That argument applies equally to what we are discussing. Direct EU law is part of the structure of our common frameworks. Corrections to those laws, which apply consistently throughout the UK, need to be co-ordinated in the immediate term to preserve those common frameworks so that we can provide continuity and maximise certainty for individuals and businesses across the UK.
It is wrong to suggest that that would in any way roll back the powers of the devolved Administrations because while the UK has been a member of the EU, they have never had the discretion to amend, repeal or in any way act incompatibly with those directly applicable EU laws. Removing the current restrictions would create a new discretion, allowing for problematic divergence immediately after exit in matters where uniform law is currently in place. We cannot accept that.
However, let me be clear: the devolved Administrations will have a role in determining how the laws should be amended because we will consult them when using the powers to amend direct, retained EU law in matters that are otherwise devolved.
There has been talk of a hard border, and there is not an hon. or right hon. Member in this Committee who does not wish to see the current incredibly boring border—boring is good in this context—continue. My Select Committee, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, has visited the border area, and nothing much happens there. We want to see that continue. The good will is enormously strong, and there is a duty on this Government, on this House and, of course, on our interlocutors both in Dublin and in the European Union to ensure that it continues.
Indeed, the European Union has a duty under its own articles and treaties to ensure that happens. Both articles 8 and 21 of the Lisbon treaty require the European Union and its constituent members to work towards peace, concord and friendship between the European Union and third-party countries, which is of course where this country is heading after March 2019. That is not discretionary; the European Union is required to do so.
In underpinning the Good Friday agreement, we need to impress upon the European Union its obligations under its own treaties to ensure that the institutions that are being discussed today are enhanced and supported in every conceivable way. In the event that that level of support does not continue, we must insist on articles 8 and 21 of the Lisbon treaty.
Regulatory alignment, of course, is key to where we need to be, and it is a phase 2 piece of work. The sooner we get on to phase 2, the better. It is clear to me, a soft Brexiteer, that we need a fair level of regulatory and tariff alignment with the European Union. It is less clear to me, and less clear as every day goes by, that we have a sufficient market outwith the European Union at the moment to stop up any potential deficit we may have from leaving the European Union. I say that—the hon. Member for North Down will understand where I am coming from—with particular reference to what is happening with Boeing, which gives me little confidence in respect of the United States. That is highly pertinent to Bombardier and what is happening in north Belfast.
I am therefore led to conclude that, although I am a Brexiteer and wish to leave the European Union, we also need to have a deep and comprehensive free trade arrangement with the European Union. It is blindingly obvious that that requires regulatory alignment of some sort, and the only point of controversy is the definition of “regulatory alignment” and what it actually means. It is clear, and probably clearer this week than ever before, that regulation, tariff and technical alignment will have to be pretty comprehensive, at least for the foreseeable future. This week’s debate has perhaps served us well in reinforcing the importance of such alignment in the minds of those of us considering these matters, particularly those of us who might be characterised as soft Brexiteers.
I now conclude, except to say once again that I regret so very much that I will not be able to support the hon. Lady’s amendment this evening.
I can wholly sympathise with the hon. Lady’s new clause. I started my involvement with Northern Ireland 10 years ago. I was the shadow Secretary of State. The agreement had gone through and I made it my business to go every single week. If I missed a week, I would double up the following week. For three years, therefore, I went every week. I then became the real Secretary of State, which was a huge honour, and carried on the work of my predecessor, Shaun Woodward. Devolution of policing and justice had gone through and we carried that on. The first decision that we had to make was to publish the Saville report. On day one, I told my civil servants, “We will publish it as rapidly as possible, in as good order as possible.”
Therefore, this party wholeheartedly participated. We began that under John Major. In opposition, we supported the Labour party and we carried on with that in the coalition Government, of which I was proud to be a part. Therefore, no one should be in any doubt about the strength of our unity. The hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) and I took part in a broadcast this morning together, and there really was not much that we disagreed about, except that he would like to stay in the European Union and I am looking forward to leaving it.
In some ways, the sentiment of the hon. Lady’s new clause is absolutely held across the House. I have some sympathy with the comments of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), who said, “Why not just let it go through?” but, having consulted someone who knows considerably more about law than me, it does seem to me to be justiciable and, given the deliberate ambiguities of the text of the Belfast agreement, which we all understand the reasons for, it seems to me that subsection (5), which
“does not permit the Northern Ireland Assembly to do anything which is not in accordance with the Belfast principles.”
gives immense breadth of decision making to a judge to decide what is in accordance with the Belfast principles.
I am wholly in sympathy with what the hon. Lady has proposed and I strongly support the proposal of my right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry)—sadly, she is not in her seat; she would probably like to hear of that support. I came into the Chamber in the middle of the Minister’s comments. He was being very emollient. He should sit down with the hon. Lady and just see whether, by Report, we could not work into the text some mention of the Belfast agreement that is not justiciable.
I have often held true to the words from section 2 of the amended Ireland Act 1949, which states that
“notwithstanding that the Republic of Ireland is not part of His Majesty’s dominions, the Republic of Ireland is not a foreign country for the purposes of any law in force in any part of the United Kingdom”.
That generous and rather apt opening sentiment could, given the historical background, have been phrased so very differently. It is an idea that resonates today, not only because it provides a useful model for an amicable and considered separation of two nations, but because contained within it is the very kernel of the idea which has shaped the recent history of UK-Irish relations. It also helps to consider that the special status offered to Ireland has been acknowledged and accepted by its European Union partners. States who could use that idea to leverage a better deal for their own citizens—Poland or Lithuania, say—have understood that it is a relationship that must endure.
I think we can all agree that Monday’s events were pretty remarkable even by the standards of the recent Brexit madness. As I travelled from home to Westminster at the beginning of the week, it was already a outlandish tale. When I eventually reached Westminster and looked at my phone, it had reached unprecedented heights. Most astonishing, though, is the fact that any of this is a surprise to anyone. How did Her Majesty’s Government think that they could pull a fast one on some of the best negotiators in Europe—the Democratic Unionist party? Why was it a surprise that Ireland is no longer a country of 3 million people but part of a larger political union of 500 million to which it owed significant solidarity? How on earth did anyone think that the issue of the Irish border, so enveloped in broader issues of identity and politics that have shaped not only Irish history but the history of these entire islands, was somehow going to be straightforward?
At the beginning of this year, I, together with other Members, was fortunate to be part of a delegation arranged by CHAMP—an excellent organisation that promotes cross-border and cross-community projects—to visit the Oireachtas Éireann, where we were fortunate enough to meet not only An Taoiseach but representatives from all of the parties there. They raised issues that have resonance today. The one thing that stood out most of all for me—I am sure that the hon. Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn), who is chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Ireland and the Irish in Britain, of which I am a vice-chair, will share this feeling—was the deep knowledge, understanding and respect that all those men and women had for the United Kingdom.
These were people whose cultural references were similar to our own, and who quoted The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph or “Newsnight” when talking about current events. They were following the latest Brexit developments from these news sources, and they were telling us exactly what was going to happen: namely, that the Republic of Ireland took its obligations under the Good Friday agreement very seriously and was amazed that the United Kingdom Government seemingly—I stress “seemingly”—did not. Outside the Legatum-ist concepts of technology-driven or “frictionless” border solutions, the reality was that any sort of border was going to cause real problems. There was great sadness that the period of widening and deepening of UK-Irish relations since the Good Friday agreement could now be at an end. It gives me no pleasure to note that they were right.
I was lucky to meet the then Taoiseach in his office. He pointed to the chair where Her Majesty the Queen had sat in that lime-green dress and had charmed her hosts, and had made even the most ardent republican—I would include myself—marvel at the soft power that the monarchy confers. That visit had seen her drink tea not only with the Taoiseach but with people who had attempted to kill, and had killed, close members of her own family; people who had waged a war across the isle of Ireland and into England; people who no one would have blamed her for not wanting to break bread with—yet she did. She did it because she knew it was the right thing to do, because the image of the woman whose portrait hung resplendently in many of the schools, churches, even Orange lodges and golf clubs of Unionist Ireland taking tea with those who had wanted her dead not much more than a decade ago was more powerful than any other; because there was a shared future on these islands, based on mutual respect.
In conclusion, those who do not know the history of our joined history are doomed to repeat it. I am drawing to a close, but I shall show Members the last book I took out from the great Library of the House of Commons: Beckett’s history of modern Ireland from 1603 to 1923. It was published in the 1960s, and it seems that I am the only person to have read that copy so far. I again commend the hon. Member for North Down, and I hope that the Committee supports her and the entire community of Northern Ireland by voting with her.
6 December 2017
The Committee divided:
Question accordingly negatived.View Details
More than four hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings, the proceedings were interrupted (Programme Order, 11 September).
The Chair put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83D).
Schedule 2 agreed to.
New Clause 17
Withdrawal Agreement Payment to the European Union
“Nothing in section 12 of this Act shall be taken to permit a Minister of the Crown, government department or devolved authority to pay out of money provided by Parliament expenditure in relation to a settlement in respect of the making of a withdrawal agreement with the European Union unless a draft of the instrument authorising that payment has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of the House of Commons.”
This new clause would ensure that the financial provision made in section 12 of this Act does not allow the Government to make a payment in settlement of the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union as part of a withdrawal agreement or new Treaty unless it has been expressly approved by the House of Commons.—(Mr Leslie.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
We understand that the Government cannot, at this stage, set out a precise figure, given that we are at a sensitive stage of the negotiations. But the financial settlement needs to be assessed by the OBR and the NAO, and MPs need to have a vote. Lord Heseltine made the point well when he asked,
“what would a Conservative opposition do if a Labour party proposed to spend £30bn, £40bn or £50bn without telling Parliament what it was doing with it?”
The hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) went further and said of the bill,
“It is very difficult for the Government to continue to say post-council that we cannot...set out how it is calculated”.
He also said that he hopes that the Government
“keep its promise to be as transparent as possible”.
Well, I hope so too.
Labour believes that any agreement on money with the EU must meet our international obligations while delivering a fair deal for British taxpayers. But unless the Government are transparent at every stage of this process and Parliament is given sufficient opportunity to scrutinise the final figure, how will we know? The Government are crumbling before our eyes. The Foreign Secretary says the EU can “go whistle”, while the Prime Minister does not want to share any details on money or anything else, even with those who are supposed to be her political partners.
This evening, the Committee has the opportunity to vote for transparency and accountability—to give “taking back control” its true meaning. This Parliament needs to step up and do its job.
New clause 17 asks no more than that. It says, “Let us see the figure. Let us see the calculation. Let us be able to offer an opinion. Let us be able to offer what our constituents send us here for: a vote on whether or not we are prepared to go back to them and say, “This is the bill.” When we are presented with a bill for an unlimited amount that has been guessed to be £40 billion, or £60 billion, or however many billions of pounds sterling, or maybe euros, is it too much to ask—indeed, is it too much to expect—to be given a set figure and an explanation of what the money is for, and is this not the place in which to have a discussion about it? There could be a debate on a statutory instrument in a Committee, watched by a few and ignored by many, and—as we heard earlier from the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman)—perhaps ignored by some of the MPs who have been asked to attend it, but the place in which to discuss the issue is here, so that our constituents can see what we are saying about it and how we are defending or, indeed, opposing it.
Conservative Members have spoken of the need to respect the result of the referendum, and it has been pointed out that that was included in the manifestos of a number of the major parties. There is nothing wrong with accepting the result, because when we asked the public whether they wanted to stay or leave, we were unable to give them any figures, apart from, possibly, one painted on the side of a bus. We asked them whether their intention was to leave Europe, and they answered yes to that question. The new clause proposes that we explain to our constituents—and, I must add, to Members themselves—what the actual cost will be: not “may be”, not “can be”, not even “should be”, but “will be”. We have a responsibility to do that. The new clause simply requests that
“a draft of the instrument authorising that payment”
“laid before, and approved by a resolution of the House of Commons.”
A huge amount of the Bill draws into the Executive a sovereignty which, in my opinion, extends far beyond that which the Executive should rightfully exercise. The new clause would put parliamentary sovereignty back where it belongs, where Members of this House can vote on it. We have heard quotations about how the referendum allowed people to “take back their money” and to get a “Brexit bonus”. Much has been made of the potential, but the reality of how we leave Europe and the reality of the consequences are now starting to become apparent.