Baroness Humphreys debates involving the Cabinet Office during the 2019 Parliament

Wed 26th Oct 2022
Mon 4th Jul 2022
Procurement Bill [HL]
Grand Committee

Committee stage & Committee stage & Committee stage & Committee stage
Thu 10th Mar 2022
Elections Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Committee stage: Part 1
Wed 23rd Feb 2022
Elections Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading & 2nd reading
Fri 12th Mar 2021
Thu 8th Oct 2020
Parliamentary Constituencies Bill
Lords Chamber

Report stage & Report stage (Hansard) & Report stage (Hansard) & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords
Tue 15th Sep 2020
Parliamentary Constituencies Bill
Grand Committee

Committee stage:Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords

Procurement Bill [HL]

Baroness Humphreys Excerpts
Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley (Con)
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My Lords, these are different subjects, and before we turn to how regulations are to be agreed, I will turn to Amendment 527. It might be helpful if colleagues, if they have a moment, look at Schedule 11. Clause 107 sets out in Schedule 11 the repeals of legislation resulting from this legislation. The third item under “Primary legislation” says:

“An Act of Parliament resulting from the Trade (Australia and New Zealand) Bill that was introduced into the House of Commons on 11 May 2022.”


My amendment relates to whether it would be appropriate for the whole of that piece of legislation to be repealed if it were amended in the other place or in this House. As it stands at the moment, the Bill implements the procurement chapters of the two agreements. They will be implemented by their being added to Schedule 9. That is absolutely fine—it is not the issue. The issue is if the Trade (Australia and New Zealand) Bill is amended. It was not amended in Committee in the other place, but there is an amendment down on Report in the other place in the name of Nick Thomas-Symonds, for the Official Opposition, which adds a clause that says:

“The Secretary of State must publish an assessment of the impact of the implementation of the procurement Chapters within twelve months of the coming into force of Regulations made under section 1 of this Act and every three years thereafter.”


It probably will not be passed, but let us say for the sake of argument that an impact assessment was passed here—or an impact assessment or report on the impact was required here in relation to the Australia and New Zealand trade agreements more generally—into the Trade (Australia and New Zealand) Act. I think either House would then expect it to happen. However, it would probably not happen because the Procurement Bill will become the Procurement Act, and when it comes into force it would repeal the Trade (Australia and New Zealand) Act and all that is in it, regardless of whether it has been amended.

The point of my Amendment 527 is to repeal the provisions of the Act resulting from the Trade (Australia and New Zealand) Bill in so far as they were included in the Bill at its introduction. Therefore, if there is an amendment, it would not be repealed by virtue of this provision. That is the question. We are at the stage of having further conversations, and I would be very happy to have further conversations with my noble friends about this matter before we get to Report.

Baroness Humphreys Portrait Baroness Humphreys (LD)
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I will speak reasonably briefly to Amendment 491 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, to which I have added my name. I thank the noble Lord for outlining the reasons for this amendment so clearly. I reiterate my thanks to the Cabinet Office and its civil servants, which I expressed earlier in Committee, for their constructive and positive engagements with Welsh officials. I know they have worked closely to ensure that Welsh policy objectives have been included in the Bill.

The issues that Amendment 491 highlights arise in Clause 99 and have been the subject of discussion between the two parties for some time. Like the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, I understand that the Welsh Minister for Finance and Local Government wrote to the Minister for Brexit Opportunities on 18 May to ask the UK Government to consider an amendment to the Bill to address her concerns. I hope that in the intervening five months, some agreement has been reached between the two parties.

As the noble Lord pointed out, this is a probing amendment designed to tease out, first, the problems that arise from the definition of Welsh contracting authorities and, secondly, the issue of ensuring that both clauses work more fairly in relation to some cross-border procurements. The definition of Welsh contracting authorities initially proposed by the UK Government was that of a “devolved Welsh authority”, as defined in the Government of Wales Act 2006. However, as the Welsh Government have pointed out, that does not accurately reflect all the contracting authorities in Wales that should be on the list of Welsh contracting authorities. Clauses 1 to 3 of the Bill now set out a broader definition of a devolved Welsh authority. However, there is still a concern that the breadth of contracting authorities that are not DWAs within the GoWA definition, but are to be treated as DWAs for the purpose of the Bill when they carry out a cross-border procurement, does not go far enough.

My real concern is about Clause 99(3)(b)(i), which provides for those contracting authorities that are to be treated as DWAs for the purpose of the Bill and bound by the Welsh rules where the authority is awarding a contract for the purpose of exercising a function wholly in relation to Wales—the point that the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, raised—but not for any other procurements, including cross-border ones. That word, “wholly”, means that the Welsh Government play no part in this. Ultimately, this means that, even if 90% of a cross-border procurement is for use in Wales, the English elements of the rules would apply. To me, that smacks a little of the lion wanting to take the lion’s share.

We on these Benches agree with the fairer and more pragmatic approach suggested by the Welsh Government: to follow Regulation 4 of the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 for mixed procurements. This would allow for cross-border contracts to be procured depending on the main geographical location of the contract; on which financial value was the highest; or on where the majority of the services, goods or works were being delivered. The Welsh Government have suggested that, where more than half of the procurements are to be delivered in Wales, the Welsh procurement rules should apply. They contend that, in the event of a 50/50 split, the English rules should apply. The insertion of the words “or mainly” following “wholly” in Clause 99(3)(b)(i) would achieve this end.

These proposals by the Welsh Government seem reasonable and fair. They would redress the balance between the two parties on cross-border procurement, and are supported by the Lib Dem Benches. I look forward to the Minister updating us on where officials are with these issues and hope that the spirit of positivity and co-operation that has characterised the negotiations on this Bill extends to the issues in Clause 99.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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Coming from Herefordshire as I do, I comment on matters Welsh with great trepidation. I commend the two previous speakers on this amendment. If the Minister could see common sense in what they have said and sort out the situation, that would leave the Welsh Government in a very comfortable place. I do not like to speak for the Welsh Government but that is my understanding of it.

Amendment 527 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, looks as if it ought to have been in the previous group. It sounded like he was describing the special case of the problem set out by my noble friend Lord Purvis; it therefore seems to me that he should be part of that future meeting. Indeed, that special case should be covered in the Minister’s letter before we have the meeting so that we can take it forward. That would be the sensible way.

Two amendments have my name on them: Amendments 529 and 531. The Minister will be glad to hear that I am not going to speak at length on either except to say that they are on a subject she has spoken to, as I noted on Monday when I welcomed her to her new role, because the Executive taking power over the legislature is something on which she has spoken many times. I have spoken about it at length during the passage of lots of other Bills because it is something we get time and again.

Procurement Bill [HL]

Baroness Humphreys Excerpts
Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab)
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My Lords, I totally agree with everything that has been said. The rubric “technical amendments” has been bandied about in these discussions. The next group of government amendments, and the one after that, are described in the email from the Whips’ Office as “technical”. This group is not described as technical. If it is not technical, my presumption is that there are substantive changes involved and that no one, least of all the Minister, has told us what they are. I cannot see how we can agree the amendments today unless we are told what the substantial changes involved are.

Baroness Humphreys Portrait Baroness Humphreys (LD)
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My Lords, I apologise for not having spoken at Second Reading. I have taken a keen interest in the Bill, particularly in the devolution aspects. I will speak to government Amendments 355, 392 and 433.

I share the concerns of my noble friend Lord Fox, who speaks for the whole Lib Dem team, and other Peers who have spoken about the manner in which the Bill has been presented to us. Like others, I am particularly concerned about the large number of new government amendments tabled last week, the vast majority of which had no Member’s explanatory statement attached to them. The confusion over the weekend, when some amendments were removed from groupings and others were duplicated, must have been as stressful for staff as it was for Members trying to prepare for today. I echo my noble friend Lord Fox’s admiration for the efforts of the Government Whips’ Office staff.

Had the Government withdrawn the Bill after Second Reading, taken some time to incorporate the 300-plus amendments into the body of Bill and presented us with an entirely new document, life would have been so much easier for us all, including the Minister. Of course, it is not the Government’s job to make life simpler or easier for us, but it is their job to help us make good legislation, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said. We have the potential to be, as we are now, in a situation fraught with difficulties, confusion and recriminations.

Having made my own personal protest about the Bill, I must commend the UK Government and the Welsh Government on the working relationship between them as they work together on issues in the Bill. We heard from the Welsh Finance Minister about the excellent working relationship and the efforts of all concerned to approach discussions in a cordial and constructive manner. I thank the Minister for that.

I understand that a number of amendments have been agreed between the two teams and that some of them are in this group, but I am slightly worried that in all the confusion with the tabling of 342—or is it 350?—new government amendments, key agreements might be missed out or overlooked. It would help us greatly to scrutinise the devolution aspects of the Bill if we could receive a list of the agreements between the two Governments and the amendments to which they refer.

I am pleased that the three amendments I am speaking to recognise the role of the Welsh Ministers. In Amendment 355 to Clause 64, “An appropriate authority” is replaced by the more specific

“A Minister of the Crown or the Welsh Ministers”,

recognising the role of Welsh Ministers in the publishing of payment compliance notices.

Amendment 392 adds new subsection (12) to Clause 70:

“A Minister of the Crown or the Welsh Ministers may by regulations amend this section for the purpose of changing the percentage thresholds.”


In Amendment 433 to Clause 80, the reference to

“A Minister of the Crown or the Welsh Ministers”

confirms the amending power of Ministers in relation to changing the number of days within which sums may be paid.

All these are very welcome, but I would have been grateful for explanatory statements to help me decipher which of the other 300-plus amendments have implications for devolution. Can the Minister confirm that all the amendments requested by the Welsh Government have been included? Are there any outstanding issues that would prevent the Senedd passing an LCM for the Bill?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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My Lords, I do not want to prolong the debate. I must say that, having spent the weekend worrying whether I was thick-headed in not understanding the concept of a covered contract, I am relieved to discover that I am by no means alone. In a different tone, we on the Liberal Democrat Benches are very grateful to the Minister for the extremely helpful briefing we had today on the digital platform. That is precisely the sort of relationship we should have as we approach a Bill such as this one.

The Minister should remember that, while the Government are having their own consultations with outside interests, we are doing the same, with rather fewer staff. We have had some very helpful conversations over the past two weeks with various outside interests and groups, and will continue to have others. But, of course, we have had no opportunity to discuss with them the implications of the latest amendments which the Government have tabled. Some 60% of the current amendments are government amendments, and a minority come from outside the Government.

We have heard so far that this Committee is in no sense convinced that Amendment 1 is necessary. We have all struggled to understand why the Government have introduced all these amendments, and some of us have struggled with various other concepts in the Bill. I am grateful to the officials who explained the concept of dynamic markets to me; I am still not entirely sure that I understand the difference between a centralised contracting authority and a contracting authority, and we have tabled an amendment on that. These things are important in getting the Bill through. It takes time and it takes sympathy between the Government and those trying to scrutinise the Bill. As the first House to do this, we are now clearly in some difficulty over where we have got to.

Elections Bill

Baroness Humphreys Excerpts
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Portrait Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, on this occasion, I have a lot of sympathy with the Minister. As I understand it, these amendments have been tabled because of the consultation that has taken place since the original drafting of the Bill. I commend the Government for the process—I will come to substance of it—and I have sympathy with him.

However, in dealing with this, the Minister has the support of an excellent team—I see the Bill Committee officials here—whereas my noble friends on the opposition Front Bench have, in comparison, a very limited group of people helping them; they are limited in number—I had better make that clear—but able in every way. That makes it difficult to deal with such a complex Bill. However, I ask the Minister to think of the problems of Back-Bench Members, who have no help whatsoever. We have a huge volume of legislation to consider at the moment, not only this Bill, which is big enough in itself, but so many others, and this does create problems for us.

I would have liked to have spent more time discussing these amendments, particularly as they relate to Scotland and Wales. I was a great advocate of devolution in Scotland—and subsequently in Wales—and strongly supported giving more power to the Scottish Parliament. I served as a Member of the Scottish Parliament for four years, so I know the kind of work that is done there. Some of it was very effective, although it is less effective now under the SNP—much less effective than it used to be in the joint Labour-Liberal Democrat Administration. I wonder if all the differences that are now demanded by the current Administration in Edinburgh are genuinely sensible or just for the sake of being different in Scotland. I sometimes think that they just want to be different for the sake of it. I would like the Minister to reassure us that this is not the case in any of these amendments, because what difference is there?

In relation to voting at elections in Scotland and England, people move quite a lot from Scotland to England, so in one year they may vote in Edinburgh and the next year they may vote in London. Therefore, some degree of consistency has an advantage. The only difference that I know of at the moment is the voting age in Scotland, which is 16 for Scottish Parliament elections, but apart from that I think that the procedures are fairly similar. Can the Minister assure us that each of these amendments—as I say, I have not had the time, opportunity and support to be able to go through them one by one—is a genuine, excepted difference? Or has the Minister had his arm twisted and, wanting to keep the SNP Administration quiet, has he just agreed to do what they suggest?

Baroness Humphreys Portrait Baroness Humphreys (LD)
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My Lords, I wish to speak to those amendments in this group which deal with the consequences of the Welsh Government’s refusal to grant legislative consent to this Bill—primarily, Amendments 1 and 2, and others. The Welsh Government’s refusal results, of course, in the removal from the Bill of all aspects which relate to devolved elections. I am pleased to welcome these amendments, but I must say that the pleasure is tempered by the sympathy that I feel for my English colleagues, who will have to contend with some aspects of this Bill which they, and I, find very difficult to accept, and which go against the principles which govern free and fair elections in the UK.

At Second Reading, I spoke against the moves to neuter or control the Electoral Commission by the introduction of a strategy and policy statement, which your Lordships’ Committee has just dealt with. I also spoke of the deep disappointment felt in the Senedd at the way in which the UK Government was prepared to overlook or ignore the role of the Llywydd’s Committee, and its role in holding the Electoral Commission to account on behalf of the Senedd itself.

The refusal of the Welsh Government to give legislative consent to this Bill has resulted in Amendment 1, which excludes the Electoral Commission’s devolved Scottish and Welsh functions from inclusion in a statement, and Amendment 2, which defines the elections to which the functions relate, thereby securing the status quo for the commission in Wales. The refusal also has the effect that, in devolved Welsh elections, there will be no need for voter ID, no new constraints on postal or proxy voting and no extension of the overseas franchise.

Elections Bill

Baroness Humphreys Excerpts
Baroness Humphreys Portrait Baroness Humphreys (LD)
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My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Moore of Etchingham, and welcome him to his place.

I shall speak on two main issues in this debate on the Elections Bill: voter ID, which many noble Lords have already spoken about, and the amendment of the role of the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission. I shall examine the impact that the Bill will have on the devolved Administrations in those areas.

The UK Government’s commitment to, and insistence on, the production of photographic identification to vote, to avoid the perceived threat of personation fraud, is surely a case of a solution desperately searching for a problem. There is no evidence of widespread personation at elections. Only 33 cases were identified in the 2019 elections out of the 58 million votes cast in all the elections that year, and in total there was only one conviction for personation and one caution. This legislation is taking the proverbial sledgehammer to crack the tiniest of peanuts. It is difficult to understand the UK Government’s motivation here, and difficult to deny the accusation that they are deliberately attempting to disenfranchise those they see as not particularly supportive of them at election time.

The Electoral Reform Society Cymru paints a vivid picture of poll clerks at future elections becoming

“bouncers at the ballot box, turning away potentially thousands of would-be voters each election.”

As the Welsh Government point out in their legislative consent memorandum, the Bill’s provisions would apply only to reserved elections in Wales. I am pleased that the Welsh Government do not support the Bill’s proposals to introduce voter ID, while recognising that the Bill does not seek to apply these proposals to devolved elections in Wales. For me, however, as a Welsh voter, it is helpful to have clarity from the Welsh Government on their thinking on these issues, and to know that in Senedd elections, Welsh referenda and local government elections, voters in Wales will continue not to need photographic ID.

There are, however, interesting times ahead in Wales if this Parliament accepts the UK Government’s proposals. Devolved elections and reserved elections happening on the same day will lead to confusion for voters, as voter ID will not be needed for one set of elections but will be needed for the other. I am sure that our election returning officers will ensure that chaos does not reign.

The proposals to amend the role of the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission are extremely worrying, and the introduction of a strategy and policy statement is criticised as being an attempt to impinge on the commission’s independence. Many of your Lordships have already commented eloquently on these changes, and I will not delay proceedings by repeating what has been said. I do, however, want to add comments on the impact of this in Wales. As the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, mentioned, since the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Act 2020, the Electoral Commission has been accountable to the Senedd by way of the Llywydd’s Committee—Wales’s equivalent of the Speaker’s Committee—in relation to devolved Welsh elections and referenda. The Act also provides for the Electoral Commission to be directly funded from the Welsh Consolidated Fund.

This Bill, however, appears to disregard the role and the status of the Llywydd’s Committee and gives limited consultation rights on the draft statement to Welsh Ministers in relation to the commission’s devolved Welsh functions. Being overlooked, or perhaps disregarded, in this way is disrespectful to the Llywydd’s Committee and diminishes its status. I believe that the Llywydd’s Committee has been in correspondence with the UK Government, stating that its view is that the Bill

“should be amended to require that the Llywydd’s Committee be consulted if the UK Government intends to issue Strategy and Policy Statements which relate to the exercise of the Electoral Commission’s devolved Welsh functions.”

This, of course, would provide parity with the UK Government’s required consultation and engagement with the Speaker’s Committee. Could the Minister update us on any discussions held between the two Governments about recognising the status of the Llywydd’s Committee?

It is the Welsh Government’s view that consent should not be provided to the Bill. As expressed in their memorandum, they wish to bring forward their own legislation for scrutiny after a period of consultation with stakeholders—a process that this UK Government should have followed in the production of the Bill.

Budget Statement

Baroness Humphreys Excerpts
Friday 12th March 2021

(3 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Humphreys Portrait Baroness Humphreys (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I add my congratulations to all noble Lords who have made their excellent maiden speeches today.

In my short contribution, I will concentrate on the impact of the Chancellor’s Budget on Wales. As a consequence of Covid measures for England, the Budget provided £735 million of revenue funding for Wales—but not a single penny more for capital spend in Wales next year, despite all that we have heard about an investment-led recovery.

With COP 26 due in Glasgow in November, I was disappointed that there was no reference to further investment in the green recovery that my party in Wales wants to see. Further investment in large-scale renewable energy projects, bringing more jobs to our communities as well as addressing the climate emergency, would have been a starting point.

This Budget confirms what the Senedd’s Minister for Finance calls the UK Government’s “aggressive approach” to replacing EU funding, resulting in the people of Wales benefitting from a fraction of the funding that we have had in previous years. This, together with the earlier revelation that the designation of HS2 as an England and Wales project has resulted in a drop in the consequential from 80.7% to 53.7%, has led to serious ramifications for future growth in the Welsh budget.

In a week when opinion polls show that, perhaps as a result of the actions of this Westminster Government, nearly 40% of the people of Wales would now favour independence, the UK Government really need to change their approach if they want the union to survive. Now is the time to consider strengthening our devolution settlement, not weakening it by stealth.

EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement

Baroness Humphreys Excerpts
Friday 8th January 2021

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Humphreys Portrait Baroness Humphreys (LD) [V]
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My Lords, with this agreement, British exceptionalism has hit reality: yes, we have a deal with the EU, but, of course, it is a deal full of checks and balances. Both parties can engage in cross-sector retaliation in case of violations of the agreement; no one gains. Crucially, no sector of our economy can claim that this deal is better than the deal we have rejected. Welsh farmers now understand that tariff-free and quota-free access to EU markets comes with border inspections, more paperwork and more cost. Our fishermen now see the reality of taking back complete control of our waters: the imposition of tariffs in 2026 if we do so. In the words of Ursula von der Leyen:

“Britain has won nothing and has lost a continent.”


However, as we come to terms with this new governance structure, it seems appropriate to reassess the governance of our union of four nations. My support for this union is based on pragmatism rather than passion—a belief that we are stronger together—but it is a union that is no longer working for too many people. It is a union that has developed over the centuries but is now in need of reform; it needs to discuss and decide how it wants to be governed in future years as it responds to the challenges of this century and Brexit.

We have already had a taste of this Government’s attitude to devolution in recent Brexit Bills and, for many of us, it has not been a pretty picture. My conclusion is that we all need to talk, but my fear is that we could already be too late. The fault lines are opening and will eventually split asunder. As di Lampedusa says in his novel The Leopard, if we want things to stay as they are, things have to change. The initiation of the process of change to an agreed, modern governance structure for the UK lies in the hands of the UK Government.

Spending Review 2020

Baroness Humphreys Excerpts
Thursday 3rd December 2020

(3 years, 6 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Baroness Humphreys Portrait Baroness Humphreys (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this debate. In this brief intervention, I want to confine my comments on the Chancellor’s spending review as it applies to Wales to the impact on our farmers.

Life for Welsh farmers is always tough and uncertain, but in 2016 a great many put their futures in the hands of the Conservative Party and voted for Brexit, believing the future painted for them by our present Prime Minister and his colleagues. They were consistently told that funding for Welsh farming would be maintained after we left the EU and that they would not receive a penny less as they moved out of the CAP system. This review has now allocated £242 million for Welsh agriculture, instead of the £337 million that the Welsh Government and farmers’ leaders had planned for: a cut of 28% in the budget and a shortfall of some £95 million. The Welsh Government believe that, when projected RDP spend and a 15% Pillar transfer are taken into account, the full loss is £137 million.

However, it is the financial pressures facing farmers that should be concerning us. Some 84% of Welsh farm income comes from basic payments; any lower payments to farmers will result in hardship. Farmers are essential to future environmental projects and are the backbone of the economy of rural communities such as mine. If these payments were meant to replicate European funding, I would be grateful if the Minister could explain why the European averaging-out approach was not used to calculate the allocation of funds. I am also seeking the Minister’s assurance that there will be no reduction in basic farm payments as a result of this Statement.

Wales: Customs Sites

Baroness Humphreys Excerpts
Wednesday 25th November 2020

(3 years, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Asked by
Baroness Humphreys Portrait Baroness Humphreys
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made in (1) finding potential, and (2) establishing new, lorry customs sites that are close to ports, in particular Holyhead, and near strategic road networks in Wales, before 31 December.

Lord Agnew of Oulton Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office and the Treasury (Lord Agnew of Oulton) (Con)
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My Lords, for January 2021, HMRC decided that Warrington and Birmingham inland border facilities will provide interim transit facilities for goods requiring inspection through Holyhead. Holyhead will also have a limited facility for ATA Carnets. Neither Birmingham nor Warrington is near capacity; they are on the strategic road network for traffic using the mainland as a land bridge. For July 2021, an enduring site has been identified, and we are moving towards completion as quickly as possible.

Baroness Humphreys Portrait Baroness Humphreys (LD) [V]
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Given that we now know that the border in the Irish Sea will be moved temporarily from Holyhead to Warrington and Birmingham, in a move described by an industry expert as a recipe for smuggling, and, given that Holyhead has been described as a “soft spot” for people trafficking, how will the movement of goods and people be monitored on the 100-mile journey to Warrington, or on the 175-mile journey to Birmingham, for their customs checks?

Lord Agnew of Oulton Portrait Lord Agnew of Oulton (Con)
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My Lords, we absolutely accept that Warrington and Birmingham will be interim solutions to the challenge of having these facilities much nearer to Holyhead, and we are working at pace to deliver that.

Parliamentary Constituencies Bill

Baroness Humphreys Excerpts
Report stage & Report stage (Hansard) & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 8th October 2020

(3 years, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Parliamentary Constituencies Act 2020 View all Parliamentary Constituencies Act 2020 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 126-R-I Marshalled list for Report - (5 Oct 2020)
Lord Wigley Portrait Lord Wigley (PC) [V]
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My Lords, I am delighted to support the noble Lord on this amendment and to introduce my own amendment, which is linked to it. The noble Lord spoke with passion on this matter in Committee and his commitment to Brecon and Radnorshire inspires us all. We all have our memories of the Brecon and Radnorshire constituency. It has been represented by three different parties over my political lifetime. I remember going to Patagonia in 1965 with Tudor Watkins, who was then the Labour Member of Parliament. I served with Caerwyn Roderick, who took over subsequently, and we had Richard Livsey, of course, who was a colleague in this Chamber of many noble Lords. We also had Jonathan Evans as a Conservative MP. All three parties—Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative—had their own roots in the Brecon and Radnorshire constituency and they all had representatives of calibre. It would be a tragedy if a constituency such as this, with its rural nature, was lost just to get the sums right over the whole of the UK.

My amendment links the constituency of Montgomeryshire into this equation. Montgomeryshire is also a rural county—a scattered rural county. I declare an interest as my father and all his forebears came from Montgomeryshire. My wife, Elinor, was born in Llanidloes and both her parents had all their roots in Montgomeryshire. It is a mellow county that does not look to the craggy wildness of Gwynedd to the north-west or to the industrial belt of Clwyd to the north-east. It is a county in its own right and should remain as such. I believe that the way to handle this issue is to define the county of Powys as having two integral seats in the House of Commons. By deciding that those two seats stand, you define to the north—the north-west and the north-east—an area that has a character of its own and can be adjusted to have the appropriate number of representatives in the rural west and in the industrial east; likewise to the south in the industrial belt running through south-west Wales.

I believe that getting Brecon and Radnorshire and Montgomeryshire right—getting the county of Powys right—in the Bill gives the opportunity for the commissioners to do justice to the rest of Wales. That is why I am delighted to support the noble Lord’s amendment and to put forward my own.

Baroness Humphreys Portrait Baroness Humphreys (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I wish to speak briefly to both amendments in this group. In Committee, I spoke to the noble Lord’s similar amendment to add Brecon and Radnorshire to the list of protected constituencies in Wales, and I would like to expand on the comments I made then. I am very familiar with both the Brecon and Radnorshire constituency and the Montgomeryshire constituency, having campaigned and canvassed in both over many years. I can perfectly understand the motives behind these amendments and the desire to protect these constituencies’ borders. Both are in beautiful, rural mid Wales and have a long history, Brecon and Radnorshire having existed since 1918 and Montgomeryshire since an incredible 1542. It is understandable that electors feel a close affinity with their constituency and that a significant community cohesion has developed over many years.

Brecon and Radnorshire and Montgomeryshire hold a special place in the hearts and minds of Liberal Democrats too, and we are proud of the way in which our MPs, Richard Livsey, Roger Williams and Jane Dodds in Brecon and Radnorshire, and Clement Davies, Emlyn Hooson and Alex Carlile in Montgomeryshire worked on behalf of their constituencies and communities over the years.

But now, of course, regrettably, all the constituencies in Wales are facing upheaval and a new reality as a result of the Government’s decisions in this Bill. However much we would like to stay within the comfort blanket of our present constituencies, we have to accept that we cannot lose eight MPs and expect constituency boundaries to remain the same. I am content with the decision that Ynys Môn will become a protected island constituency, but while that makes sense, creating another protected constituency will have an adverse impact on all the other new constituencies across Wales. We must have a fair system that is applicable to all constituencies and we must now have the confidence to allow the Welsh Boundary Commission to work within that system.

However, experience has shown that MPs who represent larger constituencies face a number of practical issues. An example is whether they should establish more than one constituency office—one in the north and one in the south of their area—so that constituents have access to them. How many staff do they need in order to run more than one office? Also, how do they deal with the media that question their expenses? The expenses of an MP in the largest constituency by area in the UK are often compared adversely with those of an MP in the smallest and most compact constituency. I hope that the Government will help to prevent this sort of unfair criticism in the future.

I finish by reiterating one other point I made in Committee. With a reduced voice from Wales in Westminster now, I hope that the Senedd will take the decision to increase the number of Members that the electorate of Wales can elect to be their voice in Cardiff. During the past few months, the Senedd has shown the people of Wales that it can use its powers effectively, and now it must give itself the tools to do so even more effectively.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall) (Lab)
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The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, has withdrawn from the debate and so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson.

Parliamentary Constituencies Bill

Baroness Humphreys Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 15th September 2020

(3 years, 9 months ago)

Grand Committee
Read Full debate Parliamentary Constituencies Act 2020 View all Parliamentary Constituencies Act 2020 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 126-III Third marshalled list for Grand Committee - (10 Sep 2020)
I should probably draw stumps there. Fay Jones and I will be asking for a meeting with the Minister and the Cabinet Office Minister, Chloe Smith, to debate these points with them. As I said, if 5% applied everywhere, it would be difficult to make a special case for Brecon and Radnorshire. However, special cases have been recognised by the Government; there is no reason why they should be confined to islands when there are other anomalous and strong cases such as that of Brecon and Radnorshire. I therefore strongly hope that this evening, preferably—but if not this evening, before Report—the Minister will be persuaded and we shall have news that Brecon and Radnorshire is to be preserved for posterity.
Baroness Humphreys Portrait Baroness Humphreys (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for tabling this amendment to add Brecon and Radnorshire to the list of protected constituencies in Wales. It is, as the noble Lord says, a beautiful constituency, with endless miles of green, lush hills and pastures, a few popular and busy market towns, and wonderful historic farmhouses. It is a constituency that I am very familiar with. I have enjoyed every occasion when I campaigned or canvassed there. I can testify to the remoteness of some of the villages and the problems of walking up to the top of hills in an effort to get a mobile phone signal. It also, of course, has the rather dubious honour, as we have heard, of being the largest constituency by area in England and Wales.

The noble Lord’s concerns are understandable, but his concerns reflect those of other constituencies too. Last week, I said how comfortable many felt with the 40 constituencies we have had in Wales since 2010. However, I recall the reactions to the outcome of the 2018 boundary review in north Wales as well. That review proposed that my home constituency of Aberconwy in the north, a reasonably compact constituency with an electorate of some 44,500, was to be replaced by a new Gwynedd constituency, covering the whole of the rural hinterland, from the tip of the Llŷn peninsula in the west almost as far as Denbigh in the east, some 70 miles across, and south as far as Tywyn in Merioneth, some 60 miles away from my home in the Conwy Valley. As is the case with Brecon and Radnorshire, there would not have been a town with a population larger than 10,000 in the constituency. The thought of attracting a candidate brave enough to take on a commitment to such a large area was quite daunting.



I hope the next review will be kinder to north Wales. Whereas the review for the 2010 elections succeeded in producing compact constituencies by linking the more populated coastal conurbations with their rural hinterlands, that option was not available to the 2018 review. The reduction in the number of proposed constituencies in Wales at that time from 40 to 29 and the requirement to create constituencies of equal size put a strain on the options open to the commission.

Key to the hope for a less severe outcome next time in north Wales is the decision to create the protected island constituency of Ynys Môn. The 2018 review had linked the island with the university city of Bangor, across the Menai Straits, in order to create the larger Ynys Môn and Bangor constituency. This had the effect of leaving the rural area of north-west Wales without a major conurbation to help reduce the area of the massive Gwynedd constituency the commission proposed.

I assume that it was this same approach that also led to the proposed formation of the Conwy and Colwyn constituency—an amalgamation of the major coastal conurbations of Llandudno and Colwyn Bay, which also robbed their rural hinterlands of areas of significant population. My hope is that the 2020 review will now be in a position to link rural areas of north Wales to their larger conurbations and create constituencies that make more sense historically, geographically and demographically, even if those new constituencies cover a much greater area than they do now.

The 2018 review also proposed increasing the size of Brecon and Radnorshire by adding part of south Montgomeryshire to it. The noble Lord is obviously seeking to avoid that proposal returning, but the review also proposed increasing the size of Ceredigion by adding parts of north Pembrokeshire and adding south Clwyd to the remaining part of Montgomeryshire, creating the mega-constituencies the noble Lord, Lord Hain, mentioned earlier. Each of these mid-Wales constituencies could make an equally valid claim to become a protected constituency, but I think that each of them realises that protection for one constituency, in these circumstances, can have a negative knock-on effect on its neighbours.

Now, with 32 or more seats to create, rather than the 29 proposed in 2018, there is some hope that the Boundary Commission for Wales will have slightly more room to manoeuvre and will have the opportunity, I hope, to deliver a better balanced outcome.

Baroness Gale Portrait Baroness Gale (Lab) [V]
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I support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Lipsey. Brecon and Radnorshire is the largest constituency in Wales and England by area, with a population of around 69,000 and an electorate of 53,000. It is a rural area with a small population, and to get the numbers up to the quota suggested would mean having a constituency that would cover an even larger area of Wales.

Brecon and Radnor at the moment is a very big constituency, stretching from Ystradgynlais in the south—which is the largest town with a population around 9,000—to Presteigne in the north. It is a round trip of around 300 miles. I know as I have done it. I spent much time driving around the constituency when I was a Labour Party organiser. I used to enjoy the scenery very much. The drive over the Brecon Beacons is probably the most scenic you can find, I would have thought. The beauty is outstanding.