Debates between Baroness Noakes and Lord Rooker during the 2019 Parliament

Wed 25th Nov 2020
United Kingdom Internal Market Bill
Lords Chamber

Report stage:Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tue 29th Sep 2020
Trade Bill
Grand Committee

Committee stage & Committee stage:Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords

United Kingdom Internal Market Bill

Debate between Baroness Noakes and Lord Rooker
Report stage & Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 25th November 2020

(3 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 View all United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 150-III(Rev) Revised third marshalled list for Report - (23 Nov 2020)
Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, I support Clause 42 and Amendment 66, but I do not support the various other amendments in this group, and in particular I wish to speak against Amendment 64, which seeks to remove the financial assistance power from the Bill.

I have been very concerned, throughout this Bill and again today, at the way in which grievances about devolution have been elevated into some kind of holy crusade which sees only evil in the UK Government. Noble Lords supporting various amendments on this theme have often alleged that the Government are playing a dangerous game with the devolution settlement and that this Bill represents a major power grab which must be resisted. I believe that the only people threatening the constitutional settlement on devolution are those who have set their face against—or at least ignored—the existence and value of our United Kingdom and our precious union.

I have also heard a lot of wishful thinking about the UK as a federation of equal states, which it is not. Many noble Lords have been pretending that “the UK Government” is synonymous with “an English Government”—which is also far from the truth. If there is a gap or weakness, it is that the UK Government and UK Ministers act mainly in the interests of the whole of the United Kingdom, and England gets left a bit to one side.

The Government have been consistent and clear that they intend to act in the interests of levelling up the whole of the United Kingdom. The actions of my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in today’s expenditure review are testament to that, and I say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, that it is a very fine blue book—a Red Book, I believe, is normally reserved for a Budget Statement.

The UK Government will always act in the interests of the whole of the United Kingdom, and it is disingenuous of noble Lords to paint a picture of a domineering Government trying to strip powers away from the devolved nations. No powers at all are going to be taken from the devolved nations. Devolved Administrations still have the same powers to spend their money as at present.

Clause 42 creates the power to grant financial assistance across the UK so that it is put beyond doubt that the UK can replicate the sorts of financial flows that existed when the EU took money from the UK and graciously gave a bit of it back to us to use in the way it decided. In future the UK Government will make those decisions about how UK money is directed, rather than Brussels. The guiding light will be the needs of the UK as a whole, although I am sure my noble friend the Minister will confirm that there will be extensive discussions with and the involvement of the devolved Administrations.

Clause 42 talks about financial assistance but let us be clear: this is simply public expenditure. Public expenditure is sourced within the overall fiscal policies of the United Kingdom as set by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It will be financed by UK taxation or UK borrowing, both of which are carried out by Her Majesty’s Treasury as part of its UK-wide economic policies. These are not matters for the devolved Administrations, however much they might wish otherwise.

Noble Lords really should be careful what they wish for. If Clause 42 is removed from the Bill, noble Lords will remove the mechanism the Government have chosen to funnel public money into their agenda to level up the whole of the UK. How do noble Lords think that the devolved Administrations will get the kinds of money that used to flow via the EU without Clause 42?

Of course, the Government have powers, in general terms, under the appropriation Act to decide upon and distribute public expenditure, but it is a well-known rule and general practice to take a specific legal authority for major expenditure that will be made on a recurrent basis. So the result of taking Clause 42 out of the Bill may well be that the large sums that the devolved nations expected to receive will disappear. Is that really what the noble Lords promoting Amendment 64 want to achieve?

Lord Rooker Portrait Lord Rooker (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I again partly apologise to noble Lords because I intended to speak on later amendments and to support the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, on Amendment 69. I will settle for Amendment 64.

I take exception to the definition of the Long Title from the noble Lord, Lord Naseby. Whichever way we read it, it is about devolved matters in the United Kingdom. We have only to look at the definition of infrastructure in Clause 42 to see that it absolutely covers devolved matters. His was a bit of a cheap shot at the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, to try to imply that this was inconsistent with the Long Title.

My other beef is one I have had in the past regarding Wales and the Barnett formula. I have never understood why the people of Wales, including the politicians, have never risen up. Some years ago I was a member of the Select Committee that looked at the Barnett formula. It was abundantly clear that Wales had been cheated for years. If the Barnett formula was based on need, rather than population, Wales would be on about a third more than it is now. We told leading MPs about this, but I have never noticed any great kickback. Wales has been short-changed under Barnett for years. There is no easy answer to that.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, was absolutely bang on in delivering the information from box 3.1 out of the Red Book at the beginning of the debate. I thought his eight questions were incredibly telling. I would use the term “pork barrel”, because that is what it is about. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, whose Statement I heard earlier, made it quite clear that the spending of this money relied on the consent of the constituency Member of Parliament, although I understand that the Treasury might have disowned this since. I tweeted, saying that it is incredibly dangerous for constituency Members of Parliament to be involved in executive functions. Local councils are always involved in executive functions; Members of the House of Commons are not. It is incredibly dangerous territory for them to get involved in, particularly in view of incidents that arose in the past.

I understand that the Treasury might have backpedalled a little on that, but it shows the thought process of those who constructed the Statement today, which is intricately involved with the Bill: destroy devolution, open up the pork barrel and give money to your friends based on the constituency MP. That cannot be a good form of governance. It cuts across devolution massively, whichever way anyone defines it. I have said before that my experiences have been at Defra and MAFF before devolution, then at the Food Standards Agency, which was a four-nation, non-ministerial department at the time. Whitehall has never really done devolution and never really understood what was happening. It has taken a while even for the House of Commons to become clear about the quite distinct advantages of devolution. It all went wrong, of course, when the proportional electoral system gave a majority Government. That is not supposed to happen, but neither, on the other hand, is first past the post designed to give coalitions, which is what we had in 2010. You cannot base the future construct of the constitution on such whims.

Governments come and go and will not be there for ever, but I very much agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, said: with devolution now under acute and very massive threat, there is no question but that this will push the independence movements of Wales and Scotland wider and further, particularly in Scotland, where it is stronger. I cannot see a solution to it. I think that we are heading headlong towards the break-up of the union. I will fight like hell to stop that and a lot of people will. The problem is, keeping the fight in words and debate. We are heading for the destruction of our country, without any policy announcement, a clear vote or a manifesto commitment. It is being done by subterfuge and backhanders.

In my view this is the direct effect of the Bill, particularly these attacks on devolution. Amendment 69 covers the same for Clause 44; they are two sides of the same coin. I was going to speak about Amendment 65, but I will leave that to my noble friend. This fundamental attack on devolution, with the push to break up the United Kingdom, is a much more serious affair than has been recognised by your Lordships’ House, where it has been recognised more than in the House of Commons. We need to send a signal to the elected House that our country, our constitution and the make-up of the union are under direct threat as a result of the Bill.

Trade Bill

Debate between Baroness Noakes and Lord Rooker
Committee stage & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 29th September 2020

(3 years, 8 months ago)

Grand Committee
Read Full debate Trade Bill 2019-21 View all Trade Bill 2019-21 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 128-II(Rev) Revised second marshalled list for Grand Committee - (29 Sep 2020)
Lord Rooker Portrait Lord Rooker (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I agree entirely with the speech of my noble friend Lord Hain. We have moved a long way from when public contracts and the wages thereof were governed by the 1946 House of Commons fair wages resolution. We do not want to go back to those days, but we will if we are not careful.

Before making my main point, I want to reinforce the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, in her question about small traders. I agree with the sentiment behind her questions to the Minister, but in relation to schools, hospitals and prisons, there is an real ongoing problem: it is not possible to create a situation where someone can bid—or feel that they have a chance of bidding—for a particular prison or school, or for a group of prisons or schools, simply because we have devolved the administration and awarding of contracts to the lowest possible level; there is no central control. Small firms will miss out unless something is put into the process that allows them to benefit. On the other hand, I do not want to leave the EU, so I do not want small firms to benefit either way; there is a better way of reorganising the EU.

The only reason I asked to speak on this group is Amendment 100. It is another example of how this Government are constantly trying to make sure that this House does not get a voice. The Bill talks about scrutiny as a resolution of either House of Parliament. That is not good enough. The amendment would correct it: it should be each House of Parliament. The contempt shown by Ministers for the parliamentary scrutiny process is abysmal and on a massive scale, and it has to be pulled back constantly. The House of Commons will try to make that provision tomorrow, and we have to do it in this Bill. I therefore offer 100% support for Amendment 100.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, listening to noble Lords who have contributed so far, it seems to me that they are losing sight of the fact that Clause 1 is really about enabling the UK to take advantage of the GPA, and they seem to be trying to make that much more difficult. Several noble Lords talked about a reduction in standards, and a race to the bottom was mentioned twice. Government policy is not to race to the bottom; it is not to diminish standards. We constantly hear that noble Lords in other parts of the House do not trust the Government. The noble Lord, Lord Fox, said that we need amendments to allay his suspicions. I have to say to him that we do not legislate just to allay the suspicions of Liberal Democrat Peers; we legislate for effective legislation.

Many of the amendments are just telling the Government how and when they have to go and negotiate on certain things. If they were passed, they would be quite burdensome on the Government, who have quite a lot to do to try to get us ready for a post-EU trading world for the benefit of the UK. Nothing really happens if there is no outcome from most of the amendments, which seems to me a flaw in them.

I listened carefully to what the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, said about SMEs. There is an issue about SMEs having access to public procurement opportunities in the UK, as well as the rest of the world, which is what we are talking about getting access to through the GPA. The answer is not to go and negotiate with other signatories to the GPA. The issue of SMEs not having the access that they think they could have would be better dealt with by more specific and targeted government action to remove any barriers to SMEs taking part in government procurement, wherever they are. I hope that my noble friend can say something about what can be done to enable those SMEs which wish to take part in government procurement—not all do, especially not international government procurement —to do so.