European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill

Lord Hannay of Chiswick Excerpts
Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard continued) & Committee stage & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard continued): House of Lords
Wednesday 15th January 2020

(4 years, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 16-III Third marshalled list for Committee - (15 Jan 2020)
Lord Hamilton of Epsom Portrait Lord Hamilton of Epsom
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes, and the noble Lord should be very pleased with himself that he has done much to make the idea of reforming our House a significant factor, now that there is a Conservative Government with a serious majority.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick Portrait Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, as one of those who sponsored this amendment, I will make a few brief points. Its subject matter is very familiar to Members of this House, because we went over all this ground during the Trade Bill last year. We sent to the Commons an amendment that had very similar effects to this one, only this one is in the different context of negotiating the new relationship with the EU, and it has remained there untreated ever since. However, the view of the House was expressed by a very large majority, with support from all corners of the Chamber.

This negotiation with the EU, which will go far beyond purely the trade area, must do so because, if we allow the non-trading goods areas that are at stake—I will not list them, as it is a very long list—to go over a cliff at the end of this year, when we have only a trade agreement, that would be pretty disastrous. It is a very important and wide negotiation, and it is perfectly reasonable to try to set bounds to the rules of the road in legislation about how the Government will relate to both Houses of Parliament during its course. I do not think there is anything unreasonable in this.

Moreover, as my noble friend Lord Kinnoull pointed out, drawing attention to the European Parliament’s position, which is completely different, it would be pretty anomalous if this Parliament, which is meant to be taking back power, had much less influence over this negotiation than the European Parliament. That is not a very happy situation; it was one that existed during all the negotiations of the last few years and did not turn out terribly well. I do not quite understand why the Government are fearful of subjecting themselves to this fairly reasonable amount of oversight and mandating when they have a very large majority in the other place, which will of course prevail in support of the Government’s views on how the negotiations should be conducted.

Yet they tabled the text that we now have before us when they could not be sure of that at all. That is a bit odd as well; I think I can understand perfectly well why it has happened, but it is still odd. This is not only about the European Parliament. For example, one of the major trade negotiations not covered by the Bill will be with the United States, where Congress will play a far greater role than the one that the Government envisage for this Parliament. That is also pretty unhealthy.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes, it is. I am not quite sure what point the noble Lord is making. It usually acts on a mandate although it is not clear to what extent or what detail will be provided in that mandate.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick Portrait Lord Hannay of Chiswick
- Hansard - -

If I can help the Minister, the point that my friend the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, was making is that the Minister said it was in the hands of the Commission. He has now said that it is in the hands of the Council, which is correct.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As the noble Lord is well aware, it is the role of the Commission to do the negotiating. It will report back to the Council and the Council will provide steers on how it will do that, but the detailed negotiation is a matter for the European Commission.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I did not cover that specifically. The noble Lord quoted the document—I have it in front of me—and it refers to the Commission providing early and clear information to Parliament. It is not specific on what information exactly should be provided and at what stages; its very nature is that of an interinstitutional agreement attempting to cover a whole range of different scenarios. My point is valid: the Commission controls what information is provided and when. With regard to his other point, the pledge still holds, essentially. The Government are committed—the Prime Minister said it—to provide as much information as is possible to Parliament to enable it to provide its proper scrutiny, without conflicting with the necessity to conduct a lot of these negotiations in confidence as we do not wish to prejudice our negotiating position.

I know the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, will be very keen to hear my point about the devolved Administrations. We are firmly of the view that it is the responsibility of the UK Government to negotiate on behalf of the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, we recognise the specific interests of the devolved Administrations in our negotiations with the EU and their responsibilities for implementing that legislation in devolved areas. We have been clear that the devolved Administrations should be closely involved in preparations for the negotiations, and will continue to engage with them extensively. Indeed, only last Thursday I attended the 21st meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations, where we had a constructive—as they say, full and frank—exchange of views with the Scottish and Welsh Governments and, at the time, the Northern Ireland Civil Service. Now that we have an Assembly up and running in Northern Ireland, I am sure it will want to contribute to these negotiations as well.

I chair one of the joint ministerial committees; I have been up to Scotland many times to take part in these sessions and my noble friend Lady Williams has also attended them. A number of UK Ministers go and there is regular dialogue with all the devolved Administrations, both on the negotiations and, up until now, on ongoing EU business. That will continue and we are looking at how that should develop and be taken forward when we are no longer an EU member state and we move on to the implementation phase. We are committed to ensuring that we have the best deal for all parts of the United Kingdom. The devolved Administrations are, of course, free to engage with their own respective devolved legislatures as part of this process, but the delay that would be caused by creating unnecessary powers of veto could, in our view, frustrate our ability to finish negotiations by the end of the year.

We believe that the Government have a mandate to begin the negotiations and there is no need to introduce additional hurdles or delays before those negotiations can begin. I hope the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, will therefore feel able not to press their amendments.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick Portrait Lord Hannay of Chiswick
- Hansard - -

I think the Minister referred earlier to anything that is agreed being preceded by the CRaG process to ratify or conclude it. It is hard to believe that the sort of agreement the Government seek and which, as he rightly says, they have support for seeking will not include such matters. Does he not agree that if anything that is in an agreement includes changes to the UK’s domestic law, it will require primary legislation before it can be concluded? Can he just be clear on that?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I did not hear the first part of the question, but if the noble Lord was asking me whether I agreed that some parts of the agreement may well require domestic legislation to implement, the answer is yes.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

No, I was not making that inference. I was trying to point out both consistency and inconsistency within some of the debates we have been having today, as noble Lords seem to have contradicted themselves depending on what the issue is. On the division of competences between Parliament and Government, noble Lords will have seen, and will continue to see, changes being made across the Bill. It does not undermine our policy intent and rightly ensures that Parliament is informed of our policy intentions in respect of our future arrangements. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said that we have already written to the Commission, and that is correct. It shows our intent and commitment in the coming year.

The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, spoke of Clause 37 killing Section 17. It does not; it amends it, as he went on to outline.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick Portrait Lord Hannay of Chiswick
- Hansard - -

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Could she be clearer about this correspondence with the Commission? The Minister said in the meeting we had yesterday, and again just now, that a letter went to the Commission in October, to which there has been no reply. It is perhaps not surprising, since the Commission does not have a mandate to negotiate until after we have left the European Union. Perhaps that is a perfectly innocent explanation, but surely the amendment being moved will actually strengthen the Government’s hand when they come to negotiate in March or April, by demonstrating the high priority which Parliament gives to it?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The reason we have not had a reply is probably, as the noble Lord pointed out, to do with the fact that we have a new Commissioner. I do not agree with the noble Lord’s point—this amendment ties the Government’s hands in negotiation, and we do not wish to see that. We want to articulate our commitment through the manifesto and in Clause 37.