Amendment to the Motion

Northern Ireland - Motion for an Humble Address – in the House of Lords am 6:00 pm ar 27 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Baroness Hoey:

Moved by Baroness Hoey

At end insert, “; but regrets that, in a manner inconsistent with Strand One (5)(d) of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and section 42 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, cross-community consent remains disapplied for the Article 18 procedure, as it relates to Articles 5 to 10 of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, and further regrets that the continuing effect of the Protocol is to over-ride and suspend the provisions of Article 6 of the Acts of Union 1800.”

Photo of Baroness Hoey Baroness Hoey Non-affiliated

My Lords, I move this amendment to insert what I see as some honesty into the humble Address and to make clear what the legal and political reality is, because it is quite different from the words in the Government’s humble Address.

I accept that this humble Address, solemn as it is, has no legal status; we are neither changing nor making legislation. It does not alter one word of the protocol or its effect on the Belfast agreement. However, if we are sending this from your Lordships’ House to His Majesty King Charles, it is important that we get it right and make it honest. I am trying not to be too legalistic, but I want to refer to legal judgments and specific provisions because it is important to have on record for the future some material that confounds many of the claims made by the Government and, sadly, by the DUP leadership. This may well be the last time we have an opportunity to put all the arguments on the record.

Almost exactly a year ago, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said in the other place that the Supreme Court had issued a judgment, and that the protocol has subjugated Article 6 of the Act of Union. He continued that it also changes a key part of the Good Friday agreement,

“which is the need for cross-community consent on matters of import to the people of Northern Ireland … These are the things that need to be addressed in UK law to restore our place within the United Kingdom”.—[Official Report, Commons, 8/2/23; col. 892.]

This humble Address pledges fidelity to the Belfast agreement and to the foundational importance of the Acts of Union. The two issues that Sir Jeffrey said had to be addressed—his words, not mine or anyone else’s—were the disapplying of cross-community consent in a manner inconsistent with the Belfast agreement and undoing the subjugation of the Acts of Union. That is what he said was necessary to restore Northern Ireland’s place in the union. Yet cross-community consent remains disapplied and Article 6 of the Acts of Union remains suspended. Noble Lords are asked to support a humble Address which does not say that. Instead, we are urged to play along and say that the Belfast agreement has not been changed and the Acts of Union are not still vandalised.

I listened last night to the debate in the other place. Sadly, I again heard the leader of the DUP attacking the very people he stood with over years of campaigning and protest—the people he now says talk nonsense, who do not know facts or history and have not read the Acts of Union. This latest attack on other pro-union people who, incidentally, he refuses to debate with in public, is based on a claim that such persons urged restoring the Acts of Union. It seems that now, perhaps after spending some time with the Northern Ireland Office—too much time—anyone who thinks that are fools. Whoever would suggest such a ridiculous thing as restoring the Acts of Union, our foundational constitutional statute?

The problem for Sir Jeffrey is that on 21 July 2021, he said in Parliament:

“what does the Prime Minister intend to do to fully restore the Act of Union for Northern Ireland and remove the Irish sea border?”—[Official Report, Commons, 21/7/21; col. 971.]

As I said earlier, he stood before on platforms all over Northern Ireland with myself, Jim Allister, Ben Habib, Jamie Bryson and many others campaigning in pursuit of that objective. Furthermore, he actually wrote a foreword to Jamie Bryson’s book on the Acts of Union, commending it to fellow unionists.

Being blunt, the only person who seems to have U-turned on all this is the leader of the DUP. His outburst on the Acts of Union is, I believe, about covering his U-turn. He is making efforts to create a puff of smoke around the Acts of Union to conceal the reality that, far from undoing the constitutional damage to that foundational legislation, he now accepts and implements it and thinks that, by talking nonsense about tariffs in 1801, everyone will be confused.

In October 2022, the DUP leader also said:

“Some lay great emphasis on cutting the number of checks on goods” moving from GB to Northern Ireland. He continued:

“If that were to happen they say all our problems would be sorted … The truth of course is that the checks on the Irish Sea border are the symptom of the underlying problem, namely that NI is subject to a different set of laws imposed on us”.

That is very different from the Sir Jeffrey Donaldson in 2024. I hope that he will reflect on his comments. There is nothing wrong with changing one’s opinion; there is nothing wrong with people changing their views. I respect people who do that if they say it with intellectual honesty rather than lashing out at those who have not changed and have remained true to their principles. He clearly wanted to get the Assembly back, and that is fair enough, but you do that by being honest and straightforward with people, not trying to do a deal with the Government to produce words that are meaningless.

Of all the deceptions in the humble Address, those concerning the Acts of Union and the Belfast agreement are probably the most insulting. It pledges support for the Belfast agreement “in all its parts”, meanwhile omitting that the core cross-community consent safeguard found at Strand One 5(d) of the Belfast agreement and given effect in Section 42 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 remains disapplied for the Article 18 protocol vote later this year. What is really meant by the words about upholding the Belfast agreement in all its parts is the Belfast agreement as constitutionally vandalised by the protocol and framework.

The previous government claim was that the cross-community consent mechanism applied only to devolved issues. That was the Government’s defence, but it is wrong on many levels, and I want to put why on record. Most fundamentally, if the cross-community consent mechanism was never applicable and we are all so misguided, why did the Government pass regulations to disapply that which never applied anyway?

Another part of what seems to many people to be duplicity is that the cross-community mechanism applies to a matter to be voted on by the Assembly. There is no limitation as to only matters which are devolved or within legislative competence. That is obvious from paragraph 107 of the Supreme Court judgment in the challenge to the protocol that I and others were involved with. The Belfast agreement is not upheld at all; it has been made subject to the protocol—in this instance Article 18—and gives way to it.

We have come full circle. We were told that the protocol was about protecting the Belfast agreement in all its parts, but now we are celebrating an altered Belfast agreement, with safeguards disapplied to the detriment of unionists in order to protect the protocol. It is shameful, and what was so disappointing to me was that neither the deputy leader nor the leader of the DUP in the other place highlighted this most obvious deficiency. That is of profound concern.

I turn to the next bold claim in the humble Address, which is

“the foundational importance of the Acts of Union”.

I believe that the Command Paper, and the way the DUP leadership presented its endorsement of it, is an exercise in deception on the Acts of Union. No other word describes it. It said a lot, much of it inaccurate, about the Acts of Union but then tried to convince everyone that black is white. It said that we must believe that the Supreme Court did not say what it said, close our eyes and pretend that the Acts of Union are not subjugated and in suspension. We must delude ourselves that we are all confused and there is no conflict between the protocol framework and the Acts of Union, and that if there is then we should embrace it because if we do not—most bizarrely of all—tariffs might be brought back on Bushmills whiskey.

I do not like the word “subjugation”, but it is not my word. It was first used not by unionists or loyalists but by this Government in their written and oral submissions to the Court of Appeal, in which they said that the Acts of Union were subjugated. This argument was accepted and repeated in the judgment of the Court of Appeal and upheld by the Supreme Court. People sometimes get annoyed when I refer to subjugation of the Acts of Union, but I am using the Government’s words, or at least their words prior to their U-turn. We are now supposed to believe that the interpretation that the courts and all of unionism applied to Article VI of the Acts of Union was wrong and instead embrace the new inventive interpretation which amounts to nothing more than meekly accepting the fundamental change to our constitutional status, while pretending otherwise.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson now puts his case—in a way much different from what he said on platforms prior to partnering with the Northern Ireland Office to sell his deal—on the basis that we cannot restore the Acts of Union because that would mean putting them back to 1801 and, as I said, there would therefore be tariffs on, for example, Bushmills whiskey. This sounds good symbolically and gets a good headline, but in substance it means that, because the Acts of Union have changed before since 1801, there is no issue. If you make this case, you must be willing to embrace the changes to the Acts of Union made by the protocol. Why else would previous changes add anything to your argument? When Sir Jeffrey talks about 1801, he is deflecting from the central point. The constitutional damage we have all campaigned on was inflicted by the protocol, and that is the cause of the suspension of Article VI. The fundamental issue is whether that has been undone.

Let me put it simply, as this question must be responded to. Quoting the court, Sir Jeffrey talked about the subjugation of Article VI of the Acts of Union, which he said must be addressed to restore Northern Ireland’s place in the union. That has not been addressed. As it obviously has not, how can anyone claim, using his test as a measuring stick, that his deal restores Northern Ireland’s place in the union? That has not been answered by Sir Jeffrey or the Minister. Amid all this spin, there is a very simple question: as a matter of legal reality, the Acts of Union remain subjugated and in suspension—in the court’s words, not mine—so are the Government now willing to accept that as a legitimate change to the Acts of Union?

What we mean by restoring the Acts of Union is very simple. It means undoing the damage inflicted by the protocol. This has been turned around into a bizarre argument about tariffs on whiskey which is designed to confuse everyone. The reality is that, in 1801, there were no more tariffs or duties to be added to a specified agreed list unless they were equalised. These are known as countervailing duties. In simple terms, Schedule 1 to Article VI of the Acts of Union exhaustively specified certain items that would continue to be subject to tariffs and duties. This was an agreement between what was then Ireland and Great Britain; it was not imposed or agreed with a foreign power.

More fundamentally, it was designed to be transitional. As such, under the Statute Law Revision (Ireland) Act 1879, Schedule 1 was repealed. There have been no tariffs since. Contrary to the attempts to confuse and mislead people, doing exactly what Sir Jeffrey called for—repairing the damage done to Article VI by the protocol—would not, as if by magic, cause to spring back to life Schedule 1 and its list of tariffs abolished in 1879. It is silly and beneath such an experienced and eminent political leader, as well as others, to say such utter nonsense designed to create confusion because he will say nothing on the substance of the point around the Acts of Union.

The Acts of Union, prior to the protocol, remained in force. In the words of Lord Justice McCloskey, the intent of Article VI from 1801 was “unmistakable”. Yet now, listening to some senior members of the DUP and Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office, we are all supposed to believe that everyone has just fallen into one big misinterpretation, including our courts. The notion that, if the subjugation of the Acts of Union were lifted and the damage of the protocol undone, somehow Schedule 1, which was repealed in 1879, would come back to life and there would be tariffs on Bushmills whiskey—which would really upset the honourable Member for North Antrim—is complete and utter nonsense.

I will also address the claim in the Command Paper that the Supreme Court did not address the inconsistency between the Acts of Union and the protocol, as Ministers have said time and again. Yes, it did. It expressly proceeded on the basis that there was an inconsistency, as upheld by the High Court and Court of Appeal before it, the highest courts in Northern Ireland. This is set out clearly in paragraphs 54 and 64 of the Supreme Court judgment. It confounds emphatically the claims of the Government. The most remarkable thing is that the Government accepted there was such an inconsistency and did not cross-appeal to the Supreme Court. Now they are trying to tell us something different. The inconsistency was held by the courts to be: first, the continued application of EU law; secondly, the ongoing fetters on trade; and, thirdly, Northern Ireland having privileged access to the EU single market, the price of which was our exclusion from being a full part of the United Kingdom internal market.

The noble Lord, Lord Bew, who is in his place, has said repeatedly in this House that the Acts of Union have been changed before. That is quite true, but the basis of his argument, as with Sir Jeffrey’s new position, must be that, because they were changed before, the present change should not offend unionists. Sometimes he seems to be urging us to embrace it. If he wants to deploy that argument, he should be honest about what it means: accepting the constitutional damage to the Acts of Union inflicted by the protocol. It means accepting that change on the basis that the Acts of Union have changed before. That is what some, including the noble Lord, have said. We should be honest about that.

It has also been said that EU law was never one of the DUP’s seven tests. Members of the DUP answered that pretty strongly in our last debate. An MLA called David Brooks set out last week in the Belfast News Letter that it was never a DUP test. That is really odd, because the leader of the DUP said in October 2022 that the core issue was EU law, and he said it again in February 2023 in an interview with Tracey Magee of UTV. The very first of the DUP’s tests was directed to the Acts of Union. You cannot restore the Acts of Union without removing EU law, because EU law is the most fundamental breach of them. It is very simple. A mention of restoring the Acts of Union cannot be anything other than a commitment to end EU law; otherwise, achieving such restoration would be impossible.

Practically everything I have said has been lifted more or less directly from the court judgment, which I hope many noble Lords will read, because it is clear that they are inconsistent with the Acts of Union.

If there are those who are willing to forsake the fundamental principles of the Acts of Union—as determined not by me but by the courts—in favour of the arrangements giving effect to the protocol, they need to be clear about what that means. What is happening here is something quite different, aided and abetted by the Northern Ireland Office: to evade the political costs for accepting the recasting of Article 6 of the Acts of Union by pretending—yes, pretending—that it is not happening at all.

This is important, and I have gone on about it —although I have not gone on as long as Sir Jeffrey did yesterday—because I want to get it on the parliamentary record that I and others here have not engaged in this con trick, for that is what it is. That is why I have said what I have said today and why I tabled the amendment to draw out this debate. In the weeks and months ahead, we will see all the glitter fall away. Unionist people and people in this House and elsewhere in Parliament will see what has been tricked, pulled and put out to deceive people. No matter how hard those who have participated in this and have gone along with it may wish it not to be so, there will be a political cost to pay, because they have been warned.

All this, as well as being in the courts, was also agreed to by the independent lawyer, the former Attorney-General John Larkin, in his published legal advice. There has not been one single piece of legal advice produced, by the Government or the DUP leadership, to support the increasingly bold claims that they have made—I wonder why not.

I will conclude. The Acts of Union remain suspended. The cross-community consent mechanism central to the Belfast agreement remains disapplied. The Irish Sea border remains. The green lane, for which you are required to provide information for customs purposes to obtain authorisation to trade a little more freely in your own country, remains. The red lane, which operates on the basis of an at-risk category over which the EU has a veto, and which catches a significant amount of material and goods that go nowhere near the EU, remains. EU law continues; it is law that we did not make and cannot change. The protocol, in all its core aspects, remains in full force and continues to reign supreme. The only thing that has changed over the last year are the views of the DUP leadership, who now seem to accept all those facts and have returned to Stormont to implement them. If we are going to address His Majesty the King, we should tell him the truth. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Dodds of Duncairn Lord Dodds of Duncairn DUP 6:22, 27 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I begin by joining the Minister in paying tribute to the late Lord Cormack. I had the pleasure of serving with Patrick Cormack in the other place for many years. Indeed, from 2005 to 2010, he was chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee; in that capacity, he contributed much to Northern Ireland debates. I sat on the same Bench as him, across the aisle, and we shared many conversations. He had a deep and abiding interest in Northern Ireland and its people, and we will miss his contributions on Northern Ireland. I did not always agree with him, as I am sure that other Members did not, but he always put his case eloquently, passionately and sincerely. We send our condolences to his family at this very sad time.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, for moving the amendment standing in her name. Certainly, if she pushes it to a vote, I will be voting with her in the Lobby, since it is merely factual and adds the reality of the situation to the humble Address. I share the view that it is important that this Parliament sets out the full facts, as we now have them, with the Windsor Framework/protocol in place. I think that this is the seventh humble Address to be moved in this Parliament, apart from humble Addresses after a Queen’s or King’ Speech, and I had the pleasure of moving one of them in this House in March 2023. My humble Address would have had the effect of annulling the building of the border control posts and of doing something practical to remove the Irish Sea border. I regret that this humble Address does not do that.

I want to begin by celebrating the union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Today, that union is strong and endures. Those who want to abolish Northern Ireland are failing—and that is how the campaign, sometimes styled for Irish unification, should be characterised. It is about the abolition of Northern Ireland and the removal of part of the United Kingdom; it is a negative campaign. The people who advocate it wish to eliminate and tear away the citizenship of the majority of the residents of Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom.

On the other hand, the case for the union is positive and enduring, and that is even more so today in a changing, uncertain and dangerous world. We are part of the sixth-biggest economy in the world, part of a kingdom still with vast influence, through both hard and soft power, and part of a country that stands four-square behind the cause of freedom and democracy across the world, as we have seen in Ukraine and other places, and has the ability to do things about it. This country still matters in the affairs of the world, so we want to remain part of that United Kingdom. This is not just about trade matters or the economy; it is a matter of our birthright, citizenship and identity.

It is because we value the union so much that I come to today’s debate with such a sense of concern. The humble Address before your Lordships’ House is part of the reassurance package, if we can call it that, promised by the Government to unionists in the deal—Command Paper 1021, where it is set out that this would be the mechanism used to provide reassurance. But the reality is that Command Paper 1021 retains the Windsor Framework/protocol with all its inherent anti-unionist contents. This is where words collide with reality, and where propaganda collides with the facts.

There is nothing in this humble Address that changes anything in relation to Northern Ireland or that undoes the damage done to our constitutional position as part of the United Kingdom by the protocol. We saw the same last week when we debated the statutory instruments—the legislation promised in the deal. Not one of the six or seven provisions in the regulations debated last week alters the superstructure of the Windsor Framework/protocol. It of course affects the smoother operation of the Irish Sea border and the application of EU jurisdiction over a large part of our economy in Northern Ireland, but it does not go any further than that.

It is ironic that it is claimed that joint authority is not provided for in the Belfast agreement, according to the contents of the humble Address, and yet the Government have abdicated their own authority and responsibilities and granted full authority to the EU to make laws over significant parts of the economy of Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom. It is ironic in the extreme to acknowledge

“the foundational importance of the Acts of Union”, while doing absolutely nothing to repair the modification or suspension—or, as we have heard, “subjugation”; that is the word used by the court—of those Acts of Union as set out in the judgments of the Court of Appeal and, subsequently, the Supreme Court. It is astounding that we are supposedly reaffirming the importance of upholding the Belfast agreement in all its strands, while at the same time undermining the cross-community consent requirements on which the Assembly and the institutions were set up—I have referred to that consistently: the Article 18 vote which comes at the end of this year on the applicability of the protocol; I will come on to that in more detail shortly.

Looking at the main elements of the proposed Address, it states first that

“joint authority is not provided for in the Belfast … Agreement”.

Of course, that is nothing new; that has always been the case. I welcome the fact that the Government stress the importance of maintaining the three-stranded approach to the affairs of Northern Ireland, because very often in recent years they have not respected it. One remembers a former office-bearer in the Northern Ireland Office, the Secretary of State as he then was in 2020, who was very keen to involve Simon Coveney, the then Irish Foreign Minister, on virtually every announcement that was made, including those internal to Northern Ireland. However, given that, in March last year, the Government had the audacity to argue that the Windsor Framework removed any sense of an Irish Sea border and actually protected our constitutional position, it is clear that the words in front of us must be subject to great scrutiny. The Government have in reality accepted a form of joint authority. How have they done that? By actively legislating for the EU to have the power to make law in some 300 areas in Northern Ireland.

I have here that legislation—sometimes we just talk about these things, but every page in my hand contains law after law from the European Union that applies directly to Northern Ireland. There are hundreds upon hundreds of EU laws, and not one of them is subject to any democratic input from anyone elected in Northern Ireland. Legislators in the Irish Republic have had, and enjoy, greater power than anyone in Northern Ireland in respect of those laws. So when we talk about joint authority, let us recognise the reality of the situation that faces Northern Ireland today. In this area covered by the protocol, colonial status is exactly what we have as far as those laws are applicable. We will hear arguments about the Stormont brake and how the pipeline of EU law has been stymied. However, I challenge the Minister or anyone else in this House to show me anywhere in law where the Stormont brake applies to any single one of those laws in Annex 2 of the protocol, because it does not. That is a matter of fact and a matter of law.

Then we come on to the part of the Address about

“acknowledging the foundational importance of the Acts of Union … including the economic provisions under Article 6 of those Acts”.

There has been a lot of distraction, misrepresentation and revision of history in relation to arguments around the Acts of Union, particularly by the Government and others. We should revert to the only opinion that matters, stripping away all the technicalities and arguments. The only opinion that matters is that of the Supreme Court, not of some commentor or lawyer, however distinguished, or politician or government spokesman. This is a Supreme Court case, let it be remembered, that was brought by the leaders of unionism in Northern Ireland, including the then leader of the DUP. That fact, and the fact that the Supreme Court saw fit to hand down a judgment in the case, demonstrates that this is not academic or esoteric but a real and significant issue.

The Supreme Court said at paragraph 65 of its judgment that

“article VI is modified to the extent and for the period during which the Protocol applies”.

In paragraph 67 it talks about Article VI being subjugated. Again, these are not our words, but the words used by the Supreme Court. We need to contrast those words with the words in the humble Address, which do not bear comparison to the reality of what was outlined by the Supreme Court. If the Government were serious, they would seek to undo the constitutional damage. But there is nothing in the legislation last week, or here today in the humble Address, which does that.

Then we come to

“the importance of upholding the Belfast … Agreement … in all its strands”.

As we have heard already, the Belfast agreement—as amended by the St Andrews agreement and amended after sufficient consensus of support from both the unionist and nationalist sides—has, of course, been upended by the protocol/Windsor Framework. The most pertinent example is the one outlined in the amendment before us: the continuing application vote in the Assembly later this year, which is to be carried out by a simple majority vote. That is the only major vote in the Northern Ireland Assembly subject to a majority vote; every other major decision taken by the Northern Ireland Assembly is either a cross-community vote or susceptible to being turned into one through a petition of concern.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, outlined, this was voted on in a debate in December 2020, in Committee, which both she and I attended. That Committee was attended by two of the most prominent architects of the Belfast agreement, the noble Lord, Lord Empey, and the late Lord Trimble, who both railed against it as a severe breach of the Belfast agreement which they had negotiated. Yet the Government proceeded in a clear and flagrant breach of the principles which are supposed to underpin power-sharing in Northern Ireland. Many who supposedly champion the Belfast agreement are content, it seems, to turn a blind eye to—or worse, actively connive in—the disapplication of cross-community safeguards when it suits them. This cannot stand. This is not right.

The removal of cross-community voting is not only fundamentally wrong in this case but creates a very dangerous precedent for unionists. For almost 100 years, we have been told that majority rule was unacceptable in Northern Ireland, and for the last 50 years it has been beyond the pale as far as government structures in Northern Ireland are concerned. But if it is acceptable to permit a reversion to majority rule on something as fundamental as the protocol, with all its economic and constitutional implications, then it is very hard to argue that the same majority voting rule should not apply to other areas of operation within the remit of the Northern Ireland Assembly. That is the danger here. We have already heard the siren calls and we will hear more. I am afraid the argument against it has been gravely weakened by those unionists who accept the provisions in relation to the Article 18 vote later this year.

What is going on at present is a full-blown effort by the Government to paint a one-sided picture of real events as far as the Windsor Framework is concerned. There is an all-out PR operation to put the most favourable gloss on the operation of its provisions. It is seen, for example, in the refusal to answer Parliamentary Questions in a proper way. The Government appear embarrassed to set out unpalatable truths, so they are economical with the reality and hope people will not notice.

Of course, we remember a time when Ministers in this place and in the other place came to the Dispatch Box to advocate and argue for a radically different approach, which would have removed foreign laws. They enthusiastically backed that approach. Now, they equally enthusiastically back a position which surrenders sovereignty over parts of the Northern Ireland economy and way of life, and creates customs borders within the United Kingdom, where Northern Ireland is subject to the EU customs code and in the EU single market for goods and agri-food products. A necessary consequence is that there is an Irish Sea border, so that goods are not in free circulation between Great Britain and Northern Ireland still. As a result of Article 8 of the protocol, we are under EU VAT rules and, under Article 10, subject to EU state aid rules for the entire economy.

Yesterday in the other place, when the Minister was challenged in relation to VAT, he said that it was time to move on. Ministers do not want the details to be exposed but they need to be continually raised, highlighted and challenged. Unless they are called out consistently as being unacceptable, it will all become more and more embedded. If we settle for and champion the current position then there is little hope of getting the change we need in the future.

We demand equal citizenship in Northern Ireland. We do not demand it in some arrogant way. We demand it as our right as subjects of His Majesty the King, and we demand that those rights should be restored as quickly as possible. We have been uniquely disfranchised and we need to ensure that those wrongs are put right as soon as possible.

Photo of Lord Lilley Lord Lilley Ceidwadwyr 6:40, 27 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Dodds. I endorse his celebration of the union from this side of the Irish Sea; it is as important to us that Northern Ireland be part of the United Kingdom as it is to people in Northern Ireland to share that common membership of the union with the other component parts.

I also echo the noble Lord’s tribute to Lord Cormack. Unlikely though it may seem, I owe a great debt to Lord Cormack, who chaired my leadership campaign when I stood for the leadership of the Conservative Party in 1997. Although we differed on some issues, as is often the case we shared far more in common than meets the eye. He was a great parliamentarian, a great unionist, a great Conservative and a great Christian, and may he rest in peace.

I welcome the terms of this humble Address, and I hope that the reductions in border checks are as substantial as is claimed in the government document Safeguarding the Union. If they are, I congratulate the DUP on having secured those improvements. However, it raises a few questions. We were told that the Windsor Framework would make trading between Birmingham and Belfast just like trading between Edmonton and Edinburgh. Paragraph 108 of Safeguarding the Union says that 4 million more movements will now be covered by UK food safety laws, not EU laws, resulting in the

“scrapping of costly veterinary certificates and checks”.

Therefore, either the Windsor settlement was oversold or these new arrangements are being oversold. If the former, the DUP’s decision to withdraw from Stormont achieved more than the UK Government were able to achieve at the time of the Windsor settlement. Clearly, these changes are of benefit to the whole of Northern Ireland—to all communities in Northern Ireland. I would have thought they would have been welcomed by all parties, admittedly somewhat shamefacedly as far as the other parties are concerned, because they neither sought nor even believed it possible or desirable to achieve modifications of the protocol, which they wanted enforced, it would seem, in all its rigour.

In a week when we have seen the other House bow to threats of violence, we should pay tribute to the DUP and the unionists in that they secured these improvements by constitutional means. That is all the more so because the whole reason we are in this position —the whole reason why the Government agreed to try to have a border in the Irish Sea rather than in the natural place, between Northern Ireland and southern Ireland—was republican threats to blow up or shoot anyone who enforced checks at that border. Shamefully, the Irish Government waved around pictures of a blown- up customs post, dating from decades ago, to try to persuade their European colleagues to insist that there be no border within Northern Ireland and that we had to have one in the Irish Sea. In fact, the EU’s insistence that it would need border checks to maintain the security of the single market was entirely bogus.

For entirely other reasons, I was reading the European Commission White Paper, Completing the Internal Market, which it published in 1985, ahead of the measures to create the single market. At that time, member states had different SPS rules—different veterinary rules, and so on—and they used to enforce them at the border with border checks between Germany, France and other countries within the European Union. Naturally, the European Commission did not like that, and it proposed to abolish these border posts within the European Union, despite the fact that these different standards would persist on different sides of the border. It wrote:

“As a further … step towards the objective of abolishing internal frontier controls by 1992, all veterinary controls (live animals and animal products) and plant health controls will have to be limited to the places of departure, and controls of veterinary and plant health certificates made at the places of destination”.

Indeed, the Commission recognises that it is possible to maintain the security of its member states without controls at the border by doing so at the point of dispatch or the point of arrival. That is what it proposed then, and it could equally have been applied in Northern Ireland, should have been applied, and could be applied in future if the present arrangements do not work out satisfactorily.

I would like the Minister to confirm the following. It is not clear from the language in Safeguarding the Union that the arrangements we are now talking about are all under the protocol. The protocol has not been abolished, rescinded or removed from our law; it is part of our law. It allowed changes to be made by agreement within “the committee”, consisting of two people, one from Britain and one from the European Union, and that, essentially, is what is being done. All these changes are being done under the protocol.

At the risk of boring the House, I will repeat what I think we ought all to remember: that the protocol is intrinsically temporary and transitional. That is not my view, but the view of the European Union at the time of the negotiations. Noble Lords may recall that Theresa May said in her Lancaster House speech that she wanted to negotiate a future trade arrangement between Britain and Europe at the same time as our withdrawal arrangements under Article 50. The European Union said that that was not possible. It could not do it even if it wanted to, because Article 50 does not provide a legal base for negotiating trade agreements. Trade agreements with non-member states can be negotiated by the European Union only under Article 234. Therefore, we had to leave first before it could negotiate trade arrangements with us. How come, then, that we reached agreement on trade arrangements as far as Northern Ireland and the European Union was concerned in the Article 50 withdrawal agreement? The EU said, “Well, that allows temporary and transitional measures, and only temporary and transitional measures, arising from the departure of a member state”. Therefore, the arrangements we entered into—the protocol—are temporary and transitional.

It would be wonderful if what the Government have agreed, and what the DUP has said is at least enough for it to go back into Stormont, works out smoothly and resolves all friction, both economic and political, arising from differences in EU and UK law and the attempt to resolve these via the Irish Sea. If so, we can all carry on and live happily ever after. However, if not—and I fear it may well not work out satisfactorily in the long term—we should remember that we have the right, under the agreement we negotiated with the European Union and its interpretation of it, to say that the protocol was temporary and must be replaced; and obviously, we want to replace it with something satisfactory to the EU, as our neighbour, and which would ensure the integrity of the single market. Therefore, we should adopt the method it proposed and used initially, and which subsequently Sir Jonathan Faull, himself a former director-general of the Commission, proposed as a way of resolving the problems we currently face.

I am glad that some progress has been made, I hope more progress has been made than meets the eye, and if not, alternative possibilities exist for the future.

Photo of Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Non-affiliated 6:49, 27 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, like the noble Lords, Lord Dodds and Lord Lilley, I offer my condolences to the family and colleagues of Lord Cormack. Patrick Cormack was an outstanding political figure, serving as a parliamentarian in both Houses of this Parliament for many years. Before he left the House of Commons, he was chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. I remember a visit that he made to Downpatrick around St Patrick’s Day. He read the lesson at the service in Down Cathedral, reflecting on the work of St Patrick that belongs to all traditions. That is the important thing—Lord Cormack was a unifying figure.

I welcome the return of the devolved institutions in Northern Ireland, so I welcome that aspect of the humble Address. There are other bits which I also welcome, including the adherence to the Good Friday agreement. Naturally, as a democratic Irish nationalist I believe in the unity of people on the island of Ireland. That is my aspiration; that is my identity; that is where I come from. However, there is a need, and it can happen, for peaceful coexistence between unionists, nationalists and others. That is embodied in the Good Friday agreement because it allows you to be British, Irish or both. It is important that this is totally reflected.

It is important that the institutions that we all voted for back in 1998 have been restored. They have been down more often than they have been operational, but the fact of their welcome was a feature that came out some weeks ago in the poll by LucidTalk and Queen’s University, Belfast, of February 2024. Why? It was because the public were crying out for the resumption of the institutions and for local delivery by local people elected by all of us for delivery and decisions on local services, whether health, education, economy or infrastructure.

That is not something that I view as a celebration. The institutions should never have been collapsed in February 2022 or in January 2017. The fact that the institutions can be collapsed by either of the big parties necessitates the need to look at reform of the institutions to ensure that mechanisms are put in place to prevent this from happening again. The bottom line is that the people of Northern Ireland want stable political institutions in place for the purposes of good governance and for delivering for the people, and they want the people who have been elected to govern and for the opposition—my colleagues in the SDLP—to do their job as well.

I said two weeks ago that I would not be content with the Command Paper because it was a deviation from a previous position, since it represented a unilateral decision-making process between the DUP and the UK Government—although listening here tonight you would not think that it was agreement between the UK Government and the DUP. The message must be clear: “Please cherish all traditions equally”, as required by the Good Friday agreement, which has been the hallmark for negotiations in Northern Ireland for nearly 38 years.

The current UK Government’s approach represents a departure from the GFA and from the Downing Street declaration. I say, not gently but very forcefully, that we all need to revert to the factory settings of the Good Friday agreement—to those principles of consent, inclusion and equality. Northern Ireland is a divided society, with unionists, nationalists and others. That is why it is important to underscore and ensure the full implementation of the Good Friday agreement through the operation of all the institutions in all the strands—the Assembly, the Executive, the North/South Ministerial Council, the British-Irish Council and the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference. That is why I want a renewed commitment from the current British Government to that bipartisan approach with the Irish Government, and I will ask the Irish Government the same. That means a true reflection of parity of esteem, partnership, power sharing, respect for political difference and the consent principle.

When will the next meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference take place to discuss that range of economic, trade, joint working on health and cross-border and, importantly, east-west issues? When will the next meeting of the British-Irish Council on east-west issues take place? When will the next meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council and the full operation of the implementation bodies take place? I believe in that reset of the principles of the GFA where equality, human rights, equality of citizenship and protection of identity all, within a spirit of partnership, must be reflected.

That type of approach will enable the full benefits of the Windsor Framework to be realised. We have heard so much this evening about the negative side to the Windsor Framework. I have talked to many people in Northern Ireland. One of the results of the LucidTalk/Queen’s University poll showed that the majority opinion on the Windsor Framework is generally accepting or supportive of the arrangements established for Northern Ireland. Why? Because people want to move on. They want economic benefit. They want economic opportunity for their families and associates. We need access to that EU single market and the UK internal market. With the full realisation of the economic opportunities, with stability and political progress, we achieve a more balanced, peaceful reconciliation and shared society.

However, for our region to succeed, we need a significant budget to address the needs of our population. The challenges of health waiting lists, the crumbling fabric of our roads and schools, public sector reform and transformation are all required. People need access to services such as health waiting lists in a more expeditious manner without having to meet countless impediments. Assembly Members and Ministers must face these challenges and implement difficult decisions. While £3.3 billion on a conditional basis was a significant allocation, it presents dangers because some of that is recycled money, the Executive have significant overspends from previous years, and the public sector money, while very welcome, is not current expenditure and that money has to be found for future financial years out of the budget. Money that was earmarked for 10 new integrated schools in the fresh start agreement of 2015 seems to have disappeared and other money is no longer present either because a significant amount is now required for the full education budget. Where is the levelling-up money for Northern Ireland?

I also welcome the €800 million shared island funding from the Irish Government for cross-border infrastructure projects such as the A5, the Narrow Water bridge, Casement Park and the Boyne heritage centre. That demonstrates a clear commitment by the Irish Government to deliver north-south projects and the much-needed bipartisan approach. Maybe in his wind-up, the Minister could advise us on the reform of the institutions. What discussions will the Government have with the Assembly and Executive Review Committee, and what analytical work has that committee commenced about the review of such institutions?

I do not support the amendment. I support that part of the Motion that deals with the restoration of the institutions. Much work needs to happen to create that economic opportunity, and that is why it is vitally important that we ensure that the full benefits of the Windsor Framework and the work of the institutions are realised for the people of Northern Ireland.

For me, this debate is about including everything, and the Good Friday agreement with its three-stranded approach, representing the three sets of relationships, affords us the opportunity to deal with that without fear of exclusion, marginalisation or triumphalism. The Good Friday agreement must be our lodestar—our guiding light. Bipartisanship and partnership, with parity of esteem, must be central to all our discussions. That must be the way forward. I defer to my noble friend Lord Murphy on the Front Bench, who was a significant negotiator in the Good Friday agreement and helped to bring forward—along with my colleagues in the SDLP, the Ulster Unionists and the Irish Government—that agreement, which was based on that duality of approach, partnership and parity of esteem. That is where we need to be to achieve progress and benefit for all the people, because I firmly believe that both Governments and all parties must work together, committed to bipartisanship, partnership and delivering for all. That is the way forward.

Reference has been made in the other place to the fact that there is no all-Ireland economy. One has to look only at the single electricity market, the agri-food industry which operates on a cross-border north-south basis, the Coca-Cola Company, and animal health, and the island of Ireland is considered a single epidemiological unit. It is a mistruth to say that that does not exist. We must face what are the political realities and the fact that there are many people in Northern Ireland, and all those political identities must be recognised and accommodated. The best way to do that is through the mechanisms and three-stranded approach that already exists in the Good Friday agreement.

Photo of Lord Jay of Ewelme Lord Jay of Ewelme Chair, Windsor Framework Sub-Committee, Chair, Windsor Framework Sub-Committee 7:02, 27 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I join others in expressing profound sadness at the death of Lord Cormack, whom I was proud to call a friend.

I welcome the re-establishment of Stormont and of devolved government in Northern Ireland. The governance of the United Kingdom is not particularly easy at present, and it is unlikely to get any easier under any Government elected at Westminster. But effective devolved government in Northern Ireland, as in Wales and Scotland—not straightforward, I agree—seems to be an essential part of that overall governance of the United Kingdom.

I note that recent opinion polls in Northern Ireland suggest a certain scepticism about the chances of Stormont surviving until the next elections—due in 2027. I hope those polls are wrong, for there are huge tasks now for the Northern Ireland Executive, working with the British Government, to undertake. Among other things, the NHS waiting list, the education service, public sector pay and the clean-up of Lough Neagh require urgent and sustained attention. I hope now that they will get it.

I am struck by how many new institutions are announced in Safeguarding the Union. I look forward to more detailed information in due course on how they will all work. The proposed east-west council looks particularly relevant in focusing on some of Northern Ireland’s most challenging issues, including those that I have just mentioned. But I note too that the humble Address reaffirms the importance of upholding the Belfast/Good Friday agreement in all its strands—that too is essential, as the noble Lord, Lord Caine, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, have said.

It is a great honour to chair the House of Lords Sub-Committee on the Windsor Framework—scheduled, alas, to disappear at the general election. The Windsor Framework has, of course, not been changed by Safeguarding the Union and its accompanying documents, but the restoration of devolved government in Northern Ireland provides a real opportunity for Northern Ireland’s Executive to have an effective say in its operation. I look forward to working with the newly established committees in Stormont, including the new democratic scrutiny committee.

The Windsor Framework, though unchanged by the new arrangements we are discussing today, is not a fully fledged document—it is, indeed a framework. Nowhere is this more evident than over veterinary medicines, about which the Windsor Framework committee is now conducting an inquiry. That explains why some members of the committee recently spent two hours in a large, drafty barn in County Down with some impressive farmers, veterinary experts and several hundred sheep. I cannot pre-empt the conclusions of our inquiry, but we hope to produce a report shortly. I can say that we found widespread support in Northern Ireland for the proposal set out in Safeguarding the Union to rapidly establish a veterinary medicines working group, provided that the membership is right and includes real knowledge of, and expertise on, Northern Ireland.

That leads me to my last point. Neither the Government of the United Kingdom, nor the Northern Ireland Executive are—now that we are outside the European Union—around the Council tables when EU legislation is discussed and agreed. But much of that legislation will have effect in Northern Ireland and will affect farmers, consumers and businesses. Businesses in Northern Ireland will have access to the single market for goods of the European Union and be part of the internal market of the United Kingdom, and both are a clear advantage. However, a way must be found to ensure that direct first-hand knowledge of Northern Ireland is taken into account while legislation is being prepared, and not just when it has reached its finished state. I hope the Minister, who is still missed in our committee, will give us a reassurance on that point.

Photo of Lord Morrow Lord Morrow DUP 7:07, 27 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, like other noble Lords I particularly welcome the affirmation in the humble Address of the “foundational importance” of the provisions of Article VI, given that we are all aware that these provisions have been partly suspended in Northern Ireland because of the actions of this House and the other place in sanctioning Section 7A of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.

If we agree the Motion, then we will be duty-bound—if we are not to be two-faced about it—to look to for the first opportunity to amend the withdrawal agreement Act, so that these provisions, which are not merely important but of foundational importance, can be restored to the people of Northern Ireland immediately. As Carla Lockhart, the Member for Upper Bann, observed yesterday in another place, you cannot remove foundations, even temporarily, without placing the superstructure that they uphold in jeopardy.

I will dig a little deeper into this point, drawing on the Minister’s letter to those of us who took part in the recent debate on the statutory instruments that give effect to the deal that occasioned the restoration of Stormont, which has in turn occasioned this humble Address. Having commented on economic ties between Northern Ireland, the rest of the UK and the Republic of Ireland, the Minister says:

“That is why the Command Paper places specific emphasis on ensuring Northern Ireland has full and unfettered access to the UK’s internal market as well as its privileged access to the EU single market”.

That really is the heart of the proposition—that the deal gives Northern Ireland full and unfettered access to the UK’s internal market and privileged access to the Republic.

However, how this can be the case when, first, all the product that has to travel on the red lane—which includes all inputs into Northern Ireland manufacturing coming from the rest of the economy of which Northern Ireland is a part—is subject to a customs border that is more demanding than that experienced by products travelling from Germany, a foreign country, to England, and secondly, when all the product that travels on the so-called UK internal market system is also subject to the fettering of customs and an SPS border?

Lest anyone should contest the fettered access provided by the UK internal market system, I would direct them to the place the fettering is set out: EU regulation 2023/1128, which amends the EU Customs Code to simplify customs border fettering, and EU regulation 2023/1231, which simplifies the SPS border fettering. I do not question the fact that both these provisions simplify the border fettering, but the critical point is that they do not remove it. If you do not comply with the border fettering put in your way by the misnamed UK internal market system, your only other options will be the red lane or not to cross the border.

Moreover—and this is critical—for so long as we submit to the Windsor Framework, we agree that these matters are ultimately for the EU to determine and that the simplification of the border fettering is enjoyed at its pleasure and could be removed if it chooses to do so, defaulting back to the greater fettering of the red lane, as set out expressly in Article 14(5) of EU regulation 2023/1231.

By contrast, if we look at the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, we find no customs or SPS border fettering of any kind. I therefore suggest that the Minister transparently has it the wrong way round. The Government’s arrangements propose full and unfettered access to the Republic of Ireland and, to the extent of the so-called UK internal market system, privileged access to GB, in that while this does not afford us unfettered borderless access to GB, the fettering has been reduced from what would otherwise be the case.

This is a huge problem for unionism because unionists are very clear that our priority is our relationship with England, Scotland and Wales. The South decided to break away from that relationship. That was its decision. We regret it and stand with England, Wales and Scotland in our United Kingdom. In this context, while of course we want the best possible access to the Republic, that has to be subject to the basic unionist imperative—the union—and thus no customs fettering between any constituent part of the union.

The Safeguarding the Union Command Paper has things the other way around, prioritising the relationship with the South and the advent of a border between ourselves and the rest of the United Kingdom. It is a nationalist rather than a unionist solution because it sacrifices the unionist imperative. Of course, this all has to be seen in the context of the fact that the purpose of the border is to uphold the integrity of a different legal regime in Northern Ireland. That is the result of our disenfranchisement in relation to 300 areas of the laws to which we are subject, and the enfranchisement of a foreign Parliament. My noble friend Lord Dodds has already outlined specifics in relation to this issue.

In this respect, it is also important to reflect on the Minister’s assurances in his letter that the shortcomings of the brake are acceptable when seen in the context of the additional democratic consent safeguard—the so-called consent motion. The shortcomings of the brake include, of course, that it creates a second-class citizenship in which, rather than having the right to stand for election to make the laws to which you are subject, you have to make do with the right to stand for election to try to stop laws in 300 areas that have already been made for you by a foreign Parliament; and that it does not apply to all EU-imposed law anyway. We have already heard my noble friend Lord Dodds comment on that too.

That assertion simply does not stand up to scrutiny. The so-called democratic consent motion should really be called the “renouncing democratic consent procedure”, because that is, in effect, what it is. If, on the one hand, we humour the proposition that it constitutes democratic consent and treat it as a vote on all the laws made in the last three or four years, that does not work, both because it would be absurd to engage intelligently with three to four years’ legislation with one vote and because a no vote would not result in any of the legislation falling away. If, on the other hand, we treat it as a vote on all the laws to be made in the next three to four years, that does not work, for the above reasons and because you cannot vote on legislation that does not yet exist.

The practical impact of a yes vote will be for an MLA to agree to renounce the rights of his or her citizens to be represented in the making of the laws to which they are subject in 300 areas for the next four to eight years, depending on the scale of the vote. Rather than the so-called consent motion filling the democratic shortfall of the brake, therefore, it merely compounds it.

I am of course aware—and this was mentioned earlier—that there has been debate in recent weeks around Bushmills whiskey, which I say very gently is completely beside the point, and a lot of tosh, to use an Ulster word. You do not have to be an expert on this at all, and I do not profess to be one, but, as anyone who knows anything about the history of internal markets knows, they have become progressively more integrated across the world over time, especially in the case of the United Kingdom because, as the celebrated German economist Friedrich List pointed out, England and the UK invented the internal market.

People did not wake up one morning and say, “Let’s create an internal market”; it evolved over time. Rather than judging attempts to take it from the perspective of what being in an internal market was like in 1802, we have to judge it from the perspective of what it is like now. The relevant point in looking at these matters today is what Article 6 delivers in the 21st century, which we enjoyed through the foundational provisions of Article 6 until 31 December 2020, which Parliament has now partially suspended, and yet which today this House is urged to tell His Majesty is not merely important but of foundational importance.

I hope that we pass this Motion, but let us be clear: if we do, we will then be duty-bound to restore those Article 6 rights, because no Parliament worth its salt can tell its Head of State that certain provisions are of foundational importance in the context of a Motion that is specifically about a people who have been partly deprived by that same Parliament of those same provisions.

Photo of Lord Bew Lord Bew Crossbench 7:19, 27 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, first, I pay tribute to Lord Cormack, as have others in this House. He was a friend of mine. In 2015, I was asked by the then Lord Speaker to chair a Committee of both Houses along with Tristram Hunt, a Member of the other House, on the anniversaries of that year—mainly Magna Carta. It was also the 50th anniversary of Churchill’s death. Lord Cormack was my senior adviser on that committee. He was an enormously well-informed historian, as everybody here knows. He prevented me from making many stupid, callow errors, for which I was really grateful. I extend my sympathies to his family on this very sad day. I will miss Patrick Cormack, as will many others.

I speak in favour of this humble Address. In my opinion, it ends an era of instability in Northern Irish affairs which has existed since the 2017 joint report—an international agreement with the EU, which, for example, had the British Government supporting an island economy on the island of Ireland. It corrects and ends an era of painful instability in Northern Ireland. This had to be done, but it takes time and negotiation is painful. I watched the debate yesterday in the other place. I had the feeling that one was looking at some of the acrimonious debates which have marked our life here for the past six years through the rearview window. I hope that we are moving away from those.

The point was made yesterday and alluded to briefly by the Minister tonight, about the definition of “joint authority”. I agree with the terms that he expressed on this. Yesterday, in the other place, it was stated that we do not have a definition. We have an official working definition. The New Ireland Forum Report from the Irish Government in 1984 states quite clearly that joint authority means shared responsibility by the two Governments for the administration of the affairs of Northern Ireland. It is clear to me that the humble Address closes the door firmly on this prospect. I do not think there is any ambiguity nor uncertainty about what joint authority is. We know what it is. The humble Address is absolutely clear-cut in this respect.

I have a sense that there is still a misunderstanding about what has been happening in the last few years, particularly around the standing of the Good Friday agreement. Members of this House will remember that there was a great dislike of the idea that the United Kingdom might ever tear up an international treaty. Quite apart from the protocol, the joint report of 2017 is also an international treaty. We would never unilaterally tear up an international treaty. Again and again, it was said to be the sort of thing that ill-tempered Putinesque regimes did, but certainly not the United Kingdom. What we witnessed instead was a long struggle in which the United Kingdom has said to the European Union, “You say you are also keen to support another international agreement—the Good Friday agreement. This is an international agreement lodged at the United Nations by the United Kingdom and the Government of Ireland, but there are tensions; for example, in the joint report and the protocol. We want to work with you to find the correct balance so that we can get back to something closer to the Good Friday agreement”. The Good Friday agreement states that the UK Government, being the sovereign Government, has a responsibility to deal with the alienation of one or other community. In this case, the alienation over the issues in the protocol is clearly within the unionist community. Every single unionist public representative made clear their alienation on that point.

At the beginning of this Parliament, the first letter that went from the UK Government to the European Union said that they were concerned that it had not got the correct balance of the Good Friday agreement. It was a delicate balance. A long labour to reach that point has now concluded. The important work on the island economy was part of that. The Good Friday agreement in no way mandated an island economy. I was present at some of the key discussions in the late 1990s. I remember the Irish Government, let alone the British Government, talking about co-operation between two economies on the island of Ireland.

I accept what the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, said about electricity and agri-food. I do not quite accept what she said about Coca-Cola, but I shall come to that. The slide towards something called the island economy is essentially an ideological concept which puts pressure on unionists and has played a major role in the negative public mood in Northern Ireland in the last three or four years. This is not to say that there are not elements of an island economy. The case of Coca-Cola, which the noble Baroness mentioned, indicates a deeper complexity. Coca-Cola has to work with two taxation systems and two currencies. You would not normally call that a simple operation of island economy logic. This is more usually the case. To a greater extent, the Northern Irish economy remains integrated within the UK economy. That the UK Government were apparently committed to working against that was one of the destabilising factors. This is now over. It was essential, as the Safeguarding the Union Command Paper acknowledges.

There are two communities in Northern Ireland which both have rights under the Good Friday agreement. It is impossible to imagine a solution which did not involve some kind of compromise—which this still is. It is not the full achievement of a unionist wish list, nor could it ever be. It is a restructuring, a rebalancing of a previously highly unsatisfactory state of affairs. It is not the achievement of a unionist wish list, which, to be honest, would not be entirely desirable, given the balance of the two communities and the commitment of the UK Government. There is no point is replacing the alienation of one community with the alienation of another.

I note that Irish nationalists were perfectly happy with the provisions I have talked about concerning the role of the UK Government in facing up to the alienation of one community, when it came to the Irish language Act, which went through in this House and not in the Northern Ireland Assembly. They were very relaxed about that, but there has been much complaint about the Safeguarding the Union document. I understand why there is irritation, but I have tried to explain what it is. It is all about restoring the Good Friday agreement and the centrality of making it work again in future. To do this, the institutions have to be functioning—which they now are.

I will say a few words on the amendment and the issues around the Act of Union. The noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, complains, and the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, complains around irrelevant references about whiskey taxes. Had the proponents of the argument that was put about the Act of Union said at any point that they were aware of the schedule in Article VI which lists all these taxes which provide an Irish Sea border, it would not have been possible in the last couple of weeks for the debate to develop in the way in which it has. Suddenly, it has appeared for the first time that there is an issue, and that Article VI of the Act of Union included a series of what would be called pretty strong Irish Sea border measures. The difficulty would not be felt quite so clearly. It raises the question: had the proponents of this particular argument actually read the full text of the Act of Union? They would not have been vulnerable to what has happened in the last fortnight. They are quite right to say that it is not of itself a decisive point, but they would not have been vulnerable to the point at all had they shown any signs of having read the full document.

In general, I have a feeling that the whole question around the Act of Union lacks any proper historical dimension—any proper respect for the history of ideas. Isaiah Berlin, once said, quoting Immanuel Kant:

“Of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made”.

We are dealing here with the crooked timber of humanity. In the last few days, I have been reading Pitt’s speeches introducing the Act of Union. In general, he calls for equality of treatment for the King’s Irish subjects but then says that there are “unavoidable necessities” which mean “we cannot deliver that”. Straight away we are into the crooked timber of humanity. There is a very important commitment to equal treatment. The Command Paper is an attempt to restore that basic commitment but, for 80 years—or 79, to be precise—there was no equal treatment.

One thing that also frustrates me is the lack of serious discussion of the Command Paper and its historical sections, and the quite trivial level of public debate. It is not just about the history of the Act of Union. It reveals that customs and duties were paid throughout the large life of the Stormont Parliament. Again, this is a function of something else. The Act of Union was designed to create one nation across two countries. It failed. After 120 years, what is now the Republic of Ireland left. The core project failed. On the other hand, it worked in economic and social terms for Northern Ireland, and it emerged that parts of Northern Ireland had been alienated from British rule. Some 120 years later, as Lloyd George put it very precisely in 1920, there is not one people across two islands, there are two peoples on one island.

The Government of Ireland Act comes in at that point. It absolutely specifies that trade is an international matter and not a matter for the Stormont Parliament. We may disagree with that and we may dislike it, but it is absolutely clear. In 1938, when the Anglo-Irish trade agreement was signed, the unionist MPs hated it. They said that it was unequal treatment of Northern Irish businesses. They were completely right in everything that they said in the other place in May 1938, but they also made it clear that it was a matter for this Parliament and we have to accept the will of this Parliament. There is no question of these trade matters being a matter for the Stormont Parliament.

That raises a question: what, therefore, is the pre-protocol status of the Act of Union? It does not have any. At that moment of great challenge, just as a matter of reality, no unionist MP even thought to refer to that Act. Why? It is because they thought the new reality was the Government of Ireland Act, reflecting the fact that there are two Parliaments on the island of Ireland. That is why they do not refer to it, and that is why it is quite difficult to talk about the pre-protocol status of the Act of Union. No unionist MPs seemed to have thought there was any status for the Act of Union at that point.

All this comes down to one thing. For at least 100 years of the union—perhaps more like 120 to 130 years—there was a fairly vigorous Irish Sea border and customs to be paid. The union survived. It tells you something: that the so-called Irish Sea border is not, however defined, and what is intended under Safeguarding the Union is really light compared with the actual provisions that had been the case for more than 100 years of the life of the union. What matters is the political will of the people of Northern Ireland. It is very simple in this respect.

I know it will be said that European law is a separate matter and complicates the issue. Of course it does, but it is also the case that the DUP’s seven tests cannot be made to include European law. When the history is written, the various arguments that they contain something to do with European law will run up against a very obvious problem: “EU law” is a small few words; if you wanted to be explicit about European law it would have been the easiest thing to include them in the seven tests. I know that people will say that this or that other test implies it, but it would have been the easiest thing to be explicit about. This is so obvious that it is an insult to the intelligence of the House to imply anything else. It was obviously a deliberate decision not to mention it in the seven tests. By the way, the idea is that the tests are based on commitments made by British Ministers. They are—they are all based in some way on things that Ministers had said that the people of Northern Ireland should get—but no British Minister said at the time the seven tests were announced, “We’re getting rid of European law”, which is the second reason why there is no possible argument that the seven tests are about European law.

It has also been said tonight that Sir Jeffrey Donaldson is saying some things that he did not say on platforms or during this long campaign. That is true, and a fair point, but the trouble is that people on the other side of this argument are also saying things today that they did not say during this long campaign. It is a game if we get to throwing around quotations. Personally, I do not think we should go there. We should move on. There is a moment now for a new, modernising unionism. I do not know whether the arguments at the weekend in the local press that the centre parties have peaked in Northern Ireland are correct—some of the polling suggests that—but it is certainly the case that a new, modernised unionism has opportunities electorally now that it did not have two weeks ago.

Photo of Lord Lexden Lord Lexden Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 7:34, 27 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I fully agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bew, that this humble Address to His Majesty deserves our full and enthusiastic support. It provides an excellent summary of the principles that should guide policy towards both Northern Ireland and British-Irish relations.

It is a great pity that these principles have not been followed consistently over recent years. If they had been firmly upheld at all times, we would have been spared much recent misfortune. The interests of the union would not have been compromised during negotiations over the terms of our withdrawal agreement from the European Union. The Government would have resisted the siren voices promoting their own invention: a fully-fledged all-Ireland economy.

Unionists have always championed cross-border co-operation where it would serve the interests of both sovereign states—difficult though it has been for us to forgive the lack of full security co-operation during the Troubles, when our country had an absolute right to expect it from our neighbour. When I worked for Airey Neave in the late 1970s, I think I spent more time on this issue than on any other.

I hope that the principles that this House is endorsing through this humble Address will be noted and remembered in Dublin. Firmly and consistently applied, they will avoid future misunderstanding. The words “joint authority” should be banished from the political vocabulary. The concept is wholly incompatible with the stability and prosperity of Ulster.

The principles, summarised in the words of the humble Address, are fully and faithfully reflected in the Government’s recent Command Paper, Safeguarding the Union, which naturally looms large in this debate. What a remarkable document it is, even though it is not written in the clear, straightforward prose for which British official publications were once renowned. Control of its drafting should have been placed in the hands of my noble friend Lord Caine. He knows how to expound policy in clear English, as his speeches in and outside Parliament demonstrate. Audiences in the United States in particular have benefited from listening to him.

One reason why the Command Paper is remarkable is that it commits Ministers and officials to a huge amount of extra work. They will be rushed off their feet if the document’s many pledges and promises are to be implemented in full. They will also be adding to the labours of businessmen and many others who will be needed to assist the Government’s bold programme of action.

We are promised an outburst of feverish official activity: 24 separate initiatives are summarised in paragraph 43 of the Command Paper which, it states, are to be

“delivered according to an agreed timetable”.

It would be good to have details of this timetable. I cannot find them anywhere in the Command Paper. The list of new initiatives includes new UK Government structures, new UK Government-Northern Ireland Executive structures, an independent monitoring panel, a new internal market assessment in the regulatory impact assessment process, a strengthened independent review of the Windsor Framework underpinned by a statutory duty, the establishment of a new body to be known as “Intertrade UK”, and a UK east-west council which, among other things,

“will drive engagement aimed at developing and sharing existing clusters of excellence” and

“scope the establishment of a Northern Ireland Hub in London to provide an increased opportunity for Northern Ireland stakeholder engagement”.

The Government’s hectic programme of promised new work does not stop there. There is much more. We can look forward to a “turbocharged Enhanced Investment Zone”, a horticulture working group, better road connections with Great Britain—though there does not seem to be anything about better air services—investment in ports, a twinning programme for schools, a series of papers which

“will evidence the mutual benefits of Northern Ireland’s place in the Union”, and a review to increase awareness of the Northern Ireland defence sector.

That is by no means a comprehensive list of the measures that are now to unfold. Even on the last page of the Command Paper the cascade continues. We are told that

“a UK Government Sports Minister will visit within the first month of a new Executive to discuss with the Executive how to take forward the prompt and effective delivery of the Sub-Regional Football Stadia Strategy”

My noble friend Lady Hoey once held the post of Sports Minister. I hope the present incumbent is acquitting himself with the same vigour—a vigour which, as all her speeches show, remains undiminished.

While wondering a little sceptically whether all that has been promised in the Command Paper will actually be accomplished, every unionist in Northern Ireland itself and elsewhere must rejoice that so much action is now contemplated to safeguard the Union, and all of it will benefit the people of Northern Ireland as a whole, whatever their political persuasion.

The numerous commitments that have now been given will enable the Government to carry conviction when they set out, as they undertake to do on page 72 of the Command Paper, to make

“unashamedly ... the positive case for Northern Ireland’s integral place in the United Kingdom”.

Yet it should never have become necessary for a Government drawn from the Conservative and Unionist Party to make such a declaration. Robust defence of the union should be their unchanging core characteristic. Sadly, it has not been. That is what happens when someone such as Mr Boris Johnson is given charge of our country’s affairs. The Conservative and Unionist Party has ground to make up.

We unionists will not go far wrong if we stick to the precepts of the great Lord Castlereagh, the principal architect of the Act of Union, who gets a mention in the Command Paper. At the time of his death in 1822, the Duke of Wellington’s brother described Castlereagh as a man whose life had been

“most favourable to all the just views and interests of our Roman Catholic fellow subjects, and most practically beneficial to the general welfare, happiness and prosperity of Ireland”.

The new spirit of zeal which the Command Paper is designed to instil into the Government of Northern Ireland is not yet apparent here in London. I recently had the great good fortune to become a member of the European Affairs Select Committee’s Sub-Committee on the Windsor Framework. Ministers are, at the moment, taking far too long to reply to the urgent matters that the sub-committee brings before them. When replies do come, they tend to be incomplete or evasive. We are fortunate to have a chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Jay, who constantly reminds Ministers of their duties to us.

I end where I began by praising the words of this humble Address. It might perhaps have been even better with the addition of an extra sentence. Would it not have been appropriate for us to express our thanks to His Majesty and members of the Royal Family for their unswerving commitment to all the people of Northern Ireland, and for their contribution to British-Irish relations? A list of the engagements they have carried out in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic would be of formidable length. So many communities of all kinds, and so many individuals within them, will have cause to remember the interest that a royal visitor took in them, often assisting them in circumstances of grave distress. It is a record of service that has undoubtedly meant a great deal to that portion of our country for whose greater stability and prosperity we must all strive.

Photo of Lord McCrea of Magherafelt and Cookstown Lord McCrea of Magherafelt and Cookstown DUP 7:44, 27 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, those who have shown a keen interest in Northern Ireland affairs understand that the protocol that was foisted upon the people of Northern Ireland caused real damage to stability in our Province, even though it was heralded by many in this House as positive and something that should be embraced by all. It was claimed that the protocol was seeking to safeguard and preserve the core principles of the Belfast agreement, but in fact it had the opposite effect.

The lesson from these past years is the necessity to have a consensus in a divided community—not the usual pandering over the years to republican demands but a genuine consensus from both unionists and nationalists at every juncture. It has been the convention of Stormont since 1972, some 26 years before the Belfast agreement, that controversial decisions cannot be made on a majoritarian basis. Indeed, the use of majoritarian votes, which are to be returned in November, was peddled as the republican excuse for the Troubles and was abandoned.

How have we got to where we are today? With the protocol having caused such damage to Northern Ireland’s constitutional position within the United Kingdom, and indeed to our economy, it was modified by the Windsor Framework—another short-term fix seeking to cobble together something that would, it was hoped, pull the wool over the eyes of unionists and allow normal programming to proceed.

The Democratic Unionist Party laid before the people of Northern Ireland seven solemn tests. The noble Lord, Lord Bew, may not know this, but we do know what those seven tests really mean. It was by those tests which any deal would be measured, and I have not deviated from the true spirit of those tests. The Government have now got the Northern Ireland Assembly up and running, and, personally, I believe that is all they really cared about. But those who are unionists by conviction must constantly hold this Government’s feet to the fire.

We would be foolish to accept mere promises or empty rhetoric from this Government, recognising that successive Governments have broken promises to the people of Northern Ireland in the past. In recent debates, Members of this House warned us that, if we did not accept what was offered in the Windsor Framework, we would be heading to joint authority between London and Dublin. That was the big stick that was wielded over our heads. Yet in the other place yesterday—this is amazing—the Alliance Member of Parliament, Stephen Farry, said

“I too am happy to put on record that I do not believe that joint authority is part of the Good Friday agreement”.

It is amazing that he did not share this statement with his colleagues in this House. Of course, we need to note that he acknowledges this now, when the Assembly has been restored. It was good enough for his friend the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, to threaten us with this during the debates in this House, as if it was included in the Belfast agreement. Indeed, they are all coming out of the woodwork now, for the shadow Secretary of State Hilary Benn MP, in yesterday’s debate in the other place, also said

“it is simply a fact that the Good Friday agreement and the Northern Ireland Act 1998 do not provide for joint authority with the Irish Government over what happens inside Northern Ireland. That is also acknowledged by the Irish Government”. —[Official Report, Commons, 26/2/24; cols. 63 and 74]

However, we all know that the Irish Government have sought to interfere in the internal affairs of Northern Ireland, even telling us that the basis on which the Assembly operates should be changed. We all know that there are those who want the principle of consent to be done away with, and any unionist who enters into such negotiations to that end would be surrendering to a full-blooded republican agenda in Northern Ireland.

The humble Address that has been moved by the Minister is supposed to give the unionist people of Northern Ireland reassurance and comfort. But when one delves into its substance, one has to ask: does it? It reaffirms the importance of upholding the Belfast agreement of 1998 in all its strands, and I welcome the desire expressed. However, on examination, do the current arrangements have that effect? Do they not rather place them in jeopardy, such that they should be changed as a matter of the greatest urgency?

The heart of that agreement was cross-community consent, but that has not been upheld. The consent principle was heralded as a bedrock of the agreement of 1998 and was respected from 1998 until 2020. The Belfast agreement is a treaty in international law that states that any change in the status of Northern Ireland must only be with the consent of the majority of its people. But at the behest of the European Union, there has been a change to the voting arrangements in the Assembly. Since 1992, votes and issues that have been contentious could not be decided on a majority basis, but the Minister knows full well that arrangements that undermine the principle of consent have already been put in place. The Windsor Framework directly violates the consent principle—even though this humble Address states the opposite. It involves far-reaching constitutional change transferring 300 areas of law to a legislature including the Irish Republic but excluding the United Kingdom without the prior consent of the people of Northern Ireland; nor do the elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland have any power to change them. There has been much talk of the Stormont brake as the way to stop the EU juggernaut in its tracks, but where the Stormont brake applies we have to accept that the Assembly has the demeaning right only to try to stop laws that have already been made for us by a foreign Parliament—so much for consent and democracy.

Through the determined efforts of my colleagues, some important changes have been made, but a few words in an humble Address to His Majesty will not undo the serious damage that has been done to our constitutional position within the union. This Government’s surrendering to the demands from the European Union has undermined our relationship with the rest of the United Kingdom. In many areas of our lives, we are termed legally as “a third country”—not as an integral part of the United Kingdom. Our current arrangements may technically be acceptable from the vantage point of the way our dualist system approaches international law, but they are not remotely acceptable in terms of an humble Address which implies that we are fully compliant with the requirements of the Belfast agreement, when nothing can be further from the truth—at least be honourable enough to tell the people the truth.

Let us not forget that this Address is not an address to anyone but an humble Address to His Majesty the King, and, as such, Parliament has a particularly developed obligation to speak the truth. Therefore, it must be pointed out that rather than respecting the Belfast agreement, which we are constantly reminded is the binding international law, we have since 1 January 2021 flouted it, and we continue to do so. Rather than standing up to the EU, our Government have simply abandoned the principle of consent and in November of this year, Northern Ireland will be travelling back in time for its first majoritarian vote on a matter of great controversy for over 50 years. That vote cannot be regarded as a vote in one job lot on all the laws imposed in the last four years. Quite apart from the fact that you cannot deal with four years of legislation in a single vote, a no vote would not result in the repeal of those laws; it is actually a Stormont vote to cede power for a period of years to a group of states including the Republic of Ireland and excluding the United Kingdom and would be the most controversial vote in the history of Stormont. Of course, we know that, as usual, Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the Alliance Party et cetera will all be delighted to slavishly obey their masters in Europe.

There is no doubt in my mind that, no matter how flowery or honeyed the words uttered in this humble Address or in the assurances given, we in Northern Ireland have in a number of areas been detached from the mainstream British economy, and that can be rectified only when 300 areas of law are removed and brought under the control of our local elected assembly, when the principle of consent is restored as proposed under the Belfast agreement, and when the Irish Sea border is dismantled and Dublin’s interference in our internal affairs ceases. We as unionists have a positive case to present, but we must honestly admit there is much more work to be done to arrest the undermining of the union and stop the eroding of important aspects of our constitutional position within our precious United Kingdom. If the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, were to press her amendment to a vote, I would certainly join her in the Lobby.

Photo of Lord Godson Lord Godson Ceidwadwyr 7:56, 27 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I rise in praise of the humble Address today and join other noble Lords in recalling with pleasure the memory of the late Lord Cormack. He touched many of our lives in this House—mine included, because he was a proud son of Grimsby, a Grimbarian in the local parlance, where he ran for Parliament in 1966 in a massive losing campaign against Anthony Crosland. I ran many years later in 1997 and he taught me many good lessons, not least the virtue of losing graciously. I hope that it does not strike too partisan a tone in this House tonight to say that we both derived tremendous pleasure when, for the first time since 1935, a Conservative was elected there in 2019 as part of the tumbling of the red wall.

I also wish to express my appreciation for my noble friend Lord Caine and his efforts as these labours with the Windsor Framework and its outworkings come to a conclusion. Though principally a matter for the Cabinet Office and for the FCDO, much of the burden has fallen on him in this House and not always in easy circumstances, as indeed was the case with the legacy legislation which he shepherded through here. He is of course the institutional memory of the Conservative and Unionist Party on the Front Bench, along with my noble friend Lord Lexden, and I pay tribute to him in this context.

Our business tonight focuses on the humble Address, principally the Windsor Framework and its outworkings, as I have said. Perhaps the most important commitment in the Belfast agreement is that of the two Governments in the British-Irish agreement—one of many endorsed by the parties to the agreement—to respect the legitimacy of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland to maintain the union. The Command Paper, Safeguarding the Union, which sets out the measures to maintain the union, is entirely in line with that core principle and commitment in the Belfast agreement.

In 1998, my late friend Lord Trimble negotiated the Belfast agreement. One of his key concerns was ensuring that what was termed Strand Three, or the east-west links, was not exclusively about London-Dublin but rather was balanced by links that included and recognised Northern Ireland, thus strengthening its place within the union under that Strand Three. Few unionists, me included, appreciated his concerns at the time, but time has vindicated his approach.

Time has also vindicated his focus on winning the incorporation of the British-Irish Council alongside the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference within that overall Strand Three route. Again, that demonstrates that the east-west arrangements set out in the Belfast agreement were not merely confined to relations between the Republic and the UK but played an important part in the UK Government’s arguments that the protocol was not protecting the Belfast agreement. That is a far-sighted achievement on the part of my late friend Lord Trimble. I am sure that he would now be an enthusiastic supporter of the east-west council and would be pleased by its association in the Command Paper with the British-Irish Council, which he fought for 26 years ago.

My late friend Lord Trimble’s other great success in 1998 that influenced the outcome of these recent negotiations was his refusal to countenance any reference to the all-island economy in the Belfast agreement. When Theresa May agreed the September 2017 joint report, with its acceptance of the application of EU law in Northern Ireland to “support … the all-island economy”, Lord Trimble was stirred to action. Writing in June 2019 a paper for the Policy Exchange think tank, which I work for, he wrote that the all-island economy was

“politically and ideologically motivated, not pragmatic. It is also not consensual — and it is consent that is the true underpinning of North-South co-operation”.

His efforts led to the removal of any reference to the all-island economy from the revised protocol in October 2019. I am glad to be able to say that the Government will remove the requirement for Ministers to pay due attention to the protection of the all-island economy in relation to goods. Thus is the last mention of the all-island economy removed from our statute book. I know how pleased he would have been that the long push-back that he initiated against giving any legal acknowledgment to the concept of an all-island economy is now to be completed.

I reiterate that I applaud the Government for being so forthright in demonstrating their commitment to maintaining the union, the maintenance of which continues to have the overwhelming support of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland. Their actions are therefore entirely consistent with the principle of consent, which, as indicated earlier, remains at the heart of the Belfast agreement.

Photo of Baroness Goudie Baroness Goudie Llafur 8:02, 27 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I want to pay my respects to Lord Cormack, who was a great friend to me from the time when I first went to work for the House magazine, where he was a senior editor. He was kind to me then and when I came into this House many years ago. We had many great conversations about Northern Ireland as well as about the Catholic Church and the Church of England. He used to call me a cradle Catholic—which at the time, until I got a bit happier about it, used to infuriate me—but I really loved Patrick and I am sorry for his family. We in this House will miss him deeply.

I welcome the debate tonight on the humble Address, which I support. I am proud to sit on the Windsor Framework Sub-committee under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Jay, who has been very patient with us over the years in guiding us through many discussions and visits to Northern Ireland. I will not repeat the words that we heard from my colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, but the committee has been treated badly in terms of replies to letters we have sent to Ministers, responses from civil servants and attendance by Ministers. That has been a disgrace. It is all in writing and we know what has happened, but it is important that that is repeated yet again today—without going through the litany that the noble Lord kindly put to the House.

I congratulate the First Minister and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland. I hope that, with support, they will be able to continue to take Northern Ireland through to its next stages.

I reaffirm the importance of the Good Friday agreement, with all its strands. Not only is the agreement important to the future of Northern Ireland; it is also important for the future of other peace agreements. The Good Friday agreement has lasted longer than any other peace agreement, and that is because it was also signed by women. Women were part of that agreement—they were at the table—and will continue to be part of such agreements. It is vital that this Government continue to promise that women will be at the peace table, especially now that we are looking at Ukraine or Palestine and Israel, because we have seen what women bring to it.

What they brought as part of the Good Friday agreement was the promise of investment. That has come not only from the EU but, thanks to the American Government and the work of Senator Joe Kennedy III, from companies coming to Northern Ireland not only from Ireland itself but from around the world. That has helped the economy, and the peace, of Northern Ireland. When people have work and money in their pockets so they can support their families and themselves, that makes a difference. That investment must continue for the future.

That brings me to the British Government and the Northern Ireland economy. They must put money into the health service because at present we know that a number of operations, especially for children, are being done in Ireland itself, and we are grateful to the Irish Government. The Erasmus+ programme for students from Northern Ireland is also being funded by Ireland itself.

Further, we should have money into education. We have just seen in the last few days that the integrated education programme has been cut. Again, that is vital to peace in Northern Ireland. As a Catholic, I can see why it is important that we have integrated education in Northern Ireland in particular and in other countries in the same situation. I look to the Government to replace that money for integrated education. A huge amount of money needs to be given to the schools of Northern Ireland, where repairs are needed.

My noble friend mentioned levelling-up money. A lot of work needs to be done on levelling up, as well as repairs on housing estates. If you go and see those, you will see that it is not fair to expect people to live in some of the accommodation that they are living in. For the peace to continue, the Government must put money into health and education, as we agreed in the Good Friday agreement, and must continue to encourage investment from outside. That is why I remind us what it involves for the UK. Continuing to reaffirm the European Convention on Human Rights is also vital.

We welcome the return of the devolved Government, the Assembly and the Executive, and we welcome the belated return of the devolved institutions of Northern Ireland, which have been too long not there to give leadership to the people of Northern Ireland. They must endure. That is of course in no way contrary to the great importance of the joint working and full co-operation between the UK and Irish Governments.

The Acts of Union 1800 and the Northern Ireland Act 1998 obviously continue to apply. They are the elements of the sovereign Parliament that will remain good law until they are amended by Parliament. It must be clear that they are not entrenched nor constantly fundamental. What Parliament has done, Parliament can change. That might be academic at the moment but may not always be so. A future Parliament will represent the public in future years. No section of opinion has a permanent or indefinite veto or stronghold in relation to the constitutional status of Northern Ireland or otherwise.

Photo of Lord Hay of Ballyore Lord Hay of Ballyore DUP 8:08, 27 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I welcome the Motion moved by the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Caine, regarding the humble Address being presented to His Majesty. The Motion deals with a number of issues: the return of the devolved institutions in Northern Ireland; reaffirming the importance of upholding the Belfast agreement, even when the Government have driven a horse and cart through it on occasions; the whole issue of the agreement—which is not actually in the agreement—of joint authority; and acknowledging the fundamental importance of the Acts of Union 1800, including the economic provisions under Article VI of those Acts.

As I say, the debate in this House is welcome. Any debate that highlights the economic benefit of the union has to be welcome. However, I say to the House, as I have said here before, that neither Parliament nor the courts ultimately decide Northern Ireland’s future. It is the people of Northern Ireland who will decide our future in the United Kingdom. Our job as unionists is to continue to persuade the majority that they are better off in a United Kingdom. We can bring all the Motions that we want concerning the union economically and socially, and that is all very good, but we are the custodians of the union now and in the future.

It is very important that we address some of the issues. Certainly, I am proud of Northern Ireland for delivering the terms of a growing manufacturing industry. I will give an example. Right now, one in three aircraft seats in every aircraft across the world is manufactured in Northern Ireland. Every Airbus wing includes components manufactured in Northern Ireland. We also have a growing world-class creative industry, as is evidenced by the number of new films and television series that are being produced in Northern Ireland. These are all growing the economy.

We have a talented workforce. The costs of establishing a business in Northern Ireland are roughly 40% lower than elsewhere in the United Kingdom. As a result of recent negotiations, we have won further access to the UK internal market. As our economy grows, further support for the union will also grow. That is a very important point to make.

I believe that delivering effective government for our people is necessary. Working alongside this Parliament now and in the future, we must continue to ensure that Northern Ireland will benefit and play its full part alongside England, Scotland and Wales in the long-term future growth of this United Kingdom. On these Benches, we will continue to loudly campaign to champion policies that will benefit and support families and businesses across Northern Ireland and all parts of this United Kingdom.

As a devolutionist, I want devolved government to succeed in Northern Ireland. I want to see decisions taken on education, health, the economy and many other issues. Decisions that impact the lives of people are best taken at local level in Northern Ireland. We all know how direct rule worked in the past. We were there. Direct rule Ministers flew into Northern Ireland, flew out of Northern Ireland, and made decisions over the heads of the people of Northern Ireland with no accountability whatever. Direct rule did not work and was not best for Northern Ireland. I know from speaking to many Ministers in those days that they really did not want to take the decisions. They were continually saying, “These are decisions that should be taken by local Ministers”, and rightly so.

I welcome the recent efforts by the Government, working alongside my party, to find a way forward on issues surrounding the Northern Ireland protocol and the Windsor Framework. Leadership is about making the difficult decisions. We can all stand on the sideline and make the easy decisions, but then, when you are in the heat of the kitchen, you have to make the decision. I believe that my party leader and my party were right to make the decision that they made to get back into the Assembly and work the Assembly, but it is work that is not finished. Let us continue to work with this Government to keep their feet to the fire in all of the issues that have been mentioned tonight.

For unionism to prosper in the decades to come, it must be inclusive. Unionism must maximise its potential. We can get there by making Northern Ireland work as a full and equal part of this United Kingdom. For Northern Ireland to work, our Government need to work as well. The system of devolution in Northern Ireland is far from perfect. In many areas, there needs to be improvement, but it must always be on a basis that can command cross-community support. When they are operational, for all their problems—and there are many problems that this Assembly and Executive are going to have—the Stormont Assembly and Executive are accountable to the people of Northern Ireland. They are there to deliver for the people of Northern Ireland. That is an important point. They should now get on with the job and deliver for the people.

It is very clear that power sharing works only with consent across the community. Indeed, cross-community consent was the very basis of the agreement that so many claim to understand and champion. The arrangements within the Northern Ireland protocol did not have the consent of the unionist communities. My colleagues here in this Chamber argued that particular point for months and years, to the point that we felt at one time that nobody was really listening. We said that the protocol did not have the support of the unionist community. While others called for its implementation, dismissing the concerns of unionists, my party continued to work to find a way forward.

I can remember that we were told by some noble Lords in this Chamber that this was an international agreement and just could not be changed. We would just have to suck it up and get on with it. We were able to go in and negotiate a change to the protocol, which ended up as the Windsor Framework. It still did not go far enough to do what was needed to be done, but we proved the point that, as we argued in this House, when it came to an international agreement, yes, it could be changed. That is important.

I also welcome InterTrade UK, which will cover not only the availability of goods in Northern Ireland but trade across the UK—between Scotland and England, England and Wales, and so on. This welcome development will, I hope, encourage greater investment, co-operation and trade within the United Kingdom. Here in the United Kingdom, we have a market in the region of 60 million people. It is the second-biggest market in Europe, and we should be selling more of our own goods to our people across this nation. It is the responsibility of us all to develop and enhance stronger bonds and links across this United Kingdom.

I welcome too the monitoring committee, the east-west council and the new provisions on rest-of-the-world products. The Government’s commitment to stand by Northern Ireland in the absence of a resolution on veterinary medicines is also to be welcomed. That is a very important point to make in this House, because veterinary medicine has become a big issue here and in the other place.

My party has often been blamed for many of the problems that flowed from the Government’s unforgivable move when the protocol was initially implemented. It is regrettable that, on that occasion, government promises were not kept. We were let down by the Johnson Government—by a Prime Minister who told us that there would be an Irish Sea border over his dead body and then, to add insult to injury, came to Northern Ireland and said that publicly. But he went a step further, telling the business community when it asked what to do about all the paperwork relating to the Irish Sea border, “Send it to me and we’ll tear it up and bin it.” You can understand why unionists mistrust this Government—and it had taken a long time to build that trust. I am not sure whether that trust is fully instilled in us yet, as a party and a Government. I hope that it is, and that we can move on from those days.

It is my hope that Stormont is now back up and running and that, with the continued work on the remaining issues and with these new measures agreed, Northern Ireland can start moving forward again as an important part of this United Kingdom. My colleagues here have rightly raised a number of issues and concerns, and I hope the Government will take them on board and deal with them. My colleagues have a right to hold those concerns, and it is only right that the Government try to address them. That would be an important start.

The case for the union is a compelling one. Maintaining the union is the responsibility of us all. All those who value and respect our United Kingdom, across all its parts, must seize the opportunity before us to promote and safeguard it for future generations.

Photo of Lord Browne of Belmont Lord Browne of Belmont DUP 8:20, 27 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to debate the Motion on the humble Address before us this evening. I am pleased to support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey. The economic and cultural ties that bond the various parts of this nation are unmatched. Developing strong links across these isles and our open UK markets have brought huge benefits to England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland for decades.

Unionism in its simplest form is a desire to remain part of the United Kingdom family. Inside this union, everything we have built together is the source of three centuries of mutual co-operation, work and prosperity. We share not only a currency union, a language and common standards; we are socially integrated too. Our strongest cultural bonds, interests, histories and values are the ones we share right across the United Kingdom. A strong United Kingdom, growing together, is in all our interests—now and long into the future. We have a duty to continue working to protect and strengthen the bonds in the United Kingdom.

I contend that there has never been a more important moment to discuss strengthening these bonds than now. For long-term peace, prosperity and growth to continue, all parts of the United Kingdom must play a full and equal part in its future development. That future development needs to include Northern Ireland. We must continue to work together across all corners of our United Kingdom to strengthen these bonds.

Since the outset of the United Kingdom Government’s negotiations with the European Union, my noble friends and I warned that the European Union had the potential to inflict significant economic damage on one part of the United Kingdom and thus on our sovereignty. Fundamentally, the root cause of the problems with the Northern Ireland protocol and Windsor Framework arrangements is the continued application of EU law in Northern Ireland—in particular, its covering all manufacturing of goods in Northern Ireland, regardless of whether they are being sold in the United Kingdom or to the European Union.

The protocol/Windsor Framework arrangements have been deeply regrettable. There are numerous examples of sea border checks disrupting businesses, and we have seen the damage done as a result of economic barriers being erected between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Businesses have regularly faced, and many continue to face, obstacles. The volume of trade movements across the Irish Sea has been falling since the imposition of the Irish Sea border. It has been clear for some time that haulage companies based in Northern Ireland whose business model is predicated on being part of the United Kingdom economy face real hurdles in terms of cost implications and bureaucracy.

The numerous trading difficulties resulting from the protocol have highlighted the need for further steps to be taken. It is regrettable that a Motion such as today’s is even necessary. The Northern Ireland protocol and the Windsor Framework certainly did not respect the foundational importance of the Acts of Union. Of course, I welcome the recent efforts to find a solution to the issues surrounding the Northern Ireland protocol. There has undoubtedly been some little progress made. I welcome InterTrade UK and provisions aimed at easing trade friction, including the monitoring committee, the east-west council and the new provisions relating to rest-of-world products. However, much work lies ahead, and these issues have been far from adequately addressed.

I recognise that some decisions have been made that will smooth the operation of trade which impacts businesses in Northern Ireland. There will, I understand, also be a reduction in some checks, and this too is to be welcomed. However, it is also very clear that an economic border remains in place and that ultimately, the European Union has the final say in many significant areas. Paperwork will continue to be required for customs purposes, and already we see border posts being built in Northern Ireland ports. Northern Ireland will continue in many ways to be treated as an EU territory. Many questions remain and we will continue to engage with the Government on all of these. Indeed, under Article 12 of the Northern Ireland protocol, which remains unchanged, the EU can direct UK authorities at ports.

It is clear that we have not yet arrived at a point where friction is completely gone and there are zero checks and zero paperwork for goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland continues to adhere to the EU customs code, and 1.9 million UK citizens remain disfranchised. Northern Ireland Ministers and Assembly Members in Northern Ireland will be expected by law to adhere to and implement laws being made in Brussels and Strasbourg—not here, not in the other place, and not in the devolved Assembly at Stormont. Friction and barriers therefore remain between parts of the United Kingdom. These barriers are not solely economic. They are constitutionally significant, because laws and diktats identical to those imposed on Northern Ireland govern trade in the Irish Republic. Northern Ireland therefore remains in dynamic alignment in many areas not with the rest of the United Kingdom but with the EU and therefore with the Republic of Ireland.

My party is a devolutionist party. We want to see governance in Northern Ireland which works and which operates on the basis of consensus. There was no consent within unionism for the Northern Ireland protocol or for barriers being implemented between parts of the United Kingdom. Problems that still exist with the protocol/Windsor Framework mean that the rights of the people of Northern Ireland have not yet been fully restored. If Northern Ireland citizens and businesses are to be treated as equal to our fellow Britons elsewhere in the United Kingdom, the constitutional integrity of the UK internal market must be fully restored. To arrive there, we must respect and fully restore the Acts of Union for Northern Ireland, and fully, not partially, remove the Irish Sea border. Attaining the changes needed will require further legislation, further efforts and co-operation. I hope and trust that the Government will provide an update on the timetable for this work. I also ask the Minister for an update on a timetable for Northern Ireland setting its own VAT rules.

For those of us who value our place in the United Kingdom, safeguarding and protecting Northern Ireland’s long-term place inside the UK internal market and inside the union is the most important responsibility we have. Northern Ireland remains governed by a swathe of EU laws we cannot legally change. Further EU regulations will still cause Northern Ireland to diverge from the rest of the United Kingdom in a number of areas. We must continue to work to address these outstanding issues.

The rights of the people of Northern Ireland under the Acts of Union have not been fully restored. While I welcome some government promises and future legislation, I feel there is some way to go before we can say that these issues have been adequately addressed. We are committed to continuing to raise these issues and to working with other noble Lords, the Minister and the Government to resolve the issues. The work must be about delivering on the commitments given to fully protect Northern Ireland’s place within United Kingdom. I desire to see a thriving Northern Ireland where all communities are at peace with one another and enjoy the benefits of being an important part of this United Kingdom.

Photo of Lord Eames Lord Eames Crossbench 8:30, 27 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, one of my mistakes—and I have made many as Primate of All Ireland—was the occasion when I invited the late Patrick Cormack to visit St Patrick’s cathedral in Armagh. I prided myself that, having shown many visitors round that sacred building, I had very little to learn. Within 10 minutes of the start of our tour, I had lost myself completely. He knew dates, facts, figures, measurements; he knew quotations, he knew the names of my predecessors, right back to St Patrick. I felt ashamed of my stance on that occasion.

That was only one part of a very long friendship I had with Patrick. It started when he was chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee; it endured the variations leading to the Downing Street Declaration; it endured disagreements; it endured the situation when the new Bishop of Lincoln was introduced to this House and said of himself “I am the other Bishop of Lincoln”. For Patrick was wrapped in his faith, his church, his beliefs and love of this building. I am so glad tonight to have heard the frequent references to him. I believe, had he been spared, he would have been sitting at the end of that Bench, because Northern Ireland was very much engraved on his heart, rightly or wrongly. I will miss him, and I think, in its own way, Northern Ireland will as well.

Tonight, I believe, is, in its own way, a turning point. We have heard numerous references to disappointment and to failures of the document we are discussing, worries about its long-term effects and that much is needed to be done, even now, to make it acceptable and worth while. But tonight’s debate would not be taking place had it not been for one simple fact: Stormont is back—Stormont, with its shortcomings, its failures, yes, and its history. I speak as the grandson of a member of the former Lord Brookeborough’s Government all those years ago. With all its failures, with all its shortcomings, Northern Ireland has got its Stormont back.

Despite all we have listened to and the sincerity with which it has been expressed by those who have had to pay a great price politically for taking the stance that they have—let us acknowledge that—my belief tonight is that this place of so much history, back in operation, can represent a turning point in so much of the other problems that we know exist.

We can talk about Brexit, Europe, former Prime Ministers and Secretaries of State—we can go on all night, and at one stage tonight I felt that we might. We can go on listing the various shortcomings and giving thanks to those who have brought us to the point at which this local Administration or Government—call them what you will—will tackle local issues, but the fetters on allowing them to do so must be removed. That is up to the British Government.

We heard tonight about some of those difficulties, but I will concentrate in only a few words on one aspect of how I see the current situation. I think of our young people. I think of those at university and school, for whom much that we endured and came through is only a page in a history book. Not for them the endless funerals, the endless explosions and the endless suffering, but they are a part of us who are here and have come to this point in the history of Northern Ireland. Whether for the politicians or for those of us who, like me, knelt beside many bedsides and stood beside many graves, today could be a turning point.

The phrase I want to put on record is this: look forward. Learn from the mistakes and hurt of the past but, in God’s name, look ahead for the sake of the generation of Roman Catholic, Protestant and non-believing young people. Look ahead and give them the opportunities that history has bequeathed to them.

I have often said in debates on Northern Ireland in this House that I respect the efforts made by the noble Lord, Lord Caine, in having to deal, time and again, with the vicissitudes of Northern Ireland life. I am glad that tribute has been paid to him on several occasions tonight. I do so again, because we have been blessed, despite the shortcomings of policies that have annoyed us, by the personality and sincerity of Jonathan Caine. I want to voice that personally and on behalf of many others who are not here.

My experience of Northern Ireland has been to share the frustration of so many ordinary, decent people of all religious faiths or none that we seem to be blundering from one so-called failure or let-down to another. Now we believe in our hearts that there is the chance to move forward as part of the United Kingdom and, with our Scottish, Welsh and English colleagues, to build new understandings, sympathy and strength from our united front to face, in a very troubled world, the issues facing the next generation.

Photo of Baroness Suttie Baroness Suttie Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Northern Ireland) 8:39, 27 Chwefror 2024

Follow that, my Lords. It is always a privilege to follow the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, who always speaks with such authority, common sense and passion, and this evening he surpassed himself.

I, too, will begin by paying tribute to Lord Cormack. He was incredibly kind to me when I was a new Member of this House. He always looked on in a benign, almost school-teachery way. I found myself agreeing with him rather more often than I would have expected, as we would nod to one another during some of the debates on Northern Ireland and Brexit. His contributions were based on experience and common sense and were always extremely well judged. He will be sorely missed. I, too, from these Benches pass on our condolences to his family.

This has been a wide-ranging debate about identity, with some anger and passion. There have been some very good historical speeches; it is always dangerous to highlight some in particular, but I particularly enjoyed the speech from the noble Lord, Lord Bew. The noble Lord, Lord Jay, also brought an element of common sense and pragmatism. I even found myself agreeing with elements of the speech from the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, which was a refreshing change.

Photo of Baroness Suttie Baroness Suttie Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

Never again, no.

The context for the debate, both in this Chamber today and in the other place yesterday, is the extremely welcome return of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive, which we have already debated in this Chamber on several occasions. I, too, once again place on record my gratitude to the Minister, who has personally led the way so often on taking the stalemate forward. The deal was supported by the leadership of the DUP—although, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, said, for those listening to today’s debate it has not always been apparent from the DUP Benches—and holding this debate was in fact part of that deal.

It is understandable that noble Lords from the DUP feel extremely strongly that they have been let down; there were some powerful speeches on that. They feel that they have been let down on several occasions since Brexit, perhaps particularly by the former Prime Minister Boris Johnson. They feel that they have been lied to and that, rightly, some of the past agreements to try to get over the impasse have been ever so slightly overspun; the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, spoke rather marvellously on that point.

This erosion of trust has led many to feel that their place in the union was not as secure as it once was. On the other hand, the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, made clear in her very strong speech that she feels that not enough has been done to give recognition in the Command Paper that there is another point of view. She even went so far as to say that she felt that it has deviated from the principles set down in the Good Friday/Belfast agreement.

On the deal itself that helped to take us to this position, I thank the Minister for his letter yesterday evening, which was still slightly short on the detail as to how some of the structures will work in practice, such as the east-west council and InterTrade UK. Instead of repeating my questions, I place on record just that I look forward to reading the guidance eventually and seeing the Minister’s future replies on these matters.

As other noble Lords have said, I hope in many ways that, following this debate, we can begin to move on. With the return of a functioning Assembly and Executive, we can begin to focus on solutions and practical alternatives, as well as vital issues for ordinary people in Northern Ireland, such as health, education and the economy. Northern Ireland has tremendous potential, with its access to trade and opportunities that other parts of the UK can be quite envious of.

The second part of the context of the debate is the union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It is a union made up of four separate parts, each with their own distinct and powerful histories. At present, it just so happens that all four parts of the United Kingdom have different political leaderships from different political complexions.

As the noble Lord, Lord Jay, hinted in his speech, making this work, as somebody who believes strongly in devolution, has not always been easy. In fact, respect and consultation are not all that they have been. Now that the Assembly and the Executive are back, I hope that the Minister will be able to concentrate on the consent and consultation mechanisms between the constituent parts of the United Kingdom to make sure that the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive are properly and fully consulted in a timely manner.

On a personal level, I have very much benefited from the union. I am a Scot whose father was born in Enniskillen in Northern Ireland. I have a UK passport and an Irish passport. I left Scotland in 1990 and have since lived in London and Broadstairs in Kent and in the past lived in Brussels. I am strongly opposed to Scottish independence and the break-up of the union but do not think that you can simply declare or legislate to say that the union is a good thing. As the noble Lord, Lord Hay, said in his very positive speech, we have to demonstrate the purpose and added value of the union in the context of the 21st century and the global challenges we face. It is up to all of us who believe in the union to make sure that it is fit for purpose and that people see its added value.

The third element of the context of our debate this evening is the reaffirmation of support for the Good Friday/Belfast agreement and all its strands. Many noble Lords present this evening—including obviously the noble Lord, Lord Murphy—were personally involved with negotiating that agreement. There are also many here this evening who personally experienced violence during the Troubles, and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, reminded us so powerfully of the importance of remembering the past as well as looking to the future.

However, it is important to acknowledge there is now also a generation in Northern Ireland who have grown up since the signing of the Good Friday/Belfast agreement—people who have personally never known that violence. They have known only the more prosperous and peaceful times in Northern Ireland. That generation have a different world view from many of the noble Lords who have spoken here this evening. Sense of identity is changing in Northern Ireland. As my noble friend Lord Alderdice said when we last debated these matters on 13 February:

“there is an emergent third community, which has a very strong view about things and which is not partisan unionist and not partisan nationalist. It takes a view that what we want to do is to find what is in the best interests of the people of Northern Ireland”.—[Official Report, 13/2/24; col. 227.]

It is also worth recalling that the Good Friday/Belfast agreement was agreed at a time when the United Kingdom was still in the European Union, and the European Union played a very important role in providing the context for the negotiations towards peace. It remains an incredibly positive and important document. It is an agreement that has been used across the world as a positive example of how a peaceful settlement can be brought about. However, the agreement is not set in aspic. Like all documents based on a series of compromises, it has to be a living document which changes and adapts to the changing circumstances in which we find ourselves. The very fact that we have had five of the last seven years—as the Minister reminded us—without a functioning Assembly and Executive shows that there is a need to revisit whether there are ways to bring about greater stability to the institutions. As I mentioned earlier, there is now also a sizeable alternative view, perhaps mostly represented by Alliance in Northern Ireland. That is another area where I believe we should look at some elements of reform.

A lot has happened since the signing of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement but it is still, I believe, an inspirational document. I was looking at it again at the weekend just to remind myself of the text. It is worth recalling that paragraph 3 of the declaration of support states:

“We are committed to partnership, equality and mutual respect as the basis of relationships within Northern Ireland, between North and South, and between these islands”.

In recent years, some of this sense of mutual respect and trust has been eroded but I sincerely hope that, for the sake of Northern Ireland, we can begin now to see a return of these values. To quote the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, it is welcome that Stormont is back and for the future generation we should celebrate that.

Photo of Lord Murphy of Torfaen Lord Murphy of Torfaen Llafur 8:49, 27 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, it is always a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, on occasions such as this. She, like others, made reference to Lord Patrick Cormack. I want to put on record my thanks for his friendship over the years. I knew him for approximately 34 years, and the last major occasion I was with him was when he showed me around Lincoln Cathedral. As the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, said, I could say nothing at all. It was a wonderful visit. We will miss him as a great man—a good Christian man—and may he rest in peace.

We should also thank the Secretary of State, and particularly in this place the noble Lord, Lord Caine, for the work that he has done over the last months in bringing about the restoration of the institutions. I also want to give my best wishes and congratulations to Sir Jeffrey Donaldson on the work that he has done. I fundamentally disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, on what she said with regard to him, and as a consequence, if these matters are put to a vote later, the Opposition will oppose the amendment but support the Motion.

Much reference has been made to the Good Friday agreement. As your Lordships know, I played some part in that, both in chairing the talks on Strands One and Three and in partly writing those parts of the agreement. It is good that the humble Address refers to the Good Friday agreement in all its parts. That is the point: when the Assembly and the Executive were not functioning, the other strands ceased to exist. Therefore there is no north/south ministerial body and no British-Irish Council. It all goes—it all collapses. If there ever was a breach of the Good Friday agreement, it was the collapse of the institutions, because they are central to it now.

I understand the reasons why that happened over the last couple of years, and a number of Peers today have indicated, in great detail and with great passion, why they still feel that things are not right. However, the noble Lord, Lord Bew, talked about compromise, and ultimately that is what this is. The Good Friday agreement was a compromise, but we had to do it for it to get through. No one can get everything they want.

Let us look at those three strands. On Strand One, no one has really mentioned the issue of money but it ought to be mentioned and a question asked to the Minister about it. It is absolutely wonderful that the Assembly is up and running and that the Executive are functioning again, but they have huge challenges, particularly in the health service and other public services. I therefore hope that the financial arrangements in the agreement will hold, and that the difficulties currently described by the Executive can be dealt with.

It was great too to see the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister together on the very day that the Assembly was restored—two women, incidentally, leading the people of Northern Ireland. It was a great picture. I agree with the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, that it was a turning point, and we have to take advantage of that. The noble Lord, Lord Hay, quite rightly gave a very optimistic speech—and why should we not be optimistic? The institutions are back and the politicians are hard at work. Yes, there are difficulties and problems, but we have to look not just to the present but to the future in all this.

On Strand Two, there is no question in my mind that it really was not talked about at all during the negotiations over the last number of months. In fact, in the Command Paper, which was nearly 80 pages, I do not think you will see a reference to a nationalist issue. I know that the reason for the negotiations was to ensure that the unionist community was reassured—of course I understand that. However, we have to remember that progress is impossible in Northern Ireland—this is the whole basis of the Good Friday agreement—unless you are able to embrace everybody, all the 2 million people who live in Northern Ireland, whether they be nationalists, unionists or, as the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, said, others. My noble friend Lady Ritchie made it absolutely clear that this is a vital aspect which the Government must address.

The noble Lord, Lord Godson, rightly referred to Strand Three and the work of the late David Trimble. In some ways, it was the least controversial of the areas we discussed in respect of the Good Friday agreement, but in another it was one of the most important, because it referred to the east-west relationship. I would like the Minister to reflect on that and to come back to us as soon as he can on the interrelationship between the institutions set up by Strand Three—the British-Irish Council in particular, and, of course, the new east-west body and the intertrade body. Where do they link in?

The point the noble Lord, Lord Godson, rightly made was that Strand Three was not just about Northern Ireland; it was about Scotland, Wales, England, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. That is reflected also in the work of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, the only body in these islands which continues to bring all those parliamentarians together and has done over the last three years, because it is not an institution of the Good Friday agreement. It meets soon in County Wicklow, and I am convinced that when the members meet, they will rejoice that the institutions are now up and running.

I again quote the noble Lord, Lord Hay, as a former Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, because he has made a very important point. We can debate until the cows come home the Act of Union and the significance of all the different agreements that have been made, but only one thing matters: the wishes of the people of Northern Ireland. It is nothing to do with Acts of Parliament or anything else; it is about what the people of Northern Ireland desire. There is no immediate appetite for Irish unification. There may be in the future—I do not know—but it is up to the people of Northern Ireland to decide that: the principle of consent.

There is much talk of the 1998 Act, which I took through the other place a long time ago. That rested solely on the will of the people. That is why the Irish constitution was changed. Parts 2 and 3 went because they laid claim to Northern Ireland. That has gone. It is up to the people. Equally, parity of esteem is so very important. Sometimes that has been forgotten over the last couple of years. We must ensure that political stability is addressed by all political parties and by the Government in Northern Ireland, and that at some point a system is devised making that stability permanent. We have to do that.

I finish with one statistic. When I went to Northern Ireland in 1997, 3,500 people had perished in the most terrible way over the previous 20 or 30 years. In his speech yesterday in the other place, Jeffrey Donaldson referred to the fact that last year, not one person was murdered in a sectarian attack. That is the measure of the change in what has happened to the people of Northern Ireland in terms of peace. We must now ensure stability as well.

Photo of Lord Caine Lord Caine Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Northern Ireland Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 8:58, 27 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I rise to close the debate on this humble Address and thank all those who have participated in it. I am grateful to noble Lords who have directed kind words to me as a Minister at the Dispatch Box, particularly my noble friend Lord Godson and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, whom it is always a huge pleasure to hear speak on Northern Ireland affairs.

At some point during the discussions this evening, I was reminded of the late Willie Whitelaw’s quip about déjà vu all over again. We have gone over quite a lot of this territory as recently as a fortnight ago, when we debated statutory instruments, so with the leave of the House I might not refer to every single issue that has been raised; otherwise, we risk being here until midnight. There were a number of references to Bushmills. Duties or not, I look forward to enjoying one in about half an hour.

As I said in my maiden speech in your Lordships’ House some years ago, and as my noble friend Lord Lexden knows all too well, I am, and remain, an unapologetic unionist, steadfast in my belief that the best future for Northern Ireland will always be as an integral part of a strong and prosperous United Kingdom. We are, as a number of noble Lords reminded us, the most successful political and economic union in the world—something on which most noble Lords in this House will agree. I strongly endorse the words of the noble Lord, Lord Dodds of Duncairn, my noble friend Lord Lilley and many others about the importance and value of the union of the United Kingdom.

I also want to very briefly address the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick. Of course, we recognise that there are people in Northern Ireland who hold a different view and desire a different constitutional outcome, and the agreement is very clear in respect of the rights of everybody in Northern Ireland to parity of esteem and equity of treatment, no matter their political aspiration. We believe strongly in upholding that.

The debate this evening has reiterated our unwavering support for the union. We have reaffirmed the importance of upholding the Belfast agreement in all its strands. The noble Lord, Lord Murphy, was right to remind us of—as I said in my opening speech—the interlocking nature and interdependence of those three strands.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, asked me about future meetings of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference. It is due to meet in the spring and work is in progress in that respect. The British-Irish Council is, I think, due to meet later in the summer—normally around June or July. The North/South Ministerial Council is a Strand Two matter, not one for the UK Government, but I hope it will meet very shortly.

We have acknowledged in the debate the foundational importance of the Acts of Union 1800, including the economic provisions under Article VI of those Acts. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Bew, I have not yet consulted the speeches of Pitt the Younger during the passage of the Acts, but he has inspired me to maybe look more closely at some of the aspirations that he and Castlereagh set out at the time.

We have also, importantly, recognised that joint authority is not provided for in the Belfast agreement in respect of the UK and Irish Governments. The noble Lord reminded us of the New Ireland Forum. I will not necessarily repeat the words used by Mrs Thatcher at the time but I have strong sympathy with them, just as I do the views on the subject raised by my noble friend Lord Lexden.

The regret amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, which was supported by some noble Lords behind me, pertains to the requirements for passing a consent vote on the application of the Windsor Framework and its purported effect on the Acts of Union more generally. I note that the noble Baroness’s amendment is very similar to a manuscript amendment she moved in Committee on the Northern Ireland (Ministers, Elections and Petitions of Concern) Bill, long before the changes set out in the Windsor Framework and the Command Paper.

The noble Baroness followed quite closely a number of the arguments that were made in the court cases that took place on these issues. I gently and politely remind her that the applicants lost on all three counts in every court in the land, which she seems to have omitted during her comments.

In our view, very clearly there is no trade border, by any reasonable or sensible comparison with any other trade border in the world, for goods moving within the UK internal market. That will become clearer with the introduction of checks coming from the EU, including Ireland. I welcome the contribution of my noble friend Lord Lilley on these matters; as I say, we are confident that the changes that we have made to the protocol, through the Windsor Framework and the Command Paper, will ensure the smooth passage of trade within the United Kingdom.

Of course, if issues arise over the course of implementation, there are structures in place with the EU to try to address those matters. My noble friend will know that my views on the original protocol are almost identical to the ones set out by my noble friend Lord Lexden. I regard the Windsor Framework and the Command Paper as significant improvements on what was a particularly disappointing outcome back in the autumn of 2019. Obviously, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, but we are confident that the new arrangements will work to ensure the smooth passage of trade throughout the United Kingdom and the internal market.

In the Government’s view, the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, overlooks the reality of the changes we have made. In addition, we believe that the law is now crystal clear that the Windsor Framework is without prejudice to Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom. The provision we made in law through the instrument that became law last week includes the Acts of Union; we are clear that the Windsor Framework fully respects that. Our position on these matters is set out very clearly in the Safeguarding the Union Command Paper, as I have said before. In summary, the Government believe that those Acts of Union continue to have effect today and have not been undermined.

The changes we have made now mean that the law contains important new statutory protections for any independent review of the framework to be taken forward. Those protections will ensure that a review is taken forward within one month, responded to within a set period, and that its recommendations are given proper reflection, if a consent vote is not passed on a cross-community basis. These changes we have made reflect the Government’s commitment to seeking agreement that is as broad as possible in Northern Ireland, and to ensuring that action is taken, if that agreement is not forthcoming. I reiterate that commitment once again to all noble Lords.

The Government must therefore disagree with the regret amendment, which does not reflect the reality of the statute book today or the Windsor Framework and the Command Paper, which ensure the smooth flow of trade across the United Kingdom. In the coming weeks and months, the Government will continue to deliver commitments made under the Safeguarding the Union Command Paper, and continue to work with the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly Members to improve the lives of people living in Northern Ireland.

A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Jay, whose committee I had the privilege of serving on for a period of time, my noble friend Lord Lexden, the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, and others, asked about implementation. I cannot give precise timetables, but I commit, where possible, to keeping the House updated on some of the new bodies that are proposed. A reference was made, I think by my noble friend Lord Lexden, to the Sports Minister; I can confirm that that visit is taking place imminently. The noble Lord, Lord Jay, made reference to trying to involve Northern Ireland in the evolution of new EU laws; there are UK-EU joint bodies established, which will enable Northern Ireland’s views to be fed in at an early stage. I hope that reassures him.

My noble friend Lord Lexden, in a characteristically wise and scholarly speech, referred to one aspect not included in the humble Address, which is the contribution of His Majesty and members of the Royal Family to life in Northern Ireland. I want to put on record my complete agreement with the sentiments expressed by my noble friend.

I will pick out just one moment. I was present in the Lyric Theatre in 2012 when the late Queen shook the hand of Martin McGuinness. During the same visit, she also crossed the road in Enniskillen from the Anglican cathedral to the Catholic chapel. These both demonstrated her amazing ability to bring people together. I know that this commitment is shared by His Majesty the King, who is hugely devoted to Northern Ireland.

The hour is late. We have heard a number of impassioned speeches, not least from the Benches behind me, but also from right across the House. They echoed points made in this Chamber on a number of occasions in recent weeks. I do not for one second doubt the sincerity with which a number of noble Lords have expressed their concerns—in some cases, their opposition to the Windsor Framework and the Command Paper and, in certain cases, the decision of their party leader to return to devolved government. They are, of course, entitled to their view, which I entirely respect. However, I do not believe that this view represents a majority either within unionism or across Northern Ireland as a whole. The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, referred to some polling that has taken place on these matters. It is not a view shared by this Conservative and Unionist Government—or, I should add, by this staunchly Conservative and Unionist Minister, who believes that we now have the right basis for moving Northern Ireland forward.

I very much agree that now is the time to move on, as the noble Lord, Lord Bew, and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, and others pointed out. We must look forward. In this respect, I commend the speech by the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party in the other place yesterday evening. As Sir Jeffrey made clear, the Northern Ireland of today is vastly different even from when the Belfast agreement was reached 26 years ago. Unionism can no longer rely on the electoral map being coloured orange and green and on its in-built majority. The Northern Ireland of today is, as has been pointed out, one of competing minorities in which the task for those, like me, who cherish the union and want to see it thrive is to reach out and win friends across traditional divides and across generations.

I will be expressly clear once again: Northern Ireland’s position is based on consent, as many noble Lords have pointed out. The task for those of us who want to see the union prosper is to consider how we broaden support for Northern Ireland’s constitutional position in the world as it is today, not as it might have been in the past. I welcome the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Hay of Ballyore, and of the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie. Central to all this is making Northern Ireland a stable, peaceful and prosperous place for everyone who lives there, regardless of their community background or political aspirations. As the noble Lord, Lord Bew, pointed out, I very much hope that we are now entering a new era of stability in Northern Ireland.

In moving this Motion on the humble Address, His Majesty’s Government firmly believe that, with the arrangements now in place, along with the restoration of devolved government and the generous £3.3 billion financial package for the Executive, together with other financial contributions such as the Peace Plus £700 million-plus, we have an opportunity to make that vision for Northern Ireland a reality and to move Northern Ireland forward. In so doing, we guarantee Northern Ireland’s place as an integral part of this great United Kingdom.

Photo of Baroness Hoey Baroness Hoey Non-affiliated 9:13, 27 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, it was appropriate in this debate to hear so much about Lord Cormack. I hope that his family will have been in some ways helped by so many people saying such warm words about him. I served with him for many years on the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. I found him to be someone who always liked people to say what they thought and to speak out.

I remember going to Crossmaglen with the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. It was the week of Remembrance Sunday. Lady Hermon and I were wearing our poppies. One or two of the members of the committee suggested, as we drove into Crossmaglen, that it might be a good thing for us to take our poppies off. Lord Cormack was very clear that we should be able to wear our poppies. After the meeting, a lady came up to Lord Cormack and me and said, “Thank you for wearing your poppy. We couldn’t wear ours around here”. That made me feel that Lord Cormack was genuinely interested in people in Northern Ireland. As we all know, he will be greatly missed in this House.

I thank everybody who has spoken. I was particularly pleased that five Members who are not from Northern Ireland spoke. I welcome that very much, because in most of the debates I have been involved with here over the past couple of years there has been only one, perhaps—sometimes not even one. Even if I did not necessarily agree with everything they said, I welcome the contributions of those five: the noble Lords, Lord Lexden, Lord Lilley, Lord Godson and Lord Jay, who chairs the very important committee, and the noble Baroness, Lady Goudie.

I particularly welcomed the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, speaking, because we go back many years to when he chaired the Friends of the Union—a very good organisation. The work he did then is still bearing fruit. There might be a need for him, even at this late stage, to regenerate the Friends of the Union, because it gave the Northern Ireland diaspora in Great Britain a way to be involved. Of course, the Irish embassy is brilliant about doing that for the Irish diaspora, but there is nothing to help people from Northern Ireland living in Great Britain. You could go to the Irish embassy practically every week and there would be some kind of reception. There is nothing like that here.

I also welcomed what the noble Lords, Lord Lexden and Lord Dodds, said about the reluctance of Ministers to give proper Answers when we ask Questions. It is even more important that the committee on the Windsor Framework gets answers correctly, quickly and fully, but when noble Lords themselves put in Questions we get back the same Answers on practically everything—the kind of waffle Answer that does not actually answer the question. That means that we simply have to keep asking. I am very pleased that that the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, raised that as well.

It is very interesting that, apart from a little bit at the end from the Minister and from our eminent historian, the noble Lord, Lord Bew, no one actually contradicted anything in my amendment. Nobody took it on or said it is wrong. I have to take from that, given that anyone who mentioned the amendment supported it, apart from in terms of the detail, such as the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, and other Members on the Benches opposite, that it is absolutely correct, right and true.

There is no point trying to bring up all these warm words about looking to the future and progress. Of course we all want that for Northern Ireland and its people, but if Stormont is coming back, as it has, it must do so on the basis of honesty and truth about the protocol. Many of these new things and new ideas that the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, referred to about bringing Northern Ireland closer and supporting the union are very good and welcome, but the most important, simplest thing—yes, it is simple—would be for our Government to stand up for our own people and say that the protocol is not right for part of our country. The noble Lord, Lord Dodds, held up the number of laws that are being put on us by a foreign body that we have no say in whatever. How can that possibly be right?

So I am very pleased, in a way, that we have put all this on the record. It will be read in the future—not just my speech but everybody’s speeches, and people will be able to judge what is happening. All the warm words and all the waffle do not change a single fact. I have a great deal of time for the noble Lord, Lord Caine, and I know his interest in and general support for the union; but it is very interesting that he never, ever answers the question about consent. He was against it at the time, so it is a difficulty for him, but he never answers the question why the Government had to change the issue of consent. This is the one important thing to be on the basis of a majority vote and not cross-community consent. It is quite outrageous—and quite outrageous too that we never get a proper answer. Of course, we do not get a proper answer because there is no answer. There is no justification whatever other than pressure, presumably from the Irish Government and from the European Union.

I end by saying again that I am pleased that everything is on the record. I again thank all Members for speaking, particularly those who are not from Northern Ireland. In light of the fact that this is going to His Majesty the King—I am sure he will read Hansard—I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment to the Motion withdrawn.

Motion agreed.

House adjourned at 9.21 pm.