Government Departments: Non-Executive Directors

Debate between Baroness Ludford and Lord True
Thursday 1st July 2021

(12 months ago)

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Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Lord makes a point about arm’s-length and other bodies; he is right to say that they have board members, and I will take away his point in respect of them. Interests are required to be declared: currently, this is done in departments’ annual report, but clearly these matters are always subject to review and consideration.

Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD) [V]
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My Lords, cronyism in public appointments weakens the quality of governance, to the detriment of the public. The problem has got a lot worse under the present Government. The outgoing Commissioner for Public Appointments, Peter Riddell, recently noted the growth in the number of unregulated appointments by Minister and said:

“there is an urgent need to publish a list of these appointments together with how they are appointed. At present, there is a lack of transparency and clarity, and this distrust can affect regulated appointments too.”

How are the Government going to clean up the whole system?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, as I have said, the number of unregulated appointments in this area is small, but I have told the House that, following the interim report of the noble Lord, Lord Evans, the Government will respond formally and give full consideration to the points that he made, including in relation to the regulation of appointments.

Protocol on Northern Ireland: Disruption to Trade

Debate between Baroness Ludford and Lord True
Thursday 14th January 2021

(1 year, 5 months ago)

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Lord True Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord True) (Con)
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My Lords, it is important that we are clear about the overall picture. One must not overstate individual anecdotes into a systemic picture. I acknowledge that there have been issues—that was never denied—but, overall, goods are continuing to flow effectively. Supermarkets are able to move their lorries into Northern Ireland. There are some specific issues, as we have seen with individual suppliers, but it is holding up well overall. The UK Government will continue to work with supermarkets, retailers and suppliers to move in the longer run to end-to-end digital systems that enable goods to be moved in accordance with the protocol in the most streamlined way possible.

Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD) [V]
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My Lords, the Government, led by the Prime Minister, put ideology over practicality and deception over honesty in the pursuit of Brexit. The claim made by the noble Lord, Lord True, in last Friday’s debate that,

“the flow of goods under the Northern Ireland protocol is smooth overall”—[Official Report, 8/1/21; col. 442.]—

an answer he has just repeated—is contested by seven supermarket bosses. The Answer to this UQ is somewhat of an improvement on those rather complacent claims, but only when the Government are totally honest about the fact that there is a border within the UK can they start to resolve the practical difficulties of the protocol. When will that total honesty appear?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, the Government have been honest and have not been ideological. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister simply implemented the instructions of the British people—some noble Lords have not yet caught up with that. Goods are flowing effectively between Great Britain and Northern Ireland overall, with more than 1,000 trucks a day. I have acknowledged that there are certain difficulties and issues, but we must not overstate them and we are working pragmatically to address them.

Future Relationship with the EU

Debate between Baroness Ludford and Lord True
Monday 14th December 2020

(1 year, 6 months ago)

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Lord True Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord True) (Con)
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My Lords, discussions are continuing as we are enjoying our session here.

Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD) [V]
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That was rather a short answer. My Lords, Tobias Ellwood MP, the Conservative chairman of the Defence Committee, has warned that no deal will imperil Tory prospects at the next general election. Maybe that, if not the will of the country, will motivate the Prime Minister. My own priorities include security. When asked about access to EU databases, the Paymaster-General told the other place:

“We will be gaining access to new information via safety and security declarations.”—[Official Report, Commons, 10/12/20; col. 997.]


I think that is a reference to movement of goods. Can the Minister tell me what on earth those declarations have to do with cross-border policing?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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I must tell the noble Baroness that negotiations are continuing. As I have said to the House, we are confident that good security co-operation between the United Kingdom and our friends in the European Union will continue, whatever the outcome.

EU: Visa-free Short-term Travel Mobility

Debate between Baroness Ludford and Lord True
Wednesday 21st October 2020

(1 year, 8 months ago)

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Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Viscount raises an interesting suggestion. The Government recognise the importance of touring for UK musicians, and not only them. I have referred to some areas in which we are continuing efforts to negotiate a better solution, but I assure the noble Viscount and the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, that musicians are very much in our mind.

Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD)
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My Lords, I am not clear why the Minister’s initial reply was about tourists, because this Question is about people who want to work. The ONS has found that arts, entertainment and recreation, including music, has lost over half its revenue and nearly three in five of its jobs due to Covid. So the hit from Brexit is kicking a sector when it is very down. How are the Government fighting to achieve a multi-entry Schengen visa for people such as musicians, and less bureaucracy for musicians’ instruments than they are set to face—whereas of course they have free movement under existing arrangements?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, the original Question was about visa-free and short-term travel; tourism is certainly germane to the Question and I am sorry if that was unsatisfactory to the noble Baroness. I have referred to our efforts on short-term visits in relation to business activities. Our offer on mode 4 is extremely generous and we continue to impress on EU negotiators that the agreement we are proposing is very much in their workers’ interests as well as our own.

EU Trade Agreement

Debate between Baroness Ludford and Lord True
Tuesday 8th September 2020

(1 year, 9 months ago)

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Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I have not looked in detail at Sir Jonathan Jones’s resignation statement, nor have I read the newspapers today. I share and express the respect that all members of the Government have for him. In our judgment, the Ministerial Code has not been breached. We are clear that we are acting fully in accordance with UK law and the UK’s constitutional norms.

Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I also want to pick up the question of a US trade deal. The Government have trumpeted the prospect of such a deal, but Congress at least will not approve it if the Good Friday agreement is imperilled by this Government’s non-respect of the Irish protocol to the withdrawal agreement. How do the Government expect to get a US trade deal if they imperil the Good Friday agreement?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I completely reject the idea that the Government are imperilling the Good Friday agreement. I repeat what I said a minute or two ago: the peace process has an east-west as well as a north-south aspect, which the Government fully respect. The purpose of our approach is to protect peace in Northern Ireland and the Good Friday agreement.

EU: Non-financial Services

Debate between Baroness Ludford and Lord True
Wednesday 2nd September 2020

(1 year, 10 months ago)

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Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I cannot answer all the questions that the noble Lord has asked, for the reasons discussed, but I will seek out the answer to his question on his report. So far as reciprocal arrangements are concerned, I repeat what I said earlier: namely, that the Government are seeking to make progress but there are technical delays in the negotiations as a result of the EU’s position.

Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD) [V]
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My Lords, historically the UK led in the push for freedom to provide services across the EU, but now the Government’s determination to leave the single market and to privilege regulatory autonomy over market access and, even worse, their cavalier attitude to no deal risk sacrificing our trade in services, which represents over 80% of our economy and 30 million jobs, and nearly half our exports with a trade surplus with the EU. Any action can only mitigate the damage. Lawyers, musicians and other creative artists, IT consultants and truck drivers all depend on the ability to move freely to work. Many services are also bundled into the production of goods. These sectors are already reeling from the Covid shutdown. What real hope can the Government, who are rejoicing in ending free movement, genuinely offer these professionals regarding their ability to continue to earn a living from the mobility of working in the EU?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, the people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the single market. The Government have tabled proposals in a number of the areas that the noble Baroness referred to, and I have commented on the reasons for some of the current difficulties in making progress.

EU Exit: End of Transition Period

Debate between Baroness Ludford and Lord True
Wednesday 15th July 2020

(1 year, 11 months ago)

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Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD) [V]
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My Lords, the Government are seeking to put an upbeat gloss on the plans for 1 January, under the strapline, “The UK’s new start: let’s get going”, but getting going anywhere is set to be a very big challenge for both people and businesses. Individuals will lose their free movement, free roaming, free healthcare and freedom to take a pet on holiday abroad at short notice. The Government claim that leaving the EU single market and customs union means that we will,

“regain our political and economic independence.”

It is in fact going to feel like “out of control” rather than “taking back control”.

In the other place on Monday Mr Gove promised

“a free flow of freight”—[Official Report, Commons, 13/7/20; col. 1275.]

but nothing could be further from the truth. The UK will be moving from a highly integrated relationship with the EU to one in which trading with it becomes much more difficult. There will be customs forms, physical checks, new VAT rules, plant and animal health requirements, export declarations, a lorry park, and a vast new IT system—always a terrifying prospect. This is going to hit businesses struggling with the disruption and economic hit of Covid; perhaps they might just be getting their heads above water by December, at which point they will get hit by the Exocet of masses of expensive new red tape.

The Government have left it until 24 weeks before the end of transition to produce this plan. What have they actually done for the last four years? One sensible move would, of course, have been to extend the transition period, so as to avoid distraction from the pressing issue of dealing with the pandemic, but Brexit ideology, as always, trumped good sense. The complexity facing businesses can be judged by the fact that this government document comprises a dense 200 pages. As the Trade Secretary rightly highlighted in her striking letter of last week, the controls, IT systems and lorry parks will not be ready by the end of the year. This is the real reason they are being phased in over six months. Are we seriously to believe they will be ready by July next year?

Ms Truss urged

“it is essential that my department has a clear view of operation delivery plans, timescales and risks going forward.”

This suggests that the Trade Secretary has not been fully involved in plans for imports and exports. Can the Minister explain this extraordinary state of affairs? Ms Truss also pointed out that if, as predicted, the dual-tariff system is not in place for 1 January

“this may call into question NI’s place in the UK’s customs territory”.

What substantive reassurances can the Minister give us—and, more to the point, the people of Northern Ireland —on this point?

This Brexit burden will force companies to fill in an extra 215 million customs declarations every year, which Mr Gove’s document acknowledged were “complicated”. The cost for them is estimated at between £7 billion and £13 billion a year; this is on top of huge costs for the public sector. So this is where “our money back” will be going—not on the NHS, but on bureaucracy. Many firms will face the expense of hiring customs agents to complete new border formalities on their behalf. It is estimated that 50,000 of these will be needed, a figure that dwarfs the number of officials in the demonised European Commission.

The Trade Secretary, in her letter to Messrs Gove and Sunak, was worried about tariffs being dodged and asked for

“assurances that we are able to deliver full controls at these ports”—

that is, EU-facing ports—

“by July 2021 and that plans are in place from January to mitigate the risk of goods being circumvented from ports implementing full controls.”

What she is talking about, of course, is the risk of smuggling and fraud; this is an astonishing admission, so what is the answer to how these risks will be addressed?

It is clear for all to see that the promises of “frictionless trade” and “an oven-ready deal” were mere empty slogans. We are seeing what my honourable friend in the other place, Stephen Farry MP, called

“the brutal reality of Brexit”.—[Official Report, Commons, 13/7/20; col. 1279.]

It is no comfort at all for some of us to say, “We told you so.”

Lord True Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord True) (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Baronesses for their welcome for the Statement made by my right honourable friend—with modified degrees of rapture, I must confess to the House, but I always benefit from their comments and, as ever, I will try to listen and learn from them. However, I shall say one thing as a premise—I think the noble Baroness will know that I am going to say it, but I make no apology for it because it was reasserted by the British people last December. The British people twice made a very firm declaration that they wish to go forward as a sovereign nation outside the European Union, and did so in full knowledge of the circumstances that would obtain. No one in this House or in this polity can assert that, over four years of debate on the question of leaving the European Union, any question was not unearthed in that time. The British people resoundingly reasserted their verdict last December, and this Government intend to implement, and are implementing, that. I believe that that is the inescapable, underlying point which we never hear from the other side.

On costs, of course the Statement acknowledges that there will be elements of cost. The Government do not accept the cost estimates that both noble Baronesses referred to, and indeed it has become clear that some of those who made the calculations did so on the basis that every document would be filled in manually. That is not the case; we are moving to a new, modern, smart border.

I make no apologies for the additional expenditure which the Government are undertaking to secure our borders and provide a modern, effective border. Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, made the point very powerfully—and I agreed with it—that we need to have an eye to smuggling, the abuse of modern slavery, and so on. Part of this package is employing more Border Force operatives and indeed investing in new facilities and IT and opportunities for Border Force to control more effectively our borders and operate against crime. I believe that that is important. The whole £705 million package which has been announced will serve this country well and will be welcomed by most of those involved.

Another point that did not come out in the statements from the noble Baronesses opposite is the welcome that British business has given to the publication of the border operating model. This model was not sprung on business, as was implied, but is the result of lengthy, ongoing discussions and previous documents and conversations, and it reflects the wisdom of many business sectors and operatives. That is why it has had the welcome it has had. Again, my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster made it clear that there was further material— “i”s to dot and “t”s to cross was I think the phrase he used—and I can assure the House that those conversations and that engagement will continue with business in every part of this United Kingdom.

Although border control is a reserved matter, I refute the view that the devolved Administrations are not appropriately engaged. Obviously, I am always concerned when I hear that there is dissatisfaction about that and I take that back, but I can assure the House that efforts are constantly made, and indeed that engagement takes place on a regular basis and will continue to do so.

On the advertising campaign, which both noble Baronesses asked about, again, there has been a very wide welcome for this. Again, the Government make no apology for undertaking this campaign and committing extensive resources to it. It is important that business and consumers and the people of this country should be fully ready and aware. The noble Baroness rightly referred to the importance of consumers, and I can assure her that an eye will always be held to the views of consumer groups. However, I can also specifically answer her question on the NAO recommendations. She makes an important point and those recommendations have been taken on board by the Government. There will be staged monitoring of the effectiveness of the campaign and it will adhere to the proper requirements of government advertising. I give her that assurance in the House; I hope that is sufficient, but if she would like me to provide further details, I should be happy to do so, because it is a valid point and I fully take it on board.

The noble Baroness asked about business engagement, and I hope I have answered that. It is not something that suddenly started or will suddenly stop. Business engagement will continue as the process develops over the next few months. I am sorry that the noble Baroness feels what she said about Parliament. I think she knows that I have a profound respect for Parliament, particularly having spent most of my life on the Back Benches and never expecting to be standing at the Dispatch Box. As I understand it, the normal courtesies were followed with the Statement at the other end but, if they were not, I will look into the matter. However, my own view is that the fullest co-operation with opposition parties, and indeed with those of no party, is the best way to get Parliament and this revising House to work at their best.

I think that that covers most of the points that the noble Baroness raised. I do not accept this stuff about a lorry park. Work is ongoing in terms of what kind of infrastructure and facility will be required, not only behind the Dover Straits or in co-operation with the Dover Straits crossing but with other ports in the land. Those consultations are ongoing and the Government intend to provide such support as is needed to ensure that there is the fullest and freest flow of trade everywhere. I can assure the House that other ports, not just in the south-east, are taken care of. I note what the noble Baroness said about my right honourable friend’s contact with local MPs in Kent, and I believe that that represents accurately that those conversations will be taking place.

On the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, she will know that, with the greatest respect, I diverge from her just a little on both the past history and the present analysis. As she knows, it is not the normal custom for this Government, or any Government, to comment on leaked documents, so I cannot pursue her into a detailed parsing of the letter that she has in her hands. She will know, because until recently the Liberal Democrats were also a party of government, that there is constant give and take within government. There is conversation within and outside government. That is how best policy is formulated, and the policy which is on the table and which I present to the House is the collective, agreed and actively supported policy of Her Majesty’s Government.

On Northern Ireland, which the noble Baroness raised, she will know that the union is close to my heart personally and, indeed to that of my principal, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. The border operating model obviously does not apply specifically to Northern Ireland, but a document will be published later this month that will refer to and cover the situation in Northern Ireland. Yes, I can confirm that there is a supported programme to secure intermediaries and customs agents: we have discussed that in the House before. Again, I make no apology for that support and expenditure; it is important to secure the modern and effective borders that we need.

There are great opportunities here not always mentioned by those on the other side. In future, I am certain that, with the help being offered through the operating model and the advertising, our exporters will be ready to take advantage of new free trade agreements that we are negotiating with some of the world’s fastest-growing economies. Our small businesses will be ready to grow as we regulate our own industries in a way that works for them. Our economy will be ready to attract the best and brightest from around the world as we introduce a new points-based immigration system, and our fishermen, God bless them—fisherfolk —will be ready to flourish as we again take control of our coastal waters. We are ready for the opportunities in front of us and I believe that this Statement carries those forward.

EU: Customs Arrangements

Debate between Baroness Ludford and Lord True
Wednesday 8th July 2020

(1 year, 11 months ago)

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Lord True Portrait Lord True
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My Lords, again, I must ask my noble friend to await the details, but I assure her that the specific question of medical and pharmaceutical goods is certainly understood and taken into account.

Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD) [V]
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My Lords, at present, from the moment a truck drives off the cargo deck of a ferry at Dover, it takes less than four minutes for it to reach the port exit and begin its journey onwards into Britain—and of course that process is free of paperwork. How long will it take that lorry in the future, counting the time at a customs processing centre, the details of which we do not yet know?

Lord True Portrait Lord True
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My Lords, I hope that the arrangements will be as smooth and swift as possible. This will be a matter for discussion and elucidation, but the Government intend to sustain our right to border controls and to facilitate the effective transit of goods.

UK-EU Negotiations

Debate between Baroness Ludford and Lord True
Thursday 18th June 2020

(2 years ago)

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Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for this opportunity to question him on the Statement. The Prime Minister wants a “tiger in the tank” Brexit, which is no doubt better than a no-deal dog’s dinner Brexit, but was described by European Council President Charles Michel as a “pig in a poke”. Given farmers’ fears that they are going to be sold down the Swanee, the use of so many animal metaphors is interesting.

The alarm in the farming community and among consumers ought to cause retreat from the gung-ho, “let them eat chlorinated chicken” approach to the prospect of a US trade deal, which requires the sacrifice of our current EU standards of food safety, environmental protection and animal welfare. Worryingly, however, the Government are reported to want to enforce this by undermining the EU system of protection of specialist local foods—Cornish pasties, Melton Mowbray pork pies and so on—known as geographical indications, presumably to keep the US happy. There is obviously a tussle going on in government about food standards and protections. Can the Minister tell us the exact current state of play?

It is worth noting that Mr Gove used the term “comprehensive” about the deal sought. That, at least, is part-way to the notion in the political declaration, which was “ambitious” and “comprehensive”, and seems to improve on the stance adopted since February of minimalist objectives for a skinny deal. Is there a dawning recognition, even in No. 10, that unless it makes more of an effort there could be no deal, which in a reverse of previous insouciance it now wants to avoid? Also, perhaps it realises that a comprehensive deal is actually easier to negotiate, because it gives room for mutually acceptable trade-offs.

The EU is preoccupied with Covid and its proposed recovery plan. The UK economy shrunk by 20% in April and will be in no condition whatever to cope with a no-deal shock to business and jobs at the end of the year. It finally seems to have begun to scare No. 10 that the potential disruption—to manufacturing supply chains in areas such as cars and aerospace, to produce supply chains in medicines and food, or to Northern Ireland in particular—might make it somewhat unpopular, on top of its bad ratings, not least from Tory MPs and voters, for its handling of the Covid pandemic.

I think it has begun belatedly to realise that the public is unnerved by buccaneering in government, which is why we have seen in the last few days—coinciding intriguingly with the Brexit summit—a series of dead cat distractions such as the abolition of DfID, a new royal yacht and a union jack plane. I love cats, so I somewhat regret that popular phrase. It seems to be trying to disguise a preparedness to make concessions and compromises in the talks with the EU to maintain suitable British access to its market and programmes. Can the Minister comfort me and confirm that this is the case?

All things are relative in Brexit, since nothing can be as good as EU membership—but with that caveat I welcome what I perceive as a shift. Maybe the Government will even realise that if the “sunlit uplands” of Brexit are so great, the fact that a shock and awe media campaign is needed to prepare for it will strike British citizens as pretty odd.

David Frost told our EU Committee:

“As a policy decision, the Government’s view is that the benefits of having regulatory control … outweigh the cost”.


Has this Government’s obsession with sovereignty led them to forget Mrs Thatcher’s understanding, which she enunciated 45 years ago, of the necessity

“to pool significant areas of sovereignty so as to create more effective political units”?

This insight is also true of effectiveness in fighting crime. It would be bizarre if a Government from a party that lauds itself for upholding law and order refused to guarantee continuity in upholding European values of data protection and human rights in order to ensure access to EU crime-fighting databases and effective extradition.

In conclusion, I hope the Minister can give me some hope that developments this week mean that the Government recognise the need to ditch the symbolism of an empty kind of independence in favour of meaningful access to EU markets for British businesses, including farmers, and solidarity with the EU in upholding European values.

Lord True Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord True) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank both noble Baronesses for their remarks. I was very grateful for the positive tone from the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford. I will start with that first. I do not think that it is correct to characterise what is happening as a change. The British Government have been consistent in their policy and in the statement of that policy that we wish to achieve a free trade agreement and the other things in the suite of agreements we are looking at. That is the desirable goal.

As the Prime Minister said in his statement at the high-level meeting, a preferential trade agreement is desirable and achievable, but it is not essential for either side. We would like to have a deal, but we are prepared for any eventuality. Our position is, as the noble Baroness will know, that the United Kingdom Government are asking for very little—indeed, virtually nothing—that is not precedented in agreements that the European Union has struck with others. Everyone in the Government wishes to go forward with good relations with our partners in the European Union in every way. It is symbolic to have the President of France here in London today, attesting to the deep affection and friendship between our two countries, which will continue irrespective of institutional outcomes.

Both noble Baronesses were a little bit critical of the Prime Minister making a Statement on the reform of Whitehall to improve Britain’s capability to assist people abroad—our friends abroad and those in need. It is perfectly apposite for the Prime Minister to make a Statement on such an important reorganisation—indeed, it must be for the Prime Minister to make such a Statement.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, spoke about there being a lot in the Statement about process, not explicit content. I understand that it is sometimes testing to noble Lords’ patience—indeed, sometimes it is testing to the patience of those of us inside government—that the very fact that this is a negotiation means that one cannot track every tick and comma of a delicate arrangement. Indeed, it is important that the confidentiality and integrity of the process be protected to secure the positive outcome that we want.

Yes, the Statement is more about process than specific content, but process is important. The Statement refers to an acceleration of the process, which I would think would be welcomed by noble Lords opposite me and those on this side of the House. An earnest commitment to try to reach agreement in five successive rounds has been announced; that change of pace is important and should be welcomed. If we cannot reach agreement, it is better that we know that early on, rather than have a prolonged, and potentially bad-tempered, negotiation into the autumn. I welcome the fact that both sides have agreed to this new process; that is important.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, talked about no deal, and was scathing about the Government’s reference to an Australia-style deal. Australia has a range of arrangements with the European Union. I repeat that no deal is not really on the agenda now. We are out of the European Union, and we are negotiating the best possible outcome for trading and other arrangements, for us both. But whatever happens at the end, we will subsist outside the European Union, on the basis of the treaty passed by this Parliament.

Both noble Baronesses rightly referred to the importance of agriculture and agricultural products. I can certainly reassure them that, as has been made clear, the interests and the position of the agricultural industry and the treatment of agri-foods are constantly being considered.

There was criticism of the advertising programme proposed by the Government. This is one of those cases at the Dispatch Box where one feels damned if you do and damned if you do not. Most of the time, I come here to try to assist your Lordships, and am criticised about people being left in the dark about what is proposed. Then, when the Government say that they wish to set up an intensive process of information for industry, relevant to the proposed border arrangements—the programme which will be going forward over the next few months—I am told that this is ridiculous and that we cannot spend taxpayers’ money on an advertising programme.

The parties opposite need to decide whether they wish business and people to be informed, or to complain that they are left perpetually in the dark. We want to treat all interests in this nation as partners in this exercise. That includes business, those dealing with the transit of goods and the border, and the devolved Administrations. In the judgment of the Government, it is important that we keep people informed.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, also referred to the border phasing arrangements. In the light of the Covid-19 situation, it was generally agreed, and welcomed as a sensible proposal, that the system should be phased in during the first six months of next year.

Both noble Baronesses referred to Northern Ireland. Of course, it remains our position that there will be unfettered access for Northern Ireland goods to the United Kingdom. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, rightly said it was particularly important that Northern Ireland business be engaged and consulted. There is a specific business engagement forum dealing with that process, and there is internal and external dialogue—never in this life does one suffer from lack of dialogue.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, asked about data protection. There are of course negotiations in that specific area, and I recently wrote to her noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire about the nature of those negotiations. We hope that there is some evidence of a convergence of opinion between the UK and the EU. I refer her to the letter which I sent, but I cannot go into the specifics of negotiations.

Security of course is important, but it does not have to be part of an overall specific architecture. I refer again to the very welcome visit of the President of France today, which recalled the intensely moving relationship between our countries during some of the gravest days of this great continent in the last century. No one who witnessed the evocation of the events of the past that the events of today referred to could have any doubt that we will always be good partners in good faith to our close allies and friends. So there are issues, as noble Lords know, but I hope very much that we will be able to have a good relationship, whatever form that takes in the future.

I hope that I have answered most of the questions. I do not think that I have to deny being a buccaneer—I am a bit too corpulent to be a very good buccaneer. The Government are not approaching the matter in a buccaneering fashion. This is an extremely important process, but it is also, above all things, a process of delivering the undertaking that we have given to the British people to deliver a United Kingdom that is an independent state at the end of this year. That remains our fundamental position, and it does not change—whatever the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, may seek to divine.

EU: Trade and Security Partnership

Debate between Baroness Ludford and Lord True
Tuesday 9th June 2020

(2 years ago)

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Lord True Portrait Lord True [V]
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My Lords, I will not criticise the negotiators on either side; they have their mandates and both have said that they find the discussions professional and appropriate. However, my noble friend is quite right to say that on certain matters, as I think Mr Frost said, the EU must evolve an understanding that the United Kingdom is not prepared to accept the so-called level playing field or, indeed, to accept that we cannot be an independent coastal state regarding fisheries.

Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD) [V]
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My Lords, the Conservative Party has long regarded itself, justifiably or not, as the party that looks after business, so can the Minister tell us why this Conservative Government are so apparently casual about the prospect of a no-deal crash-out on 31 December, despite alarmed warnings from business representatives such as the CBI, from hauliers about the lack of customs preparation at Dover, from the pharmaceutical industry about dangerously low stocks of drugs, from the business community in Northern Ireland about lack of detailed preparation for implementation of the Irish protocol, and from many others? Why is ideology trumping pragmatism?

Lord True Portrait Lord True [V]
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There is no ideology. This is a pragmatic Government. We have close contact with business, which will intensify and continue. There is no crash-out no deal. We will leave the EU at the end of the year with either a Canada-style or an Australia- style arrangement.

EU: Plans for No Deal

Debate between Baroness Ludford and Lord True
Tuesday 2nd June 2020

(2 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord True Portrait Lord True
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My Lords, the Government seek to extend the opportunities of our being outside the European Union and to enable businesses and citizens to prepare for the change for which the people of this country voted and for which Parliament legislated. Of course, in our strategy of levelling up, we will have particular regard to any parts of the country that are affected in particular ways.

Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD)
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My Lords, in his evidence to your Lordships’ House’s EU Committee last week, the UK’s Brexit negotiator, Mr David Frost, said that

“the Canada and Australia outcomes are similar”

if not identical. These are of course shorthand for a free trade agreement and no deal. Why are the Government so minimalist in their aims compared to the goal of

“an ambitious, broad, deep … partnership … with a comprehensive … Free Trade Agreement at its core”

that they signed up for in the political declaration last October?

Lord True Portrait Lord True
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My Lords, I watched the evidence given by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and by Mr David Frost. I thought that they came over—I hope your Lordships will agree —as people who were seeking a responsible and reasonable agreement with the European Union. I am confident that those negotiations will succeed.

EU: Future Relationship

Debate between Baroness Ludford and Lord True
Wednesday 20th May 2020

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord True Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord True) (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness is always critical of the role of Mr David Frost, the Prime Minister’s Sherpa. Mr Frost acts on behalf of the UK Government and, in my view, is doing an outstanding job. I think many noble Lords would agree that his letter was not unreasonable, but reasonable in setting out some of the areas of difference which we hope can be clarified. I believe that it is still very possible, as Mr Frost said, to agree a “modern and high-quality” free trade agreement and other agreements. He has suggested ways to find a rapid and constructive way forward.

Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD)
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How can the Government reproach the EU for being inflexible and ideological when they are insisting on many club membership benefits that they know are incompatible with the rather thin, minimalist relationship in which they reject the EU’s rules? Why, on the other hand, are they being so unambitious in areas such as foreign and defence policy, given that the UK surely has a great deal to contribute to a common European effort in an era of such uncertainty about the US and China? Why is there no proposed treaty on these matters, and why are the Government cavalier about a no-deal outcome at the end of the year? Are they refusing to contemplate an extension to the transition period because they think that the dire economic effect of no deal would be hidden by the effects of the corona- virus?

European Union: Future Relationship

Debate between Baroness Ludford and Lord True
Tuesday 28th April 2020

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD)
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On what basis do the Government believe that they will have full access to EU security operations and databases such as Europol and the Schengen Information System, an ambition that has been labelled as “cherry picking on speed” by a spokesman for one of the parties in the coalition Government of Germany, which will have the EU presidency from July? Are the Government relying on a belief that the EU will compromise on its legal rules on data protection, human rights and the European Court of Human Rights or, in the words of Mr Gove yesterday, that they will set aside their principles?

Lord True Portrait Lord True
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No, my Lords, the Government are negotiating in good faith. We are in the first stages of this negotiation and that is the course we will continue to pursue. I have rather more confidence in the good faith of both sides than is implied in the question put by the noble Baroness.

EU: Negotiations

Debate between Baroness Ludford and Lord True
Tuesday 17th March 2020

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord True Portrait Lord True
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My Lords, both sides remain fully committed to these negotiations. Discussions are about not whether but how to continue them.

Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD)
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My Lords, in his reply to the debate on the EU Committee’s report yesterday, the Minister made an absolutist statement that “under no circumstances” would the Government “accept an extension”. This contrasted interestingly with an earlier response to my noble friend Lord Oates by the Minister’s colleague the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park, at Question Time, who said:

“Were it the case that the … Government felt the need to do such a thing”—


amending the EU withdrawal Act—

“they would take the step that the noble Lord has outlined”,—[Official Report, 16/3/20; col. 1274.]

so that they have the power to extend. However, that is not the Government’s view today. The answer from the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, was much more flexible. Does the noble Lord, Lord True, accept that a flexible rather than absolutist, rejectionist policy towards extension would be regarded by the House and by the country as statesmanlike, rather than as some kind of cave-in?

Lord True Portrait Lord True
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My Lords, I do not accept the noble Baroness’s adjectives or colourful language. Parliament has enacted that we should complete this by the end of the year. That is this Government’s policy.

European Union: Negotiations (European Union Committee Report)

Debate between Baroness Ludford and Lord True
Monday 16th March 2020

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord True Portrait Lord True
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All right—I shall accept the timetable. However, I maintain the point. In the middle of the Second World War, when Winston Churchill sent for Rab Butler—who my noble friend will remember very well—to look into the future of education in this country, he did not suddenly, when some news came in, say, “Rab, you must drop this.” The Government went on and, in the 1944 Education Act, laid the foundations to the education system in this country despite the enormous crisis of the Second World War. Everything is possible and nothing is impossible in life, but I do not think—

Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford
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My Lords, the Minister has just been advised by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack—and I support what he said—that nobody has suggested that the negotiations be abandoned. People have talked about the Government not being ideological about requesting an extension, so that we possibly go beyond December. There were murmurs of support for the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. The Minister should surely have got the message: this House does not accept his interpretation of what he is claiming was said, but he is going on with the same theme.

Lord True Portrait Lord True
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My Lords, it is an unfortunate condition of democratic life that not everybody accepts the contention that is put forward by somebody on the other side. When I hear a plea being made for indefinite open-ended deferment—if I may go that far—that might or might not be a move towards abandonment. Let us not argue about that. My contention is that, in so far as possible, the business of this Government should go on. Until instructed otherwise, my view is that the central promise made by this Government to the electorate at the recent general election was that they would accomplish the completion of this process—and by the date agreed by both the European Union and the British Government: 31 December 2020. As I stand here, the position of the Government is that we should seek to conclude the arrangements on the timetable set out.

Having been diverted by those last few speeches, I should perhaps get back to the central response to the outstanding report put forward by your Lordships’ Select Committee and the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull. I do not agree with all the strictures or necessarily all the rapture that attaches to that report, but I do think that it was outstanding and timely. That he, his committee and their clerks have achieved this report so swiftly and ably is a tribute, as many have said, to the work of your Lordships’ House. To the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, I say that I would certainly be interested to see the report of her sub-committee when it comes out; I am sure that that would be widely shared.

In a tight timeframe, the committee has produced a detailed and informative report. I believe that everyone who has spoken would agree, at least on this: that it has facilitated the debate that we have had today on negotiations. I salute the continued dedication of your Lordships’ committee and I say clearly to the noble Earl that, certainly while I stand at this Dispatch Box, I will wish to have the closest co-operation with him and the committee and that is the position, I think, of all my colleagues on the Front Bench. He asked me some specific questions about engagement and methodologies—these were also put forward in the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter. I will come to those, but in general terms, without setting out a specific structure for engagement, of course the Government wish to engage with and hear the opinions of your Lordships’ committee.

I was struck by the tone at the start of the debate, when, with the greatest respect to her, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, spoke of a mean-spirited tone and of extremism—it is a fact; Hansard will record it—and went on to talk about our hard line. She actually ended her speech saying that the Government’s policy was “demented” in trying to put into effect the central proposal of our manifesto and the central request twice made by the British people. I reject that. I do not accept it and I think it was a tone that luckily we moved away from after the first few speeches, when we moved to the normal tone of your Lordships’ House.

I was asked about the current negotiations—not just about the timeframe, but whether negotiations would actually continue this week. As noble Lords will know, the EU and UK negotiators have today jointly decided not to hold this week’s round of negotiations in London in the form originally decided, but both sides remain fully committed to continuing negotiations and are currently exploring alternative ways to continue discussions. That must be right, and it must and does include the possibility of video conferencing or conference calls and exploring flexibility in the structure over the coming weeks. If we are asking the people of this country to do ever more indirectly —by video, remotely—then surely the Government of this country and the negotiators for the European Union can seek to advance policy in the same way.

Today’s debate also covered the UK’s approach to negotiations with the European Union as set out in our Command Paper. That remains, although I know it does not please everybody, that by the end of this year —I have to repeat it again—we will be fully independent and a sovereign country. The Command Paper is also clear that we are not asking for a special or bespoke relationship with the European Union: in our proposals, which are based on the political declaration, we are looking for a relationship grounded in precedent. Even the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, acknowledged in his speech that the UK proposals were grounded in precedent. The relationship that we are suggesting is aligned with the parameters for our relationship as agreed in the political declaration.

Points have been made, including by your Lordships’ Select Committee, about the political declaration—who has moved away from it, who has not moved away from it and so on. I thought that, in an outstanding speech, my noble friend Lord Barwell set out a point also made in the Select Committee report: that the wording is not aligned in every respect with the wording of the political declaration. Both sides are making new asks—no, that is not the right phrase: both sides have set out their objectives. As was explained in another outstanding speech by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, there are differences in the positions, and the British position is as has been set out before your Lordships.

Our view, that our future relationship must be based on sovereignty, and that autonomy of decision-making must be respected as a principle on both sides, is not incompatible with having a close relationship with the EU. Our outline for negotiations, which noble Lords have heard before, builds on precedent and the EU’s offer of a Canada-style agreement. It reflects the type of free trade agreement that should be entirely achievable between sovereign states, as the EU has done previously. We continue to see the EU as our neighbour and friend and want our future relationship to be as wide-ranging as precedent allows. I do not accept that this is a doctrinaire Government who do not want good relations with the European Union; the opposite is true. However, it is a Government who believe that the relationship must be one of sovereign equals. That is what the British people have required and requested of us. We believe that our economic and political independence is a matter of vital national interest.

I will now address the specific points raised by the report. From my reading, there were three specific areas that the noble Earl asked the Government to address. The first was on an association agreement. It invited the Government to comment on the structure of the relationship and whether it would take the form of an association agreement. It is not fruitful to parse the political declaration, but my noble friend Lord Barwell quoted from the relevant part of it, which said that it could take the form of an association agreement, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, said, the parties may also decide that an agreement should sit outside an overarching framework and in a series of linked agreements. We strongly believe that the content of discussions should drive the structure of the agreement, not the other way around. As my Prime Minister set out, we will seek to negotiate a free trade agreement as well as a separate fisheries agreement, an internal security agreement and other more technical agreements, which I hope will include one on aviation, where points have been made about the move in the European Union’s position.

The report also invited the Government to explain the extent to which the general principles and core values in the political declaration should form part of our future relationship with the EU. This has been the theme of a number of opening speeches on the other side. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said that there was “blithe disregard” for the political declaration. I certainly do not agree with that. The UK and the European Union signed up to the political declaration. All the areas of policy set out in the political declaration will be relevant to the UK’s future co-operation with the European Union. However, not all need form part of a negotiated treaty. Many can be developed in a spirit of friendly dialogue between the UK and the EU, which is what we seek. This vision is fully compatible with the political declaration and based on the principles of precedent and reciprocity.

The noble Earl also asked whether the Government would publish a comparative analysis of the political declaration and the Government’s Command Paper. There has been a great deal of debate on the political declaration. The document has been on public record since last October. As the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, I think, said, the Select Committee’s own document provides what the Select Committee asked for.

The report notes Parliament’s role. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, has tabled an amendment on this topic, and a number of noble Lords have touched on this point. This House and Parliament as a whole was given a chance to vote on a potential statutory role for the House when they approved the Government’s approach to negotiations and the agreements during the passage of the withdrawal agreement Bill. As noble Lord will recall, and as my noble friend Lady Noakes reminded us, the other place voted decisively against giving a statutory role to Parliament in these matters. Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, withdrew her amendments on this matter during the passage of the Bill. Nevertheless, as the Prime Minister said at the Second Reading of the withdrawal agreement Bill:

“Parliament will be kept fully informed of the progress of these negotiations”.—[Official Report, Commons, 20/12/19; col. 150.]


In meeting that commitment, I ask noble Lords to note that the publication of the Government’s approach was supported by Oral Statements in both Houses and it is being debated today. A Written Ministerial Statement was also made on 9 March, and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has appeared before a Select Committee in the other place.

I was asked about the role of the devolved Administrations by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and others. Throughout the negotiations, the United Kingdom has acted on behalf of the whole of the union. That is the constitutional position and it is consonant with the UK’s constitutional responsibilities—in particular, for the international conduct of the UK’s interests. However, on 28 January in Cardiff there was a ministerial conference on future relationship negotiations, and we stand ready to hold more such meetings. We shared a draft of our approach to the negotiations with the devolved Administrations in advance of publication, and UK government officials and Ministers have been in regular contact with their counterparts throughout this process. That must be the correct position.

I was asked about the Northern Ireland protocol. The Government will hear what has been said in many of the distinguished speeches made today but, as noble Lords will know, a discussion is to take place on this issue at the first meeting of the Joint Committee, and I would not wish to anticipate that.

In conclusion, of course there are areas of divergence between the UK and the EU, and those have been highlighted by many in this debate. However, I like to travel in hope and we must not forget that the Government’s intention is to get a good deal with the European Union. There are many areas where there is convergence. The very act of highlighting the areas where there is divergence draws attention to the silence on the areas where there is not divergence, and that illustrates the fact that both sides want a comprehensive, friendly relationship based on free trade. We will continue to approach these conversations in that way.

We are committed to doing everything we can to ensure that both sides see reasonable progress by June, so there is a clear point in keeping the negotiations going with a view to completing ratification this year. However, under no circumstances will the Government accept an extension. We firmly believe that there is ample time to strike an agreement based on free trade and friendly co-operation.

Again, I thank the committee of your Lordships’ House for its important and insightful work. I look forward to engaging with it in the future and indeed with other Select Committees of this House throughout our negotiations with the EU.