There have been 9 exchanges involving Lord Duncan of Springbank and the Department for Exiting the European Union
|Thu 16th January 2020||European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill (Lords Chamber)||5 interactions (887 words)|
|Mon 18th June 2018||European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (Lords Chamber)||15 interactions (1,757 words)|
|Wed 16th May 2018||European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (Lords Chamber)||7 interactions (1,057 words)|
|Mon 30th April 2018||European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (Lords Chamber)||3 interactions (1,070 words)|
|Wed 25th April 2018||European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (Lords Chamber)||5 interactions (1,303 words)|
|Mon 23rd April 2018||European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (Lords Chamber)||14 interactions (1,405 words)|
|Mon 26th March 2018||European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (Lords Chamber)||8 interactions (648 words)|
|Wed 14th March 2018||European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (Lords Chamber)||13 interactions (1,751 words)|
|Wed 14th March 2018||European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (Lords Chamber)||3 interactions (733 words)|
My Lords, this is not the first time we have debated the options for future UK participation in EU agencies and I doubt it will be the last. However, it remains a vital issue, and one where the Government and the Opposition remain at odds.
We have always been clear that, while it would require ongoing payments to the EU, it is in the national interest for the UK to continue working within or alongside EU agencies. These are the bodies that were established with the UK’s blessing, and indeed often at its insistence, to share best practice and promote efficiency by avoiding unnecessary duplication. Participation often comes with access to shared databases or alert systems. These are particularly important for food safety, product recalls and so on.
Under Mrs May, the Government shifted from point-blank refusal to even debate the issue to half-hearted commitments to exploring their options. Later they edged towards continued participation in some agencies if the price and terms were right. All the while we edge towards our exit without any kind of clarity. Your Lordships’ House and its committees have previously explored the options and precedents at some length. I hope the Government will have undertaken their own assessments. The Minister will know that it is not only possible for the UK to continue as part of many agencies but that that would be actively welcomed by our friends and colleagues across the EU 27.
As with the last group of amendments, I know the Minister will fall back on the fact that these are matters for the next phase of the negotiations. I also know that the Government will resist this amendment, as they have done with every other amendment that we have debated in recent days. I strongly disagree with that approach but it is the Minister’s prerogative. However, the suggestion from my noble friend Lord Whitty is a sensible one. All he seeks is an assurance that Parliament will be provided with information on the Government’s plans for future participation in each EU agency and will have the chance to debate those decisions. I have no doubt that your Lordships’ House’s committees will continue to carry out inquiries in these specific subject areas, and those reports will continue to be useful and give us the chance to talk about specifics, but I would like a commitment from the Government that they will be proactive in their approach, providing a speedy response and ensuring that sufficient time is allocated for discussion.
In my career I have been a much-regulated person, and the value of effective regulation when it comes to safety, trading, smoothness and so on is overwhelming. Every now and then we get a sad reminder of that when it breaks down, and unfortunately we have had this recently in the aviation industry. To take on the sheer complexity of certificating aeroplanes, for instance—in this case the Boeing 737 Max—you need an enormous level of competence and real political clout. The FAA failed to supervise Boeing successfully despite being a body in a big country which had all the resources to do it. The European aviation safety organisation did have that size. We have to recognise that to discharge these responsibilities without being part of a larger agency will be an enormous challenge, requiring enormous resources.
I really hope that the Government will take the general thrust of my noble friend Lord Whitty’s amendment and recognise just how valuable it is to retain membership of the European agencies in one form or another. The chances of generating our own capability to have the same impact on safety in particular, but also reliability, co-operation and so on, are, in my view, close to negligible.
My Lords, I am very grateful for that full reply from the Minister on the intent of Government in these areas. I would, however, ask him to comment on one or possibly two areas.
First, the three agencies that he picked out were the ones that the previous Prime Minister picked out, in one of her major speeches in this saga, as being particularly important for continuing participation. Perhaps I should solidly approve the consistency of policy within the Government over the change in regime, but if that is still the priority, it is a rather limited number of these agencies.
Secondly, the noble Lord said that things will continue as normal during the implementation transition period. My understanding—as of a few months ago, anyway—was that, while the rules would remain the same, our participation in any of the executive bodies of these agencies has been denied by the European Union. If there is a change in that situation, I would strongly support it, but my understanding is that only a few weeks ago the EU’s view was that we would no longer participate, even though we were bound by the rules. Could the Minister comment on that?
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My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister and his colleagues for what he has said and for what the Government have done. I could not have improved on what he said. It is an important day for child refugees. We have tried to keep the campaign on behalf of unaccompanied child refugees on a cross-party basis. We saw that in this House and there are some Conservative MPs who are very supportive in the Commons as well. Without that, we would not have got to where we have. I believe that there will be quite a number of child refugees in Europe who, through this amendment, will, I hope, be able to have a better life in this country.
I have always argued that we should not take responsibility for all child refugees, but this amendment deals with those who have a connection through family members and relatives in this country, just as there are child refugees in other countries who, under the present system, have the right to join their relatives there—for example, a Syrian boy in France could join an uncle in Stockholm. This would safeguard the position as regards that agreement when we leave the EU. I am very grateful to the Minister and to all those in all parties who have supported this. I believe the cause of child refugees is, by and large, supported by most people in this country—although not by everybody. I think that if one puts it to people in this country they will say that, in terms of our humanitarian traditions, it is right that we should give support to child refugees. Public opinion is on our side and I am grateful that the Government have been so helpful in what they have done today.
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My Lords, I think this is a very fine illustration of what this House has been able to do to the Bill. Of course, tomorrow all the focus, all the razzmatazz, will be concentrated on the vote that took place less than half an hour ago, but there has been real progress and a real meeting of minds. Clearly, we are very much in debt to my noble friend Lord Patten for his initiative, but the Government have responded in kind and that is something for which we are all grateful. It also underlines the fact that this House was able to give critical scrutiny to the Bill and the Government were able to recognise, on many occasions, that points of real substance had been made and real advance had been achieved.
I hope that when people look back on this, all the ridiculous accusations of betrayal and treachery and enemies of the people—all that rubbish—will be forgotten and what will be remembered is that your Lordships’ House devoted many hours of painstaking scrutiny to a Bill that we all recognised had to go on the statute book, and we improved it significantly. I am quietly proud of what we have done in this House. I hope all your Lordships will be. I hope that those outside who comment on these affairs will recognise the constructive role of this House of Parliament.
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You can please some of the people some of the time, but never all of the people all of the time. Like my noble friend Lord Hain, I should like to have seen more reference in the amendment to the customs union that has to be in some way adopted to ensure that there is no very hard border. I also agree, however, with the noble Lord, Lord Cormack: the fact that this amendment is before us at all is an indicator of the work of the Government, the Minister and his ministerial colleagues, including the Member for Worcester, who has been dealing with this. The Bill now refers to the Good Friday agreement, north-south ministerial bodies and the need to avoid a physical border with all its trappings. I am sure that in the months ahead the Minister will be able to find some answer to my noble friend Lord Hain in the Trade Bill that will come before us—it is a hugely important issue—but I very much take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Empey. He, the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, the noble Lord, Lord Bew, and I were at the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly in County Sligo last week meeting Members of Parliament not just from Ireland and the United Kingdom but from the devolved institutions, and there was unanimous agreement that Brexit is dominating British-Irish relations. No other country in the European Union will be affected like Ireland, and it is very important that we acknowledge that in Parliament as well as in government.
The other point made by the noble Lord, Lord Empey, is also vital. The Government must concentrate their efforts on restoring the institutions in Belfast. Only this week, the Government announced extra money for the National Health Service. The Barnett consequentials of that for Wales and Scotland will be decided by Ministers and Parliaments. Who will decide where that extra money—hundreds of millions of pounds—will go in Northern Ireland when there is no Executive? More significantly in the context of this debate, there is no political voice from Northern Ireland in the negotiations dealing with these important issues. I am sure the Minister will have this uppermost in his mind in the weeks ahead. In the meantime, we accept that this amendment is not everything we wanted, but it is a lot of it, and I hope that the Commons will accept it when it goes back to them. There is absolute recognition that, 20 years after the signing of the Good Friday agreement, we must not allow Brexit to interfere with all the good work that has resulted from that agreement in 1998.
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Hunt, who is unable to be here today, I fully support the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay. It was helpful to be reminded of the strong concerns expressed on Report; I also endorse the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Warner. It is important to have clarification that the need to preserve Article 168 of the Lisbon treaty as part of retained EU law is recognised, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s comments.
I commend the Minister’s willingness to work with noble Lords across the House on this important matter and his helpful role in facilitating this and working through the issues referred to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay. Article 168 places public health protection and health improvement at the epicentre of policy-making, and the Government’s assurances that our domestic law implementing EU public health requirements will continue to be interpreted by reference to relevant EU law, including Article 168, will be welcome.
The Minister’s assurance of the Government’s commitment to ensuring that the UK remains a world leader in public health following Brexit would also be welcome. I hope he will provide the House with this, to be noted for the record.
Finally, it is important once again to pay tribute to and place on record the work of the wide coalition of major public health bodies, medical colleges, charities and the wider health community in helping us, one hopes, reach a consensus on the way forward.
Circumstances have not enabled me to participate in previous debates on this subject but I want to put one point to my noble friend. He has instanced the debate on standardised packaging; I was responsible for the initial consultation. That policy did not stem from a European Union initiative but from one in this country or, one might say, from my conversations with Nicola Roxon, the Australian Health Minister. We do not therefore depend on the treaty for the function of the European Union to lead on public health. We have done so inside Europe, as we have across the world, on issues such as the tobacco control regime, and I hope we will continue to do so. The practical, rather than legal, issue is how effective our continuing co-operation with other European Administrations, national and EU, will be in combating public health threats—for example, the spread of infections. That kind of activity is much more practical than it is legal.
Bearing in mind that Clause 4 as amended has clear definitions of the protections that were required in the amendment, would it not therefore be possible for the Government kindly to consider reinforcing the certainty and security of the assertions by including the text, or perhaps a revised, shortened version of the text, in the new Clause 5? It would go in the Bill as subsection (1), paragraph (c) to the amended Clause 4. Would that not be a very convenient way of combining two certainties to reassure the public?
My Lords, I am most grateful to everyone who has intervened. As someone who has felt passionately about tobacco control I am glad to be able to tell noble Lords that I am now involved in working with Hong Kong on its tobacco control measures. UK public health has indeed led the world in many ways and nobody wanted to see that jeopardised. I am particularly grateful to my noble friend Lord Warner for generously sharing some of the background to all this with me, and of course the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, who gave me a tutorial on some of the issues around EU law shortly before we came into the Chamber.
I am confident that the Government’s reassurances today will offer the legal certainty that the sector is seeking; I am sure they will be warmly welcomed by the whole health community and all those organisations which signed up to the coalition. They are 62 major health and welfare organisations and it sends a very strong signal that this Government are committed to the health and well-being and individuals, of communities and of the country during the Brexit negotiations and after we leave the EU. It signals that future Governments must retain this as a highest priority. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Dubs, in moving this amendment, described it as a modest proposal. It is modest in two respects. First, for the reason that he gave: all he seeks is to replicate the current arrangements, already approved by Parliament and in operation at the moment. That is not a great change at all from where we are. There is a second reason that it is modest: I pay tribute to his modesty in producing this amendment, having fought for the previous amendment, having persevered, and he is absolutely right to ask the House again to support it. I hope the House will.
It sounds as though the Government are entirely in agreement with the objectives. They agree on the need to protect the most vulnerable children and to provide this way of safety for them to claim asylum where appropriate. It sounds as if the only difference may be over the way to deal with it. Everybody, including my noble friends Lord Dubs and Lord Bassam, the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, whose names are on the amendment, recognises that this will require negotiation with other countries, because we cannot do it entirely on our own. Does the Minister agree that if this House were to say in a clear vote tonight what it thinks the Government should do, and put it in the Bill, that will actually strengthen the hand of the Government when they come to negotiate with other countries and others? They will be able to say, “This is what our Parliament wants”—assuming that the other place agrees. Those circumstances will make it much easier to negotiate; that may be the only point.
I am not going to take any more of your Lordships’ time: I think it is time either for the Government to accept the amendment, as I hope they will, or, if they fail to do so, for my noble friend Lord Dubs to divide the House, in which case we will strongly support him through the Lobby.
My Lords, I am grateful for the support of Members of the House for this amendment. In a curious way I also thank the Minister for his support for the principle that I am trying to establish.
It seems to me that the clearest message of support for the amendment would be to pass it tonight. Anything else would look as if we were hesitating and not totally certain. I am sure the Minister and his noble friend Lady Williams are quite sincere in wishing to support the principle of the amendment. The signal we send, however, will be a different one. I do not see putting this in the Bill causing any difficulty. We ask only that the Government should have a basis for negotiating to achieve the end that we are talking about. If Dublin III gives way to Dublin IV, the Government will have the flexibility to negotiate on that basis. The proposition is clear, and I ask for the support of the House. I beg leave to test the opinion of the House.
My Lords, there is little I can add that is new to this debate. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Kennedy of The Shaws for raising these issues and I hope the Minister will make use of his customary courtesy to the House. When he responded at Second Reading and in Committee on these issues, there was a sense that he understands the concerns that were raised then, and indeed the issues raised today. When he spoke on 14 March, he was clear that there will be no impediment at the land border to the movement of people—no checks and no profiling, full stop. That was the first time that the Government had given that degree of clarity—I think my noble friend Lady Kennedy would recognise that—or sought to emphasise that. This is important, and the Minister will understand the great concerns being raised. We still have no clarity on the border issue. This House has already expressed a view on the customs union and I am sure that, as we debate Northern Ireland issues later on Report, we will deal with those further.
I hope that the Minister is able to address the concerns that have been raised about the common travel area and movement of people. He has a sense of deftness and understands these issues, so if he can address them today we would be grateful.
Forgive me, this is not facetious, but the words that the Minister is using are so much clearer than those that have been used by his colleagues in government that I just wonder if there might be an internal seminar, so that we can get some of this clarity on the record more often.
My Lords, I was very grateful to my noble friend Lord Blunkett for drawing attention to the great skills of this particular Minister and to his clarity. It is always a pleasure to hear him at the Dispatch Box.
I just wanted to express my appreciation of his agreeing to meet and discuss this matter because—I am sure that the rest of the House does not know this—in his day he worked for the Refugee Council. The noble Minister has a noble past, and he brings that experience to bear on the role that he is now playing. I, like my noble friend Lord Blunkett, look forward to him holding high office so that we can have the benefit of all that experience. Why should references from the Labour Benches from my noble friend Lord Blunkett and myself not be of assistance? We have probably killed the poor man’s career.
I am grateful for the commitment to maintain the common travel area in the way that the Minister described. I understood him to say that routine passport controls are being ruled out and that racial profiling is also being absolutely ruled out. I say to the Government that they will be held to those commitments and promises in whatever arrangements are forthcoming. On the basis of what the Minister has said, I express my gratitude and I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
My Lords, the contributions from my noble friends Lady Lister and Lady Crawley and the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, have made the case quite clearly for why we need this proposed new clause, as laid out in Amendment 17. It explains in detail the importance of including this in the Bill, and would require the Minister to report to Parliament whenever there are new or amended EU laws in the area of family-friendly employment rights, gender equality and work-life balance for our parents and carers.
As the other noble Baronesses have explained, there is concern that the UK could fall behind the EU on gender equality and employment rights if we do not automatically, in a sense, have to follow EU laws. The amendment would allow Parliament to be informed on EU laws and consider whether to incorporate them into UK laws. I am sure the Minister, like the noble Baronesses who have spoken, believes that there should be no weakening of maternity or paternity rights, adoptive parental rights or the rights of pregnant and breast-feeding women, which we discussed in Committee.
I hope that the Minister will give guarantees tonight in relation to the amendment. Equality rights need continual progress and amendment. That is why it is essential that we look at what the EU is doing and whether that is something we could, and would want to, incorporate into our laws. We are asking tonight for reassurance from the Minister that equal rights, which have been hard fought for over many years, will not be watered down in any way. The amendment would continue to offer protection, as well as ensuring that women’s equality rights do not fall behind those in future EU laws. I hope the Minister will give a positive reply.
My Lords, I am very grateful to those who have spoken in support of the amendment, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, from the Benches opposite. They all used the word “reassurance” and, as he said, the Minister does not feel able to give me the reassurance I was seeking. I understand that, but welcome the fact that he has tried to go as far as he can. In a sense, he has implicitly acknowledged the case, even if he is not giving me reassurance. At the outset, I made it clear that this in no way stops us looking to other countries as well as to the EU, but we are—and will still be—a member of the European family. I will always be a European, as we all will, and that is where we should look first.
I welcome the Minister’s commitment on behalf of the Government. It is not just about meeting with me. I suggest a formal or informal all-party grouping of Peers who have supported the amendment, such as the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, and organisations such as Working Families, to take this forward. Once the Bill is out of the way, perhaps we could have a meeting to discuss the appropriate mechanisms to do that. None of us can speak on behalf of committees and so forth, but if we are able to map out a possible way it would give us something.
I am disappointed, but I did not expect that much. I take a few crumbs of comfort from what the Minister has said and I am grateful to him. I hope that, once the Bill is out of the way, we can use those crumbs to build something of a loaf. With that dreadful metaphor, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
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My Lords, I will move Amendment 17A in my name and those of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Jolly and Lady Finlay. The purpose of the amendment is to improve the legal protections of public health post Brexit. It does that by ensuring that those parts of Article 168 of the Lisbon treaty that are concerned with public health are part of retained EU law after exit day. I will try to explain briefly why this is an important matter of such concern to so many people involved with public health who have briefed your Lordships throughout proceedings on the Bill.
Clause 4 of the Bill includes within retained EU law directly enforceable provisions of the EU treaties. The legal advice that I have been given by three professors of European law at the Universities of Sheffield, Essex and Cambridge is that it is not clear whether it includes other provisions of the EU treaties, such as Article 168 of the Lisbon treaty. As far as I can see, the Government have been unwilling to say that it does cover those other provisions. So far on the Bill, Ministers have simply asserted that the amendment is unnecessary because our public health policies are excellent and often better than many in the EU. That, of course, fails to answer the exam question: is Article 168 part of retained EU law under the Bill? The latest letter to Peers from the noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy—whom I am glad to see in his place—which incorporated Jeremy Hunt’s article, still fails to tackle the exam question.
Why am I making so much fuss over Article 168? I will not repeat all I said in Committee. However, I will remind the House of Mr Justice Green’s High Court judgment on 16 May 2016, on plain packaging of tobacco products, in which, at paragraph 441, he emphasised that Article 168 places public health,
“at the epicentre of policy making … and how ‘all’ EU policies must ensure a ‘high level of human health protection’”.
This was a significant element in his finding in favour of the Government, and Mr Justice Green’s findings were further endorsed by the Court of Appeal, rejecting the tobacco industry’s appeal in its judgment dated 30 November 2016. At paragraph 201 of the Court of Appeal’s judgment it says:
“The judge was entitled to place the weight he did on the public health objectives of the Regulations: his approach was in line with the high level of human health protection provided for in EU law”.
It is one of life’s little ironies that this Government have benefited from these EU protections. Two clear and reasonable inferences can be drawn from the Court of Appeal judgment. First, the public health protections in Article 168 should be regarded as part of retained EU law after Brexit, and secondly, the EU legal public health protections may well be more robust than those in UK law.
I turn briefly to the level of public health support for this amendment. The uncertainty caused by the Government’s approach has united the Medical Royal Colleges and wider health community, all of whom have given consistent support to this amendment. To date, 52 organisations, including the Royal College of Physicians, the Faculty of Public Health and many major charities such as Cancer UK, Diabetes UK and the Alzheimer’s Society are backing the amendment. They do so, in my judgment, because they fear that after Brexit, hard-won legal protections for public health will be sacrificed in a rush to do trade deals. Given the speeches of some Ministers, who can blame them?
The simplest way to satisfy all these concerns is to put matters beyond legal doubt. We are well past the time for further warm words from the Minister. Matters need to be made clear in the Bill by an amendment along the lines of Amendment 17A. I provided the Minister with a little more time to think about this at our meeting last week by deferring consideration of the amendment until today. I hope that he has used the time wisely and that he can now agree to accept it. I beg to move.
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My Lords, this has been a short but very interesting debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, really put her finger on it when she talked about trust. It seems to me that there are two threads running through the argument. The first is the legal one, about which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, has spoken so eloquently. Then there is the issue of trust in the Government on public health. In a sense, the two run together.
The Minister is not a Health Minister, and I have to say to him that the reason for the lack of trust is the Government’s record. First they transferred public health in England to local government and then they slashed the budget, which means that even essential public health services are struggling to be performed effectively. Secondly, there is the Government’s reluctance to legislate in the areas of public health, preferring voluntary agreements with the food and drinks industry and so on to deal with things such as alcoholism, obesity and other public health issues. Thirdly, there is the fear about future trade deals—when it comes to it, the Government will be so desperate for trade deals with countries such as the US that public health and farming interests will be swamped by the desperation to reach a deal. That surely is one of the risks.
None the less, this is a debate on the terms of the amendment. I found the Minister’s intervention very helpful. I also found the intervention by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, helpful. However, this has only just come and I would like time to consider it. The noble Lord, Lord Warner, will make his mind up as to whether he pushes this to a vote tonight. It would be extremely helpful if the Minister would indicate that if we ask for time to look at the detail of his intervention, we could bring it back at Third Reading. That would be a constructive and very helpful outcome to the debate.
Perhaps I may ask the Minister to clarify what he said about providing no comfort. Speaking for the Official Opposition and, I think, for the Lib Dems, we have not had sight of the intervention that the Minister made this afternoon. I found that intervention helpful, as was the interpretation given by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay. I am suggesting to the House and to the noble Lord, Lord Warner, a way forward. If the Minister agrees that this matter can be brought back at Third Reading, we will have time to read that intervention. I think that that is a constructive response from the Opposition Front Bench. The noble Lord, Lord Warner, will have to decide what to do but clearly, if we are not allowed to come back to this at Third Reading, we will probably have to test the opinion of the House. It seems to me that a sensible, consensual way forward is to give us time to look at what the Minister said.
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I very much agree with the point that the noble and learned Lord has made. It may not be within the normal rules of a Report stage debate to have the kind of circular arguments that we have had but, without having the Companion in front of me, I am pretty certain that I am accurate in saying that this is precisely the kind of occasion when it is appropriate to consider a matter again at Third Reading. The rules on when you can bring forward amendments at Third Reading are quite restrictive but, where the Government effectively announce a change of policy or, at the very least, give a further clarification which this side of the House has no opportunity to consider in detail, I cannot see that anyone loses any face whatever. It is entirely consistent with the way in which Third Reading operates for the Government to say, “We may or may not be able to accommodate it but we’ll look at it again at Third Reading”.
Well, my Lords, if you just sit here, things work themselves out. I am grateful to the Minister for his intervention and I am extremely grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, for all the help that he has given behind the scenes and to me personally on this matter.
What I have to say to the Minister is aimed not so much at him as at a few of his colleagues. They have been a bit slow in coming to the party. These legal judgments have been around for quite a long time and one would have expected DExEU to have mastered these things at an earlier stage. However, in the circumstances, and with my thanks to the Minister for showing flexibility while he was on the Bench, as well as in his interventions, we will come back to this at Third Reading. I will make sure that all the backers of the amendment have time to read everything, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I wish to add a couple of points. First, are discussions progressing on the possible inclusion in the Bill of a schedule detailing these areas of concern? Secondly, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, said that a solution should be agreed, not imposed. We should heed those words. I again ask the Minister: as regards reaching agreement on these issues, to what extent does he have in mind involving the legislatures rather than just the devolved Governments?
The Minister has had notice of my next point. I would like to correct something that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, said in the House last week. He said that there were,
“about 153 areas in which, upon our leaving the EU, competences will return and touch upon areas of devolved competence. These are areas that the devolved parliaments and assemblies previously had no engagement with because they lay in Brussels”.—[Official Report, 21/3/18; col. 334.]
I have since written to him because that it not completely the case. As it works, the memorandum of understanding provides that, in matters of devolved competence, the UK Government consult the devolved Administrations to agree a common UK position on matters before the Council of Ministers, and then defend that position in the Council. Indeed, as we just heard, occasionally devolved Ministers will do that and represent the UK. However, whether it is a UK Minister or a devolved Minister there, they speak in this case for an agreed UK position, not just a UK government position. It may therefore be helpful if the Minister confirms that understanding, which is undoubtedly how the devolved Governments see it. What has been said is right: the spirit to reach accord is there. However, perhaps for clarity, it would be good if that could be confirmed.
What the Minister is saying is encouraging. For the sake of argument, let us take fishing. Have any of these meetings between UK officials and officials from the devolved Administrations involved members of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation? Stakeholders obviously have a practical view on where some common arrangements are useful and where they are not.
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My Lords, I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate and to the Minister for his few words in his response. Of course, legislation may contain enabling powers but we do not know yet what the legislation he is promising will look like. If it is simply a Bill with a lot of Henry VIII powers in the area concerned, it will not advance the argument at all.
I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, for enlarging on the points he made last week. I am glad that my amendment has given him the opportunity to emphasise again the points he has made and his valuable contribution to our debate. He said that if his approach is correct then my amendment ceases to have any purpose. Of course, he is right, because my amendment does not look at primary legislation; it looks at the procedure that would be followed if the mechanism to be used is to be by delegated legislation, in which case we are talking about the consent not of the legislatures but of the Administrations—that is, of Ministers. At the moment, we have in the amendment that was before us last week—the amended form of Clause 11—a promise of consultation. Many noble Lords who have spoken in support of my amendment have emphasised the importance of consent, which is the crucial matter. As the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, said after his careful analysis of what we are really talking about: consent is fundamental. That is the background to what I am submitting.
There are one or two scattered points which I might mention. On the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, was absolutely right. Proposed subsection (2) of my amendment is based on an agreement reached in October last year at the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations. The wording is exactly as it was framed in the agreements, and that is the point from which we are moving forward. One could debate the language, but I think that the time for doing so has passed.
I thought that the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, about the attitude of the sheep farmers was very helpful, and we have heard similar remarks about the position as regards fishing. I do not think that the position of the hill farmer in Scotland is very different from that which was described by the noble Lord. However, there could well be differences in the way that sheep are managed in England and the way that they are bred and moved south in Scotland and east in Wales—they are moved across the United Kingdom before being exported somewhere else. I can see, therefore, that there could be detailed disputes about what the Welsh, Scots and English would want in framing a UK-wide market for the handling of sheep stock. To attempt to create uniformity in areas as sensitive as this may be a mistake, and it may be that that is where the sticking points are in the discussions. I hope very much that one can get to the point where these matters can be agreed without resorting to dispute resolution.
As the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, also pointed out, in a few years’ time, when we move beyond the Clause 11 procedure and the time limit has disappeared, we do not want to have to start these arguments all over again. We want to resolve this at the beginning in the creation of the market.
It is difficult to take the point further because we do not really know the detail of the disagreements before us. However, I suggest to the Minister that it would be a great help if, before Report, a letter could be passed to those who have taken part in the debate explaining the procedure that the Government intend to use in the creation of these frameworks. I would be very pleased if they were to adopt what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, has suggested, and it would be very helpful to know that that is what they propose before we start looking at this again on Report. If they do not propose to do that, we need to know what the alternative is and how consent is to be built into it. In the light of the very helpful response from the Minister, and of what I have said so far, I will leave the matter there for the time being. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, this has been an interesting debate. I hope it has been helpful for the Minister.
I made a comment at Second Reading that in preparing for Brexit we should look at the detail—that the fine print was too important to be left to those who had no doubt—and I expressed the hope that Ministers would recognise the expertise in your Lordships’ House. Indeed, Members in the other House said exactly the same.
At Second Reading, the response of the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, expressed optimism in that regard. If ever there was a time to listen to the expertise in your Lordships’ House, it has been tonight in this debate. We have heard from a former Secretary of State, the noble Lord, Lord Hain, the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, the noble Lord, Lord Patten, with his vast experience of Northern Ireland, and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, who made a powerful speech. We heard from my own colleagues, including my noble friends Lord Browne—he and I were Ministers together—and Lord Dubs. I feel somewhat nervous seeing my two former Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland sitting together, watching over me and looking at my back.
Noble Lords have raised pertinent issues tonight that go to the heart of what Brexit is about. The Northern Ireland Good Friday agreement was hard fought and hard won and no one in the House should doubt the importance of how well it has served us. We have had a long debate and issues have been raised tonight purely through people’s knowledge and their concern for what could happen if there is a hard border. I appreciate the points made by the Government about the protection of the Good Friday agreement. I welcome to his place the Minister who is responding tonight but at Second Reading the response of the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, did not refer once to Northern Ireland although the issue was raised several times. Clearly that was an error, a mistake, because there were a great deal of issues which had to be talked about. However, I am sure the Minister will understand the frustration at the lack of detail from the Government on what happens next.
The point was made earlier that these amendments should not be necessary. My noble friend Lord Browne of Ladyton said that we were holding the Government to account for the solemn commitment they have made and to do what they have promised to do. The Government and the noble Lord at the Dispatch Box have been clear on Northern Ireland: they support frictionless trade, they want a soft border and they support the Good Friday agreement. The noble Lord has been clear that that is the Government’s objective. What has never been clear, and has led to the debate tonight, is how that is to happen.
We heard from my noble friend Lord Hain, when he opened the debate, that there is over 300 miles of border. My noble friend Lady Kennedy said that 30,000 commuters cross the border daily—including for schools and hospital visits—over 400 commercial vehicles cross each month, and 40% of container movements to the Republic of Ireland go through Northern Ireland. There is a huge issue to address and a commitment is required—not, “We want this to happen” or “We believe this will happen”; it has to be an explanation of how we can make it happen.
My noble friend Lord Browne and the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, referred to paragraphs 49 and 50 of the joint report produced in December, which are quite clear about why there should be no hard border, but that contradicts government commitments. The Prime Minister has referred several times to her red lines—no single market and no customs union—yet here we are talking about full regulatory alignment. The two are contradictory and that is why some of these concerns have arisen.
Most of the points have been covered in the debate and there is little of great substance that I can add, but I would like to make two points. I do not know if the Minister is aware of the follow-up letter to Karen Bradley signed by noble Lord, Lord Boswell, chairman of the House of Lords European Union Committee, on UK-Irish relations. In paragraph 52 the noble Lord accepts that,
“a degree of constructive ambiguity can be helpful during negotiations”.
He understands that, but he goes on to indicate that we need clarification from the Government of their understanding of what is involved in that December agreement. The European Union has come forward but we have not seen what the Government’s understanding is of how it will work. What does “full regulatory alignment” mean? I think I understand what it means, but the Government seem to believe something different.
The letter also refers to technology. The Government have said several times that they can deal with the border issue by using technology. There are grave doubts about that, as we have heard from other noble Lords in this debate. The letter from the EU Committee reminds the Secretary of State that,
“there is a need for realism … There is also a distinction between identifying solutions that are theoretically possible and applying them to a 300-mile border with hundreds of formal and informal crossings”—
a situation similar to that between Sweden and Norway—
“and the existence of which is politically divisive. Any physical infrastructure at the border would be politically contentious and, in the view of the PSNI, a security risk”.
In our long debate today we have not talked about the security issues, but the Minister who is to respond has to understand that unless he can provide a solution to how there will not be a hard border in Northern Ireland, there remains a security risk to those who fought the hardest to secure peace, a point made very powerfully by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames.
Finally, the ideological position on Brexit must be put to one side. In the Mansion House speech made by the Prime Minister just a couple of weeks ago, she showed that she is prepared to take what I suppose is a pragmatic eraser to some of those red lines and smudge them a bit—make them slightly pink—as she has done on the agencies. The time has come when I hope the noble Lord can give the Committee some confidence that the Government understand why these concerns have been raised. It is not good enough simply to say that this is what the Government want; they have to show the intent of how it can be achieved.
Break in Debate
Break in Debate
Before the Minister sits down, I think he will allow me to make my point now. I want to say how much I welcome his tone and the spirit in which he has approached the House on this. I think he is a very constructive Member of the Front Bench opposite. In that context, I want to raise my concerns.
I am on the EU Select Committee. We have taken a lot of interest in the Irish question and produced reports. I am very concerned by the fact that the Government produced their proposals on a customs partnership last August and made a commitment in the December consensus, but there is absolutely no evidence that the Government have come forward with any alternative proposals on the border to those of the Commission. In circumstances where they have had all this time and no alternative proposal has been produced, a reasonable person can conclude only that the Government have concluded that there is no alternative to remaining in the customs union and the only way they have of trying to spike being cornered in this way is to try to get the EU 26 to tell the Irish that they have to back off a bit. Is that sinister? After all this delay and the lack of information on what the Government are doing about the border, it is not sinister—it is a reasonable conclusion.
I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Duncan, to his post as a Minister and commend the empathy he has shown in responding to the debate, which I think the whole House welcomes.
I will not respond to the whole debate—the hour is too late—except to commend the marvellous, passionate eloquence of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames. He would be able to get me to follow him on any theological journey, which is asking a lot of me. However, I regret that the Minister has not really responded to the questions put to him. For example, the Brexit Secretary said recently that there would be no problem monitoring imports and exports between Northern Ireland and Ireland after Brexit and there would be no need for a hard border because we already do this for VAT purposes. But we can do it for VAT purposes now only because we are in the European Union’s VAT Information Exchange System—VIES. Outside the EU, we are out of that tracking system. Then, on Sunday, the Chancellor admitted that there was not an example in the world of the kind of technological open border alluded to by the Minister. Who believes for a minute that it can be done, apart from the Foreign Secretary—who thinks that South Armagh and Louth are the same as Camden and Westminster, except with more Guinness?
The Prime Minister insists that Brexit means the UK leaving the single market and the customs union, which I do not accept for a moment. We can Brexit and stay in the single market and the customs union; other countries are outside the European Union but are in either the customs union or the single market. But if she were right, the UK Government in turn would be obliged by WTO rules to enforce hard border arrangements on the island of Ireland because of the change in their relationship with the EU. Therefore, to keep the border open as it is today, there is no alternative to Northern Ireland—and, by implication, the UK—remaining in both the single market and the customs union. I regret that the Minister, despite his empathy, has not really answered that point. I will not press my amendment.
My Lords, it is a great shame that there is not more of a consensus between the two—or three—parties on the issue of refugees. We have debated it much over the years. Recently, we have got to what I would loosely call an uneasy peace, which is essentially based on my noble friend Lord Dubs’s Section 67 and Dublin III. That has produced modest numbers, but there are very real numbers of people meeting very real problems.
The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, put her finger on it. The rights individuals have as a result of Dublin III must be maintained. I hope the Minister will be able to assure us that the Government will either accept these amendments or make a very firm commitment to assure us that, one way or another, the effect of Dublin III will be maintained after Brexit.
My Lords, I am very grateful for the first half of what the Minister said, but slightly less certain about the second half. I wish he had continued as he started. I want to consider his speech when we are all wider awake and in a calmer moment, but the fact is that the Dublin III mechanism is still a way in which unaccompanied children have been able to come to this country and join relatives. That has been a route for them, and more than 800 have come by those means—many from France, but also from Greece. Whatever the technical argument, it has been a positive right and a positive way to safety for some of these young people.
I appreciate what the Minister said about this needing to be reciprocal. Indeed, the wording of the amendment aims to achieve precisely that. It talks about our negotiating on that basis; it has to be reciprocal. I fully understand that otherwise it will not work, because if the French authorities are not interested, they will not identify young people in France who might be entitled to come by that path.
I also agree that the EU has a lot of improvement to go in for. I would like to see, as my noble friend Lord Bassam said, an EU-wide or Europe-wide policy whereby we get near to common standards on behalf of refugees. That would be more sensible, and Dublin III is part of that, although only a small part.
I thank the Minister again for the first half of his speech. I did not know he had been involved with the Scottish Refugee Council. Good for him, although the effect did not last long. That is a bit churlish of me. I did not mean to be so churlish; I appreciate anybody who worked with it. I used to work for the Refugee Council in London, so I know about the good work the Scottish Refugee Council did. I want to think about this and we will have to look at the best way of moving forward on Report. I am grateful to all noble Lords who were so supportive of this amendment and beg leave to withdraw it.