Debates between Lord Krebs and Baroness Neville-Rolfe during the 2017-2019 Parliament

Thu 5th Sep 2019
European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 6) Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords

European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 6) Bill

Debate between Lord Krebs and Baroness Neville-Rolfe
Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe
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My Lords, as a woman I find it very difficult to get in in these sorts of debate, but I rise to speak on the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 6) Bill and to contribute to the scrutiny. I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Deech. We should thank her for the excellent speech she made yesterday which helped us to move forward and to be here today to scrutinise the No. 6 Bill. I am also grateful for the midnight peace talks admirably led by the new Chief Whip. Thanks to him, we all had some beauty sleep.

My amendments were not reached yesterday, but I was horrified by the way the procedures of our House were being perverted. I knew a plot was afoot because on Tuesday I walked into the Moses Room by mistake. I was too well-behaved to eavesdrop or to tweet what was going on—I have a good convent education to thank for that. Scrutiny is at the heart of the work of this House, as I think we agreed yesterday. Today’s debate and tomorrow’s Committee and Report stages give us an opportunity to go through this Bill line by line, which is what I hope we will be able to do.

I believe there is growing evidence of the negative impact of Brexit on the economy and society. I am in business, and uncertainty has been rising. It is extremely difficult for all involved. Noble Lords will know that I am a remainer and have worked for most of my career on EU matters. However, I share the view of growing numbers of people in this country that we must get on with Brexit. Months, or even years, of delay to Brexit day, which I think this Bill accommodates, will make matters worse, not better. We cannot have another three years of going round in circles. I think that is a risk. We need an agreement.

However, as I have said on a number of occasions in this House, from my long experience in Brussels, we have to keep open the option of no deal; otherwise our negotiating position in the Brexit negotiations is undermined. Indeed, on the matter of no deal, I was glad to hear from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds, who asked us to look critically at the actual impact of no deal. I took some comfort from the Statement earlier this week by my noble friend Lord Callanan, and I know that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is heading up no-deal contingency planning with enormous drive and professionalism. I think the pace of transformation is at a completely different scale and rate from what we saw under the May premiership. That is just in case we cannot come up with the agreement that we want.

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs
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On the matter of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, he said on “The Andrew Marr Show” on Sunday morning that there would be no shortages of fresh food, but the British Retail Consortium, with which the noble Baroness will be very familiar from her work with one of our major food retailers, immediately said that that was categorically untrue. Does she accept what the Chancellor of the Duchy is saying, or does she accept that the trade association for the business in which she used to work knows what it is talking about?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe
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I know what I know and I know what I do not know, and I know that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is pushing things forward with an enormous amount of energy. No doubt after that exchange he will have been straight on to Defra, or whoever is responsible for these things, to talk further about the arrangements. Clearly, there are going to be problems from Brexit, whether with a deal or with no deal, and of course I know that food is a particularly difficult area. However, I am saying that we need to have proper management across the board, and I think we are seeing signs of that.

You have to look at both sides of the argument, but this debate has been very one-sided so far. I am interested in talking about the Bill rather than wider polemics or history, which I can help the House with less. My current inclination is to oppose the Bill and vote against it if I have the opportunity.

That brings me on to my questions, and I hope the noble Lords opposite—I see that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, is in his place—will be able to help me with a more detailed justification of the Bill’s provisions so that there will be more explanation and fewer polemics in the debate. The Bill as it stands—and I have read it—appears to force the Prime Minister’s hand. It seems that he would have to accept almost any deal that the EU offered up. I am also concerned that the Bill gives the EU too much power over timing. Clauses 3(1) to (3) seem to tie the Prime Minister’s hands quite tightly. I am not sure what Clause 3(4) does and whether it moderates any risk.

I am keen to assist with the scrutiny of the Bill, but I fear that we may come to regret some of its provisions, especially if we do not look very carefully at something that was pushed through at great speed under the guillotine culture of the other place, which we discussed yesterday. We need to find the right result for our economy and our people and to end this cloud of uncertainty that is a real problem for the country. I hope I am wrong and that this will help us, but I remain extremely unsure.