Private Notice Question
My Lords, the Government have to reflect on the implications of yesterday’s Motion and how best we can meet the requirements set out from the House, bearing in mind that the documents requested do not exist in the form suggested in the Motion.
I welcome the noble Lord the Minister—the third Brexit Minister I have faced—to his first outing in this role. I apologise that I had to bring him to the Dispatch Box early today, but from what I understand he is well up to the challenge of these small inconveniences. However, I am sorry that his Answer does not answer the Question I raised. We know that the Ministers in the other place are already discussing with my right honourable friend the chair of the Commons Brexit committee the handing over of the documents. I ask the Minister to undertake to have similar discussions with the chair of our EU committee about its access to these documents. They are essential for the work it is doing on our behalf.
I thank the noble Baroness for her welcome. I have watched her as an extremely able and effective performer in this House and look forward to working closely with her, as far as we are able, in the difficult task ahead. The Motion in question was about sharing documentation with the Select Committee on Exiting the EU. As the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU has said in the other place this morning, he has already spoken to the chair of that committee. Further conversations will take place about we how handle the confidentiality of the documents that we hand over. Of course, I will be very happy to have similar discussions with the committees of this House.
My Lords, the basis of the Government’s case for not publishing the documents is that they would prejudice the Brexit negotiations. If the documents are factual assessments of the consequences of leaving the EU, how can that conceivably undermine the negotiations? Surely it just helps the whole country to understand the consequences of the course that the Government are now set on.
My Lords, we have been very clear that we will be as open as possible and share as much information with both Houses as possible. The Secretary of State and other Ministers have made a substantial number of appearances in front of various committees of both Houses. We want to be as open as possible, but we must be careful not to prejudice our negotiating position. The noble Lord will be aware that the EU, on the other side of the negotiations, has not released similar assessments.
My Lords, I think that the whole House will have been intrigued by the Minister’s—to whom I also offer a welcome—observation, if I have understood him rightly, that the documents do not exist in the form in which they have been requested. Is he saying that there are no such documents? In which case, what is being discussed? If there are such documents, in what form do they exist?
My Lords, I welcome my noble friend to his new responsibilities, which he is particularly well equipped to perform. I look forward to hearing a lot more from him in the weeks and months to come. Is not this all a lot of nonsense? We all know from the Treasury’s forecasts of the short-term impact of the Brexit decision that it does not have a clue—to put it politely. The longer-term impacts will depend overwhelmingly on what policies we put in place post Brexit when we are free to do so. That is true not only of the agricultural sector, for example, but of the whole of the rest of the economy. Since these policies have not yet been decided, is it not the case that this is a complete farce and that the Opposition are simply seeking to embarrass the Government—which is what Oppositions do—in the face of an international negotiation?
I thank the noble Lord for his questions and observations. I am not sure that I would use the word farce to describe appropriate parliamentary procedures—of course, the Opposition are quite entitled to ask any questions and request any documents they wish. As I said, we will concentrate on getting the best deal for the UK in these negotiations. We will be as open and as transparent as possible as far as that objective is concerned. I also thank the noble Lord for his welcome.
Will the Minister explain precisely what the difference is between a sector analysis and an impact assessment? Does a sector analysis not include any assessment of impact, or is it really just playing with words to try to avoid the obligation that, if the Government are keen on transparency, they should put these documents in the public domain? If they are simply analyses of sectors, why would they prejudice our negotiating position?
I understand that several noble Lords will be looking forward to the publication of sections of these documents in some sort of macabre sense, thinking that they will somehow provide succour to their view, but they may be disappointed when they see them. As I said, they are a whole series of long and complicated documents—I have read a number of them. It is exactly as I have said: they are sectoral analyses of different sectors of the economy and the effect it might have on our negotiations with our EU partners.
My Lords, it is of course encouraging that the Government have undertaken these assessments and I am sure we all look forward to seeing them. But can the Minister tell me whether the Government have undertaken similar assessments of the impact of Brexit on different countries, regions, industries and economic sectors in the EU 27? That, too, is highly relevant to the outcome of these negotiations.
My Lords, there is a huge amount of work going on across government on all these matters to inform our negotiating position. As I said earlier, it is interesting that the EU negotiators have decided not to publish similar documents on their side. I assume that they have done similar work to inform their negotiating position.
The Minister is no doubt aware that over the past weeks Members of both Houses have felt frustrated that they have been unable to discover what advice the Government have received as to whether or not they would be entitled to withdraw the notice under Article 50. I will ask a question which I think is within the bounds of correctitude: do the Government consider that they have an option to withdraw lawfully should they wish to take that course?
I am not going to comment on any legal advice we may have received. We had a referendum on this subject. People voted to leave the European Union. We are going to leave and we are not going to withdraw the notification issued under Article 50, which was approved by both Houses.
My Lords, are cross-border transport arrangements the subject of sectoral analysis? If they are, does that mean there has been an examination of problems that might arise in Dover, with huge backlogs of trucks trying to enter the United Kingdom and, indeed, going abroad?
My previous role—sadly brief—was at the Department for Transport. Of course all these contingencies are being looked at. We will need to consider the full implications of the decision to leave and the negotiations that we are pursuing. Of course that will be one of the pertinent factors.
My Lords, the Minister knows the north-east of England extremely well. Have these assessments included an impact assessment for the economy of the north-east of England as a consequence of Brexit? If there is not one, why not? If there is, will he publish it?
I thank the noble Lord for his question. I have been in the department since Monday. There are hundreds and hundreds of pages of these assessments. I have read some of them. I do not know whether there is a specific reference to the north-east, or indeed any other regions, in the documents. If there is, I have not seen one yet.
My Lords, David Davis has appeared before the European Union Select Committee three times since the Brexit vote, and on more than one occasion he has promised parity of information for us and the committee in the House of Commons. We have now published 20 sectoral reports, and there are more in the pipeline. Therefore, we are in a very high state of knowledge about sectoral issues. Will the Minister go further than saying that he will have a discussion with our chairman about things and actually undertake that we will receive the same information as the equivalent committee in the House of Commons?
As I said, we still need to have further discussions with the chairman of the Brexit Select Committee in another place. Of course, following those discussions we will reflect further on what information we will want to provide to comply with the Motion, and I have undertaken to have a similar discussion with the chairman of the committee in this place. I do not want to go any further than that at the moment.