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Brexit: Sectoral Impact Assessments

Volume 785: debated on Tuesday 7 November 2017


My Lords, I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer given to an Urgent Question in another place:

“We have this morning laid a Written Ministerial Statement on this issue, which sets out the timeline and nature of our response to last week’s Motion. As the Government have made clear, it is not the case that there are 58 sectoral impact assessments. During the Opposition day debate the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Robin Walker, told the House that there had been,

“some misunderstanding about what the sectoral analysis is. It is not a series”,—[Official Report, Commons, 2/11/17; col. 952.]

of 58 impact assessments. The Secretary of State for Exiting the EU made the same point during his appearance before the Lords EU Committee on 31 October, and to the House at DExEU Oral Questions on 2 November.

Let me clarify exactly what the sectoral analysis is. It is a wide mix of qualitative and quantitative analysis, contained in a range of documents developed at different times since the referendum. This means looking at 58 sectors to help inform our negotiation positions. The analysis examines the nature of activity in the sectors and how trade is conducted with the EU currently and, in many cases, considers the alternatives after we leave, as well as looking at existing precedents. Our analysis is constantly evolving and being updated. But it is not, nor has it ever been, a series of impact assessments examining the quantitative impact of Brexit on these sectors. Given this, it will take the Government some time to collate and bring together this information in a way that is accessible and informative to the committee. We will provide this information to the committee as soon as possible. I have made it plain to the House authorities that we currently expect this to be no more than three weeks”.

I thank the Minister for repeating the reply, although I regret its content. Not only could we not get the Written Statement except by getting it off Twitter—it does not seem to be on the website—there is also the creation of a new excuse for the non-immediate release, which of course runs counter to the Commons Motion.

I would make one point in answer to aspersions made in the other House, although I do not think the Minister was in any way party to this. The question was asked of my side, “Whose side are you on?”, implying that asking for information was somehow unpatriotic. I say to this House that it is because we are patriots that we need the information, to get as good a deal as possible from Brexit.

Has the Minister yet arranged to meet the noble Lord, Lord Jay, the chair of our EU Committee, as he indicated he would in his Answer to me on 2 November? Given the importance of parity of treatment between the two Houses, which is particularly relevant as we handle this most complicated of legislative, political and diplomatic tasks, can the Minister confirm that our EU Committee will receive the same information, on the same terms and at the same time, as the Commons Brexit Committee?

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her questions and I can only apologise if the Written Ministerial Statement is not available to her. In response to her two questions, I can confirm that my office is in contact with the noble Lord, Lord Jay, and we are attempting to arrange a meeting as soon as possible in the near future. I also confirm to the House that we anticipate sharing the same information on the same basis with the Lords EU Committee as with the House of Commons Select Committee, subject to our being able to agree the terms of that disclosure.

My Lords, I am sure that we will all be reassured to some degree by what my noble friend has just said. But would he acknowledge that at this time, the most difficult in our country’s history since the last war, it is essential that both Houses of Parliament be continually and properly informed? There is far too much talk at the moment of negotiating in the dark and not being kept informed. We have to have open government here and, as I said, this House and the other place must be constantly, properly and fully informed.

My Lords, I am not sure whether I share my noble friend’s analysis that it is the most difficult time since the Second World War. It is a difficult and challenging political environment but I can happily confirm that we are committed to being as open and transparent as possible. I think we are being so, given the number of appearances that the Secretary of State and other Ministers have made before both Houses and in front of various Select Committees. We will share as much information and be as transparent as possible, subject, obviously, to preserving our negotiating position. These crucial negotiations are going on. We want to make sure that our position is as informed as possible but we will share as much information as is possible, subject to that caveat.

My Lords, while it is reassuring that this information has finally been wrung out of the Government, if there was confusion it was on the part of the Government over their terminology. Can the Minister give the House an assurance that when analyses of impacts are indeed available—he seems to be suggesting that what we have here instead is 18 months of information-gathering—they will be presented to the House, without reluctance?

I thank the noble Baroness for her question. It is difficult to do an impact assessment until we know what the final terms of the deal are. The impact could vary across different sectors and parts of the economy but I can only repeat: we will be as open and transparent as possible, subject to preserving our negotiating position.

My Lords, it has certainly been a very busy week at the other end, because, of course, there has been an exchange of letters between the chairman of the Exiting the European Union Committee and the Secretary of State; they have spoken, and they have even set a meeting. All that we have managed to do is to send a letter, at our end—and I was glad to hear the Minister say a moment ago that we would be put in the same position. I stress that parity of timing, as the noble Baroness also said, is completely critical, because we have a big staff and a big committee looking at these things. It is very unfair if the timing is not right, and I ask him to confirm that he will do his personal utmost to make sure that changes are made so there is parity of timing.

I thank the noble Earl for his point, which is well made. With regard to what I said earlier, sharing on the same basis also implies sharing at the same time.