House of Lords
Monday 11 December 2017
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Carlisle.
Brexit: EU Citizenship
My Lords, EU treaty provisions state that only citizens of EU member states are able to hold EU citizenship. Therefore, when the UK ceases to be a member of the European Union, British nationals will no longer hold EU citizenship unless they hold dual nationality with another EU member state. We are content to listen to proposals, but this is not a matter within the scope of the current negotiations with the EU.
I thank the Minister for that extensive reply, although I find it disappointing. It is really important to many people in this country to retain the rights of their European citizenship—so, given the new and cordial relationship between the Government and the European Commission and institutions, would it be possible to open up this discussion to find a mutually beneficial way to move this agenda forward? We have a friend also in the European Parliament in this regard.
We are content to listen to proposals on this; we are not ruling it out. The problem is, as the noble Lord will know very well, that you can only be an EU citizen if you are the citizen of an EU member state. To get what he wants would involve changing treaties—and he will know how difficult that is in the European Union. The other side has shown no interest whatever in doing it. I am aware of the proposals from the European Parliament, and we will look at any proposals, but our EU negotiating partners so far have not expressed any interest in it. It would be a long, difficult and complicated process and, I suspect, would set a precedent that they do not wish to set.
My Lords, can the Government confirm that before last Christmas, we offered continuing residence to the 3.5 million EU citizens living here if our 1.2 million people living there also got it? The Eurocrats refused the offer, even having the nerve to accuse us of using their people as bargaining chips. Is this not further proof that Herr Juncker and Co. are interested only in keeping their failing project afloat, however much it damages the real people of Europe?
The noble Lord makes an important point, but it is not that helpful to look back over what might have happened in the past: best now to celebrate the excellent achievements that we have gained in reaching agreements last week, whereby EU citizens in the UK will have their rights guaranteed and vice versa.
My Lords, may I take my noble friend back to his original Answer, which presumably means that passports will be required? Have Her Majesty’s Government decided whether that is so; secondly, whether a new one will be required; and, thirdly, whether it will be charged for?
If the noble Earl means the proposal suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, I have said that we are happy to entertain proposals in this area. But I think it would be extremely difficult for the EU to concede that citizens from non-EU member states would have citizenship.
My Lords, the Government rightly value the integrity of the United Kingdom—as indeed do these Benches. Do they therefore think it is right that there will be an imbalance in that most citizens of Northern Ireland will be able to retain EU citizenship through their right to an Irish passport? Should the Government not therefore support the call my noble friend proposed making to the European Parliament, for the EU 27 to examine how all UK citizens can retain the benefits of EU citizenship?
As the noble Baroness is aware, special arrangements have always applied between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, given the troubled history of that island. I repeat that we are not ruling out the idea—but she will know, as well as I do, how difficult it would be to achieve consensus in the 27 to change the treaties to enable that to happen. It would set a precedent that citizens from non-EU member states can have EU citizenship, with its rights and obligations. I am sure she will agree that it is difficult to see how that would come about.
My Lords, on Thursday the noble Lord, Lord Ashton of Hyde, said in regard to the likely problems of our youth orchestras in travelling to the EU after March 2019:
“Much more important is the visa requirements that will be needed after Brexit”.—[Official Report, 7/12/17; col. 1156.]
Can the Minister update the House on such anticipated problems, of youth and amateur orchestras needing visas to go to the EU after Brexit, and outline the steps being taken to mitigate this problem?
These are of course matters that will be discussed in the next phase of the negotiation. As I said in response to an earlier question, the noble Baroness will have to wait for the proposals for a new immigration system that the Home Office will announce in due course.
My Lords, I am not sure that it would be a precedent to achieve what the noble Lord has suggested. For example, I remind the Minister that in Moldova, which is not an EU country, a large number of Moldovans have the right to Romanian passports and therefore entry into the EU—so the precedent is already there.
I think that that is because they have Romanian passports. Romania is an EU member state and takes those obligations accordingly. As I said, it is very difficult to see how the treaties would be changed to enable this to happen. I am aware of the proposal from the European Parliament. We are not against the idea—we would be happy to consider it—but I think that there is very little chance of it happening.
My Lords, I am very proud that I was born Welsh, and I am very proud that I was born British as well. By what right can the Government or anybody else deny those who are born after we joined the European Union of their citizenship in Europe? How can we deny it to them?
Local Welfare Assistance
My Lords, since 2013 we have given local authorities the flexibility to develop their own local emergency provision for people in their areas. Local authorities are best placed to design and target this discretionary support, alongside their own local services, ensuring it reaches those who need it most at the right time.
Ah, my Lords, the Pontius Pilate response. When the Government devolved crisis and community care support from the Social Fund to local authorities, they placed no duties on the authorities and refused to ring-fence the money. According to the Centre for Responsible Credit, about one in six authorities has abolished its scheme altogether, and many more have cut them back drastically, leading to some people facing destitution for lengthy periods. Will the Government now therefore accept, in the words of the Work and Pensions Committee, that they maintain,
“an ongoing obligation to ensure provision of a safety net which prevents vulnerable people from falling into severe hardship”,
starting with an urgent evaluation of what is now the final safety net?
My Lords, it is important to say that the national welfare system provides robust safeguards. These include: short-term benefit advances or universal credit advances for people in urgent financial need; Social Fund budgeting loans or universal credit budgeting advances to help with one-off and unforeseen expenses; and hardship payments for people who are sanctioned. But by abolishing the Social Fund crisis loans, which themselves had huge problems, we have now empowered local authorities to develop and deliver new provision to meet the needs of the most vulnerable people in their local communities.
No, my Lords. The Government believe that councils are best placed to decide how to support local welfare needs. Local authorities in England will receive more than £200 billion to deliver those and other community services between this year and 2019-20, and will have the certainty to plan ahead through our four-year funding settlement.
According to the report from the Centre for Responsible Credit, in one year, my own city of Portsmouth has reduced the amount it spends on welfare assistance from £700,000 to £30,000. Do the Government intend to review the impact of these sorts of changes? If not, why not?
It is important that I stress again that, under the national system, there are strong safeguards in place. We expect local authorities to concentrate the funding on those facing the greatest difficulty in managing their income and to enable a more flexible response to an unavoidable need, perhaps through a mix of cash or goods and aligning with the wider range of local support that local authorities’ devolved administrations already offer. In short, the funding is to allow them to give flexible help to those in genuine need.
My Lords, perhaps I could quote the Local Government Association’s own study:
“Councils have managed the available budget effectively; reduced the potential for abuse, and created schemes which better meet the underlying needs of applicants and reduce repeat demand. This has enabled them to provide vital, timely support to some of their most vulnerable and deprived residents”.
My Lords, I still have not heard how those authorities that have abolished their schemes are going to meet the needs that the noble Baroness referred to. As she herself said, these are some of the most vulnerable people. There are 26 local authorities where there is no scheme that can meet those needs.
My Lords, the noble Baroness had already referenced the issue of ring-fencing. Government policy is not to ring-fence amounts in the local government finance settlement, as local councils are the best judge of needs and priorities within their areas. As I have already said, local authorities are in receipt of £200 billion. Part of that is to fund these emergency services, in addition to the safety net that we provide at national level.
My Lords, although recognising the tremendous work of local authorities to rise to the challenge, I have concerns which I hope the Minister shares. I listened to a very experienced, long-time child and family social worker in one of the committee rooms here two months ago. He expressed concerns about all the ancillary services being cut back for families, as the statutory services just about hold out. As these are cut, more and more children come into care, and more and more families are at risk of breaking down, so it is a very difficult situation. Of course the Government are doing important work to address these things, but we cannot deny that this is a huge challenge and is harming many people in this country.
My Lords, what the noble Earl has said about family breakdown and what this leads to is quite right. Indeed, that is why we have a strong focus now on the family parental conflict programme, to which we will be contributing £30 million in the coming two years. We have also invested up to £200 million in universal support, which provides budgeting advice and digital support to claimants, delivered by local authorities. This support is tailored to local needs and our work coaches, who gauge claimants’ financial needs from their first interview. We are doing a variety of things to help people at a local level. The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, shakes his head, but we are doing an awful lot more than his Government ever achieved. I am proud of what we are doing.
My Lords, will the noble Baroness please have another go at answering the question put to her by my noble friend Lord Howarth? Can she confirm that local authority budgets have been cut by 40%, and if she cannot, what figure does she think is the right one? Can she further say whether she thinks that—if that figure or anything like it is correct—it is at all likely that there has been no major impact on services that were previously provided?
My Lords, it is a great shame that under the Labour Government so much taxpayers’ money was wasted, leaving our local councils bereft of funds. We have worked hard to ensure that there are emergency provisions in place. Although there may be cuts to local authorities, we are ensuring that there is proper provision, but we are leaving it to local authorities to decide the best way to provide for the needs that people have at local level.
Kinship Carers: Two-child Limit Policy
My Lords, the Government acknowledge the immense value of care provided by kinship carers. We are working to ensure that they are supported by enabling them to access benefit entitlement in the same way as parents. We have introduced a number of exceptions to the policy providing support for a maximum of two children, to protect claimants who are unable to make choices about the size of their family. These already protected certain groups, including kindship carers. The department will keep, and is keeping, the impact of its policies on kinship carers under consideration.
My Lords, the reason why kinship carers were exempted from the two-child policy is that this House voted that it should be so. The Minister will be aware of the case, raised by my honourable friend Melanie Onn, of Alyssa Vessey. When Alyssa was 18, her mother died suddenly so she gave up college to care for her three younger siblings. This year, four years later, she has had her own baby. She applied for tax credits and a Sure Start maternity grant but she was turned down under the two-child policy. The reason is that the Government chose to implement the exemption in such a way that if Alyssa already had her own child and then took on her siblings she could get benefits for them, but because she took her siblings on and then had her own baby she was denied that support. Can the Minister explain this? When will the Government put it right?
My Lords, I think the noble Baroness opposite is aware that we are very much cognisant of this particular case. Indeed, my honourable friend in the other place who is the Minister responsible for this area, Caroline Dinenage MP, has responded with considerable sympathy with regard to this particular case. However, the Government believe all children should be treated equally and encourage parents to take the decision to have more children based on whether they can afford to support additional children.
My Lords, the Government are looking at this policy at the moment, as I have already said. We do not believe we are being callous. The Government’s view is that providing support for a maximum of two children in universal credit and child tax credit will ensure fairness between claimants on the one hand and, on the other hand, those taxpayers who support themselves solely through work.
My Lords, I had understood when this matter was discussed that the theory underlying the proposal was that those who by their own choice landed themselves with more than two children had to support the extra children with whom they had landed themselves. However, the case that we have just been talking about is not that; there was at the very least a moral obligation for that lady to take her siblings. It would therefore be right to say that it is not in accordance with the principle underlying the proposal that this case should be treated as it apparently has been so far. I hope the Government will reconsider it.
I have to say that we have already said that we have responded with enormous sympathy to this. The policy is currently under review, but it should also be made clear that the Government have assessed the impact of the policy from an equality and human rights perspective throughout its development and in its implementation, thus meeting our obligations under the public sector equality duty and ensuring compliance with human rights and other international obligations.
My Lords, the Government have chosen to pursue a deficit-reduction strategy by opting for a fiscally cautious welfare policy. However, has the Minister considered that some British families are larger for reasons of faith or principle? Speaking on behalf of people of all faiths in this country, my question is: what plans does the Minister have for ensuring that such families and children are not discriminated against by the policy?
My Lords, as I have already said, there is nothing to stop anyone having a large family. There is total freedom of choice to have a large family. However, the Government’s view is that we have to be fair between those claimants on the one hand and, on the other hand, those taxpayers who support their own children solely through work.
My Lords, will the Minister take the temperature of the House on this issue and listen with great care to the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern? Can she really defend the Government’s view that this policy, which is a technical misinterpretation of the will of the House and Parliament when it put these provisions in, can possibly be, as she says, fair and in the interests of equality for the children in this or any other family in these very unusual and, I suspect, not very expensive situations?
Given her long experience and expertise in this House, the noble Baroness will understand that, as a Lords Minister, my position is somewhat constrained. As I said, my honourable friend in another place is very aware of this case, and this policy is being considered as we speak.
Will the Government honour their promise to this House on 27 January 2016 that children in kinship care should be exempt from the two-child limit on benefits and tax credits? The limit is intended to deter people from having more than two children where they cannot afford them, not to deter or punish kinship carers who take on the care of vulnerable children who might otherwise go into care. That distinction was accepted by the Government. Will they please now implement the commitment that they gave to this House on 27 January 2016, quite explicitly and without reservation?
My Lords, I ought to make it clear that, as the noble Baroness will be aware, there is no punishment. If a family has already had two children of their own, there is nothing to stop them taking on other children as kinship carers. In that case, those children will be exemptions to this rule.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Ministerial Guidance
My Lords, all Ministers are bound by the Ministerial Code, which sets out the standards of conduct expected of Ministers in how they discharge their duties. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office does not provide any specific additional guidance. The Permanent Secretary is responsible for discussions with Ministers about what is expected under the umbrella of the Ministerial Code, and for advising them on routine day-to-day issues as they arise.
Is the Minister aware of the immense damage being done to Britain’s reputation abroad, and to the rights of British citizens abroad, by the tendency of the present Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, to speak first and think afterwards? Can he and his colleagues in government please convey to him that he needs to reverse that process, because he has a bad reputation for it both in this country and overseas, and it is damaging Britain’s relationships and damaging individuals?
My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary, as I am sure that many in this House acknowledge, represents our country and the Foreign Office in exemplary fashion, and this weekend’s example is testimony to that. Over the past week, he has raised some important issues of counterterrorism and countering violent extremism. This again demonstrates the importance that he attaches to representing the Government abroad, as do I in my responsibilities as a Minister of State who serves with him on that team. I have seen him in operation directly as a Minister within his team; he operates with a strategic outlook and in a very positive fashion.
My Lords, I think Britain is recognised as a country that provides balance and leadership through various international fora. Let us not forget that we are a P5 member on the UN Security Council. My noble friend will be aware that the Commonwealth summit and Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting is around the corner in April. Again, the United Kingdom is honoured to be hosting it and working with the Commonwealth Secretariat to set the agenda for what will be a positive example of global Britain in action.
My Lords, an issue of concern—to me and I think many noble Lords—has been the capacity of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to deliver on behalf of this United Kingdom with the necessary tools to do the job; the noble Viscount referred to that. It is an important issue that the Minister needs to address. Only last week, when we were discussing President Trump’s decision on Jerusalem, the Foreign Secretary made a speech in which our concern was to be included but that section was omitted. That is not a matter of capacity; it is clearly a matter of design. Will the Minister explain why such an important position of the United Kingdom was ignored by the Foreign Secretary?
My Lords, I draw attention not to myself but, in looking to my right and around this Chamber, I am sure that all noble Lords would acknowledge the tremendous service to this Government that my predecessors have given as Ministers of State in the Foreign Office. My noble friends Lord Howell, Lady Warsi and Lady Anelay are examples of how the voice of the Foreign Office is heard not just in this House but across—oh! The noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, is perhaps casting aspersions on my performance; that remains to be seen.
The noble Lord raises an important point about international issues. I draw his attention and that of my noble friend to the statement given by Ambassador Rycroft at the United Nations, where we stood side by side with other European nations to make clear our position on the issue of east Jerusalem. I understand that that question was raised here. We remain consistent with all Governments in saying that we need a two-state solution where the capital of Jerusalem is shared by both states. That point has been made consistently by all Governments of all sides. We should focus on challenges facing the Foreign Office such as retaining the nuclear deal with Iran. The Foreign Secretary has led the way in ensuring that balance, communication and contact is retained on an international front on that very important issue.
My Lords, the Israeli press comment on the recent visit was rather critical, and I have seen many other critical comments on the Foreign Secretary’s performance in other foreign media over the last year. Can the Minister try to redress the balance by telling us about the Foreign Secretary’s close, mutually confident relationships with any particular senior Ministers of foreign Governments?
If I started talking about the Foreign Secretary’s close and constructive relationships—there are many I could name—I fear it would take us beyond the 30-minute limit. We shall be coming to the subject later, but I can say briefly that the Foreign Secretary has just returned from a very important and constructive visit to Iran and the Middle East, where I am sure noble Lords will agree that we have important relationships. He is leading from the front in ensuring that those relationships are not just sustained but strengthened.
Does my noble friend agree, in answer to the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Soley, that diplomacy does not require guidance or any teaching at all? We have been fortunate in this country to have had many interesting individuals who have carried out the role of Foreign Secretary over centuries. Not all of them have been straitjacketed by guidance or anything coming from an official level. Surely my noble friend agrees that the only way in which we can judge the success of diplomacy is whether it serves the best interests at any time of this country.
Combined Authorities (Mayoral Elections) (Amendment) Order 2017
Local Authorities (Mayoral Elections) (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2017
Motions to Approve
Pharmacy (Preparation and Dispensing Errors—Registered Pharmacies) Order 2018
Motion to Approve
Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications, Deemed Applications, Requests and Site Visits) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2017
Motion to Approve
Electronic Communications Code (Jurisdiction) Regulations 2017
Communications Act 2003 and the Digital Economy Act 2017 (Consequential Amendments to Primary Legislation) Regulations 2017
Motions to Approve
Data Protection Bill [HL]
Report (1st Day)
Relevant documents: 6th and 9th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee
1: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
“Protection of personal data
(1) The GDPR, the applied GDPR and this Act protect individuals with regard to the processing of personal data, in particular by—(a) requiring personal data to be processed lawfully, on the basis of the data subject’s consent or another specified basis,(b) conferring rights on the data subject to obtain information about the processing of personal data, and(c) conferring functions on the Commissioner, giving the holder of that office responsibility for monitoring and enforcing their provisions.(2) When carrying out functions under the GDPR, the applied GDPR and this Act, the Commissioner must have regard to the importance of securing an appropriate level of protection for personal data, taking account of the interests of data subjects, controllers and others and matters of general public interest.”
My Lords, it is with some degree of anticipation that I open the debate on the first day of Report on this Bill with amendments relating to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. While we have, in the great tradition of this House, managed to discuss and settle many of our differences over recent weeks while debating this legislation, it was this topic, concerning the charter, where we first found ourselves at odds, really since arguments at the other end of the Palace were sent here to tease us.
Since we last considered this matter, the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill has been making progress in the other place. On 21 November, there was an extensive debate on the future of the charter. My honourable friend the Minister of State for Justice and my honourable friend the Solicitor-General explained at length that the charter is not the original source of the rights contained within it; it was only intended to catalogue rights that already existed in EU law. Those rights, codified by the charter, came from a wide variety of sources, including the treaties, EU legislation and, indeed, case law, which recognised fundamental rights as general principles. All those substantive rights, of which the charter is a reflection not the source, will already be protected in domestic law by the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. It is not necessary to retain the charter in order to protect such substantive rights.
Last week, on 5 December, the Government published a detailed memorandum setting out how each article of the charter will be reflected in UK law after we leave. That document explains in detail how the right to data protection is already reflected in our law. The Government are well aware of the economic benefit of ensuring that, once we have left the EU, we preserve the free flow of personal data with our main trading partners. Indeed, that is one of the guiding principles that underpins this legislation. On 7 August, when we published our statement of intent before we introduced this Bill, we set that out clearly, and we have repeated this time and again. Every amendment that noble Lords have proposed to this Bill has to be considered against that key test. Will it support or will it harm our arguments that we have wholly implemented the necessary data protection reforms to support the free flow of personal data?
There is no doubt in our minds that we have fully implemented the right to data protection in our law. No one has convincingly put forward any counter argument. None the less, our Amendment 1 is designed to provide additional reassurance on this point. Not only will it be clear in the substance of the legislation and all of the statements and announcements around the legislation; it will also be written into the Bill. This Bill exists to protect individuals with regard to the processing of personal data. Personal data must be processed lawfully. Individuals have rights, and the Information Commissioner will enforce those. The Bill does what it says on the tin.
The Government’s Amendment 1 does not confer new rights. We already have them. However, Amendment 1 should provide reassurance to noble Lords, as well as those beyond who will judge whether we have appropriate protections in place, that the UK has not just implemented EU law to the extent necessary but has gone further in legislating for a complete and total legal framework that covers all personal data processing across every sector of our economy.
I should say at the outset that, while I cannot agree to the noble Lord’s amendment, we have made significant progress in recent weeks through our discussions. I will reply to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, after he has spoken to his amendment, but I commit to continuing discussions after today and we may return to this at Third Reading. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for moving his amendment and for his concluding remarks, which I will return to. I welcome this amendment, and the implication it carries that the Government have listened to the discussions we have had in the last few weeks and have moved from their initial position.
I will speak to Amendment 2, which I am delighted has also been signed by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford. I am sure that your Lordships’ House will recognise that, in bringing forward a revised draft, we have reflected very deeply on the points made by noble and noble and learned Lords in the debate on the original amendment moved in Committee. In addition to noble Lords who spoke on that occasion, I thank the academic and practising lawyers—as well as many in industry—who have contributed to our emerging thinking on this topic. Before it was submitted to the gruelling process that happens to all amendments when they go to the Public Bill Office, I sent an earlier draft of this amendment to many Members of this House who spoke in that earlier debate. I am grateful for the comments I have received.
It is unusual to have two amendments bearing on very similar points. It is an advantage to be able to see the conflicting, and often overlapping, thinking that has gone into this. It is clear to all who have read both and thought about them that, while we are not yet in full agreement, we are very close. Indeed, I venture to suggest that there is more that unites us on this issue than divides us. What do we agree on? We both recognise that the key data protection rights currently enjoyed by citizens in the UK crucially underpin any assessment of adequacy that might need to be made by the EU post Brexit. They are crucial for the future of our successful data-handling industry. We both want the key data protection rights currently enjoyed by citizens in the UK to continue once the Bill becomes law, while the GDPR is in force, and then after Brexit—if that happens. We agree that the key question to be determined is not the exact wording of one or other but whether it is necessary for these key rights, currently enjoyed by UK citizens through Article 8 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, to be expressed clearly for all to see on the face of the Bill, or whether their existence in various parts of the Bill—and in the GDPR and its recitals—is sufficient.
By putting down their own amendment on this issue, the Government seem to agree that explicit references in the Bill will be helpful, for the reasons given above. We now need to get together to find a form of words which will achieve this aim and which we can both support. I therefore agree with the noble Lord that the right thing to do is for both sides to withdraw their amendments on this issue today and for the Minister to confirm—as he has done—that the matter is of sufficient importance to be brought back for further consideration at Third Reading. If he will agree to that, I will not move my amendment when it is called.
My Lords, I also welcome the fact that we are in touching distance of an agreement on this matter. I thank the Minister for bringing forward Amendment 1. However, there is a little way to go. Amendment 1 is declaratory of what is contained in the Bill, whereas Amendment 2 is rather stronger and clearer.
Embedding a general right to data protection inspired by the Charter of Fundamental Rights is not only important for UK citizens but, as we have agreed in many debates and exchanges in this House, it is crucial for unhindered data flows between the UK and the European Union if we Brexit. It is absolutely crucial for business and law enforcement to be able to exchange data and have access to EU databases, such as the Schengen Information System, Europol and so on. The Government’s review of the charter, which was also most welcome and was produced last week, says that,
“domestic courts will be required to interpret retained EU law consistently with the general principle reflected in Article 8, so far as it is possible to do so”.
Is the Minister able to elucidate what that caveat leaves out? What would not be possible?
In the Watson case, to which the Brexit Secretary was a party until he became the Brexit Secretary, the European Court of Justice found that the current UK data protection regime in relation to data retention and acquisition was incompatible with Article 8 of the charter. This demonstrated the deep importance that the European Union places on charter rights in the protection of privacy. The draft resolution that the European Parliament is due to debate and vote on this Wednesday, on the joint report on the phase 1 divorce agreement that was reached last Friday,
“underlines that it will accept a framework for the future EU-UK relationship as part of the Withdrawal Agreement only if it is in strict concordance with the following principles”,
“United Kingdom’s adherence to the standards provided by international obligations, including fundamental rights … data protection and privacy”.
So we can expect this to be a very important matter, on which there will be a spotlight in the consideration of an adequacy assessment by the European Commission, which I think we all agree it is essential to achieve.
As I said in Committee, the adequacy assessment will be wide-ranging, taking in all aspects of law and practice in the United Kingdom. Of course, this will include the law and practice in terms of national security, which at the moment—rather ironically, or perversely—are excluded under the EU treaties. Once we are outside—if we are—there will be closer examination of how privacy fares in relation to the demands of national security than there is while we are in the EU. In that context, the national security issues in the Bill, which will be further debated as well, will perhaps take on a heightened importance.
On these Benches we believe that the rights under the charter in relation to data protection should be reflected in the Bill so as to have a general right to the protection of personal data in UK law. I very much agree with the course advocated by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, to reflect further and to accept the Government’s offer to come forward at Third Reading with something that we could all agree on.
My Lords, the Minister said that Amendment 1 is designed to provide reassurance that existing EU law rights are fully protected under the Bill. I, too, welcome the Minister’s assurance that further work will be done on this amendment prior to Third Reading. I will suggest four points that need to be considered and included in this amendment.
First, subsection (1)(a) of the proposed new clause refers to the need for data “to be processed lawfully”, but it does not refer to the obligation under Article 8.2 of the charter for data also to be processed fairly. That needs to be included.
Secondly, Amendment 1 does not refer, in subsection (1)(b), to the right to have personal data rectified. Again, that right is conferred by Article 8.2 of the charter.
Thirdly, the government amendment uses weak language in subsection (2), which says that,
“the Commissioner must have regard to”,
and uses “taking account of”. The Minister will know that Article 52 imposes a much tougher standard for limitations. It is a test of necessity, which is echoed in Amendment 2 in subsection (6).
Fourthly, government Amendment 1 makes no mention of the principal of proportionality. Again, that is an important element of Article 52.1 of the Charter, which, again, is mentioned in Amendment 2.
If the objective of the government amendment is to echo the rights that are currently enjoyed under the charter, these issues need to be further considered and, I hope, can be included in the redrafted Amendment 1 that the Government will bring forward at Third Reading.
My Lords, I do not wish in any way to spoil the degree of harmony that appears to have grown up over these issues in Amendments 1 and 2. When I looked at both amendments, I was not convinced of the need for either. If, as the Minister rightly says, Amendment 1 does not create any new rights, given that we have a Bill of 242 pages with a number of complex provisions, it seems surprising that we need to restate the principles. Of course, if we restate them, we run into the danger of attracting the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, who can say, “If you’re going to restate the principles, you may restate them rather better”. Surely it is much more desirable to specify precisely what the Bill is intended to do in those bespoke provisions rather than resort to generality, which inevitably has imprecision.
On Amendment 2, I am not a great fan of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. The position of the party opposite when it was first advanced was entirely correct: it should not add rights to any protection that already exists in our law. On this so-called right to protection of personal data, if an amendment is to be introduced at this rather late stage of the proceedings, surely the first question is: does it add clarity to the Bill? It does not. Does it provide better protection, doing something that is otherwise not covered by the Bill but ought to be? If that is the case, let us by all means have an appropriate amendment. Why does it not provide clarity? These provisions must ultimately be interpreted by a court, as is recognised by proposed new subsection (7) in Amendment 2, which invites the court to,
“take into account any relevant judgment, decision, declaration or advisory opinion of the … Court of Justice of the European Union; and … European Court of Human Rights”.
Interestingly, the word “must” is used rather than “may”, which is the way that Section 2 of the Human Rights Act invites courts to have regard to the jurisprudence of the Strasbourg court. So a court is going to have to try to make sense of the relevant decision judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union or the European Court of Human Rights. The ECHR does not have quite the same system of precedent that we have, and courts have often found it difficult to distil from the jurisprudence precisely what they should or should not be following. What if there were a difference between the interpretation of the Court of Justice of the European Union and the ECHR? That would provide further difficulties for a court.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, posed the question: what does “so far as it is possible to do” mean? The Minister will be invited to respond to that but presumably it means in so far as it is not inconsistent with the specific legislative provisions contained in the Bill—I do not know; the Minister may have a better answer than that. However, it seems to me that by invoking broad generalisations there is almost an admission that the Bill is not doing the proper job. It may satisfy a number of people’s understandable concerns about somehow striking the right balance between protecting personal data and allowing free access to data that is appropriate, but inserting, rather at the last minute, two general provisions of this sort does not seem to me to be making good law.
My Lords, I follow with some trepidation my successor at the Ministry of Justice, the noble Lord, Lord Faulks. I do so because, for the three years before he took up his office, I was the Minister of State at the Ministry of Justice who had responsibility for the negotiations around the GDPR in its early stages. It is interesting that this debate reflects very much the early gestation of the GDPR. At that point, there was a very clear division between what I would describe as the Anglo-Saxon approach—which the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, has expounded—and the continental approach. I suspect that is something that has bedevilled our approach to law-making in the EU over 40 years.
The truth of the Anglo-Saxon approach is this: of course we believe in these things, and if we look here, there and everywhere we will find that they are all covered; but hold that against points made by people who have only very recently experienced the power of the state and its abuse of the law by the Stasi and others. They want a much clearer definition that can be clearly observed. Thanks mainly to the hard work of my noble friend Lady Ludford in the European Parliament, we got a GDPR that was not overprescriptive in that direction but satisfied those very real concerns. We are at the same point again in this Bill.
Of course the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, is undoubtedly right about the various guarantees found in this and other legislation, but the politician in me says that if we are to get the adequacy we want in due course, we must not—to use a phrase of an old mentor of mine, Joe Gormley—build platforms for malcontents to stand on. We must not leave in everybody’s mind the question of why they did not want this in the Bill, when it is such a clear statement of their beliefs and our beliefs.
To revert to my old job as a political adviser, my advice to the Minister is this. In doing what he has been asked to do—to withdraw the amendment—he should work with the amendment tabled by the Opposition and bring through at Third Reading something that will cover our Anglo-Saxon desire to see these things in law but also reassure in a very political way those who have genuine concerns and want to see us carry out and stand by these responsibilities.
My Lords, I find this situation slightly difficult because it looks to me as though what is wanted is to say that there is something in the charter that is not already in the Bill; otherwise it does not seem very much to the point. If it is already in the Bill, the two proposed new clauses—which are not intended to be additional but optional—are unnecessary. If it is not in the Bill, surely we should put it in the Bill and not leave it. I do not know whether I am Anglo-Saxon, Celtic or what, but I do not distinguish between these various matters. As for being political, I am not sure that I want to be that either.
I want the Bill to be as precise as it can be in a difficult area. Both the government amendment and the opposition amendment strike me as vague. I will say a few words about the opposition amendment because the government amendment, as the Minister says, is not intended to confer any new rights. That is a clear situation. Proposed new subsection (5) of the opposition amendment states:
“Restrictions on the rights of a data subject and any limitation on the exercise of the right to the protection of personal data under this section must be provided for by legislation”.
I would like to see it stopping there. I do not see how you can start to judge the legislation that has already been passed by considering whether it respects the essence of that right. If it does not, it should not have been passed as legislation.
Proposed new subsection (6) has the same effect. It states:
“Subject to the principle of proportionality, the restrictions and limitations under subsection (5)”—
these are restrictions brought in by statute, according to subsection (5)—
“may be made only if they are necessary to support a democratic society”,
and so on. I think I know where that comes from. The point is that if that is right, it should not be in the legislation. This is a requirement about the nature of the legislation which, on the theory of proposed new subsection (5), has already been passed.
It is not appropriate for the Bill to try to control legislation which, according to this, does not seem to have been passed, unless it is already in this Bill, in which case we should accept it.
My Lords, I turn first to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson. During the course of the Bill I met the noble Lord frequently, both formally and informally. When I met him two weeks ago he told me that he was working on his Amendment 2 and he had a look of foreboding about him. He said, “Wish me luck”. I had sympathy with his position—I almost felt sorry for him—because this is a legally and constitutionally complex area. Amendment 2 reads well—it sounds attractive and has seductive packaging—but when taken out of that packaging and slotted into this Bill it is not only ineffective but damaging. It is rather like pouring diesel into a petrol engine.
The amendment makes great play of creating a new and freestanding right. Unlike the government version it is not framed within the context of the Bill. It is a wider right. Indeed, it is far wider even than article 8 of the charter. It is not constrained to the context of EU law but applies to everything. It is attractive, perhaps, but it is seriously problematic.
How is the court to interpret this new right? If this was in the context of the Human Rights Act, there is a framework within which to operate, so if a court finds primary legislation to be incompatible with a convention right, it will make a declaration of incompatibility. The Human Rights Act sets out the effect of that finding on the validity, continuing operation and enforcement of the legislation. This simply would not exist if we were to agree Amendment 2, so the consequences of any finding would be unclear. That could create legal, regulatory and economic chaos.
How would data controllers operate if they could not tell whether the apparently incompatible legislation they were operating under was still effective or not and there was no mechanism to fill any gap? What if the courts found parts of the GDPR incompatible with this new super-right? Rather than enabling the free flow of data we could be crippling it. Further, how would the courts approach other legislation in light of this new right and how would they approach other rights? Could this new right be balanced against other rights, and if so, would it carry additional weight?
Apart from these legal problems, in our view Amendment 2 is simply unnecessary. The general principles of EU law will be retained when we leave the EU by the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill for the purposes of interpretation of retained EU law. The GDPR will be retained. Indeed, this Bill firmly entrenches it in our law. The right to protection of personal information is a general principle of EU law and has been recognised as such since the 1960s. The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill requires our courts to interpret the GDPR consistently with the general principle reflected in article 8, and with retained CJEU case law so far as it is possible to do so. In that context, the jurisprudence of the CJEU will continue to have influence in much the same way as the judgment of a court in Australia might have an influence on how common legal principles should be applied.
The amendment also refers to the status of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights. This is completely unnecessary and unwelcome. Section 2 of the Human Rights Act already requires our courts to take into account relevant judgments of the Strasbourg court. If we write this here, where else must we write it? We do not want to cast doubt on our absolute and total respect for human rights on any issue, not just data protection. The Government have reaffirmed and renewed our commitment to human rights law. It is reflected through UK national law as well as in a range of domestic legislation that implements our specific obligations under UN and other international treaties, from the convention against torture to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Of course, the principal international treaty most relevant to the UK’s human rights laws is the European Convention on Human Rights. I am happy to repeat the commitment made by my fellow Ministers in recent months that the Government are committed to respecting and remaining a party to the ECHR. There will be no weakening of our human rights protections because we are leaving the EU.
All of these issues interlink. Article 6 of the Treaty on European Union makes clear that due regard must be had to the explanations of the charter when interpreting and applying it. The explanations for article 8 of the charter confirm that the right to data protection is based on the right to respect for private life in article 8 of the ECHR. The European Court of Human Rights has confirmed that article 8 of the ECHR encompasses personal data protection.
It is easy to conclude that we are spiralling in circles on this matter, and in a sense, we are. We believe that there is simply no problem here of any substance. The right to data protection is fully implemented in our law and it is fully enforceable. Government Amendment 1 makes it clear that this is the case. While Amendment 2 seeks to do the same it trips and falls, creating confusion rather than the clarity the noble Lord is after. So I hope that he will feel able to withdraw his amendment. I wish to press government Amendment 1. As the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said, we are seeking to provide reassurance. I said at the beginning that we would remain open for discussions on this, and if we can provide any further reassurance, taking into account some of the four points made by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, we will do so.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, gave a long explanation of why adequacy is important and some of the extra issues that will be taken into account when we have to approach an adequacy decision from the EU, including for example areas of law which at the moment are not susceptible to EU jurisdiction, such as national security. I agree completely that that will be taken into account when we go for an adequacy arrangement. That is exactly why we have tried to apply the GDPR principles to all our laws, so that we have a complete and systematic data protection regime. On that basis, I accept the four questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. We will consider those issues in the discussions.
I thank the Minister for his response. I was glad that he addressed the question of an adequacy assessment at the end of his remarks, but with respect, it is not enough—or adequate—to address an adequacy assessment only at the point of asking for it. We must lay the foundations now. I cannot see the point in storing up potential problems when we could solve the problem of the basis. We ought to do everything in that prism. We can have delightful legal discussions—it is important to get the law right—but this is also crucial to business. We have had so many representations on that point. I am sure that the Minister’s colleague, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, is preoccupied with this question. Surely we need to front-load our response? We cannot wait until the UK applies for an adequacy assessment to be told, “Well, it’s a pity that you didn’t enshrine the principles and the essence of article 8 of the charter”. We have a chance to do that now and ensure a solid platform for requesting an adequacy assessment. I admit that I am puzzled as to why the Government would not want to do that; it is important for law enforcement as well. Why would we not want to solve that problem now, instead of finding later that we have entirely predictable problems as a result of not doing so?
I completely agree with the noble Baroness. We have applied the GDPR principles to areas such as defence, national security and the intelligence services in different parts of the Bill so that when we seek an adequacy arrangement, we can say to the EU that we have arranged a comprehensive data protection regime that takes all the GDPR principles into account, including areas that are not subject to EU law. That is why, contrary to what we said in Committee, we have taken the arguments on board and tabled government Amendment 1 to provide reassurance on that exact point. We originally said that the rights under article 8 were contained in the Bill, but we are now putting further reassurance in the Bill. Other areas of the Bill, without direct effect, signpost how the Bill should be regarded.
The noble Baroness supports the amendment but would like, I think, to create a free-standing right. I have explained why we do not agree with that. Before Third Reading, we will try to seek a form of words in our amendment that provides more reassurance, so that when it comes to seeking an adequacy decision—we cannot do that until we leave the EU—there will be no doubt about what this regime provides. That would be the best way to do it, I think.
Does the Minister also agree that a further answer to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, is that it is absolutely inevitable that the detailed provisions of the Bill will be, on occasion, the subject of dispute, uncertainty and litigation, and that it would be very helpful to have a statement of principle on what is intended at the commencement of the Bill? This would not be the first time that a Bill has done that. Everybody would then know what the principles were. Of course, the Minister still needs to consider before Third Reading what that statement should be, but that is the point, as I understand it, of government Amendment 1.
Why does the Minister feel it so necessary to push ahead with his amendment when it is quite clear that the best and most constructive way forward would be for both amendments not to be pressed to allow constructive discussion and resolution at Third Reading?
Government Amendment 1 provides a basis for the discussion that we will have before Third Reading. Of course, I accept that it could be amended at that stage.
As for the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, I will have to read my noble friend Lord Faulks’s words. I was not entirely sure that he was as supportive as the noble Lord feels, but I may have misinterpreted him.
I thank the noble Lord. As I said in Committee, we too saw no need for this. The Government have moved because they are always listening and we hope that we can make this more acceptable. I will read what was said by the noble Lords, Lord Pannick and Lord McNally, and my noble friend Lord Faulks, but I would like to press my amendment so that we might have it as a basis for further discussion before Third Reading.
My Lords, the Minister has received quite a lot of comment from around the Chamber on this and I made it clear in my opening remarks that I though the best solution was to have neither amendment. If we are to have a genuine discussion, it does not seem helpful to have in the Bill the wording which the Minister has alighted on at this stage in his conversion. It would be much better to start with a blank sheet and try to work to a common solution. I beg him to reconsider his view and withdraw his amendment; I will not press mine. We could then move to Third Reading with a clean slate.
My Lords, I understand what the noble Lord is saying. This amendment has been around the houses in government; it has had many people from many departments looking at it from top to bottom. The feeling of the Government at the moment is that it is better to have something on paper as a basis for discussion. I would like to press my amendment.
Amendment 2 not moved.
Clause 6: Meaning of “public authority” and “public body”
3: Clause 6, page 4, leave out line 34
My Lords, I am pleased to be moving the Government’s technical amendments this evening, and, in particular, Amendments 3, 4 and 5 which respond to the concerns raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and others on behalf of the UK’s universities, schools and colleges. They were worried that the Bill would restrict their ability to process the data of alumni for fundraising purposes. As the noble Baroness explained in Committee, universities, schools and colleges were concerned that being badged as public authorities by Clause 6 would mean they could not rely on the legitimate interests processing condition in article 6(1)(f). This is because the final sentence of article 6(1) states:
“Point (f) … shall not apply to processing carried out by public authorities in the performance of their tasks”.
Universities also doubted whether, in the context of alumni relations, they could rely on article 6(1)(e) of the GDPR, which relates to processing necessary for the performance of a task carried out in the public interest. Although there is a good argument that any fundraising or similar activity which allows universities to improve facilities for students would be considered a “public interest” task, the Government can see why universities might doubt whether all their fundraising work would fall into that category. If universities could not rely on article 6(1)(e) or (f), they say they would be left without an obvious processing condition in situations where obtaining the data subject’s consent, at least in the GDPR sense of that term, was not a realistic option.
Government Amendments 3, 4 and 5 address these concerns by making it clear that public authorities will be treated as public authorities for data protection purposes only when they are carrying out their public tasks. To the extent that they carry out non-public tasks, they would not be defined as a public authority for the purposes of the GDPR and would not be prevented from relying on the legitimate interests processing condition.
We recognise that the amendment does not refer to universities, schools or colleges by name. This is deliberate, meaning that any public authority which is processing data for non-public functions will be able to rely on this provision. The education sector is not the only one to have these worries. I know, for example, that our museums and galleries would welcome the same degree of flexibility, and this amendment will ensure they have it. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for raising this matter and I hope these amendments will provide universities and other similar organisations with the reassurance they need.
I will not go through the remaining amendments in the group one by one, but instead pick out a few which I think may be of broader interest—for example, Amendments 145 and 146. In Committee, my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral was among those to express concerns about the inclusion of the term “other adverse effects” in the definition of damage in Clause 159. He asked whether this was broader than the definition in the GDPR. As I set out then, the Government’s intention in including a definition of damage in Clause 159 was to provide clarity, specifically in relation to the inclusion of distress. Clause 159 does not seek to provide a wider definition of damage than is currently provided in the GDPR; nor indeed could it.
None the less, in light of the concerns expressed by my noble friend, the Government have reconsidered this issue and decided to amend the definition to ensure that it is as clear as possible and to minimise the risk of any uncertainty such as that which concerned noble Lords. The amended definition now simply states that the reference to “non-material damage” in the GDPR includes distress. The definition of damage for the purposes of the law enforcement and intelligence services regimes is set out separately in Clause 160. Amendment 146 makes a similar change to that definition so that it is as clear as possible and no longer refers to “other adverse effects”. I beg to move.
My Lords, I will comment on Amendments 3, 4 and 5. The Minister and the noble Baroness may well feel that I do not give up, and I agree: I do not. I of course understand clearly what the Government are trying to do with the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon—that they have agreed to get that into the Bill. It is helpful to know that public bodies need to be defined as such when they are processing data for tasks that are not defined as tasks in the public interest. This opens up the possibility of their instead using legitimate interests as a legal basis under some circumstances: for example, as has already been mentioned, for universities contacting alumni for fundraising purposes.
My point is different: universities and their research activities and how that is recognised, which we discussed. Here, it is more pressing to be clear on what counts as a task in the public interest, since public bodies will need to determine which legal basis is appropriate to the processing they are undertaking in different circumstances. For example, is research conducted in universities a task in the public interest, in which case the university would be considered as a public body for the purposes of the Bill, or is it not? In the latter case the university is not a public body for research purposes, and the research is therefore conducted on the legal basis of legitimate interest.
These differences matter, particularly as the GDPR requires data controllers to be clear on the legal basis they are using. How are public bodies such as universities to make this determination? The clearest answer would be, as I indicated in Committee, that the ICO gives guidance. I understand that the Government cannot direct the ICO to give guidance, so a way needs to be found to clarify which tasks fall under the public interest basis, specifically using the example of university research to provide that clarity. I would be grateful if the Minister commented on that.
As the Minister knows, I put my name to the amendments from the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, to which this amendment is a response. I am grateful to the Minister for meeting a group of us to discuss this issue, for bringing forward this amendment, and particularly for the clear way in which she has indicated one of its purposes, which is that when universities are not acting in the public interest in the exercise of their official functions they will be permitted and empowered to rely upon the legitimate-interest condition, which was our original concern. I believe this amendment meets that concern, and I am very grateful.
My Lords, I remind the House of my interest as master of Pembroke College, Cambridge. I give a warm welcome to Amendments 3, 4 and 5, and I am grateful that Ministers have listened to the concerns of universities and colleges and very helpfully addressed them in these amendments. I know I speak also for the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, in this respect.
The two most important issues that have been of concern to universities and colleges have been, first, maintaining good relationships with alumni and the way in which that can lead to successful fundraising for universities and, secondly, the need constantly to improve what we do in outreach work to schools and the widening of participation from the broadest base of potential students to draw them into the best of our universities. In both these respects, relying on legitimate interests, as we do at the moment, is going to be extremely helpful. I very much hope that that is the Government’s understanding of the purpose and effect of the amendments.
My Lords, I hope to be as brief as the Minister, who I thought was admirably so in introducing the government amendments. However, there are some issues that arise. I applaud the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and others who have been so instrumental in persuading the Government on this. As the noble Lord, Lord Patel, indicated in various ways, there are ambiguities; the particular way in which the Government have chosen to amend the Bill potentially leaves a gap. I wonder, for instance, whether alumni fundraising for, say, a research institute can never be in the public interest. Is there not a possibility that it might fall outside the exemptions as a result? Perhaps the Minister can give me the correct interpretation. It is very important that this is on the record and that it is very clear what the formulation means. It would have been much more straightforward to have approached the subject directly in the Freedom of Information Act, but that is not the way the Government have chosen to help alumni fundraising in universities. In talking about universities, I should declare an interest as chairman of the council of Queen Mary University as well.
Another question arises. By and large there is nothing particularly controversial in the remainder of the amendments, but I do not quite understand why new Section 76C of the Freedom of Information Act, which was introduced in the original version of the Bill, is now being taken out by Amendment 198. Is it because Clause 127 already provides the necessary duty of confidentiality of information by the commissioner and employees of the Information Commissioner’s Office? The Minister might have given us a bit of explanation about that, which would have been extremely helpful.
Otherwise, many of the other provisions are welcome. Amendments 119, 182 and 197 demonstrate that it would be a good idea to have prompt enactment or implementation of legislation, so that weird and wonderful new clauses such as are introduced by those amendments would be unnecessary.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Chisholm of Owlpen, for her explanation of the government amendments in this group, which are largely in response to issues raised in Committee. I do not intend to speak for long on this group, because the amendments are largely to be welcomed. I want to pay particular tribute to my noble friend Lady Royall of Blaisdon, who raised the concern of the university sector during Committee that, under the Bill, universities could find themselves in difficulty over fundraising activities with alumni. We were pleased to see today that the Government have listened and addressed that. My noble friend cannot be with us today because of the weather making it difficult for her to travel to London. Generally, the higher education sector and others are grateful for what is proposed, although a couple of noble Lords have raised particular concerns, so it would be useful if the Minister could address those in her response. There may be one area that has not quite been resolved.
There are a couple of issues to mention. We are happy to support the amendment on police sharing of information for law enforcement purposes, as I am the amendment in respect of the Prisoner Ombudsman for Northern Ireland and the technical amendments on tribunals and courts to ensure consistency of language.
I shall not go on any further, because I am conscious that we have two Statements today and one will take at least an hour and the other 40 minutes, and the dinner break business for an hour, which will eat in to our time for Report today. I shall leave it here and say well done to the Government: thank you very much for that. It is better that we spend our day looking at issues that we have not quite resolved.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for the points they made. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Patel, as my noble friend Lord Ashton explained in previous debates, Clause 7 was never intended to provide an exhaustive list of public interest tasks but, rather, to ensure continuity with respect to those processing activities that cover paragraph 5 of Schedule 2 to the 1968 Act. However, I am happy to reiterate that medical research—and other types of research carried out by universities for the benefit of society—will almost always be seen as a public interest task. I appreciate the sector’s desire to have greater guidance from the Information Commissioner on the issue, and I shall certainly pass that on, but the noble Lord will appreciate that it is not for me to dictate the Information Commissioner’s precise programme of work from the Dispatch Box.
I thank the noble Lords, Lord Smith and Lord Macdonald, for their kind words. I think we have put universities on a safe footing in this regard. I reiterate my thanks to them for coming to see us and helping us with that amendment.
The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, asked: is alumni fundraising always in the public interest, and what about medical research?
Amendment 3 agreed.
Amendments 4 and 5
4: Clause 6, page 4, line 36, leave out “, subject to subsection (2)”
5: Clause 6, page 4, line 37, at end insert—
“subject to subsections (1A) and (2).(1A) An authority or body that falls within subsection (1) is only a “public authority” or “public body” when performing a task carried out in the public interest or in the exercise of official authority vested in it.”
Amendments 4 and 5 agreed.
Clause 7: Lawfulness of processing: public interest etc
6: Clause 7, page 5, line 11, after “enactment” insert “or rule of law”
Amendment 6 agreed.
My Lords, as it is 4.25 pm and the Statement is due sometime after 4.30 pm, it would be unwise to start on another amendment now, particularly a very long amendment, so I need to adjourn the House during pleasure for four minutes until 4.30 pm.
My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place. The Statement is as follows:
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to update the House on the negotiations for our departure from the European Union.
On Friday morning, the Government and the European Commission published a joint report on progress during the first phase. On the basis of this report and following the discussions I held throughout last week, President Juncker is recommending to the European Council that sufficient progress has now been made to move to the next stage and begin talks on the future relationship between the UK and the EU. President Tusk has responded positively by proposing guidelines for the next phase of the negotiations.
I pay tribute to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and our whole negotiating team for their calm and professional approach to these negotiations. We have argued robustly and clearly for the outcomes that we seek: a fair and reciprocal deal that will guarantee the rights of more than 3 million EU citizens living in the UK and 1 million UK nationals living in the EU so they can carry on living their lives as before; a fair settlement of the accounts, meeting our rights and obligations as a departing member state, in the spirit of our future partnership; and a commitment to maintain the common travel area with Ireland, uphold the Belfast agreement in full, and avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland while upholding the constitutional and economic integrity of the whole United Kingdom.
I shall set out for the House the agreements we have now reached in each of these areas. More than 3 million EU citizens make an extraordinary contribution to every part of our economy, society, culture and national life, and I know that EU member states similarly value the contribution of the 1 million UK nationals living in their communities, so from the outset I have made protecting citizens’ rights my first priority. However, for these rights to be truly reciprocal, they need to be interpreted consistently in both the UK and the EU. The European Union started by wanting all EU citizens’ rights to be preserved in the UK by a prolongation of EU law; it said these rights should not require any UK process to implement them, and that they should be supervised by the Commission and enforced by the European Court of Justice. Those proposals were not acceptable. When we leave the European Union, our laws will be made and enforced here in Britain, not in Luxembourg, so the EU has accepted that we will incorporate the withdrawal agreement into UK law. Citizens’ rights will then be enforced by our courts when appropriate, paying due regard to relevant ECJ case law, just as they already decide other matters with reference to international law when it is relevant.
In the interests of consistent interpretation of citizens’ rights, we have agreed that, when existing law is not clear, our courts, and only our courts, will be able to choose to ask the ECJ for an interpretation prior to reaching their own decision, but that will be a very narrow remit and a very small number of cases—and, unlike now, they will not be obliged to do so. This will be voluntary. The case itself will always be determined by the UK courts, not the ECJ, and there will also be a sunset clause so, after eight years, even that voluntary mechanism will end.
The end-point of this process is very clear. EU citizens living in the UK will have their rights enshrined in UK law and enforced by British courts, and UK citizens living in the EU will also have their rights protected. The jurisdiction of the ECJ in the UK is coming to an end. We are taking control of our own laws once again, and that is exactly how it should be.
I turn to the financial settlement. Following some tough conversations, we have agreed the scope of our commitments and the principles for their valuation. We will continue to pay our net contributions under the current EU budget plan. During this time, our proposed implementation period will see us continuing to trade on current terms. We will pay our fair share of the outstanding commitments and liabilities to which we committed during our membership. However, this is conditional upon a number of principles we have negotiated over how we will ultimately arrive at a fair valuation of these commitments, which will bring the actual financial settlement down by a substantial amount.
This part of the report we agreed on Friday, like the rest of it, is also subject to the general reservation that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. This means we want to see the whole deal now coming together, including the terms of our future deep and special partnership, as I said in Florence. These are the actions of a responsible nation honouring the commitments that it has made to its allies, having gone through those commitments line by line as we said we would. It is a fair settlement for the British taxpayer, who will soon see significant savings compared with remaining in the European Union. It means we will be able to use that money to invest in our priorities at home, such as housing, schools and the NHS. It means the days of paying vast sums to the European Union every year are coming to an end.
Our departure from the European Union presents a significant and unique challenge for Northern Ireland and Ireland, so it is absolutely right that the joint report makes clear we will uphold the Belfast agreement in full. This agreement, including its subsequent implementation agreements and arrangements, has been critical to the progress made in Northern Ireland over recent decades. Our commitment to those agreements, the principles that underpin them, the institutions they establish and the rights and opportunities they guarantee remains steadfast.
The joint report reaffirms our guarantee that there will be no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. So much of daily life in Northern Ireland depends on being able to cross the border freely, so it is right that we ensure that no new barriers are put in place. We have been absolutely clear that nothing in this process will alter our determination to uphold the constitutional and economic integrity of the whole United Kingdom. It was right that we took time last week to strengthen and clarify the joint report in this regard, listening to unionists across the country, including the DUP. On Friday, I reinforced this further by making six principled commitments to Northern Ireland.
First, we will always uphold and support Northern Ireland’s status as an integral part of the United Kingdom, consistent with the principle of consent. As our Northern Ireland manifesto at the last election made clear, the Government I lead will never be neutral when it comes to expressing our support for the union. Secondly, we will fully protect and maintain Northern Ireland’s position within the single market of the United Kingdom. This is by far the most important market for Northern Ireland’s goods and services and Northern Ireland will continue to have full and unfettered access to it. Thirdly, there will be no new borders within the United Kingdom. In addition to no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, we will maintain the common travel area throughout these islands.
Fourthly, the whole of the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, will leave the EU customs union and the EU single market. Nothing in the agreement I have reached alters that fundamental fact. Fifthly, we will uphold the commitments and safeguards set out in the Belfast agreement regarding north-south co-operation. This will continue to require cross-community support. Sixthly, the whole of the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, will no longer be subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
As the joint report makes clear, our intention is to deliver against these commitments through the new, deep and special partnership that we are going to build with the European Union. Should this not prove possible, we have also been clear that we will seek specific solutions to address the unique circumstances of the island of Ireland. Because we recognise the concerns felt by either side of the border and we want to guarantee that we will honour the commitments we have made, we have also agreed one further fallback option of last resort, so if we cannot find specific solutions, the UK will maintain full alignment with those rules of the internal market and the customs union which, now or in the future, support north-south co-operation, economic co-operation across the island of Ireland and the protection of the Belfast agreement.
The joint report clearly sets out that cross-community safeguards and consent are required from the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly for distinct arrangements in this scenario, and that in all circumstances Northern Irish businesses will continue to have full and unfettered access to the markets in the rest of the United Kingdom on which they rely, so there can be no question about our commitment to avoiding borders both north-south and east-west. We will continue to work with all Northern Irish parties and the Irish Government in the second phase of the talks, and continue to encourage the re-establishment of the Northern Ireland Executive so that Northern Ireland’s voice is fully heard throughout this process.
Finally, in my Florence speech, I proposed an implementation period to give Governments, business and families the time they need to implement the changes required for our future partnership. The precise terms of this period will be for discussion in the next phase of negotiations. I very much welcome President Tusk’s recommendation that talks on the implementation period should start immediately and that it should be agreed as soon as possible.
This is not about a hard or a soft Brexit. The arrangements we have agreed to reach the second phase of the talks are entirely consistent with the principles and objectives that I set out in my speeches in Florence and at Lancaster House. I know that some doubted we would reach this stage. The process ahead will not be easy. The progress so far has required give and take for the UK and the EU to move forwards together, and that is what we have done. Of course, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, but there is, I believe, a new sense of optimism now in the talks and I hope and expect that we will confirm the arrangements I have set out today in the European Council later this week. This is good news for people who voted leave, who were worried we were so bogged down in tortuous negotiations it was never going to happen, and it is good news for people who voted remain, who were worried we were going to crash out without a deal. We are going to leave but we are going to do so in a smooth and orderly way, securing a new deep and special partnership with our friends while taking back control of our borders, money and laws again. That is my mission, that is this Government’s mission, and on Friday we took a big step towards achieving it”.
I commend this Statement to the House.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement. I listened with interest when she said that there was now a new sense of optimism, because, if ever the term “political rollercoaster” was apt, it has to be now.
We welcome an agreement that—subject to this week’s European Council—allows the UK to proceed to the next stage of these talks, allowing exploration of what the future relationship will look like and providing certainty about how our exit will impact individuals, consumers and businesses. It is important now for negotiators not to have their hands tied by unhelpful and ephemeral red lines, but to keep options on the table. Swift progress on a time-limited transition, rather than implementation, is essential. We have always said that these negotiations are complex. On both sides, integrity and honourable behaviour are essential, as is competence. The Government must be serious in both intent and actions—and that is all the Government, not just some Ministers. There can be no freelancing on this and the Prime Minister has the right to insist that her Ministers back her.
Last week, many of us cleared our diaries for Tuesday in expectation of a Statement regarding an agreement on a deal with the EU that would allow us to progress to the second crucial phase of the Brexit negotiations. On Monday evening, it became clear, in the most spectacularly embarrassing way, that such optimism was misplaced, as the Prime Minister’s DUP colleagues who keep her in government would not support the arrangements. It is hard to understand how such a humiliating failure could have been allowed to happen. But then, after renewed and long, intensive discussions by the Prime Minister and her team, it was finally announced that the Government had reached agreement with the EU to move to phase 2. We welcome the fact that talks will move on. However, there is a fear that this seems to be unravelling quicker than a hand-knitted Christmas jumper.
Can the noble Baroness confirm the status of the agreement that has been reached? Yesterday the Brexit Secretary, David Davis, said that the agreement was not legally binding unless there was a final deal and that it was instead a mere statement of intent. Today, however, he said that the agreement is a legal guarantee that will be honoured whatever the outcome. Which is correct?
Is this agreement conditional or not? In all three areas—the honouring of obligations through the financial settlement, on citizens’ rights and the border with Ireland—there needs to be clarity on whether there is a genuine, lasting agreement or a possible agreement dependent on the next stage of negotiations and our future relationship with the EU 27. That has to be made crystal clear so that there can be no misunderstanding at any time. In her response the noble Baroness may find it useful to clarify the implications for this agreement of the phrase:
“In the absence of agreed solutions”,
in paragraphs 49 and 50 of the joint report with regard to the border with the Republic of Ireland.
Given that the European Council has yet to formally accept the Commission’s recommendations, does the noble Baroness consider that the comments by David Davis will help or hinder in future negotiations? Even today he confessed on the radio that, “I don’t have to be very clever. I don’t have to know that much. I do just have to be calm”. That does not seem to be a great strategy for proceeding. Across the country many businesses do not feel at all calm. They need certainty to plan for their future, and the Government have a duty to provide such certainty. Given that the Brexit Secretary is all over the place and hardly a safe pair of hands, can I seek assurances that there is now ongoing engagement with the European Parliament given its role in advising the Commission and the Council, and its power of veto on the withdrawal agreement?
The Prime Minister previously declined an invitation to address the European Parliament and recently had her session with its Conference of Presidents cancelled at the last minute due to political group presidents being unable to find diary space. Can the noble Baroness indicate whether the Prime Minister has scheduled a new meeting with representatives of the European Parliament given the importance of engaging with them? To return to a point made earlier, does the noble Baroness also agree that when continuing such negotiations it is unwise to set unrealistic red lines?
The Commission’s communication to the European Council notes that “significant divergences remain” on future governance and enforcement and, specifically on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, it questions the agreement regarding the border. On page 9 it says that the intention to avoid a hard border,
“seems hard to reconcile with the United Kingdom’s communicated decision to leave the internal market and the Customs Union”.
I heard what the noble Baroness said regarding Northern Ireland. Can she tell us whether this is a commitment, an agreement or merely a statement of intent?
The Government’s future partnership paper outlined a number of potential dispute settlement methods without committing to or endorsing any of them. Can the noble Baroness tell us when we can expect the Government to commit to a specific approach?
On citizens’ rights, both the joint report and the Prime Minister’s open letter to EU citizens earlier today leave many questions unanswered. For example, when will this new independent national authority—I have never heard of it before—be created, and will separate primary legislation be required? It was not mentioned in the previous Queen’s Speech. Clearly, there has been some consideration of its role; how much will it cost? The noble Baroness spoke of significant amounts of money coming back to the UK that would not be spent in Europe, and I recall that significant financial savings of £350 million a week would be made available to the National Health Service. Can she tell us specifically how much of that will be spent on this new agency or authority?
The Prime Minister’s Statement talks of,
“a fair and reciprocal deal that will guarantee the rights of more than 3 million EU citizens living in the UK and 1 million UK nationals living in the EU so they can carry on living their lives as before”.
Can the noble Baroness confirm whether this is absolutely accurate? The joint report makes no reference to preserving the ability of UK citizens living in the EU 27 to continue moving freely between those countries. For example, will a UK citizen working for a company in Frankfurt with offices based in Milan and Paris still be able to be posted to any of those offices to live and work or will it just apply to the country that they live in now?
Finally, in my lifetime there has been no more important negotiations for the future of this country than these. We need wisdom and thoughtfulness, not just wishful thinking. Take the events of the last week or so, particularly those over the weekend. Not only do they not inspire confidence for British business and in Parliament but, equally seriously, they may damage our reputation and standing with the other EU countries. When the noble Baroness is sitting round the Cabinet table with her colleagues later this coming week, will she read the riot act to squabbling, inconsistent Ministers? It is not just themselves and their party that they are damaging but the national interest.
My Lords, I begin by congratulating the Prime Minister on an achievement which many —including many of her colleagues—thought was impossible. She has survived to fight another day and on that she is to be congratulated. The deal she struck last week, however, is not the stuff of congratulations. Before we look at it, can the Leader of the House confirm its status, to take up the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith? Is it a mere “statement of intent”, which the Brexit Secretary believed it to be yesterday, or “more than legally enforceable”, which he believes this morning? Or does its status change with the Secretary of State’s mood?
There are three main pillars of the deal, and the first is citizens’ rights. Friday’s agreement confirms that there will be no certainty until any final deal is reached, leaving EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU as continuing bargaining chips. How then can the Prime Minister claim that this is her top priority? This uncertainty is compounded by the provision that all 3 million EU citizens in the UK will then have two years to submit applications for registration. Until these applications are satisfactorily processed, their status will be unconfirmed. Can the Government give the 3 million any assurances as to when they hope to complete the registration process? A charge is payable also by those who currently do not have permanent residency. How much will that charge be and how many people do the Government estimate will have to pay it?
On the financial settlement, the Government argue that the payment will be up to £40 billion. Can the Leader confirm that this figure does not include over £10 billion of contingent liabilities and could, therefore, be significantly greater?
I have mentioned so far issues that are capable of resolution, albeit at significant cost. The issue of the Northern Ireland border is not. As Jonathan Powell put it in Saturday’s Financial Times:
“In fact, the problem of the border is not resolved at all but simply left hanging”.
The Government’s preferred solution to the border issue appears to involve agreeing with the EU that we remain effectively, if not in name, inside the single market in terms of rules and regulations. In other words, we will supinely accept whatever rules the EU adopts. Can the Leader confirm that this is indeed the Government’s preferred outcome? If so, will she accept that far from taking back control of our markets and trade, we have completely lost control, and in doing so made it practically impossible to carry out independent trade deals which improve on EU trade deals because we have agreed to follow EU rules?
One aspect of the Northern Ireland agreement is particularly troubling to me. People in Northern Ireland will retain EU citizenship. They will, in the words of Leo Varadkar,
“have the right to study in Paris, buy property in Spain, work in Berlin”.
They will also retain an EU passport. I and my children are denied these rights. I will be reduced to waving to friends from Northern Ireland, with as cheery a hello as I can muster, as they sail past me in European airport passport queues—they in the EU citizens’ line and me with the rest of the world. I will be furious, and I suspect that many millions of citizens of Great Britain will also be furious, when they learn that they have become second-class citizens in their own country.
However, despite all the flaws, the Government will now move on to the trade talks. I realise it is pointless asking the Leader what the Government hope the outcome will be as they have not made up their mind but, before they do, I suggest that she has a quiet word with the Brexit Secretary. In his interview yesterday on “The Andrew Marr Show”, he said that he would take the best bits of existing EU trade deals and,
“add to that the bits missing, which is the services”.
Could she point out that services represent 40% of our exports to the EU and that this share is growing rapidly? Far from being the bits which are missing, free access to EU markets for our service exporters would be vital to the economic prosperity of the UK were we to leave the EU.
The Prime Minister deserves a celebratory glass for surviving until Christmas. She should savour it because the difficult part of the EU negotiations is now about to begin.
I thank the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for their comments and for their support and recognition that we have indeed moved on.
The joint report about which they both asked sets out the agreement we have reached in phase 1 and we are clear that we want to honour the agreement made, as we believe are the EU. However, we now need to turn this into a withdrawal agreement, which we have said we will put into primary legislation. So this is a report on phase 1; we are all committed to what is in the report and the agreements made; and we now need to turn that into a withdrawal agreement, to which we have committed. We will bring that forward in legislation, and that will be the opportunity for Parliament to discuss and scrutinise that agreement.
On Northern Ireland, which again both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord asked about, we have been consistently clear that there will be no return to a hard border in Ireland, and we have always said that the details of how we maintain an open border will be settled in phase 2 of the negotiations, which we hope to confirm we are moving to on Friday, where we can agree our future relationship with the EU. I can confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Newby, that the whole of the UK, including Northern Ireland, will leave the EU customs union and the EU single market, and nothing in the agreement alters that fundamental fact. However, we are confident that, working together, we will ensure that we have no hard border in Northern Ireland. We have said, as I outlined in the Statement, that there is a fall- back option if that does not happen, but we are confident that we will come to an agreement that suits us all.
On monitoring compliance, the EU Commission will retain its existing role in monitoring compliance with EU law in member states, and this will extend to compliance with the withdrawal agreement. The Commission will not monitor compliance in the UK. We will create a new independent authority to do this and will set out details in due course.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, asked about onward movement for UK citizens in the EU. She is right that that has not yet been resolved, but we have been very clear that it is something we want to come back to in the next phase of the negotiations.
The noble Lord, Lord Newby, asked about the new settled status scheme. We have been clear that we will introduce the scheme under UK law for EU citizens and their family members. The scheme will provide a transparent, smooth and streamlined process, and it will incorporate appropriate criminality checks. The application will cost no more than a British passport, and EU citizens will have two years to apply. The Home Office will be bringing forward a scheme on a voluntary basis to enable EU citizens and their family members to confirm their status as soon as possible.
Finally, on trade, we have always been clear that we are not looking for a Canadian or Norwegian-style deal, but one that is specific to UK circumstances and is specific to the fact that we are starting off in a completely different position in terms of our relationship with the EU from that of any other country so far.
My Lords, I welcome the Statement repeated by my noble friend. It seems to me that, whatever side of the argument you were on, it was necessary to get through into the proper discussion of what our future relationship will be. The fact is that the EU had set down preconditions before that could start, so I am delighted that those have now been overcome and we can move on to the further procedures. Perhaps I may say again what I said last week about Northern Ireland. It is a very difficult problem, and it is impossible to see how it is going to be settled until we know what the future final trading arrangement is going to be. That must be the logical consequence. It should never have been inserted as a precondition to resolve this issue in advance of the trade talks going forward. The case of EU citizens and the financial arrangements are now agreed. I hope that everyone, whichever side they are on, will get on with the talks in order to find a satisfactory way through for all concerned, both in the EU and in the UK.
I thank my noble friend for his comments. He is absolutely right to say that this is all still subject to the Council agreeing that sufficient progress has been made, which we hope and expect to be able to hear later this week. He is also absolutely right about Northern Ireland. We have always been clear that the details of how we maintain an open border will be settled in phase 2 of the negotiations where we agree our future relationship. We are confident that, with good will on both sides, we will be able to do this.
My Lords, on the point that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, and looking at the paragraph which refers to the financial settlement, I see that it states,
“we want to see the whole deal now coming together, including the terms of our future deep and special partnership”.
Can the noble Baroness confirm that what she is talking about is the framework for the future relationship which is set out in Article 50? She is not talking about the conclusion of a trade deal, because that will take many years beyond 2019. Given that, next autumn the Government will be signing up to pay £40 billion as a divorce settlement, but essentially on trade by the time we leave the European Union it will be a pig in a poke and we will have no idea of what eventual deal will be agreed.
The Prime Minister has said that the money we have discussed is in the context of agreeing our future partnership. We have also been very clear in setting out the valuations and we have agreed the important principles that will apply to how we rely on them. Further, we have agreed a fair settlement with the final bill estimated to stand at around £35 billion to £39 billion, which noble Lords will be aware is at least half of the reports we have had previously about how much money would be involved in the financial settlement. This is a good deal and it also means that we can begin to unlock the talks in order to start talking about the deep and special relationship and our future trading partnership.
My Lords, can the Minister respond to one point that occurs to me very sharply? The statement that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed seems to apply to all three pillars of this first-phase agreement. Is it really conceivable that the Government will take away the agreement that is reached on the status of EU citizens here and our citizens across Europe if there is no agreement? Is it their position that they will remove that? If that is the case, what assurance is being given to those 4 million citizens since they will then know that they will not have clarity until the last minute of the last hour of the last day of the negotiations?
Secondly, on the Irish issue, could not the Minister perhaps apply a common-sense rule which is that the text, it seems to me, states clearly that if there is no agreement, the regulatory alignment will apply in order to avoid a hard border? Is that the position, or is it also subject to being taken off the table if no agreement is reached?
The Statement was very clear, and I hope that I was also very clear in my response to the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, that we all want to honour the agreements set out in the joint report. We have also said that the withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill, which we will bring forward, will set out what is in the withdrawal agreement—including citizens’ rights, any financial settlement and the details of an implementation period—which will be implemented directly into domestic law by primary legislation.
On Northern Ireland, the Statement made clear that we have agreed a fall-back option of last resort. We simply do not believe that we will be unable to find specific solutions to the border issue; we are confident that we will do so. If we cannot, the UK will maintain full alignment with internal market and customs union rules, which currently support north/south co-operation, economic co-operation across the island of Ireland and the protection of the Belfast agreement—and will do so in future. The joint report also clearly sets out that cross-community safeguards and consent are required from the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly for any distinct arrangements in this scenario. As I said, we do not believe that it will come to that.
My Lords, in respect of that quote that the Minister has just given from paragraph 49 on the rules that support north/south co-operation and the all-Ireland economy, have the Government done a sectoral analysis or impact assessment on which aspects of the single market would not be covered by the commitment to “full alignment”? Presumably, it is a very wide field, covering agriculture, sanitary standards, consumer protection, transport, competition and environmental standards—I believe that about 142 issues were identified as being covered by north/south co-operation in Ireland. Which single market rules would not be covered by the promised full alignment? If they are rather small in number, would it not be simpler all round to stay in the single market and customs union, instead of things being so complicated?
My Lords, does my noble friend accept that the agreement and report not only carry forward the negotiation process, as we know was intended, but introduce a very welcome degree of flexibility to what has been a rather over-polarised situation and debate? Does she agree that, under the principle of mutual recognition negotiated long ago—which has allowed all EU member states to vary rules, regulations, taxes and other provisions very widely, as long as they share and respect the broad aims of the EU—this means that, in practice, “alignment” can be interpreted in any way that we choose, provided that it is consistent with the deep and special relationship and common sense? Is this flexibility not greatly welcome and does it not allow us to get on to the next phase in a constructive way?
I agree with my noble friend. As I say, we hope very much that the Council will agree sufficient progress on Friday so that we can move on to what we all want to do: talk about our future relationship. It is important for us to agree those terms now. As we have made clear, we are starting from a unique position of full regulatory alignment and we want to maintain our current high standards. This is a good basis for a constructive, deep and special future trading partnership.
My Lords, will the Leader accept that this Statement is still facing both ways? In saying that we are not going to stay in the single market, it is trying to put a sticking plaster over a rabbit hole which is not there. Given the deal that we struck in good faith with the Irish Republic whereby all parts of the United Kingdom will be in the same position, it is essential to stay within the single market. No trade deal, such as that referred to by the noble Lord, Lord King, can alter that fact.
No, I am afraid that I do not agree with the noble Lord. As we have made clear, the whole of the UK, including Northern Ireland, will leave the EU customs union and the single market, and nothing in the agreement alters that fundamental fact. I would have thought that noble Lords would be pleased that we have made progress, have reached the end of phase 1, have come to an agreement together and are looking to move forward. It would be nice if we all did that in a constructive and positive manner because we all want the best for this country and to make sure that our future is bright.
My Lords, if the Government are committed to full regulatory alignment between Northern Ireland and the rest of Ireland, and there is no distinction to be drawn between the position of Northern Ireland and that of the rest of the United Kingdom, does it not follow that there must be full regulatory alignment between the United Kingdom as a whole and the European Union?
My Lords, may I congratulate the Prime Minister through my noble friend on the pragmatism that she has shown thus far? I urge my noble friend to urge the Prime Minister to show similar pragmatism in the future, because does she understand that, despite the voices of some prominent members of my own party, there is very limited support for a hard Brexit? Consequently, if we are to get approval for the ultimate outcome of these negotiations, it has to be on the basis of a very close alignment between the institutions of the European Union and those of the United Kingdom.
My Lords, as the Prime Minister’s Statement said, this is not about a hard or soft Brexit; it is about ensuring that we have a deep and special new relationship with the European Union, because we want a deal that works both for our citizens here and for the European Union. It is in all our interests to work towards that. I hope that, come Friday, when it has been acknowledged that sufficient progress has been made, we can begin taking those steps into phase 2 of the negotiations.
My Lords, the Minister implied that if the agreement is confirmed, goods and people will move totally freely between Ireland and Northern Ireland—and likewise between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. This being so, will she confirm that goods and people will move equally freely, as they do today, between Dublin and Holyhead?
As I have said, we want to ensure that we maintain the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom. We will be working in phase 2 to look at the details of how we deal with the border issues that we have discussed. However, we have been categorical that there will be no hard border within the island of Ireland.
My Lords, having been through the agony of the negotiations on the Belfast agreement, I have every reason to know what the phrase “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” means. There are two things about the border: one is the movement of people and the other is the movement of trade. Trade must obviously be retained until the next stage of the negotiations with Brussels, but in so far as the movement of persons and the reference to the common travel area are concerned, can the Minister assure me that the thousands of Irish citizens who are EU citizens and who move into the United Kingdom because they want all the benefits of being British will continue to have those benefits under the common travel area?
I note that the Statement gives a lot of importance to getting out from under any jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. I find that a little surprising in view of the recent report by the Institute for Government, which shows that the British Government have fewer cases before the European Court of Justice than do most other members of the European Union—and, indeed, that most of those are decided in favour of the UK. I am puzzled also as to whether the deep concern with national sovereignty and the willingness to make financial and economic concessions in order to regain this sovereignty applies to other international courts. The Leader of the House may be aware that President Trump has just attacked the arbitration tribunal of the World Trade Organization, suggesting that it is biased against the United States, that it does not respect American sovereignty and that the United States might have to leave the World Trade Organization. Do the British Government sympathise with President Trump in that suspicion of international courts, or is it is just the European Court of Justice that we object to?
EU citizens’ rights in the UK will be upheld by implementing the agreement in our law, instead of continued EU law enforced by the EU courts. Our courts will pay due regard to EU case law as agreed at the point of exit to interpret that law as needs be, just as they decide our law now in reference to international law, where relevant, such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
My Lords, the Leader of the House is a member of the Cabinet and therefore I am sure that she will know the answer to my question: is it the Government’s intention that at the ferry port at Belfast there will be no customs officials or immigration officers in attendance with the remit or ability to check non-UK citizens travelling to ports in Scotland, England or Wales?
Will my noble friend answer a very simple question? The Statement says that there will be a large sum of money available to Britain because of our leaving the European Union. Will she promise to place before the House the details of that sum of money, how the addition is done and how it is that the Government make that statement in full and flat opposition to every independent commentator in this country?
We have agreed a number of important principles that will apply as to how we arrive at valuations in due course. These will ensure that the process is fair to the UK. As we leave and pay off our commitments, there will be significant sums left to spend on our priorities and a precise schedule of payments will be agreed in the second phase.
My Lords, when we come to negotiate our future trading relationship, why do the Government not say that we will be generous and offer continuing free trade? That is, after all, much more in their exporters’ interest than it is in ours. I say this because, as the excellent Civitas analyses show, there are about 6 million jobs in the EU exporting to us and we have about 3.5 million jobs exporting to them. If the Eurocrats are selfish enough to force us to the WTO conditions instead, their exporters will pay us some £13 billion in new tariffs, whereas we will pay them only about £5 billion. As to what cash we should pay them, surely we should leave that to the very end of the negotiation, and its amount should depend on whether they have tried to mess around with the City of London in the meantime.
We are committed to seeking continuity in our current trade and investment relationships, including those covered by EU FTAs and other preferential trading arrangements. We are working to agree arrangements with those partner countries to replicate, as far as possible, the effects of these agreements.
My Lords, the agreement envisages that our courts will have a discretion to refer cases about citizens’ rights to the European Court in Luxembourg. Do the Government intend that legislation will provide any guidance to our courts as to how they should exercise this discretion? If the Government do not provide guidance, our courts will be required to decide issues of very considerable political sensitivity.
The ability of our courts to ask the ECJ for a view will be voluntary, very narrowly defined and time limited. Our courts can choose to ask the ECJ for a legal view on the law in relation to citizens’ rights where there is a point of law that has not arisen before. If the past is a guide, we would not expect this to happen very often; it currently happens for about two or three cases a year in this area of law. This ability will be strictly confined to those citizens’ rights as exercised under the withdrawal agreement by EU citizens who were settled here before we leave the EU. It will not extend in any way beyond that.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, suggested that the response of the UK Government to the continued relationship with the ECJ might be typical of a general hostility towards international tribunals. Will my noble friend the Leader of the House confirm that it means no such thing and that the fact that we will no longer have a relationship with the ECJ is simply because we will no longer be a member of the European Union? We therefore do not need the ECJ to determine disputes that arise out of that membership, save for that important and limited exception referred to in relation to EU nationals, and subject of course only to whatever may be in the implementation agreement that is to follow.
My Lords, the noble Baroness has got her sums wrong. The country is already 15% poorer as a result of the devaluation which followed Brexit and our growth rate has gone down by 1% per annum—about £20 billion, which is twice our annual contribution to the EU. We shall in fact have fewer resources for all those good causes, such as the NHS, education and housing, that she mentioned as a result of leaving the EU, not more. I ask the noble Baroness a simple question. Is it not the case that if you have no customs controls between Northern Ireland and the Republic, then Northern Ireland and the Republic are within a common customs area or customs union and that if you have no customs controls between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, then Northern Ireland and Great Britain are within a common customs area or customs union? In those circumstances, we in Great Britain are in the same common customs area or union as the Republic of Ireland and, since the Republic of Ireland will remain in the European Union, we, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland as well would all be in the same EU common customs area. Irrespective of the declarations which the Government might like to make to the contrary, no doubt for party management reasons, is the reality not that as a result of these negotiations we will, de facto, remain—and if so, I congratulate the Government on it—within the common customs area of the European Union?
Given the Minister’s non-answer to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Deben, and her rather worrying answer to that of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, will she confirm that the United Kingdom Government, having agreed the definition of their financial obligations, will under no circumstances refuse to honour them, as a matter of honour?
My Lords, we should all thank and congratulate the Prime Minister but might I appeal to my noble friend? We have had Ministers at the Dispatch Box saying time and time again that they cannot give a running commentary on negotiations—fine. But can we please have a cessation of the running commentary from members of the Cabinet?
Thank you. We hope to have reached sufficient progress on phase 1 negotiations by the end of the week and we look forward unitedly to helping to ensure that this country has the best future ahead, with a strong relationship with the EU on different terms.
My Lords, is it not increasingly apparent that there is in reality no way to avoid a hard border unless we remain in the single market or some equivalent to it? What has happened in these discussions is that the issue has been effectively passed to where it ought to have been in the first place, namely, the negotiations on trade. I welcome that fudge because it means that the process continues, but at the end of the day there is no way to avoid a hard border without the equivalent of the single market.
I am afraid that I do not accept that premise because we believe the best way to avoid a hard border is to negotiate the right trading relationship between the UK and the EU, and that is what we will now be able to do. Discussions on the border will be a critical part of the phase 2 negotiations.
Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe I heard the Minister say that during the period of payments—which I welcome, incidentally—trade will continue on current terms. I think that was the phrase that was used. If that is right, what does that mean if it does not mean either the single market or the customs union or something of that nature? Admittedly it is only for the period in which the payments continue, but for that period, trade continues under current terms, which is, I think, the Statement the Minister read out.
It is actually during the implementation period that the UK’s and the EU’s access to each other’s markets could continue on current terms. During the implementation period, we would stay in all EU regulators and agencies and take part in existing security measures.
My Lords, it was very interesting to see how worried the European Union became when there was a risk of the UK crashing out, showing, I think, that we have a stronger negotiating hand than some might think, if we keep our nerve. Contrary to what some have said, some fear that regulatory alignment means a soft Brexit by stealth, making us a rule taker in relation to all future EU rules rather than a rule maker. Is this a valid concern?
As I have said, maintaining alignment means that we may have the same objectives but we may well want to do something in a different way. However, in discussing our future trading relationship, we should also understand that we are in a unique position with full regulatory alignment at this point. We want to maintain high standards going forward, so we believe this is an excellent basis for a strong future relationship.
My Lords, perhaps I can ask the Minister for clarity. She talked about the situation going forward. Is it correct—I shall be glad for her to correct me if I am wrong—that the European Union has trade treaties, I think 58, with other countries, most of which include a most favoured nation clause so that any if offer of a trade treaty is made to a third party, such as the UK, similar terms have to be made available to every country on that most favoured nation list? Is that not the reason why the notion of Canada-plus-plus-plus becomes an extremely difficult challenge?
We are discussing with our trade partners how to ensure continuity and provide certainty for businesses by transitionally adopting existing EU trade agreements. This will be a technical exercise rather than a renegotiation of existing terms. The Trade Bill will provide measures to ensure that agreements with third countries can carry over and be fully implemented within UK law.
My noble friend will understand that there is deep concern about the financial settlement, but should the guiding light of Her Majesty’s Government not be value for money? It is not the absolute figure that is important but that any money spent is real value for money for the British people.
My noble friend is right that the Prime Minister has also been clear that the UK will honour its commitments and obligations. We have agreed a fair settlement of commitments we have made while a member of the EU in the spirit of our future partnership.
My Lords, I welcome the fact that over the next eight years, our courts will be able, in the event of dispute as to citizen’s rights, to refer the case to the ECJ for interpretation. But are there any circumstances in which the Minister could foresee that, having obtained such an interpretation although the case itself would be determined by the UK courts, they could actually refuse to follow it?
As I have already said, the ability of our courts to ask the ECJ for a view will be voluntary, very narrowly defined and time limited. The courts can choose to ask the ECJ for a legal view on the law in relation to citizens’ rights where there is a point of law that has not arisen before, but our courts will make the final judgment on each case, not the ECJ.
We have agreed a number of important principles that will apply on how we arrive at valuations in due course. Our commitment, in terms of the numbers that are out there, is the equivalent of around four years’ full membership, two of which will be covered by the implementation period. We have agreed with the EU the scope of the UK’s commitments. The bills cannot go wider than that, and the noble Lord is absolutely right that we expect the settlement to come in significantly below many of the initial projections made.
My Lords, I obviously applaud the Prime Minister for getting us to the base camp of the negotiations. It is much to her credit that she showed such persistence last week. Following on from the last question, however, I urge my noble friend to urge her colleagues to bring as much honesty and clarity as possible to the next phase of the negotiations. There is still talk of the implementation period being one in which we implement the final treaty. With due regard to the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, I struggle to find within Article 50 any reference that gives the European Union the remit to negotiate a full new treaty between now and the end of March 2019. Therefore my understanding is that at best the British Government would be able to negotiate a heads of terms with the European Union, but nothing more. Would my noble friend care to clarify whether that is or is not the case?
My noble friend is correct that there will be many elements during the implementation period. We will now start to discuss that with the EU—hopefully come Friday, once we have made sufficient progress. We are extremely pleased that Donald Tusk has indicated that he wishes to get on with discussions on the implementation period as quickly as possible, because we need to clarify all these issues so that we can move on.
My Lords, I listened carefully to the comments from the Benches opposite, including those of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith. Can my noble friend go a little beyond her remit and speculate as to what she thinks the Labour Party’s position is on any of these issues this week?
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is not helpful to keep talking about a Norwegian, Swiss or Canadian model in the way that people are, since we are much bigger than Norway, we have many much closer links with the EU than Switzerland and we are much closer than Canada? One of the most important two things that she said in answer to a number of questions was that we are looking for a bespoke deal that reflects the particular circumstances of the United Kingdom and its relationship with the other members of the EU. The second was that we are not starting from scratch. We are starting with a common edifice, and the question will be how much of the edifice we maintain and how much is taken away. That is a very central point, which a number of people have failed to grasp.
Will the noble Baroness help me on this question of full regulatory alignment between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic? Who is going to determine that? Will it be the Supreme Court of Ireland, the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom or the European Court of Justice? She said about 10 minutes ago that the present situation is one of full regulatory alignment. What happens if the status quo changes?
As I have said on a number of occasions, alignment is about pursing the same objectives. The same goals can be achieved by different means, and it does not need to mean regulatory harmonisation. Indeed, the Taoiseach has said that not everything has to be the same.
My Lords, the Prime Minister’s Statement twice repeats that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. Does the noble Baroness not think it a good idea that the Government should work up a plan B, for no deal, because in that way we will get a much better deal with plan A? The great advantage of plan B, and leaving with no deal, is that we cease to pay into the European budget.
My Lords, the House will note my particular interest in financial services. I welcome the Statement. Will the Government pay particular attention in phase 2 of the talks to the benefits to both the UK and the European Union of continuing trade in financial services and the role that the City of London plays as an asset for the whole of Europe?
Visit to Oman, UAE and Iran
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. The Statement is as follows:
“Mr Speaker, with your permission I will make a Statement on my visit to the Middle East, from where I returned this morning.
This is a crucial time in the region. On the one hand we have a moment of hope, with scores of countries having come together to break the corrosive grip of Daesh on Iraq and Syria. Britain’s Armed Forces have played a proud role in a military campaign that has freed millions, and Iraq’s Government declared on Saturday that all of its territory had been liberated. During her successful visit to Iraq last month, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister thanked the British service men and women who have helped to bring about the territorial defeat of Daesh. In Jordan, she reaffirmed Britain’s absolute commitment to the peace and stability of one of our closest allies in the region.
But the setbacks inflicted upon Daesh have coincided with a dangerous escalation of the war in Yemen, where one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world is now unfolding. This morning, I returned from my first bilateral visit as Foreign Secretary to Oman, the UAE and Iran. My aim was to take forward Britain’s response, diplomatically and economically, to the crisis in Yemen. The Government strongly believe that the only way of bringing this tragic conflict to an end is through a political solution. His Majesty Sultan Qaboos of Oman, whom I met in Muscat last Friday, entirely shared this analysis. The Sultan and I discussed in detail the tragedy in Yemen, with which Oman shares a 180-mile border. The Sultan and I also agreed on the importance of settling the dispute between Qatar and its neighbours, and I was pleased to see that the summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council went ahead in Kuwait last week.
From Muscat I travelled to Tehran where I met Iran’s senior leadership, including President Rouhani, Vice-President Salehi and the Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif. I was frank about the subjects where our countries have differences of interest and approach, but our talks were constructive none the less. The latest chapter of Britain’s relations with Iran opened with the achievement of the nuclear deal, the JCPOA, in July 2015. In every meeting I stressed how the UK attaches the utmost importance to preserving that agreement. For the JCPOA to survive, Iran must continue to restrict its nuclear programme in accordance with the deal—the International Atomic Energy Agency has verified Iran’s compliance so far—and other parties must keep their side of the bargain by helping the Iranian people to enjoy the economic benefits of re-engagement with the world.
The House knows of Iran’s disruptive role in conflicts across the region, including in Syria and Yemen. Our discussions on these subjects were frank and constructive, though neither I nor my Iranian counterparts would claim that we reached agreement on all issues. If we are to resolve the conflict in Yemen, Houthi rebels must stop firing missiles at Saudi Arabia. The House will recall that King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s equivalent of Heathrow, was the target of a ballistic missile on 4 November. I pressed my Iranian counterparts to use their influence to ensure that these indiscriminate and dangerous attacks come to an end.
On bilateral issues, my first priority was the plight of the dual nationals behind bars. I urged their release on humanitarian grounds where there is cause to do so. These are complex cases involving individuals considered by Iran to be their own citizens, and I do not wish to raise false hopes. However, my meetings in Tehran were worthwhile and, while I do not believe it would be in the interests of the individuals concerned or their loved ones to provide a running commentary, the House can be assured that the Government will leave no stone unturned in our efforts to secure their release.
I also raised with Mr Zarif the official harassment of journalists working for BBC Persian and their families inside Iran. I brought up Iran’s wider human rights record, including how the regime executes more of its own citizens per capita than almost any other country in the world. Still, where it is possible to be positive in our relations with Iran—for instance, by encouraging scientific, educational and cultural exchanges—we should be ready to do so.
I then travelled to Abu Dhabi for talks yesterday with the leaders of the UAE, focusing on the war in Yemen, joined by the Saudi Foreign Minister, Adel al-Jubeir, and colleagues from the US. We agreed on the importance of restoring full humanitarian and commercial access to the port of Hodeidah, which handles over 80% of Yemen’s food imports. We also agreed on the need to revive the political process, bearing in mind that the killing of the former President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, by the Houthis may cause the conflict to become even more fragmented. We discussed how best to address the missile threat from Yemen, welcoming the United Nations investigation into the origin of the weapons that have been launched.
Our concern for the unspeakable suffering in Yemen should not blind us to the reality that resolving a conflict of this scale and complexity will take time and persistence, and success is far from guaranteed. However, it is only by engagement with all the regional powers, including Iran, and by mobilising Britain’s unique array of friendships in the Middle East, that we stand any chance of making headway. I am determined to press ahead with the task, mindful of the human tragedy in Yemen, and I shall be meeting my regional and American colleagues again early in the new year. I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I recognise the huge effort that the Foreign Secretary has put in in recent days on these issues.
I start with the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. I am very pleased, as I think all Members of this House are, that the Foreign Secretary met her husband, Richard Ratcliffe and spent the weekend seeking to secure her release. Everyone in this House will wish the Foreign Secretary every success in his endeavours to ensure that she is returned to her family without delay. While I appreciate the Foreign Secretary’s statement that he did not wish to give a running commentary, could the Minister indicate whether meetings were held in Iran with those with the power to change the fundamentals in Nazanin’s case, including representatives of the revolutionary courts, the Interior Ministry or the Ministry of Justice? Of course, the Foreign Secretary rightly says that Nazanin’s is not the only consular case of concern in Iran. Was the Foreign Secretary able to make concrete progress in securing the release of Kamal Foroughi and in the other consular cases referred to in the Statement?
Many in this House were concerned at reports from the BBC World Service about the intimidation of Persian Service journalists and their families by the Iranian authorities. What representations had been made to the Iranian authorities before the visit, when these concerns were raised? If we did make those concerns known, did we receive a response prior to the visit and did the Foreign Secretary get a response in Tehran?
On the Iran nuclear deal, the Opposition welcome the Foreign Secretary’s statement that Britain will continue to honour our side of the deal as long as Iran continues to do the same. However, as many noble Lords have said, it is not our commitment that is in doubt. What steps are the Government taking in working with our European allies to get the US back on board with the deal?
Turning to Yemen, I very much welcome the fact that as well as visiting Tehran, the Foreign Secretary visited the UAE, Abu Dhabi and Oman, and I appreciate that Yemen was high on the agenda there. What is the plan to get the blockades fully lifted and enable full access for humanitarian relief? What is the plan to secure a ceasefire agreement and make progress to a long-term political solution? Where is the plan for a new UN Security Council resolution, 14 months after the UK first circulated its draft? Last week, the UN Security Council cancelled the scheduled open meeting and instead ran one in private. While I appreciate that progress is often made behind closed doors, the people of Yemen have been waiting two years for any kind of progress to end the war and their suffering, which just gets worse. I hope that today the Minister, in the light of last week’s closed Security Council session, can update us and give us a more concrete idea about a definite road map leading to peace before thousands more die.
The Foreign Secretary said that in Iran he had very frank exchanges with the Iranian Government on Syria. Were any conclusions reached from these exchanges? Is there a more positive assessment of the prospects of a political solution to end the fighting in Syria? Is there any prospect of Iran withdrawing its support for the fighters there? Obviously, the UK and Iranian Governments have considered their red lines, but has the situation changed and have the relationships improved? And have the Government assessed the prospect of holding to account those who have committed the most horrendous crimes in the war in Syria?
My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I start by referring to the Foreign Secretary’s visit to Iran. I welcome the fact that the Minister’s right honourable friend made that visit, and it is surely right that we seek to improve the relationship with Iran. The nuclear deal, to which the noble Lord, Lord Collins, just referred, in which our colleague the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, played such a key role, was a major milestone. Does the Minister agree that we undermine it at our peril? Does he hope that those around the American President will restrain him when he seeks to do so? Is this a point that his right honourable friend will make when he meets American colleagues in the new year? Does he agree that we need to work very closely with our European allies on this matter?
I am extremely glad that the Foreign Secretary raised the cases of our dual nationals in Iran. The House will know that I have raised the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in your Lordships’ House on a number of occasions, and I am very glad that he urged the release of Nazanin and other dual nationals on humanitarian grounds. I am glad that he says that no stone will be left unturned; surely that is what is required. I sincerely hope that we will see Nazanin’s release imminently, along with other dual nationals, and I note the quiet dignity with which Richard Ratcliffe raises his wife’s case. Can the Minister assure us that his right honourable friend emphasised Nazanin’s dire health situation? Does he have hope that she might be reunited with her family in the UK for Christmas?
As we seek to normalise relations with Iran, what is the situation with regard to enabling the Iranian embassy here to open a bank account? What is being done to strengthen trading links?
As we all know, the Middle East is such a tinderbox, and it is therefore vital that we strengthen our relations across the region. In the light of that and of the unpredictable nature of the current American regime, might Oman or others in the region play a part in bringing peace in Yemen? Can the Minister update us on what the world can best do, given the terrible situation there? Also, what assessment have the Government made of the impact of the blockade against Qatar on the stability of the UAE?
In conclusion, will the Minister reiterate that his right honourable friend will indeed continue his focus on Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe? We will all be looking for a positive resolution to her case.
My Lords, I thank both the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, for welcoming the initiative and visit of my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. They rightly raised various consular cases, including the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Let me assure all noble Lords that these issues were raised with all relevant parties, including the President, the Foreign Minister and the representatives of the National Security Council. In repeating the Statement, I made a point well made by the noble Baroness when she pointed to the humanitarian grounds in the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. The sentiments she expressed are ones we all share. We hope and pray for an early resolution of that case and, indeed, all consular cases. I reassure all noble Lords that we continue to raise these issues on a regular and consistent basis, as they were by my right honourable friend in a candid and constructive manner. We will of course continue to update your Lordships’ House as appropriate on progress in this regard, but I particularly thank the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for their appreciation of the sensitivity of all consular cases.
To make a general point about consular cases—I assure noble Lords that I ask for this information myself whenever I am travelling around the world—all Ministers raise issues about consular cases, the number of which may range between 2,000 and 3,000 at any given time. It is important that, wherever people are held, humanity prevails and we see their release expedited.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, raised the issue of BBC Persian. He was quite right: as I again mentioned in repeating the Statement, there have been reports of harassment of BBC Persian staff and their families in Iran, which is very concerning. This has been raised consistently with the Iranian authorities. This is part of a key focus for my right honourable friend on the wider human rights agenda. I can confirm that he raised the particular concerns about BBC Persian with both the Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif and Vice-President Salehi during the recent visit.
Both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness raised the issue of the JCPOA. I thank them for their continued support. It is important that Britain speaks as one on this important issue. As all noble Lords will be aware, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has reaffirmed to President Trump the UK’s strong commitment to this deal, which is vital for the UK and for regional security. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary repeated this to opposite numbers in Washington during his November visit.
The noble Lord also asked what other groups and countries we are working with. I assure him that we continue to enjoy close co-operation on Iran with the US but also with our E3 partners. Where we have differences, we raise them. It is right that we debate them openly, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has done, but I remain of the opinion expressed by both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness that retaining and sustaining that deal is extremely important not just to the region but to stability across the world.
The noble Lord also raised the issue of Syria and the importance of holding parties to account, particularly for the atrocities committed by Daesh. I am sure that we all welcome the news over the weekend that not just in Syria but in Iraq Daesh has been defeated. However, no one should be complacent. Organisations such as Daesh continue to rear their head elsewhere in the world, but on Daesh’s accountability specifically in Syria the noble Lord will be aware that we progressed positively on the Security Council resolution in September and allocated £1 million for follow-up of those held for crimes committed by Daesh in that country.
The important issue of Yemen was raised by both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness. We continue to make representations across the piece: this issue was discussed by my right honourable friend in all the countries he visited. We all share deep concern about the humanitarian crisis. We continue to implore for the opening of all humanitarian corridors, and we raise that issue consistently with Saudi Arabia as well as other players in the region, including Iran. The continued support of different groups in that country is ultimately leading to the humanitarian suffering that we have seen, which has been all too apparent. The recent killing of the former President has led to a further escalation of the political vulnerability on the ground. That said, this is a major issue, a key priority and I assure noble Lords that we will continue to represent the voice of humanity in resolving this conflict at the earliest opportunity. We continue to work with other countries in the region to seek an early resolution.
The noble Baroness also raised more general points about our trade relationship and the specific issue of the Iranian bank account. These continue to be part of the discussion. She will be all too aware that there are certain phases of compliance within the nuclear deal that was struck. We are certainly minded to consider that all agencies and authorities have reported Iran’s adherence to the deal, and continue to move forward in a constructive pattern. As any decisions are made, I will of course share that with the noble Baroness as appropriate.
That said, I can say to all noble Lords that the visit to all the countries was positive. With Iran specifically, discussions were open and candid but also, importantly, constructive.
My Lords, I refer to my entry in the Register of Lords’ Interests, being both the chairman of the British-Iranian Chamber of Commerce and the Government’s trade envoy to Iran. I wholeheartedly agree with what is being said about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Mr Foroughi. I have been in touch with Mr Foroughi’s son about this tragic case.
First, will my noble friend confirm that, on 14 and 15 January, President Trump has to decide whether to waive the sanctions against Iran under the nuclear deal? If he fails to do this, secondary sanctions, which have been lifted in the United States, will spring back into action, and that will legally be a breach of the JCPOA, and will certainly be regarded by Iran as such. That will make it even more difficult for Europe to trade further with Iran.
Secondly, on the question of the Iranian embassy bank account, have the Government considered using the Bank of England there? Does it have sovereign immunity? It is difficult to imagine the Bank of England being prosecuted by the American authorities.
My Lords, my noble friend speaks from a deep knowledge of the bilateral relationship between the United Kingdom and Iran, and I commend his efforts. He raises the important issue of the nuclear deal. We have certainly been clear. I alluded earlier to the fact that the Prime Minister has been very clear to President Trump on the implications of the decision of the United States. On the specific dates my noble friend mentioned, I shall check the implications and what is pending. I believe that he is correct. The United States, not being part of the nuclear agreement, puts strain on the continuing sustainability of that deal. In saying that, I refer to a point I made earlier: it makes it even more vital to consolidate our efforts and collaborate with other partners, including our efforts through the E3 to ensure that the deal is sustained.
On my noble friend’s point on the Bank of England’s status vis-à-vis the bank account, perhaps I can write to him. Having spent 20 years in financial services, I know that various rules and regulations govern both the central bank and other private banks that may be operating.
My Lords, I wonder whether there was discussion on Lebanon. Hezbollah has trained up to a very high level in the fighting within Syria, and all the intelligence reports point to the fact that Lebanon is again about to degenerate into civil war. Was there any discussion between the Foreign Secretary and the Iranians, who, of course, are pushing Hezbollah very strongly?
The noble Lord is right to raise that issue. Yes, there were wide-ranging discussions on all the places where Iran has an influence. Certainly Lebanon featured, as we have been concerned about the situation that has been unfolding, particularly with the leadership and the resignation of the Prime Minister in Lebanon. All those issues were raised bilaterally, as was the importance of ensuring greater stability—that wherever Iran has an influence, it brings it to bear in the positive implications of regional stability, including in the important country of Lebanon.
My Lords, will the Minister accept my view that the Foreign Secretary was very wise to have gone to Tehran? He seemingly, from the Statement, handled the meetings there well, and his measured handling of the public presentation of the visit is also excellent, which is not invariably the case. Does the Minister accept that it was also good that the Foreign Secretary raised the Persian service issue, as well as the issue of the dual nationals? What has been done to the Persian service and to the relatives in Iran is pretty horrifying, so I am very glad he was able to do that.
I have two questions. First, on the JCPOA, does the Minister agree that probably the most important thing that the British Government could do between now and when President Trump has to take the next decision about sanctions is to make it absolutely clear that, whatever decision he takes, we will not reimpose sanctions and will stick to the JCPOA as long as the Iranians stick with it, and that if the Americans wish to isolate themselves in this context, it will be against our wishes and we will not be swayed by it?
Secondly, does the Minister share the view of the International Relations Committee of this House that nothing is served in terms of British interests by an intensification of the rivalry and tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia? Our interest is surely to use our influence with both those countries and their friends to reduce the tension and to try to come to some kind of modus vivendi in the Gulf region which is better than the current state of intense rivalry.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his kind remarks, and I shall endeavour to convey them to my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. The point he makes on the JCPOA is very pertinent, and that is why both my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have raised these issues directly with colleagues and US representatives in Washington, including directly with President Trump. As I have said repeatedly from this Dispatch Box—as have Ministers in the other place—the UK is firmly committed to retaining the JCPOA for exactly the reasons mentioned by the noble Lord. We will continue to lobby the US in that respect.
The noble Lord’s second point was on Iran and Saudi Arabia. I have always maintained that the importance of Britain’s role is to have that sense and strength of diplomacy. We have that strength of communication in retaining those vital links with the likes of both Iran and Saudi Arabia. Never have those links been more important than in the current challenges we face. As noble Lords know, there is a deeply embedded issue that goes beyond just political rivalries, but it is equally important that we not only sustain communication channels bilaterally but continue to strengthen them in calls to the wider region for greater stability.
My Lords, the conflict in Yemen is essentially conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran. I know that the Government are aware of that. One of the problems is that the countries in the region are unable to operate effectively against either party to get some sort of agreement. Also, many of their friends outside the region, including the UK and the US, are in a difficult position because they are not seen as wholly independent. Sadly, the UN is unable to be very effective here. I wonder whether the Government have thought a bit outside the box. One of the countries on the edge of the region which has great influence in the UN, and also in peacekeeping operations, is India. Does it have any interest in adding to the pressure on Iran and Saudi to basically back off because the dangers of the spread of conflict are very great?
On the issue of Yemen specifically, the noble Lord is quite correct that the UK continues to make representations. I am sure he will appreciate that our focus—indeed, that of the Foreign Secretary—has been working with countries in the immediate vicinity. For example, the noble Lord may be aware that the Foreign Secretary hosted a meeting of the quint—that is, the United Kingdom, the US, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Oman—as well as the UN special envoy, which took place a couple of weeks ago on 28 November. The noble Lord mentioned the role of India. That is very much a question for India to answer, but I note his constructive suggestion in that regard.
Because of the nature of how the conflict is evolving and how we have seen the different parties who may be involved in supporting the rival factions in Yemen, it is important to bring in all international players to ensure security and stability there. As I have already said in answer to a previous question, that is more vital now than perhaps it has been for a very long time.
Does my noble friend agree that we all appreciate the efforts of the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary to deal with the dual nationals’ imprisonment and to uphold the nuclear deal, despite the doubts coming from Washington, and so on? But can we be crystal clear about Iran’s other activities in the Middle East? I appreciate what the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said about the need for both sides to be more peaceful, but there really will be no prospect of a wind-down of the horrific situation in Yemen—the assassinations appear to be ordered, and then there is the horrific starvation and the constant bombardment by the Houthis—until those revolutionary elements in Iran that are backing it back away themselves, and the more moderate elements, which I am sure exist in Iran, which I am sure that the Foreign Secretary has encouraged, can assert a more reasonable approach. Until that happens, we will see the horrors in Yemen continue, which is a real tragedy.
My noble friend speaks with great experience. I agree with him. As he will be aware, we issued a Statement in November about the missile attack on Riyadh, to which I alluded in the Statement. I agree that the UK has long-standing concerns about Iranian involvement in other regional conflicts, but particularly in Yemen, which we have raised directly with the Iranian Government. I alluded to the constructive yet candid exchanges that we had—and on this occasion, those that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary had—particularly in light of the provision of weapons to the Houthis and forces aligned to former President Saleh. This is very much contrary to Security Council Resolution 2216 and the Security Council’s embargo on the export of weapons by Iran. My noble friend raises some very valid points, but I reassure him and all noble Lords that we continue to raise these issues of concern about Iran’s wider influence—including, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Soley, in areas such as Lebanon—to ensure that Iran takes its responsibilities seriously. When we see suggested violations of any provisions or embargos, we raise them proactively in our bilateral exchanges with Iran.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the more recent matters of concern in the region is the complete breakdown in communications between Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain, and Qatar? This was raised earlier, but there was no answer to it. Is he aware that Qataris cannot go to funerals in Saudi Arabia any longer, that Qataris who are being educated in Saudi Arabia can no longer complete their education courses there, and that sick children receiving specialist medical treatment in Saudi Arabia can no longer go there to complete their treatment? Is he aware that that means that both Iran and Russia are showing an interest in what is happening in Qatar? When the Foreign Secretary was in the UAE, did he observe any lessening of the division between those countries, or is the separation and lack of communication going to continue?
The noble Lord is right to raise this issue. We continue to raise the issue of relations with Qatar with the rest of the GCC. The noble Lord will be aware of the efforts that Kuwait has been making in that respect, to which we have certainly lent our strong support. In the recent visits to the UAE by the Foreign Secretary, the very point that the noble Lord raised about the importance of constructive engagement, to ensure that the current status with Qatar can be addressed very quickly—not just by the UAE but by the wider GCC—was very much part of the discussions that took place. I assure the noble Lord that that remains an area of focus for the British Government.
My Lords, clearly there is much in the Statement to be welcomed. It is equally clear that the visit by the Foreign Secretary had a number of highly commendable outcomes. Is it acceptable to emphasise that we should put on record our appreciation of the immense hard work that has gone on in the Foreign Office to prepare the way for this visit? Does this not illustrate several crucial points for the future of our foreign policy? Is it not unfortunate that on human rights—and I am very glad that the Foreign Secretary raised the issue of executions and the treatment of prisoners in Iran; it is an appalling story—there is no difference between that issue and that of the nuclear agreement? If the nuclear agreement goes wrong, there will be immense potential consequences for the people of Iran, and for others throughout the world. The success of the deal is very much a human rights issue for ordinary people across the world.
On Yemen, can the Minister assure us that the Foreign Office is in constant contact with the humanitarian agencies that are courageously endeavouring against all the odds to try to meet the humanitarian challenges there? Does not that raise the issue that we must keep our strategic approach towards Saudi Arabia under review? We cannot on the one hand be sycophantic towards Saudi Arabia and, on the other, recognise the part that it plays in what is happening in the tragic events of Yemen.
Does not all this show that, in our future foreign policy, whatever the outcomes of Brexit, we must have the closest possible collaboration with our European partners because, in the years ahead, the issues that may arise in the United States are deeply troubling?
My Lords, the noble Lord raises an important point, as he has illustrated, about keeping and retaining communication. The sheer fact that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary visited Iran sends a very clear message about the importance and nature of British diplomacy. Yes, we are strong allies of Saudi Arabia, but it is very much the relationship and alliance that we have with Saudi Arabia that allows us to address some important matters.
The noble Lord raised a very practical point about working closely with other EU countries. I can give no better example than the United States’ recent declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The statement made at the UN Security Council reflected the unity of other members of the Security Council, including our European allies. We stood shoulder to shoulder to say that, yes, we wish to see a secure and safe Israel but, equally, we want to see a viable Palestinian state. The Government’s objective was reflected in the unity that we saw with other members of the Security Council. Notwithstanding our strong and deep relationship with the United States, when we have disagreements we will raise them and we will show that we will be distinct in our status, as we have shown over east Jerusalem. Therefore, I hope the noble Lord recognises—I know he does—the efforts that the Foreign Office has made. He will be all too aware, as a former Foreign Office Minister, of the importance of British diplomacy in this regard. When I look around the world, British diplomacy is quite incredible. Our ambassadors and high commissioners are an important link, and it is those relationships that we nurture across the piece that allow us to have the candid and honest discussions that we have on the international stage.