Committee (7th Day) (Continued)
That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.
My Lords, we are now well into the 11th hour of consideration of the Bill. There has been no break of any kind since lunchtime. I do not believe that noble Lords have been guilty in any way of prolonging the debate unnecessarily; I think the discussions have been perfectly reasonable, and the contributions have been precisely what we would expect of this House. To expect us to carry on with no break whatever is treating the House with contempt. I will oppose this Motion, and subsequent motions, unless the Chief Whip is, very graciously, prepared to allow us to behave in a reasonable manner in respect of the Bill.
My Lords, the arrangements for debates are frequently discussed through the usual channels, as the noble Lord will be aware. The Statement that we have just listened to occupied the dinner break. I am afraid that the noble Lord had the opportunity, if he wished, to get sustenance. A number of noble Lords have not had dinner up to now, but no doubt they will find opportunities to do so.
Is the noble Lord saying that it was inappropriate for me to be present for the Statement on Russia repeated by the Leader of the House because I should have taken a dinner break then?
Dinner breaks are always filled with other business, or usually so. I am happy with the answer that I have given the noble Lord.
My Lords, will the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, give us an indication of when he proposes to adjourn the Committee this evening? Many of us came here on the basis that it would adjourn at 10.30 pm. Can he tell us why a decision appears to have been taken that this will no longer be the case?
The target for the day is printed on the groupings list. It states that we should,
“go no further than the group beginning amendment 220”.
We have adjusted that because of the amount of time we have spent so far on the amendments today. We have had eight and a half hours of actual discussion on the Bill today and completed four groups. We need to make progress. I am afraid that we are going to have to sit later than 10.30 pm. I would like to conclude the business at that time but I am afraid that it will not be possible unless we have an enormous rush of amendments not being moved. I think that is unrealistic, so I must tell the noble Lord that I think he will be sitting quite late this evening.
Is it the noble Lord’s view that the Committee has not been reasonable in its treatment of these amendments? We have had four very big, serious debates today which, in my view, have been of the highest quality and have shown the House of Lords at its best. Is the noble Lord telling us that there has been time-wasting?
Not at all. The House is perfectly entitled to take as much time as it wishes in debating these issues. However, as Government Chief Whip, it is my task to get this legislation through the House. I am afraid that noble Lords will have to be prepared to co-operate in that endeavour.
Division on Motion called. Division called off after three minutes due to lack of support for the Not-Contents when the Question was put a second time.
Amendments 167 to 181 not moved.
Amendment 182 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
183: Clause 9, page 7, line 17, at end insert—
“( ) No regulations may be made under this section until the Chancellor of the Exchequer has published a statement setting out a strategy for retaining membership of the European Investment Fund.”
My Lords, in the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, I am moving this amendment because it is an important amendment in an important group. I suspect that the noble Lord will want to make a more substantial speech than I will, but these amendments would essentially require the Government to have a strategy for how they build or retain engagement with the European Investment Bank and the European Investment Fund post Brexit.
Order. Could the noble Baroness tell the Committee to which amendment she is speaking?
I am speaking to Amendments 183 and 187, which would require the Government to create a future strategy to retain engagement with the European Investment Bank and the European Investment Fund. On all sides of this House, Members have appreciated the value of both those bodies; their contribution to the UK has been substantial. In 2016, the European Investment Bank contributed support in excess of £5.5 billion to a very wide variety of projects, ranging from schools in Yorkshire to Crossrail. The European Investment Fund has played an absolutely key role in the development of new start-up companies in the UK, particularly in fintech—an area I am very close to—which received some £2 billion between 2011 and 2015. The Government have not yet made it clear to any of those in the business world, including those who rely on these sources, what the future framework will be either to continue a relationship with those two bodies or to replace them with an alternative source of funding.
From time to time the British Business Bank has been mentioned as a possible route to provide those mechanisms. However, I point out to the Government that businesses certainly need reassurance in that area if the Government intend to pursue that strategy. The British Business Bank is in no way geared up to make loans on the scale of the European Investment Bank, nor does it enter into the role that the European Investment Fund pursues, which has been very much to fund venture capital, which in turn flows into this range of start-ups.
I would like to hear from the Government how they see the future framework of the British Business Fund. Your Lordships will remember that in 2016, the Government were pursuing a strategy of essentially privatising that operation. It was widely understood that a number of companies—JPMorgan, Nunes, Deloitte and Norton Rose—were advising on the transfer of all the assets of the British Business Bank to an investment vehicle, to be called the “British Income and Lending Trust”, which would then be floated on the London Stock Exchange and its shares made available to investors. That would have been, in effect, the end of the British Business Bank, and the Government took that as a strong position. Its actions were ended somewhat abruptly because of legal complications surrounding the privatisation of the Green Investment Bank. I regret the Government’s decision, but the complications at that point led to the delay in the same strategy being applied to the British Investment Bank.
Can the Government give us clarity on the future of our relationship with the EIB and the EIF and, if they have decided that those roles will now be picked up by the British Business Bank, can they give us assurances about what the nature of this will be or say whether a delayed privatisation will take place? Can they also tell us where the British Business Bank will get funding from and on what scale, and whether it will get both the mandate and the resources to enable it to move into this field, which is far wider than the field it is currently engaged in? Without that, we will compromise not only our vast infrastructure projects, which are absolutely critical to any kind of economic growth, but also our start-ups, and particularly that very important area of tech and fintech which has been utterly dependent—you cannot find a single fintech in the UK which has not had funding through the EIF source.
My Lords, I think the noble Baroness was speaking to Amendment 183, but that is grouped with Amendments 167, 187 and 227BC, which relate to European Investment Fund and the EBRD.
We had a brief discussion about the European Investment Bank on 28 February, in which I made comments, which I will not repeat—at columns 731 and 732—about the value of the EIB, particularly for infrastructure investment, where it is a key partner, both in its own right for the investments it makes but also, crucially, in catalysing private sector investment. It acts as a strong guarantor of the determination of the state and partners to take projects forward. In my experience as a Minister, having EIB support for projects has been crucial in putting together funding packages from the public and private sectors, including different public sector partners, to make it possible for projects to go forward. Therefore, the big collapse in EIB lending—particularly the significant collapse after the notice under Article 50 was served—is of immense concern. The collapse is partly because it has been difficult getting projects going, but also because the European Investment Bank itself has withdrawn from engagement in projects because it is not at all sure of the security of its investments after 29 March next year.
This is a fast-moving situation. When we last debated this issue, it was grouped with seven or eight other issues and the Minister did not respond, except to say that the Government were engaging in negotiations on this point. Since then, the Prime Minister has made her Mansion House speech, in which the one very significant policy departure was the Government’s announcement that it would be prepared to seek associate membership of key European agencies. The two that we have discussed so far are the European Medicines Agency and EASA, the air safety agency. The Government appear to be seeking associate membership of those agencies. Indeed, at a very advanced hour of the night on Monday, the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, even managed—in the only recorded instance I have come across so far—to make complimentary references to the European Court of Justice. I have it here. He is going to “unsay” it all, I am sure—he will not let this opportunity to make derogatory remarks about European institutions pass—but it was made clear that if Britain is to remain an associate member of these organisations, it will need to play by European rules.
The key issue about which I would like to ask the Minister is why some agencies have been selected for potential continued British membership and not others. On the face of it, many other agencies the Government have not chosen to seek associate membership of are just as important. Or are the three agencies that the Prime Minister set out in her Mansion House speech examples of agencies the Government might seek membership of, but not by any means exhaustive? This will be a crucial policy issue in the negotiations over the next few months. Specifically, I wish to ask the Minister about the European Investment Bank. It would seem that the right course of action for the Government, irrespective of the wider arguments about Brexit, is either to seek to remain a full member or, if that is not legally possible, to seek to become an associate member. It is not clear to me whether the former is legally possible. From my own conversations with the European Investment Bank when I was chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, I thought it might be. If not, however, with some creative negotiations it could well be possible to remain an associate member and to retain a shareholding in the bank. If that could be secured, it would be the least disruptive way of proceeding and would avoid serious damage to infrastructure projects going forward.
Are the Government, following the Prime Minister’s Mansion House speech, prepared to seek either full or associate membership of the European Investment Bank? If so, what might that mean for the ongoing discussions over the funding of projects that were very much within the purview of the EIB but, because of the disruption caused by Article 50 and the current Brexit negotiations, are either not being funded or are unlikely to be funded? Of course, the best course of action by far if the Government are going to seek associate or full membership of the EIB, is to get on with it as soon as possible and reach an agreement so that we unlock the funds that are currently not coming our way but could if we had an agreement with the EIB on what is going to happen.
My Lords, I added my name to Amendment 187, which specifically refers to the European Investment Bank. I did so because, almost invisibly, the EIB has made a major contribution to investment in UK infrastructure. The advantage of the EIB, of course, is low interest rates, but it also offers commercial expertise and very highly prized advice.
I just want to illustrate the importance of the bank to our economy with some statistics. For example, in the field of transport, in 2016 over €2.5 billion was loaned to various projects in the UK. That included loans to Merseyrail for rolling stock, to the Port of Dover and to Aberdeen harbour, and over €1.75 billion for social housing. For energy projects, €3 billion was loaned, and for education projects, €0.75 billion. In my own country of Wales, in 2016 Swansea University borrowed €71 million for a splendid and wonderful new campus. It is so large that it is almost the size of a small town and it is very highly regarded. Bangor University borrowed €10 million for a new campus. Here in London, Transport for London is, in Britain, just about the biggest borrower from the EIB and has relied on it very heavily. Since 2002, there have been loans to London Underground for the Northern line extension, for Crossrail rolling stock, for Stratford International station, for the East London line and for the DLR Woolwich Arsenal extension, and that is in addition to seven other Underground schemes.
Noble Lords will see immediately the importance of this borrowing to some fundamental sectors of our economy: energy, transport, education—particularly universities—and urban regeneration and housing. In 2015, in total the UK received over €16.5 billion. In 2016, that went down to €9 billion, and in 2017 it was around only €3 billion. There was an immediate drop-off in the number of projects funded, and new lending by the EIB to the UK fell by almost two-thirds last year.
The Welsh Government had been hoping to use the bank to fund the South Wales Metro project and the M4 relief road. Already in Wales, providers of social housing have had to look elsewhere for funds, and that of course costs more. An increase of 200 basis points in the cost of capital would lead to an increase of around £1.5 million per annum for each £100 million borrowed.
There may not be an official moratorium on lending to the UK by the EIB but clearly the bank is already concerned about the future basis for repayment. It has been suggested that we should set up our own development bank, although so far the Government have not expressed interest in this. Can the Minister clarify the position of the UK Government on setting up our own investment bank? However, even if the Government were keen to do that, it would take years for a new bank to gain scale and expertise. There could also be uncertainty about its status. There could be a problem with the classification of its funding, as it could be classified as providing state aid, and we know that the Prime Minister has already said that she wants to observe international rules on state aid. The recent experience of setting up the British Business Bank and the Green Investment Bank indicates that it can be a complex and lengthy process. As a minimum, I believe that the UK Government should make it clear that they wish to negotiate a specific mandate for continued bank lending by the EIB to the UK as part of our future arrangements.
On the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, 90% of EIB lending is to EU member states. However, it also lends to EFTA states and to others preparing to join the EU. It therefore would not stretch the imagination too much that it might be possible for it to lend to those preparing to leave the EU. The rules and conditions of the EU guarantee for the EIB’s external lending are decided by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, and those rules were most recently decided in 2014. The Government need to negotiate an amendment to that decision. Do the Government intend to do so?
I hope I have illustrated that the amendment does not refer to a hypothetical situation. This is not a prediction that doom might come but a factual statement of the situation with the European Investment Bank as it is now: it has stopped lending. This has had a serious impact on our infrastructure, which is already showing signs of strain as a result. The lending could dry up altogether and projects will have to find an alternative source, but that source will be more expensive and less reliable. I urge noble Lords to take an interest in this issue, which is fundamental to the development of our infrastructure in this country.
I shall speak briefly to Amendment 183. I am aware of the EIF because of its investment in the UK venture capital industry, in which I serve on a professional basis from time to time. I understand that the Chancellor has committed an extra £2.5 billion to the BBB specifically to make up for the loss of future investment from the EIF into venture capital funds in the UK, which would negate the need for this. There is a problem in that the EIF, from Article 50 being triggered, has announced that it is looking only at funds where two-thirds of the investment will be in the EU and at least 50% in continental Europe. So organisations that contribute enormously to our economy—for example, social impact investment companies such as Bridges, which is 100% investing in UK companies—have, from the moment of Article 50 being triggered, had the decision-making process frozen by the EIF. This has been damaging to them. I suggest—the Minister might care to comment—that the problem is not here and then after we exit the EU but in the transition period. For some unknown reason, the EIF is freezing the money rightfully due to UK investments.
My Lords, I can at least discuss the EIB with the qualification of someone who nearly borrowed money from it. I commend the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, because it was EIB expertise that helped me to persuade the Government to fund the Jubilee line extension. We were then able to have even cheaper money called government grants, so it was all right in the end.
This group of amendments illustrates that in the whole Brexit debate there are unintended consequences that were clearly not thought through at the time of the referendum. We discussed some on Monday, such as haulage, airlines and so on. What we need to hear from the Government tonight is either that they intend to pursue this course and try to produce appropriate associate agreements—or whatever the right term is—with these institutions, or that they will set out how they will provide the money and expertise that make sure that they do not put a serious dent in the already inadequate investment programmes in the United Kingdom.
My Lords, this group of amendments—frankly, I have lost track of who moved what and which ones are in the group, but I will be generous and address all the issues that were part of the original grouping under the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, although the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, has moved Amendment 183—addresses two quite distinct institutions, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the European Investment Bank, including its subsidiary, the European Investment Fund. If the Committee will permit, I will address each of them in turn.
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development is an international financial institution that is based in London and is subject to its own establishing agreement through a multilateral treaty that was laid before Parliament in 1990. The EBRD is led by a British president, Sir Suma Chakrabarti, who in 2016 was re-elected to serve a second four-year term. The bank is not an EU institution and therefore the UK’s membership is fully independent of EU membership. As such, the European Council does not have dominion over the membership or operation of the EBRD. The UK’s exit from the EU will not have any bearing on the location of the bank’s headquarters in London, which is enshrined in its articles of agreement. The EBRD has also publicly reiterated that Brexit will have no impact on the UK’s membership and the London headquarters. Amendment 167 is therefore unnecessary and would have no effect on UK membership, which will continue unaffected after the UK leaves the EU. The Government have made it clear in recent Answers to Parliamentary Questions that the UK remains firmly committed to the EBRD and that exit from the EU will have no impact on our continuing membership. With that reassurance, although I am not sure whether the noble Lord moved the amendment, I hope that he will feel able not to press it.
Amendment 227BC would create a negotiating objective for the UK to remain a full member of the European Investment Bank. The EU treaty defines members of the EIB as EU member states. It also sets out that only members can hold capital in the bank and participate on its board. That means that in March 2019 the UK will no longer be a full member of the EIB, as it will no longer be a member state of the European Union. However, let me reply directly to the questions put by the noble Lords, Lord Adonis and Lord Tunnicliffe, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. The Chancellor has made it clear that the UK considers that it may prove to be in the mutual interest of all sides for the UK to maintain some form of ongoing relationship with the EIB group after leaving the EU. The UK will explore these options—
Why did the Minister say “may” when surely he means “will”? Will he think again about that?
If the noble Lord will forgive me, I will use the words as I have said them. These issues are matters for negotiation, so we will use the word “may” instead of “will”. Obviously, we cannot impose our will on our negotiating partners. The UK will explore the options with the EU as part of the negotiations on the future relationship.
Perhaps I may use this opportunity to respond to the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, on agencies. I think that I indicated to him during the debate that the list issued by the Prime Minister was not necessarily an exclusive one and that we are considering carefully a range of options. Where there is a demonstrable national interest in pursuing a continued relationship with an agency or other EU body, the Government will carefully consider whether we should pursue it, at which point of course it will be a matter for the negotiations. We will continue to update noble Lords on our negotiations, subject to the usual caveat of not undermining our negotiating position.
Amendment 227BC seeks to make it an objective of the Government to achieve a particular outcome in the negotiations on our future relationship with the EIB. It is important that the Government should maintain negotiating flexibility in this and all other areas in order to achieve the best deal for the UK. However, as I said, we have not discounted maintaining some form of ongoing relationship, if that supports an overall deal. I hope that that will be sufficient for the noble Lord not to press his amendment.
Amendments 183 and 187 would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to publish a strategy for retaining access to the EIB and the EIF. As Parliament has agreed, we will not publish anything that would undermine our ability to negotiate the best deal for the United Kingdom. Any information on potential economic considerations and negotiating strategy is important to the negotiating capital of all parties. Publishing a statement from the Chancellor setting out the strategy for retaining access to the EIB and its subsidiary, the EIF, will ultimately harm our negotiating position. However, as I said in response to Amendment 227BC, I can assure the Committee that we have not discounted maintaining some form of ongoing relationship with the EIB group if that proves to be part of the best overall deal for the UK.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, asked about the British Business Bank.
Can the Minister explain, distinctly and clearly, to the Committee the distinction between demonstrable national interests and the national interest adjudicated by Jacob Rees-Mogg, Bill Cash and others?
We are having a serious debate about the EIB. The noble Lord is demeaning the subject before the House.
The British Business Bank has already raised the limit on the amount that it can invest in venture capital funds from 33% to 50%. It has also brought forward the £400 million of additional investment that was announced in the Autumn Statement. As a result, we expect it to have doubled its investment in venture capital this financial year. We have also broadened the range of the UK guarantee scheme by offering construction guarantees for the first time. I hope that that addresses the noble Baroness’s question.
Perhaps I could just press the Minister on that, although I appreciate that he may not have an answer. In terms of volume, what he has discussed does not meet the need. Businesses are concerned that we may not end up with an appropriate relationship with the EIB and the EIF. Are the Government looking at similar programmes but on a relatively minor scale?
I do not have an answer to that question. I will come back to the noble Baroness on that. I have only the figures that I outlined to her.
I hope that I have reassured the noble Lord enough not to press whichever amendment he wished to move.
The Minister’s response was helpful and I completely accept his reassurances on the EBRD. That issue is clear. My amendment was just a probing one to elicit the response that he has given, which is that there is no relationship with the EU and therefore our position is not affected at all.
The Minister made tantalising remarks suggesting flexibility on a wide range of agencies and the Government’s position on them. He said that this would be a matter for the ongoing negotiations. This will be a big issue for us when we come to Report because, as he knows, a lot of the amendments that we have been going through have sought to elicit from the Government their intentions toward individual agencies. Is he in a position to let us know before Report which agencies the Government will seek either full or associate membership of? Otherwise, I am not quite sure how the House will proceed on Report. We will be presenting amendments that seek continued British engagement with agencies when we do not know whether it is the Government’s policy to share that objective.
I understand the noble Lord’s point. As we have gone through the various categories of debate, I think that we have been reasonably clear on where we see the values in certain agencies in the individual sectors that have been talked about. The difficulty with putting any of these requirements to achieve something in statute is that this is a negotiation. We can seek to achieve anything, but if our negotiating partners are not interested in discussing it, it would be very difficult to do. We have gone as far as we can and I do not want to go any further this evening than the statement that I have already given. In her Mansion House speech, the Prime Minister gave some examples of agencies that we would be willing to participate in, subject to the negotiations. That applies to a lot of other agencies that have been mentioned at various stages, so I do not want to go any further at the moment. As soon as we have any information that we can share with the House, we will do so.
I do not think that the Minister quite grasped the point that I was making, which was not about whether it is appropriate to have requirements of this kind in legislation. The question was simply about knowing whether the Government seek to negotiate continued engagement in particular agencies so that we know whether it is appropriate for noble Lords to move amendments on Report calling for an objective that, unbeknown to us, the Government may be seeking to achieve anyway.
I will take the noble Lord’s statement as an invitation to give some thought to the matter, to consult ministerial colleagues and to see what further information we can share before Report.
Amendment 183 withdrawn.
My Lords, I am extremely anxious to speak to Amendment 174.
I fear that it was called and there was no response. I am now at Amendment 184.
I am still anxious to speak about roaming. The only reason why I was unable to move my amendment is that I was in a Division Lobby, not because of any lack of willingness to move it. Yet again, we see how these proceedings are not being well conducted, if noble Lords are unable to move amendments because of procedural matters.
Amendments 184 to 194 not moved.
Debate on whether Clause 9 should stand part of the Bill.
My Lords, this may be an opportunity, then, for me to make the speech I was going to make on Amendment 174, procedure in this House being endlessly flexible. I can assure the Minister that I am not going to give up on these things: we will find a way of getting back to them, one way or another. The issue I want to address, even at this late hour, coming into our 12th hour of debate today, is roaming charges and the EU’s digital single market.
If you asked ordinary members of the public what benefits they have seen in the last year from membership of the EU, one thing they would highlight most would be the big advances we have made in digital co-operation across Europe, in particular the development of the EU’s digital single market and, last year, the ending of roaming charges for users of mobile phones between member states of the EU. This is a great triumph of British policy. To bring about this result has been an objective of British policy for the previous 20 years and it is very much due to our work and that of big British companies which have developed on the back of the development of the single market, notably Vodafone, that we have this situation in the first place. I have a specific question for the Minister: what is the Government’s policy in respect of roaming charges after next March? Are they seeking to negotiate a continuation of the current reciprocal arrangements we have, meaning there will be no roaming charges, or should mobile phones users expect that from next March roaming charges will apply because there will be no reciprocal arrangements?
My second question is about the EU digital single market. To the surprise of many people, in the Prime Minister’s Mansion House speech when she talked about areas where we are going to seek continued engagement in EU programmes, she specifically ruled out the EU digital single market:
“On digital, the UK will not be part of the EU’s Digital Single Market, which will continue to develop after our withdrawal from the EU”.
She went on:
“This is a fast evolving, innovative sector, in which the UK is a world leader. So it will be particularly important to have domestic flexibility, to ensure the regulatory environment can always respond nimbly and ambitiously to new developments”.
The big question begged by that is: if the aim is for us to be an active participant in this market, why are we not prepared to remain part of the structure which is negotiating it, so as to be there for the creation of the rules surrounding it and in a much better position to take advantage of the opportunities that will develop as a result of it?
I invite the Minister to say more about what he believes the UK’s relationship will be with the EU’s digital single market after next March. In particular, how does he think it is in the public interest for us to forgo all the benefits which have been so painstakingly and painfully negotiated over recent years, and which have given users such benefits in travelling freely without hindrance and additional charges for mobile phone technology across Europe?
Does the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, share the surprise I feel that the Prime Minister should have said that we would not be part of the digital single market? I am at a loss to think what domestic regulatory flexibility she could be alluding to. After all, the very point of the Data Protection Act is ostensibly to implement European standards on cross-border transfers of data, which is crucial for the tech industry as well as many other industries. If we are not part of the digital single market, how are British consumers to continue to enjoy the absence—the abolition—of roaming mobile charges? The mobile operators are saying, “We hope we won’t have to put up roaming charges, but it rather depends if we are in the digital single market so that we can get access to European-level wholesale rates”. So first, a British policy not to be in the digital single market does not make any sense. Secondly, British consumers are going to take a hit when they go on the continent for business or holidays. Who is going to explain that to British consumers?
My Lords, I agree with everything the noble Baroness has said. When we were given the instruction by the British people two years ago to commence negotiations on leaving the European Union, I did not meet anybody who said that the reason they wanted to leave it was so that they could pay higher mobile phone charges and restart paying roaming charges for travelling on the continent. It is a complete absurdity.
Since in her Mansion House speech the Prime Minister showed movement in many areas, which we have welcomed in earlier debates, on engagement in key areas of the single market and customs arrangements, I find it utterly mystifying that she should specifically have excluded the digital single market. This is one area in which Britain has done more than any other to forge its rules, which have been so advantageous to major British companies that would not exist if it were not for the development of the single market. Vodafone, one of the biggest and most successful companies in the country, would not exist as a serious international company if it were not for the success of successive British Governments in negotiating what has become the digital single market during the last 20 years.
I invite the Minister, with the new-found and emollient flexibility that he has been demonstrating, to say that he is prepared to take away and consider—I think that is the phrase he now uses—Britain’s continued engagement in the digital single market. Specifically, is it the view of the Government that we should start to reintroduce roaming charges for British mobile phone users from the end of March next year?
Clause 9 agreed.
195: After Clause 9, insert the following new Clause—
“Economic outlook taking account of the terms of the withdrawal agreement
(1) Following the completion of negotiations between the United Kingdom and the EU on the terms of the withdrawal agreement, the Secretary of State must commission an economic outlook from the Office for Budget Responsibility.(2) The economic outlook provided for by subsection (1) must—(a) take account of the terms of the withdrawal agreement, and(b) be laid before both Houses of Parliament before Parliament considers legislation to approve the withdrawal agreement.”
My Lords, the most significant actor in forecasting the development of the UK economy is, of course, the Office for Budget Responsibility. It is mandated to provide two forecasts each year, yet there has been no updated forecast on the impact of Brexit since the Economic and Fiscal Outlook of November 2016. Uncertainty about how the Government will respond to the choices and trade-offs they face during the withdrawal negotiations renders forecasting extremely difficult. There has been no meaningful basis on which to form a judgment on the final outcomes.
The Government have given the OBR short shrift, referring it to the Prime Minister’s Florence speech as definitive. In that speech, Theresa May said the UK would seek to achieve a deep and special partnership with the EU and that this should span a new economic relationship. Not surprisingly, the OBR did not consider that a basis on which to update its analysis. However, the OBR did set out to forecast the outcome for certain parameters of the negotiations. It made several key assumptions about what will happen when the UK leaves the EU next March. New trading arrangements with both the EU and leading states will slow down the pace of import and export growth over the 10 years following the 2016 referendum.
The Treasury Select Committee finds this situation highly unsatisfactory, given that the OBR is required to produce regular reports analysing the risks surrounding the economic outlook for the UK. Committee members saw no reason why the OBR should not provide an update, the rationale being that it already has information on migration flows and can assess the likely state of the public finances, plus the OBR has already formed the judgment that,
“the consequences of Brexit on economic growth, whether positive or negative, are likely to be so substantial as to dwarf the impact of the financial settlement”—
a settlement that has so exercised members of the Cabinet through and since the referendum campaign.
While the Select Committee report came too late to be considered in the other place during its debates on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, it is being discussed tonight. The amendment in my name and the names of my noble friends Lord Davies of Oldham and Lord Judd offers this opportunity and calls on the OBR to publish a fresh economic outlook, something that would incorporate the terms of the withdrawal agreement and inform Parliament’s conclusions on whether to act on the outcome of the negotiations. Challenging as this task might be, a flow of firm and up-to-date information will obviously be in demand over the course of this year. Parliamentarians have the right to ask the OBR, the best placed institution, to provide the information we so clearly require. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall say only a few words because of the lateness of the hour, but I support this amendment. The Government have continually used the argument that they cannot provide detailed forecasts of the impact on the UK economy, jobs and other opportunities either because they do not know the full clarity of what the end agreement will look like or because any disclosure might compromise their negotiating position. I have always found that a little strange. Having negotiated trade agreements on our behalf for 40 years, there is, in fact, more expertise about the impact of these arrangements on the other side of the channel than there is on this side, so we are really not fooling anybody in any of the discussions that we have.
Setting that aside, at the point that the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, describes, neither of those arguments stands any more. We will have completed our negotiations and will know the details of what we have negotiated. Do the Government not agree that transparency is both possible and crucial at that moment and, therefore, that the analysis that the noble Lord just described is vital and owed to Parliament and the British people?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Davies, in his absence for this amendment and thank the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, for moving it and speaking to it. The Office for Budget Responsibility’s remit is clearly defined in legislation, under the Budget Responsibility and National Audit Act 2011, as being,
“to examine and report on the sustainability of the public finances”.
In doing so, the OBR must produce at least two forecasts per financial year, which must include the impact of government policy where it can be quantified with reasonable accuracy.
The Government expect the OBR to include the impact of the withdrawal agreement alongside its forecast of the UK’s economic and fiscal outlook as soon as sufficient information is available. That would contribute to the transparency which the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, is looking for. But the Government cannot dictate when that might be. This is the important distinction. It is therefore not appropriate to request the OBR to produce analysis specifically for a legislative debate, as this will draw the OBR into political debate, which could undermine its reputation as an independent and objective institution.
But this will surely be one of the most important debates and most important votes ever held in this House. Is the noble Baroness suggesting that it is not appropriate and necessary for the OBR to provide the information that probably only the OBR is capable of providing to make sure that that vote is taken with the best knowledge available? That would be extraordinary.
Surely the OBR is up to its ears in political debate. It produces the document on which Parliament discusses the Budget, taxation and all parts of the economy. The OBR is part of the political process. It is a neutral and independent part of the political process, but it is not without the political process.
The noble Lord identifies the important characteristic of the OBR, which is its statutory independence. That is a strength and something we all commend. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, we have to respect what the OBR by statute is required to do, and we expect it to do that.
There are practical difficulties in addition to those which I was just beginning to outline when the noble Baroness made her intervention. If the Government agreed to have a forecast ahead of the withdrawal legislation being considered by Parliament, there is simply no guarantee the OBR would be able to take the terms of the agreement into account in its forecast. For example, if there was only a short period of time between the agreement being made public and the point at which legislation is introduced, then the OBR may not have capacity to conduct a thorough analysis.
I have the most recent report from the OBR here. It seems to me that the time point is irrelevant. If we are serious about letting our own Select Committees look at the proposed withdrawal agreement, there will be time for the OBR to do a forecast. It is one of the things that it complains about in the recent report:
“We asked the Government if it wished to provide any additional information on its current policies in respect of Brexit”—
but all the Government did was send it a copy of the Prime Minister’s Florence speech. The report goes on:
“Given the current uncertainty as to how the Government will respond to the choices and trade-offs facing it during the negotiations, we still have no meaningful basis for predicting a precise outcome upon which we could then condition our forecast”.
As soon as the withdrawal agreement is known, the OBR will want to produce that. Is the noble Baroness saying it should not?
On the contrary, as I made clear in my initial comments, the Government expect the OBR to include the impact of the withdrawal agreement alongside its forecast for the UK’s economic and fiscal outlook. In fact, the noble Lord perhaps makes the point better for me than I make it myself. The OBR’s comments, which he has just read out to me from the report, are not redolent of criticism of the Government but of an acceptance of the reality of the difficulties of the negotiation.
This is a crucial point. It decides whether or not Parliament is in a position to make an informed vote, which is absolutely at the base of democracy. Does the Minister realise that she is inviting this House on Report to provide for a change in the statutes of the OBR to require it to produce that report and to provide it with the appropriate resources, if it needs additional staff, to be able to do it in a timely way so that the vote can be an informed one?
I must apologise; I am clearly explaining this very poorly. I am trying to indicate to your Lordships that it is not a matter of resource or of intent; it is a matter of whether or not the OBR would have sufficient information available to conduct its analysis and come forward with any conclusions. I have made clear that, under statute, the OBR has to produce at least two forecasts per financial year, and these must include the impact of government policy. What I am anxious to avoid is that this House puts the OBR in a different situation. I was going on to explain to the noble Baroness that, as the OBR has flagged at previous fiscal events, even once the outcome of negotiations are known, its forecast will be subject to considerable uncertainty. This is particularly the case around the associated economic and fiscal consequences of the withdrawal agreement. In addition, there is another body here, the reaction of which is extremely important: the Bank of England. Its reaction is difficult to forecast, yet that reaction will have a large impact on the analysis.
I have tried to explain why I totally understand the desire for transparency—that is understood and we sympathise—but I am pointing out that the amendment would impose an unacceptable statutory obligation on the OBR in terms of its current responsibilities and its capacity to discharge them in any meaningful fashion.
My Lords, I have to admit to be stunningly underwhelmed by that response. It seems to me that the request is perfectly reasonable. It may need some tuning to fit in with timetables and so on or a condition here and there, but I hope the Government will take this idea away—it is clearly popular around the Committee—and come back with a more positive view so that the Government and Parliament at the time can be better informed. With that comment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 195 withdrawn.
Amendments 196 to 199 not moved.
200: After Clause 9, insert the following new Clause—
“Statutory instruments under other Acts of Parliament for the purposes of withdrawal
(1) The Statutory Instruments Act 1946 is amended as follows.(2) After section 9, insert—“9A Instruments relating to the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union (1) Any statutory instrument under any Act of Parliament containing regulations to make provisions for the same purposes as set out under section 7, 8 or 9 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, is subject to the same parliamentary procedure as an instrument made for the same purposes under a power provided for in those sections.(2) Subsection (1) applies instead of the parliamentary procedure set out in any Act under which the instrument is made.(3) For the purposes of this section—“the same purposes as a power provided for in those sections” means—(a) under section 7, regulations which make such provision as the Minister considers appropriate to prevent, remedy or mitigate—(i) any failure of retained EU law to operate effectively, or(ii) any other deficiency in retained EU law,arising from the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU;(b) under section 8, regulations which make such provision as the Minister considers appropriate to prevent or remedy any breach, arising from withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU, of the international obligations of the United Kingdom; and(c) under section 9, regulations which make such provision as the Minister considers appropriate for the purposes of implementing the withdrawal agreement if the Minister considers that such provision should be in force on or before exit day;“exit day” has the same meaning as in section 14 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.””
My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the Hansard Society, whose work on delegated legislation will be known to many noble Lords. I will be brief in dealing with what is essentially a simple procedural proposal.
The issue is delegated legislation. This has already been the focus of a lot of debate, much of which has consisted of expressions of anxiety about the likely number of instruments; about the range of the powers that they confer; about timing; and about Parliament’s ability to conduct proper scrutiny. There are varying estimates of the number of SIs that the Bill will produce. The noble Lord, Lord Callanan, said in his letter of 20 February that it will be between 800 and 1,000. Our own EU Justice Sub-Committee thinks it may be 5,000, as the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, noted on Monday. What is clear is that the number will be very large. The noble Lord, Lord Callanan, estimates that 20% to 30% of those SIs will trigger the affirmative procedure. That estimate is no doubt based on the rules for categorisation set out in the Bill, and will certainly prove to be an underestimate once the sifting committees get to work.
As has been noted, the SIs will give the Government an extraordinary and quite unprecedented range of powers. They will enable the creation of criminal offences without primary legislation, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, has explained to us; they will allow law-making by tertiary legislation; and they will allow Ministers and, apparently, 109 others largely unfettered discretion to range across the statute book. All this presents a formidable challenge to Parliament when it comes to effective scrutiny. The Government seem to recognise—a bit—that the situation is unprecedented and requires special care. They have written some constraints into the SI-generating clauses, but not enough and not wide enough. These constraints do not, in any case, address the problem of sufficient and effective scrutiny.
We will come to proposals for dealing with the scrutiny problem when we reach the group beginning with Amendment 237 on Monday. These amendments will enable the House to debate how it might adapt our current SI scrutiny system so that we may deal effectively with the avalanche of SIs coming our way. There are at least three schemes for us to consider. But whatever system of scrutiny the House finally settles on, it should apply to all SIs generated by this Bill. The same system, whatever it turns out to be, should also apply to all other SIs, whatever their parent Act, if they are to be used for the purposes of maintaining a coherent and functioning statute book on withdrawal from the EU. It would be quite wrong, for example, to have a rigorous system of scrutiny of SIs generated by this Bill and a less rigorous system for SIs used for withdrawal purposes generated by existing Acts.
This is not a theoretical concern. We know that the Government intend to use SIs generated by existing Acts when they consider that to be appropriate, or perhaps even necessary. The Solicitor-General made it clear in his speech on day 2 of Committee in the House of Commons that that is what the Government would do. In response to that, Amendment 200 sets out to create a common minimum standard of scrutiny. It simply requires that, no matter their provenance, all SIs with the same withdrawal purposes should be subject to the scrutiny procedures we finally agree on SIs generated by this Bill. It does this by making the appropriate amendment to the Statutory Instruments Act 1946, and by specifying in language taken directly from this Bill what “withdrawal purposes” means.
In a brief conversation about this amendment with the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, and his officials, they reminded me that this amendment could not bind future Acts. That had occurred to us. Any future Act could, of course, write its own rules for withdrawal SI scrutiny, or indeed for anything else. But, if that happened, the Government would have to explain to Parliament why one type of scrutiny was appropriate for SIs generated by the withdrawal Bill, with another for SIs with the same purpose generated by subsequent Bills. We should have one minimum standard of scrutiny for any withdrawal-purposed SI, and this amendment is aimed at doing exactly that. Whatever scrutiny standards we eventually adopt for SIs arising out of this Bill, they should be the minimum standard applying across all similarly purposed SIs, wherever they come from, and whatever their parent Act. I beg to move.
There is a good deal to be said for the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, when one bears in mind the power given in each of Clauses 7, 8 and 9 to make any provision that could be made by an Act of Parliament under regulations made under these clauses. Of course, one can look back to an existing Act, which could be amended by the exercise of this power, for a purpose related to the Brexit arrangements. If one takes an existing Act—one can visualise all sorts of situations when that might arise—it would seem right that the same procedure should apply if the amendment is made for the purposes which one sees in Clauses 7, 8 and 9.
For future Acts I can see there is a problem, because one cannot control a future Parliament, but as far as the past is concerned I respectfully suggest that there is a lot to be said for the amendment.
My Lords, I am sorry I missed the beginning of the speech of my noble friend Lord Sharkey as a result of unaccustomed speed breaking out on the Bill’s proceedings while I was having a cup of tea. Whether this will be repeated, I do not know.
I had discussions before with my noble friend to properly understand his amendment and its main aim, which is to embrace, within scrutiny procedures used for withdrawal Bill statutory instruments, all those statutory instruments for the same purpose that derive from other previous statutes. That is an interesting idea. When it comes to referring back to the Statutory Instruments Act 1946, it is worth recalling that the Act was surrounded by generous commitments, promises that prayers against negative instruments would always have time for debate on the Floor of the House and all sorts of undertakings that were completely unfulfilled in practice.
Whether the amendment can be made to work in precisely this form I am not quite sure, but I think that the purpose of ensuring that nothing is slipped through by anything less than at least the procedure of triage and scrutiny that we seek for statutory instruments under this Bill—if it becomes an Act—is extended to anything that does the same thing. We certainly would not want to create a perverse incentive for a Government to use the wrong legislation, or a different piece of legislation, for the statutory instrument simply because they could evade a form of scrutiny by doing so.
My Lords, for the reasons that have already been given, I also support this amendment.
My Lords, that was even shorter than my speech. The Government have to accept that they have to come to some sort of accommodation on statutory instruments. We all know that a lot of them will be required, and we have got to have a good system that satisfies everybody, both in this and the other House. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, sensibly makes that task simpler by making it uniform across the Bill. I am very persuaded by his argument and that of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and I hope that the Government are as well.
My Lords, I first thank the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, for tabling this amendment so that we can have a discussion about this and for the extremely courteous discussion that he had on this matter with me and my officials.
Many of us here today are opposed, in general, to making sweeping fixes to the whole statute book through one Act. Indeed, that is the cause of many of the concerns about the powers in this Bill, and an issue that the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, addresses with his amendment. I am therefore wary of inadvertently undermining the delicate and proportionate balances struck within other Acts between haste and scrutiny. The need to deal with the detail of how the Acts differ from one another is, however, what makes these Henry VIII powers necessary.
Nothing in this Bill directly changes the scope or functioning of other delegated powers. The exceptions that this Bill provides are that, within the context of and with the scrutiny attached to the original powers, they can be used to amend retained direct EU law. The Bill also clarifies that it lifts any implied EU-related restrictions from exit day, a necessary consequential step to our leaving the EU’s legal architecture. It is right and proper that, within their context and limits, other powers can be used for the same purposes as Clauses 7, 8 and 9. This amendment, if it is broadly constructed by the courts, could render moot any debate that this House has had or is having on scrutiny provisions in other Bills. This also extends to exit-related Bills and, in this field alone, this could catch the trade, sanctions and customs Bill.
It is I think best to let the sleeping dogs of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde lie, so I shall skate over the very concerning question of how financial privilege would apply under this amendment to the powers to correct deficiencies in the customs Bill.
I call noble Lords’ attention back to the crucial importance of the ability to exercise the powers in the sanctions Bill at speed and the additional information requirements added to that Bill. Even if parallel changes were to be made to this Bill, these would be tailored to the specifics of this Bill.
I stress the Government’s commitment to proper scrutiny of the powers under this Bill; they are a unique, time-limited solution to a unique problem. None of this, however, should be a reason to render irrelevant any specificities of scrutiny that this House has insisted on in other Acts. I therefore urge the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
As I listened to the noble Lord, I could not help thinking that we were talking entirely at cross purposes. The House has yet to decide on exactly what method of scrutiny we shall use and how we will amend existing methods—if we do at all—when we consider this Bill. That is not the issue for this evening; that is for Monday’s discussions.
This amendment simply says that whatever we decide is the appropriate method of scrutiny, all other SIs, no matter where they come from, should be subject to the same level and procedure of scrutiny. That is all it does. It does not interfere with anything else, or any workings of the parent Act, apart from the scrutiny procedure itself. It leaves the parent Act entirely untouched in every possible sense. The Minister is greatly overcomplicating what the situation will be. I accept that there may be cases with other Acts where the Government prefer not to have more rigorous scrutiny applied to the SIs generated by those Acts, but that is part of the point of tabling the amendment in the first place. I will withdraw it now, especially at this time of night, but I suspect we will return to this subject on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 200 withdrawn.
Amendments 201 to 203 not moved.
204: After Clause 9, insert the following new Clause—
“Rights and opportunities of young people
It is an objective of the Government, in negotiating a withdrawal agreement, to ensure that the rights and opportunities of British citizens aged under 25 and resident in the United Kingdom are maintained on existing terms including—(a) retaining the ability to work and travel visa-free in the EU, and(b) retaining the ability to study in other EU member States, including through participation in the Erasmus+ programme on existing terms.”
My Lords, Amendment 204 seeks to maintain the rights of, and opportunities for, young people to continue to travel, work and study within Europe, and to ensure that those rights are not diminished. I am grateful for the support of the noble Baronesses, Lady Royall of Blaisdon and Lady Humphreys, and the noble Lord, Lord Judd. One of the reasons I tabled this amendment is that so little has been said about the effect of Brexit on young people’s opportunities, either by the Government or in debate. Young people are the future of this country, yet their future is being almost entirely ignored.
My fear is that, far from the country getting a deal that includes young people, they will become the collateral damage of a hard Brexit, because it is they who will be affected by Brexit more than anyone else. There are various reasons for this, and I will come on to why I believe this is the case. At present we are all treated equally within the EU, young people included. The right to free movement is entirely democratic—but the introduction of any kind of visa system or work permits will change this, as a visa system is by definition a class system. Celebrities, the rich and the lucky will be waved through airports, and established professionals will have a harder time of it, but those at the bottom of the pile will be the young, who are starting out on their careers and who wish to explore other countries and cultures and expand their horizons through work and/or study abroad—the very people for whom free movement within Europe means the most. This includes young people from poorer backgrounds, for whom a flight within Europe is more realistic than one further afield. Those who voted leave surely did not do so to create new hierarchies, new elites.
Some people have expressed the view in this House that things will not be so bad, and that we are worrying about this too much, unless someone is going to work in Europe. However, we cannot take work out of the equation. For many young people, travel and work are inextricably bound up. They are part of the same thing—that experience of exploring their own continent. This is true for the working class and the less well-off, who may need to find work out there to pay for their stay. Thousands of Britons work across Europe in all kinds of temporary jobs—as couriers, doing maintenance work, as waiters, working in bars and much else—in addition, of course, to the permanent jobs young people may be offered, very possibly as the result of an extended stay.
If young people lose these rights, not only will they lose this essential flexibility of travel, they will also be subjected to a double whammy, because every young person who is a citizen of any EEA country, as they will retain these rights and opportunities to a considerable extent, will have an immediate and substantial advantage over young British people in obtaining work abroad, whether permanent or temporary. I have heard recently of someone whose parents we know: a working-class 20 year-old boy who has been told not even to bother to apply for a job in in the kitchens of a top hotel in Paris, because of the uncertainties of Brexit. The effect of Brexit on young people is already happening.
As I have said, it is not true that only the young middle classes make use of the EU. It is worth reiterating the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Brown of Cambridge, in Committee on 26 February, about our relative lack of international student mobility within Europe, particularly among young people from less advantaged groups. But if we start to shut down all opportunities for everyone, including Erasmus+, young people from less privileged backgrounds will again be hurt most, and most immediately, as it will become more difficult for them in particular to take advantage of a system with more restrictions, increased costs and greater bureaucracy in both work and study opportunities, if those opportunities even exist then. We must surely make greater headway in the other direction. I will not say very much about Erasmus+ as we have had a very full debate on this topic. However, in our debate on Erasmus+ in Committee, the Minister said he would reflect on what was said. Has he been able to reflect on that further in the last couple of weeks?
The goal of intercultural skills, which Erasmus+ holds dear, is surely an effect, at its best, of not just study but travel and work abroad as well, with the contact that young people make with others. This is hugely important culturally and has, of course, educational and commercial implications in the exchange of ideas as young people bring those experiences back from Europe. Encouraging young people to go abroad in Europe is good for the country.
Finally, it is worth reminding ourselves that the Ipsos MORI analysis of the results of the referendum estimated that for 18 to 34 year-olds the remain vote beat the leave vote significantly in every class of society. It seems clear that most young people from whatever class feel European in a way that many older people do not. This is not then just about being young and wishing to explore beyond one’s own country; it is a break between generations and, in that sense alone, to deny these rights is culturally a huge backward step.
This amendment sets down the red lines that many young people would not want to see crossed, and I hope the Government will accept it. I beg to move.
My Lords, I warmly endorse this amendment to which I have put my name. The feeling of dismay and disappointment among young people is hard to overestimate and has been put to me very forcefully. The Government keep saying that we are going to be an international nation whatever happens on Brexit, and that they put our international participation at the forefront of their considerations. It seems to me a very strange way to start if we in any way foreshorten the much appreciated opportunity to enjoy travel, study and the rest abroad, and to bring that experience back to Britain.
My Lords, I support this amendment. My eldest grandson is about to leave university. He is incandescent with anger that he is about to be deprived of the right to look for a job anywhere across Europe when he leaves university. He is typical of a large number of young people coming out of university, colleges of further education and school who want the opportunity to travel, and, as my noble friend Lord Clancarty has suggested, the opportunity to do something outside their own country, to move away. However, that is something they are in real danger of losing with this change that we are about to have. The Government must really listen to these young people.
My Lords, I regret to say that I shall introduce a bit of controversy into the proceedings at 22.38 in the evening. It is insulting to suggest that those of us who believe that our future will be better outside the European Union—at 66, I’m all right, Jack; I think about the young, not myself—wish to curtail the rights of young people. I say to the noble Earl that I am European and I feel European; I just do not wish to be part of the European Union.
Let us look at this issue in detail rather than at what the noble Earl has said. We all agree that everybody should have opportunities to go to Europe and elsewhere. I have a niece studying in Canada, which is not, as far as I am aware, a part of the European Union. I have another niece studying in Australia, which is not, as far as I am aware, a part of the European Union. I understand that the Erasmus programme covers a great many countries that are not in the European Union, so it has absolutely nothing to do with the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. The noble Earl is only a year younger than me; I have just looked that up. Surely he remembers that people were able to study in Europe before we were in the European Union. They did, and people from Europe came and studied with me at university. There was no bar. The only bar that the noble Earl talks about is the situation he mentioned of somebody in Paris stopping somebody else from going to work in Paris. It is not up to us; it is up to them.
Why does the noble Lord think, then, that young people are so overwhelmingly in favour of staying in the European Union?
Because they are by nature conservative, of course, and that is what it was: no change, like the noble Lord.
How can we not diminish, as the amendment says, the rights of young people to study in Europe? We want them to go and study. It is up to our friends, neighbours and allies in Europe to let them come, as we will let their people come to our country—not least, it has to be said, because foreign students pay a lot of fees to our universities. I am not going to detain the House for the half hour that I probably have in me, but I think that this amendment makes those of us who do not agree with it feel pretty insulted by the suggestion that we wish to curtail the rights of our children and grandchildren.
The referendum was won on the basis of controlling immigration by using posters that had 5 million Turks about to enter Britain. People who support Brexit have the gall to say that we are all in favour of people coming to Britain. That is the basis on which the referendum was won. Brexit is withdrawing the fundamental rights of EU citizenship, rights which are in the treaties. We have these rights because we are a member of the European Union. It is the treaties that give young people the right to work, study and travel without let or hindrance anywhere within the European Union. People on the Benches opposite are responsible for taking those rights away.
I support this amendment in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, to which I have added my name. I thank the noble Earl for tabling such an important amendment and introducing it in such a clear and precise manner.
History is littered with battles to achieve basic rights, and each hard-earned right is seen as an advancement—a sign of progress and enlightenment—as we move forward as civilised nations. Attempts to rescind our rights would and should be met with outrage, and no self-respecting Government would normally attempt such a backward step. So it is in the case of EU citizenship. UK citizens have had, since 1993, the same rights, freedoms and legal protections as every citizen of the EU and, although these are rights that have been bestowed upon us, they are rights that very many of us have embraced and valued. It seems unthinkable that the Government, egged on by the 37% of our population who voted to leave, are happy to see those rights removed.
It is those of us who remain living in the UK who will lose the most. We will lose all the rights that we have held as EU citizens, and it is young people who will feel that loss more than any other group. For those under 25, their EU citizenship is a birthright: they have known nothing else. Many young people in Wales consider themselves to be Welsh, British and European and wear those three identities comfortably, as do their English, Scottish and Irish counterparts. They have embraced the rights to live, work and love in the EU. They have grabbed the opportunity to obtain an international education and have studied at universities throughout the EU, advancing their language skills to enable them to work in an international sphere, and they have travelled freely throughout the Union. These young people voted far more strongly against Brexit than their older counterparts and they are the people who will have to live with the consequences of the votes of the older generation.
It is thought that 74% of under-25s voted to remain, but when will the Government acknowledge how strongly they feel? When will they listen to the voices of the young?
Of course, young people could, like me, examine ways of retaining their EU citizenship. How much easier it all would have been if my great-grandparents had stayed in Donaghadee a little while longer, until my grandfather had been born there, paving the way for me to apply for Irish citizenship. Like me, young people might rule out other possible qualifying conditions: a marriage to an EU citizen from another member state, setting up a business under Estonia’s e-residency programme, or paying out £2 million to Cyprus to become a Cypriot citizen—and therefore an EU citizen—without actually having to live there. A period of study in another EU country might do the trick, but that becomes more difficult without Erasmus. The EU has suggested the introduction of associate membership, perhaps at a cost, for those who want it. What is the Government’s response to that?
It is heartwarming to see, however, that young people are now taking their future into their own hands, and I am pleased to see the establishment of a group called Our Future, Our Choice, which describes itself as,
“a group of angry, determined young people who think Brexit is a disaster and should be stopped”.
This group speaks to and for those under 45.
Does the noble Baroness think that the same people who formed this group were the same angry people who painted obscenities in Whitehall—about something they wished to do to Clegg—in 2010, against the Liberal Democrats?
I do not think so, because this new group has just been formed in the last couple of months or perhaps a little longer.
This group bypasses traditional media outlets because they know that these are increasingly irrelevant to young people, who only access the news items that interest them via social media. Their media posting today uses cartoons to combine a serious message with humour and it is aimed at the Labour leader this time. Entitled “Dear Jeremy Corbyn”, it reminds him that “the young people have supported you, they need you to support them”. This non-politically aligned group has realised that the co-operation of all people who hold the same opinions as they do is essential.
As ever, matters to do with the European Union come down to the personal and emotional. For the last 25 years, I and my compatriots have been proud to call ourselves Welsh, British and European. Our EU citizenship has given us the right to travel unhindered throughout Europe and has seen us accepted in every European country we visited. In Europe, we are citizens of everywhere, and we resent the fact that this right is being taken away from us and that future generations will not have the benefits of EU citizenship that we have enjoyed.
My Lords, the noble Lord should be rather careful about drawing comparisons between the EU as a place to travel and to work in, and Australia and Canada. My son studied in Canada, where there is a strict visa system for students: you have to leave as soon as you have finished your course, and he had to be very careful to get himself out of the country before his permission ran out. You need a visa even to visit Australia, and I suspect that it also has rules for visas if you have to work there. Of course people go there, and that visa system is comparatively relaxed, but it is not the same as the freedom we have in the EU.
My Lords, if I may take over from where the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, left off, of course even the access we have to Australia is hugely facilitated by the fact that it is a former colony which has the same language and so many practices which are familiar to Brits, and is therefore a comparatively easy and familiar place to travel. It does not at all make the argument that somehow divorcing ourselves from the continent will enlarge opportunities for young people. However, I am a natural optimist—indeed, one could hardly be otherwise in the hours we are all investing in seeking to improve the Bill. Some good things are coming out of the Brexit process; actually, the whole thing might stop as a result of them.
The noble Baroness is completely right that one thing that is happening is the massive engagement by young people in politics and the political process. That did not take place before. We had all bought into the idea that the young were not voting or taking an interest in the future, and that politics was decided by the elderly. We had the triple lock on pensions at the same time as we were trebling tuition fees. Those two policies, more than anything else, symbolise the political centre of gravity in the last 10 years—students were expected to pay more and more of the burden of university education while the retired got a better and better deal. That is all changing now. The young are voting and are engaged as never before. They voted in the last general election in numbers which we have not seen for a generation. It is very clear to me that if we move, as I think is increasingly likely, towards a referendum on the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal, then either in that referendum or whenever a general election comes we will see very high levels of engagement by the young. I think it is now very likely that that will include votes for 16 and 17 year-olds—there is probably a majority in the House of Commons for that now. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, who is a natural conservative, will be fiercely opposed to that.
The noble Lord has tempted me. As it happens, I am. So is my 18 year-old daughter. She has just turned 18 and says it would have been absurd to give her a vote at 16 or 17 when she did not know anything about things.
If knowing anything about issues was a criteria for voting, we would need the noble Lord sitting in the judgment of Solomon over every member of the electorate to decide whether they qualified for the franchise. Being a conservative, he would probably approve of that, but we tend to have more objective criteria.
What we need in this country is to get young people more systematically engaged. A number of members of the noble Lord’s party in the House of Commons, including two former Secretaries of State for Education, are now in favour of votes for 16 and 17 year-olds, and there appears to be a majority in the House of Commons. I very much hope—and this could be the ultimate irony of Brexit—that the first time that 16 and 17 year-olds get to vote in a poll in this country is in a Brexit referendum held early next year, where they make the decisive difference in the decision this country will take to stay in the European Union. If so, the noble Earl’s great ambitions may be realised to an even greater and more positive extent than he may realise.
My Lords, I should welcome the long-term political suicide of the party opposite in its failure to embrace the wishes and ambitions of young people, but the tragedy is that those young people will be most affected by its approach to Europe and to Brexit. This approach seems to be driven by some wistful look back at this country’s imperial past. It is interesting that the noble Lord referred to Australia and Canada, because that seems to be the basis of the party opposite’s approach to negotiations—we will pass up the market that is on our doorstep for the sake of some ludicrous imperialistic notion. How many times do we hear members of the party opposite refer to Australia, New Zealand and Canada in the media when push comes to shove as to where they are going to get these mystical trade agreements?
Much as I like all three countries that the noble Lord just referred to, the facts are that I have a niece studying in Australia and another in Canada. Sadly, I have none studying in France or Germany at the moment.
My Lords, I rejoice in the success of the noble Lord’s family, though I do not think it takes away the point.
It takes away the noble Lord’s point.
I do not think so. The point I am making is that the party opposite’s visceral hatred of the EU and its obsession with past glories is taking us down a path which will have a hugely negative impact on many young people.
The noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, moved this amendment to see whether the Minister has been able to reflect on our earlier debate. Perhaps I may take him back to the debate about the Erasmus programme on 26 February. The Minister may well recollect that he made some encouraging noises about the value that the Government place on that programme. He then went on to say that,
“no decisions have yet been made about post-2020 programme participation as the scope of that programme has not been agreed”.—[Official Report, 26/2/18; col. 478.]
If only the Minister would go a little further and say that it is the Government’s intention that this country will participate in the post-2020 Erasmus programme, that would give some grounds for optimism among young people who need to make a decision very soon about applying for the programme because it will take them past 2020. He would do them a great favour were he to do so.
My Lords, in addressing Amendment 204 moved by the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, at the risk of repeating myself I remind the Committee yet again that the purpose of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is to provide a functioning statute book on the day we leave the EU, whatever the outcome of the negotiations. It is our intention that the planned withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill will implement the major elements of the withdrawal agreement, including giving effect to the agreement on citizens’ rights.
The amendment appears to seek to make it an objective of the Government to achieve a particular outcome in the negotiations on our future relationship with the EU and so to tie the Government’s hands on these issues. The amendment is focused on the withdrawal agreement, but these matters are for the future relationship with the EU, which this Bill does not seek to address.
After we leave the European Union, there will continue to be migration and mobility between the EU and the UK. We have proposed a time-limited implementation period based on the current structure of rules and regulations. This means that UK nationals may continue to have the same rights as EU nationals, such as the right to move and reside freely.
Looking to the future, UK citizens will still want to work and study in EU countries, just as EU citizens will want to do here, helping to shape and drive growth, innovation and enterprise. Indeed, businesses across the EU and the UK must be able to attract and employ the people they need. That is why, in our science and innovation policy paper published in September, we said that we will discuss with the EU future arrangements to facilitate the mobility of researchers, academics and students engaged in cross-border collaboration. We are open to discussing how to facilitate these valuable links.
Of course, we recognise the value of international exchange and collaboration, through both study and work placements abroad, in increasing people’s language skills and cultural awareness as part of our vision for the UK as a global nation. We will continue to take part in those specific policies and programmes which are greatly to the joint advantage of the UK and the EU, such as those that promote science, education and culture.
I repeat for the benefit of the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, what I said in the debate on Erasmus, although I forget exactly when it was—sometime in the past. No decisions on UK participation in the successor Erasmus+ programme after 2020 have yet been taken for the simple reason that the scope of the future programme has not yet been agreed. The noble Lord is asking me to give him an assurance that we will take part in a programme about whose composition we have no idea. No Government could agree to do that. We will take a decision when we see what the successor programme is. UK participation will form part of the negotiations about our future relationship with the EU. There may be some specific European programmes that we want to continue to participate in as we leave the EU, and that will be considered as part of the negotiations.
Whatever the outcome of those negotiations, including the increasingly unlikely scenario in which we leave the EU without a deal—
If the noble Lord will forgive me, will the Government continue to take into account the importance of young people’s desire to be able to work freely and move freely through Europe?
Of course we will take into account the wishes of young people to move freely, just as we will take into account the wishes of older people to move freely.
We will underwrite successful bids for Erasmus+ submitted while the UK is still a member state, even if payments continue beyond the point of exit. Therefore, applications for funding from UK institutions should continue, and are continuing, as normal.
The noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, asked me again, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, has done in the past, about the issue of associate EU citizenships. Let me make the point to the Liberal Democrats once again—it seems to have difficulty permeating through to them—that the 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.
For those reasons, I hope the noble Earl will withdraw his amendment.
I thank the Minister for that reply, which I interpret to mean he is still reflecting. This has been a good debate, even at this late hour, and I am grateful to everyone who has participated and for the support the amendment has found. Yes, some young people travelled and studied abroad before we joined the EU, but they were mostly people who could afford to do so. Restrictions put people off. If we shut our young people, our students, out of our own continent, this is not global Britain but parochial Britain.
As it is getting late, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 204 withdrawn.
Amendments 205 to 207 not moved.
208: After Clause 9, insert the following new Clause—
“Maintenance of refugee family reunion rights within Europe
(1) A Minister of the Crown must make appropriate arrangements with the aim of preserving specified effects in the United Kingdom of Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013 (the “Dublin Regulation”), including through negotiation with the EU.(2) “Specified effects” under subsection (1) are those provisions, and associated rights and obligations, that allow for unaccompanied minors and adults to join a family member in the United Kingdom before making an application for asylum. (3) Within six months of the passing of this Act, and then every six months thereafter, a Minister of the Crown must report to Parliament on progress made in negotiations to secure the continuation of reciprocal arrangements between the United Kingdom and member States as they relate to subsection (1).”
My Lords, there are at present two legal paths for unaccompanied child refugees in Europe to come to this country. Clearly there are people traffickers who exploit the situation reprehensibly but that is for another day.
One legal path is under Section 67 of the Immigration Act, an amendment I moved that was passed by this House, accepted by the Government and became part of the Act. The other legal path is what we have called for short Dublin III. That is, under an EU-wide treaty it has been possible for unaccompanied children in one EU country to join relatives in another. For example, a Syrian boy in France could join an uncle in Stockholm. This amendment seeks the continuation of the rights and entitlements that at the moment come under Dublin III.
Under the existing paths that I have mentioned, we have to date, under Section 67, let some 250 unaccompanied children into this country. The Government say that they will put a stop to it when the figure reaches 480. However, that is a subject for debate on another day. Under the Dublin III provisions, something like 800 unaccompanied child refugees have arrived in this country, mainly over the past two years. The majority have come from France, mainly from the Calais area, but not exclusively so.
The numbers in Europe continue to increase. At the moment it is estimated that over 3,000 unaccompanied children are registered in Greece, a third of whom are in shelters. That means that at least 2,000 children, mainly on the islands, are sleeping rough without any proper accommodation or facilities. Secondly, although the Jungle in northern France has been removed, some of the young people who were there before have worked their way back to northern France and several hundred are sleeping in the woods, under the trees, near where the Jungle used to be, in difficult conditions. Quite a few are scattered around Italy as well.
The amendments seek to ensure that Brexit does not result in the closing down of that safe and legal route for unaccompanied children, and some adults, to seek asylum in this country by joining their families. It is simply a matter of keeping the existing methods going. It is not a big thing to ask and it is fairly straightforward. The Government have hinted that they might consider this but we want that hint to become clear.
The Dublin III provisions allow family members and dependants to join family in Britain. Some of those dependants might be, for example, spouses who became separated in the course of their journey and want to join their partner, if that is appropriate, in this country or another EU country. However, much of the argument has been about unaccompanied children; that is, those under the age of 18. By having this significant and legal route, we have provided safety. As I say, quite a lot of Dublin III-eligible children are waiting to be able to come to this country, but the concern is that that might be stopped as a result of Brexit.
Something quite good happened when in January this year the Prime Minister met President Macron of France. Although the policy did not change, there has been an impetus to speed up the process. We have been told that that is the result of the Sandhurst treaty or meeting, and I hope that impetus will continue, but I have not seen many signs of it; things are moving rather slowly.
In moving this amendment, I have been careful, with the help of friends and NGOs, to ensure that we are asking for something pretty straightforward. We are asking that this issue should be negotiated. Clearly, for the Dublin III provisions to work, bilateral arrangements are required between us and the country from which many of these young people come. If we do it unilaterally, there will be no obligation on, say, the French authorities to verify who is eligible under the Dublin III provisions, so it has to be done on a reciprocal basis. It is something that has to be negotiated, which is why it is appropriate for it to form part of this Bill.
All we are asking for is that the process should be negotiated, with a commitment on the part of the Government to do so. That is perfectly reasonable. It is a matter of continuing the process that we have already and of giving some rights, particularly to the young people who come here, while of course the rights of young people in other European countries will continue as before. It is a fairly reasonable proposition and I hope the Government will be sympathetic to it. I beg to move.
Amendment 208A (to Amendment 208)
208A: After Clause 9, in subsection (2), leave out “before making an application for asylum”
My Lords, I should explain that this amendment to my Amendment 208 is a technicality. I have been told that there is a slight flaw in the original amendment, so I have deleted four words. I have decided that this is the way it should be done. I beg to move.
My Lords, I rise to support the amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Dubs, the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. These are important amendments that, frankly, should not be left to be considered at the fag end of a long day. I hope that when we come to the Report stage of the Bill, they will be debated in a rather fuller House than is the case this evening.
In essence, as my noble friend Lord Dubs has said, the amendments seek to preserve the position established by him during the discussions on the last Immigration Act and as a product of Dublin III. Since 2015, some 811 unaccompanied children have been successfully reunited with family in Britain under the Dublin III arrangements, while a further 250 have been transferred under Section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016. These are not big numbers and it frankly shames our country that we have failed to provide help and support for children fleeing war zones and civil war, but at least they represent a level of intervention that we can recognise as the beginning of a humanitarian programme of aid and support. It would be my wish to see our country go further.
In 2015, more than 1 million people arrived in Europe seeking refuge. It is estimated that 90,000 of them were unaccompanied children. The fact that we have taken just over 1,000 I find frankly lamentable. However, I recognise that we need to be realistic in the current situation and those of us committed to helping refugees, particularly child refugees, want at least to ensure that in a post-Brexit Britain we keep alive the important gains we have made to date. As my noble friend Lord Dubs has argued, these amendments go no further than ensuring that the UK Government do not close down safe and legal routes for unaccompanied children and adults seeking asylum to join family and receive protection.
I am not as experienced in arguing the case for refugees as my noble friend Lord Dubs, but I have had some personal experience of dealing with the fallout for refugees through the Refugees at Home charity, which seeks to place refugees with families. For some six months, my wife and I had a young woman called Riam staying with us while she sorted out her asylum status and began to rebuild her life. In talking to her extensively during that time, I gained a picture of how it must feel for many thousands of refugees across Europe who need help and support. Her family were originally from Aleppo. They fled the violence and moved to a city that they thought was safer. She, her sister and her brother eventually escaped the Syrian conflict, leaving her mother and father behind. Now, the family communicate by phone and, occasionally, by Skype. Her brother and sister are in different cities in different European states. This family faces the prospect of never being able to see each other again and enjoying the normal things that families do.
I know that Riam worries endlessly about her parents’ welfare. She once told me that ISIS—and loyal and rebel forces—had made it to the outskirts of her parents’ city and were engaged in fighting. She was terrified by that prospect. I cannot imagine how she must feel daily: estranged, thousands of miles away from her family, who are scattered across Europe and the Middle East, with a sense of loss and not belonging always present in her mind. She is a gifted woman with most of her life ahead of her; she now works here in the UK.
If these amendments are agreed—as they should be, given previous amendments—we can at least make a contribution to helping some of the most vulnerable young people in Europe with a safe passage and some optimism. For the longer term, we need an EU-wide agreement that ensures we shoulder a fair share of the international refugee crisis. My fear is that post-Brexit Britain will turn its back on an issue where we need common and binding institutions to bring countries together to help. I want to hear from the Minister that we will at least retain a common commitment, and I want some reassurances that we will work together across the EU 27—whatever the outcome of the negotiations—to secure fair and humanitarian outcomes in the future, especially for young people and vulnerable refugees. It gives me great pleasure to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and I hope that this House will eventually agree to it at a later stage.
My Lords, I support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. My purpose in adding my name to it is quite simple. If Brexit happens, I want to preserve one of the few safe and legal routes open to unaccompanied children seeking asylum.
Although the Jungle camp in Calais was demolished in October 2016, thousands of asylum seekers remain destitute in France and other parts of Europe. Many children are among them. Dublin III presents a safe and legal route through which a process can be put in place that will allow them to be reunited with parents, uncles, aunts, siblings or grandparents who, in some cases, may themselves be seeking asylum. That is the crux of the matter: it does not take a psychologist to tell us that the separation of children from their families has a detrimental impact on their emotional well-being and physical and moral development. If Dublin III were not to be transferred into UK law post Brexit, an orphan in Europe could no longer be reunited with other close members of his or her family.
A week and a half ago, I was back in Calais to catch up with developments there and lend support to the work that Help Refugees does there. The young volunteers there—many of them British—were working flat out during the bitterly cold spell we have recently experienced. Many of the asylum seekers there are still trying to cross the border illegally, which often means taking their life in their hands. Five children have died over the last two years in the attempt, but for some, there is the hope that legal help provided by organisations such as Safe Passage will secure for them a safe and legal route to the UK so that they can be reunited with a family member or relative here. Without a functioning equivalent of Dublin III, children will continue to congregate in Calais, taking desperate and life-threatening steps to reach their families. I hope that, as a nation open and welcoming to refugees in the past and with a proud history of doing so, we can continue doing it and keep our heads held high on the global stage.
My Lords, I have added my name to this amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, spoke powerfully about a particular girl from Syria but she is typical of children across Europe. I went to Calais in May with Fiona Mactaggart, then an MP, and we wrote a report about the situation in Calais and Dunkirk, but it is also true in Italy and in Greece. Of those children who have come across Europe without their families, there is a group who have rights under EU law. Those are the children who can apply under what is known as Dublin III. This amendment asks that the relatively small number of children who have actually succeeded in coming to this country should not be cut off when Brexit occurs. I accept Brexit, but what I ask, along with fellow Members who have put their names to this amendment, is that the Minister who answers on behalf of the Government recognises that Brexit should not prevent the existing rights of children. It is not just a moral issue; it is a legal issue: they currently have rights and it would in my view be shocking if those rights were got rid of because we leave the EU.
My Lords, at this very late hour I say that I agree with everything that other noble Lords have said and add that our record has not been what it should be in implementing our obligations regarding this most deserving of humanitarian problems. We should improve it, not curtail it, so I support these very moderate amendments.
My Lords, I rise to speak to this amendment, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. Our exit from the European Union presents us with a unique opportunity to define, in our own terms, the country we want to be. This nation is and always has been generous and open-minded towards refugees and has offered a home in times of trouble. From the Huguenots to the Belgians and Jewish refugees, we have a strong tradition of welcoming those who seek shelter. As a child, I can remember my own mother working as a nurse to welcome the Ugandan Asian refugees, and then later the Vietnamese boat people. This seemed only natural to me, given that my own father had been evacuated as a child to Canada during the war. This tradition is something which I hope, regardless of one’s views on Brexit or the European Union, we can all agree on.
In the period January 2016 to September 2017, the UK welcomed a total of 9,897 refugees, approximately half of whom were female and half were children. We can and we should do more, and we should seek to keep open and available every channel by which people are able to safely seek asylum. Dublin III is one of the ways in which respect for family life and unaccompanied minors’ best interests are kept at the heart of the asylum process. For some 300,000 unaccompanied child refugees, the risks of trafficking and forced prostitution or forced labour are extremely high. We know that in the Mediterranean, more than 75% of the 1,600 14 to 16 year-olds arriving in Italy reported being held against their will or forced to work. This staggering statistic is absolutely why we should be working to ensure that there are accessible, legal routes such as Dublin III, which allow children to apply for asylum safely from the country they are in, and not be forced to take dangerous journeys to join their families.
For children and adults fleeing conflict, the best place for them to be is with family members. This offers the best possible chance for them to thrive and rebuild their lives post trauma. The co-operation that Dublin III offers aids this but, as we all know, the Dublin conventions are only a small part of the story, and while the co-operation should remain, it is one strand of a much wider issue.
From the Calais operation, just 29 of the 769 children who were transferred to the UK came from the Dublin regulation route, and in 2016 just 355 people were transferred under this route. To date, the UK has taken in 10,538 refugees from Syria—just over half of the number we committed to resettle by 2020. We have so far welcomed around 220 children under Section 67 of the Immigration Act, which my noble friend Lord Dubs fought so hard to obtain: less than 1/10th of the original number committed to. Going forward, is this the sort of country we want to be?
Brexit is an opportunity to re-evaluate our priorities as a country and refocus on the country we want to be. Being an open nation with a generous welcome for those in need of our shelter should be a key part of that. I understand the limitations of Dublin III. But I call on my noble friend the Minister to clarify and confirm in this Committee that, post March 2019, the Government’s new and independent approach to refugees would guarantee that those who benefited under the old system would still benefit under the new, and that no restriction would be put in place preventing those in need from being reunited with their families.
My Lords, I would like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, for that speech—not just for the speech but because it was the voice of compassionate, socially engaged conservatism, which I have always respected. May that tradition in the Conservative Party reassert itself. It is desperately needed at this juncture in our history. What the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, said about the legal situation was also a powerful argument, which the Government must answer. Are we going to strip what have been legal rights away?
In the context of this Bill, we debate from time to time what sort of Britain we want to be, and the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, was absolutely right. I share completely her view about the sort of Britain we should be. I want us to be a Britain in which the world sees “Compassion” in capital letters in all our approach to public affairs. We seem to have lost that and I want to see it reasserted. I thank my noble friend Lord Dubs for having moved this amendment. His consistent and tireless work on this issue challenges us all. If we talk about family and its importance in society, this is an issue which we can no longer prevaricate about.
My Lords, I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, was absolutely right to say that respect for family life lies at the heart of this matter. That in particular was the basis for the regulation we are looking at, Dublin III, and this provision, which is talking about those unaccompanied adults and children from outside who wish to join a family member who is already here in order to make the application. It is about respect for family life as well as seeking to give the benefit of the asylum application under the convention, to which we are, after all, already parties. So without elaborating and with great respect to what has been said by everyone who has spoken so far, I too support the amendment.
My Lords, it is a great shame that there is not more of a consensus between the two—or three—parties on the issue of refugees. We have debated it much over the years. Recently, we have got to what I would loosely call an uneasy peace, which is essentially based on my noble friend Lord Dubs’s Section 67 and Dublin III. That has produced modest numbers, but there are very real numbers of people meeting very real problems.
The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, put her finger on it. The rights individuals have as a result of Dublin III must be maintained. I hope the Minister will be able to assure us that the Government will either accept these amendments or make a very firm commitment to assure us that, one way or another, the effect of Dublin III will be maintained after Brexit.
I thank noble Lords who have contributed to this evening’s debate, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. I think the word “noble” is appropriate in so many different ways in the manner that we have been discussing this matter this evening.
It is a number of years since I worked for the Scottish Refugee Council. At that time, I was struck by a number of challenges experienced by those fleeing and seeking refuge across the globe. I was very much aware of the challenges experienced by refugees and asylum seekers; I draw a distinction between the two, as does the law. My frustrations were also manifest as a Member of the European Parliament at how the Dublin regulations were discussed, ultimately moved towards law and, frankly, not enforced in the manner in which I believe they should have been across the EU. While we often look towards Brussels for leadership in these areas, quite often we are disappointed by what happens when we move from the high words which can be found in certain of the discussions towards the realities of delivery, which can be quite different.
I particularly thank my noble friend Lady Stroud, who has again helped us realise some of the realities which we face. She is right to point out one of the greater challenges, which is finding unaccompanied minors in a difficult situation which they have not chosen to be in.
I turn specifically to the amendment. Noble Lords will be pleased that my noble friend Lady Williams is in her place beside me. I believe that on a number of occasions she has affirmed the Government’s commitment to ongoing support for those who are seeking asylum or who fall under the refugee convention. However, we must remember that the Dublin regulation is not, and never has been, a route for family reunification. It is a mechanism to determine the member state responsible for consideration of an asylum claim. Dublin confers no long-term right to remain in an EU state, whether on the grounds of family relationship or on any other basis. If someone is transferred under Dublin to the UK to join an asylum-seeking family member, should that asylum claim fail, they can be removed to their home country. In the UK, around 60% of those who claim asylum are found not to need protection.
The Dublin regulation rules are fundamentally different from the family reunion procedure in the Immigration Rules, which allows refugees under the Geneva convention, or recipients of humanitarian protection, to bring their close family members to the UK, where they are entitled to leave to remain. Furthermore, the Dublin regulation does not create refugee family reunion rights because it deals with asylum seekers, not refugees. Once a person is recognised as a refugee in the EU, they are no longer in scope of the Dublin system and the family unity provisions in the regulation do not apply.
More broadly—this is perhaps worth stressing as we consider movement outside the EU—the system has reciprocal effect in all participating states. It is a two-way process which governs the movement of asylum seekers into and out of the UK. Unilateral rules that place an obligation on only one state do not work. They need to be reciprocal.
Going forward, we seek a relationship with the EU that will address the entire spectrum, not just asylum seekers but refugees and the wider question of illegal migration, not solely on the basis of family reunion. A relationship with the EU on this matter above all will be how we are judged, and I note the noble Lord, Lord Judd, noting that point. We will be judged on this, and we need to get this right. However, I stress that the EU also needs to get this right and, if I may be so bold and so frank, I do not believe that the EU has got this right either. It is seeking to find that solution and, for as long as we are a member, we will be part of that struggle. At the moment, there is no easy way forward, as the EU is finding and as I do not doubt we will find.
However, as long as we are guided by the noble intentions of individuals such as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, I believe we will be moving in the right direction. On that basis, I ask him to withdraw the amendments.
My Lords, I am very grateful for the first half of what the Minister said, but slightly less certain about the second half. I wish he had continued as he started. I want to consider his speech when we are all wider awake and in a calmer moment, but the fact is that the Dublin III mechanism is still a way in which unaccompanied children have been able to come to this country and join relatives. That has been a route for them, and more than 800 have come by those means—many from France, but also from Greece. Whatever the technical argument, it has been a positive right and a positive way to safety for some of these young people.
I appreciate what the Minister said about this needing to be reciprocal. Indeed, the wording of the amendment aims to achieve precisely that. It talks about our negotiating on that basis; it has to be reciprocal. I fully understand that otherwise it will not work, because if the French authorities are not interested, they will not identify young people in France who might be entitled to come by that path.
I also agree that the EU has a lot of improvement to go in for. I would like to see, as my noble friend Lord Bassam said, an EU-wide or Europe-wide policy whereby we get near to common standards on behalf of refugees. That would be more sensible, and Dublin III is part of that, although only a small part.
I thank the Minister again for the first half of his speech. I did not know he had been involved with the Scottish Refugee Council. Good for him, although the effect did not last long. That is a bit churlish of me. I did not mean to be so churlish; I appreciate anybody who worked with it. I used to work for the Refugee Council in London, so I know about the good work the Scottish Refugee Council did. I want to think about this and we will have to look at the best way of moving forward on Report. I am grateful to all noble Lords who were so supportive of this amendment and beg leave to withdraw it.
Amendment 208A (to Amendment 208) withdrawn.
Amendment 208 withdrawn.
Amendments 209 to 213 not moved.
House adjourned at 11.33 pm.