House of Lords
Monday 19 March 2018
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of St Albans.
Deaths of Members
My Lords, I very much regret to inform the House of the death of my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, on 17 March. On behalf of the House, I extend our condolences to the noble Lord’s family and friends.
I also regret to inform the House of the death of the former Leader of the House, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, on 18 March. On behalf of the House, I extend our condolences to the noble Lord’s family and friends. I understand from the usual channels that noble Lords will have the opportunity to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, tomorrow after Prayers.
Trafficked Children: Asylum
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, over the last 10 years, how many children trafficked into the United Kingdom who have subsequently applied for asylum have had their applications approved.
My Lords, the Home Office does not publish data on the number of child victims of modern slavery who subsequently successfully claim asylum. To maintain the highest standards of accuracy, the Home Office prefers to refer to published data, as these have been subject to vigorous quality assurance prior to publication. The Home Office publishes data on the number of asylum claims from unaccompanied children. The latest published statistics can be found in the quarterly immigration statistics published on GOV.UK. These show that, in 2017, 1,212 children were granted leave; in 2016, this figure was 1,396.
I thank the Minister for that reply. Since the Court of Appeal’s decision in PK (Ghana) was handed down, the Government have had to issue interim guidance on discretionary leave to remain for victims of modern slavery, but this is a policy of no policy. It just puts decisions on hold, leaving vulnerable adults and children in limbo and in fear of losing their NRM support, as the waiting time for decisions now extends beyond the time for support afforded to them. What is the Government’s timetable for consideration of this judgment? Can they guarantee that all victims waiting for a decision on discretionary leave to remain will remain in receipt of NRM support until they receive a decision?
We are considering the implications of the judgment. While we consider the next steps, interim guidance has been issued to caseworkers to put on hold any refusals of discretionary leave to remain for confirmed victims of modern slavery. Grants of discretionary leave are continuing. Clearly, we will come to a view as quickly as possible.
What percentage of victims of modern slavery who apply for discretionary leave to remain following a positive NRM conclusive- grounds decision actually receive a decision about the discretionary leave within 45 days?
I can tell my noble friend that in 2016 1,278 children were referred to the NRM for consideration of whether they had been a victim of modern slavery, a 30% increase on 2015. We will be publishing figures for 2017 in March and, if available for disclosure, they will be provided.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the longer the delay in reaching a decision in respect of a trafficked child, the greater the risk of that child going missing and being retrafficked?
It is certainly the Government’s intention to make decisions as quickly as possible. I totally concur with the noble Baroness that if we have a vulnerable child in our care, we should make decisions about them as quickly as possible.
My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister can get the Government, particularly the Home Office, to reconsider the removal of children who are victims of trafficking at the age of 18.
As the noble and learned Baroness will know, victims of trafficking are not necessarily coming into this country for an asylum route. Indeed, many of the children who are trafficked are from the UK, so it is correct that when a child reaches the age of 18, should they be from another country, their immigration status is reconsidered.
My Lords, I refer to my relevant interests in the register. Does the noble Baroness think that the national referral mechanism takes proper account of children’s needs? Can she tell the House what the Government are doing to prevent children, as referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, who arrive in this country and go missing after a few days becoming repeat victims of trafficking?
I am clear that the national referral mechanism meets the needs of children. As the noble Lord may know, the Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability announced the Government’s proposals to reform the NRM. For children, this ensures that support for child victims is improved by continuing with the rollout of the independent child trafficking advocates. We are trying new and innovative ways to give money to NGOs as part of the child trafficking protection fund.
My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the advisory panel of the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner. I ask the Minister about the role of the modern slavery unit in the Home Office, in this area to do with children and more generally. How does the modern slavery unit help those of us working in this area of children and care for victims? How do we know what its priorities and practices are so that we can best co-operate?
The role of the commissioner should be to assess how the system is working. As I said in answer to the previous question, children should receive the specialist support and assistance that they need according to their circumstances. The role of the NRM is to ensure that a trafficked child is given the appropriate support they need from all the agencies involved to be able to move on from that traumatic experience.
Does my noble friend agree that it is very important, while exercising discretion on the basis of humanity for right to remain, that we do not move away from the basic principles of the 1951 United Nations convention, which are undoubtedly tough but nevertheless important, when we choose to grant asylum to this country?
My noble friend is absolutely correct. We have an incredibly good record of granting asylum not just to adults but to children. Together with the various agencies we provide the maximum level of care that we possibly can to children who have been trafficked or who need our protection.
My Lords, how many of the “shoulds” and the “woulds” are actually in place? The Minister has kindly explained that there are many provisions: which ones are actually being pursued so that those kids do not immediately disappear?
I apologise to the noble Baroness: I did not hear the first part of her question.
I was just asking how many of the “shoulds” and the “woulds” are actually in place, rather than statements of intention?
The Modern Slavery Act is now in place and therefore its provisions are being implemented.
Prescription Drugs: Dependence
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have plans to provide a network of support, nationally and locally, for people affected by dependence on prescribed drugs.
The Government take seriously the issue of dependence on prescription drugs. The Public Health Minister has commissioned Public Health England to review the evidence on the scale and nature of the problems with some prescription medicines, and how those problems can be prevented and treated. The review is due to report in spring 2019.
My Lords, I very much welcome the review, but there is a real problem: many, many patients are suffering huge damage as a result of overdependence, often because they have been prescribed a particular medicine for too long a period. There appears to be woeful ignorance among many people in the health service about this impact of dependence. There are no national programmes for supporting people. Instead, people rely on local charities, which are grossly underfunded. Does the Minister not think it is time for a national action plan, a national helpline and support for local charities, and to get the NHS to start taking this seriously?
I agree with the noble Lord that it is a serious issue. A NatCen study found that there has been a doubling of the use of serious painkillers. Indeed, deaths due to opiates of all kinds have risen by about two-thirds in the past five years; of course, that is illegal as well as legally procured drugs. We agree that there is a problem. That is why the review is taking place. It is premature to say what the outcomes of that review will be, but undoubtedly we need a comprehensive approach to dealing with this problem, because it is getting worse.
My Lords, I welcome this major review of prescription drug addiction. Does the Minister agree that the review must also look at the provision of alternatives to prescription drugs and the culture change needed to make that happen?
My noble friend is absolutely right. It is not just about getting people off these drugs who are wrongly on them, it is about making sure that they do not go on them in the first place unless that is absolutely necessary for their treatment.
Is the Minister aware that there is a dispute between the Royal College of Psychiatrists and a significant group of academics, doctors and patients over the length of antidepressant withdrawal? Does the Minister agree that substantial research is needed quite urgently, including on withdrawal protocols, to ensure that patients can withdraw safely and slowly? I declare an interest, having experience of this in my own family.
The noble Earl highlights a very important issue, and I reassure him that the review will look not only at the nature and causes of dependence on the drugs in scope, which include antidepressants, but at the correct and most evidence-based treatments for withdrawal.
Will the review by Public Health England be able to look specifically at alternatives to prescribing drugs, such as acupuncture, which is shown to be very effective in the relief of pain and reducing symptoms of anxiety, and perhaps also mindfulness, which has been shown to improve the mental health of very many people?
I can attest to the benefits of both those courses of treatment. The review will look at prevention of dependency in the first place and in doing so will look at alternative courses of treatment. Of course, in the end there is a balance to be struck between the clinical needs of the patient and the right course of treatment. It is about making sure that clinicians are as informed as possible.
My noble friend mentioned that many of the services for people who are addicted to prescribed drugs are provided by the charitable sector. He also mentioned that many of those services are under threat or have closed down because of a lack of local authority funding. Will the Minister consider what can be done to replace those vital services? Will the charitable sector, which is doing such good work in this area, be consulted in the course of the review?
I completely echo the noble Baroness’s praise for the charitable sector. We have some very high-quality treatment centres in this country, provided both by the state and by charities. They do a fantastic job. In the most recently published figures, local authorities’ actual spend on funding for adults for drug misuse was about £490 million a year, so a substantial amount of money is going in. Of course, we need to make sure that it is getting to the people who are addicted to prescription drugs as well as illegal drugs.
My Lords, can the Minister explain the difference between dependence and addiction, as anyone who is on life-saving drugs is dependent upon them? Where does the definition come between that and addiction?
My noble friend has just given a much better and more incisive answer than I could have given. There is a distinction; the point here is that these are drugs that people have started to take because they have needed them. I should point out one area that is not included in the review; it is not looking at cancer and terminal pain, because we need to make sure that there is appropriate pain relief for people who are in the last stages of their life.
My Lords, is the Minister aware of the very powerful evidence from the United States that one of the most effective ways of reducing dependency on opioids is to legalise cannabis for the relief of pain? Cannabis is far less addictive and far less dangerous, yet it is incredibly effective for large numbers of patients.
I would definitely be straying into Home Office territory by commenting on that. I would point out that cannabis remains illegal in this country and that the PHE review’s scope is to work within the drug strategy set out by the Home Office.
My Lords, does the shortage of mental health services in the NHS and the cuts to local authorities not mean that GPs often have no alternative but to prescribe drugs? Should the Government not address the shortages in both those areas?
I think the link between mental illness and GP prescribing will be investigated in the review. We know that we need to do better in mental health services in this country, but it is worth pointing out that we are increasing investment and introducing new waiting-time standards, so services are getting better.
My Lords, is there not a case for a wider review of addictions in general? Public Health England did a review of alcohol and the Government ignored the report. A public health review in this area may be ignored entirely and there is nothing to make the Government do anything about it. We have just heard about what is happening with gambling; the Government have succumbed to the blandishments of the gambling industry and are not doing what many people in this House wanted on it. It is another addiction. Should we not have a review right across the board on addictions?
The Government are taking steps to deal with addiction in a number of areas. We are obviously focusing on prescription drugs and the dependence on them. I hope the noble Lord will welcome the review and have the opportunity to contribute to it, as I know he feels strongly about these issues.
Broadband: Universal Service Obligation
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress has been made in implementing the universal service obligation for broadband.
My Lords, the Government have considered different options for the design of the broadband universal service obligation and have carried out a public consultation on its proposed design. Having completed their consideration of the many responses received, the Government will shortly be laying secondary legislation setting out the scope of the broadband USO. The Government’s response to the consultation and the impact assessment will be published at the same time. Ofcom will be responsible for implementing the USO, which is expected to take up to two years.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer. As he knows, there is an awful lot of concentration on download speeds but for the digital economy, upload is very important too. It is particularly poor in rural areas, and your Lordships do not have to take my word for it. The Secretary of State for Defra, Michael Gove, speaking to the NFU, recently said:
“It is unjustifiable … that broadband provision is so patchy and poor in so many areas”.
Can the Minister explain how a new approach will do away with this patchiness and poverty of connection in the countryside?
The noble Lord is right that it is very important, as the rural economy as well as the urban economy depends on broadband. We have done a number of things to support the rural economy. Delivering the USO is one thing; we have also increased broadband availability from 45% to 95% in seven years, as we promised to do. But looking forward, we are working with Defra to implement the £30 million of extra funding through the rural development programme; the local full-fibre network programme will invest £190 million for locally led projects and the Chancellor announced £95 million in the Spring Statement as part of that; the future telecoms infrastructure review will also look at what the Government can do and report in the summer. Noble Lords will also have noticed that in February we signed an accord with the Church of England to make many more churches available, which principally helps rural areas. Lastly, Ofcom launched a consultation on 9 March on potential new licence obligations for rural coverage as part of a forthcoming 700 megahertz spectrum auction.
My Lords, I welcome the £15 million that DCMS has given to North Yorkshire in recognition of the woefully slow connection times and poor connectivity there. But will the department and my noble friend ensure that this money will be used to make the remaining 5% faster and give them better access, rather than to enable the fast speeds that people already have in places such as Harrogate, Knaresborough and York to become even faster than they already are?
My Lords, we want to do both. We want to make sure that everyone has at least a minimum speed, and we are also investing very large amounts in full-fibre network, because it is on fibre-optic cable that everything depends in terms of mobile communications and higher speeds throughout the country, including rural areas.
My Lords, can the Minister explain why remote parts of mountainous Norway and even remoter villages in China can have high-speed broadband but we in the United Kingdom cannot?
There are mountainous parts of this country that have high-speed broadband. It is a question of getting the infrastructure in place. Broadband availability has gone up from 45% to 95% in seven years because the Government and local authorities, together with private industry, have invested a substantial amount of money.
My Lords, the Minister mentioned full-fibre networks, which could of course deliver ultra-fast broadband but only 3% of consumers have access to them. Eighteen months ago, the Chancellor promised £400 million towards full-fibre networks. How much of that has been spent and how much is expected to be spent in the coming months?
My Lords, the Chancellor announced in November that the local full-fibre network challenge fund was in place, which is part of the Government’s £740 million national productivity investment fund. As I said, the Chancellor announced in the Spring Statement that £95 million has been allocated for 13 different areas. We plan to open the next wave of the challenge fund during this summer.
Is my noble friend aware that his plethora of proposals is greatly welcomed? Nevertheless, would he include in this the servicing of broadband? Is he aware that following the great chill of 1 March, certain parts of Bedfordshire still are not back on broadband? Unhappily, that includes me.
I am sure noble Lords will commiserate with my noble friend. I am not aware of particularly why the cold weather should affect broadband. The whole point of developing the infrastructure for fibre-optic cables is that they are buried underground, well below the frost, for example. I would have to look at specifically what is happening near Naseby.
Is the problem here not the completely hopeless, unambitious target of 10 megabits per second when compared with what is happening today? As reported in the papers yesterday, York City Council has managed to install a system throughout the city that operates at 1,000 megabits per second. There is no competition, no drive forward, and nothing seems to be happening.
I have said in my answers so far that quite a lot is happening. A lot of money is being spent on infrastructure. The 10 megabits per second speed of the universal service obligation is meant to be a safety net, which is there under the universal service directive. It is not meant to be the future of digital infrastructure, which is why we are spending so much money on the latest fibre-optic cables. Ten megabits per second will be very good for people who have one or one and a half today. They will be very grateful for that, but we certainly do not accept that it is the future. It is very much a safety net.
Foreign Policy: Parliamentary Participation
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what consideration they have given to Parliament being offered a more meaningful participation in foreign policy, including by restricting the extent of the royal prerogative.
My Lords, the FCO attaches great importance to engaging with Parliament on foreign policy issues through Statements, Questions, debates, evidence to Select Committees and, indeed, informal discussion. The Government observe the convention that there is a debate in Parliament before UK military action is taken except where there is an emergency and such action would not be appropriate. In relation to treaty-making, the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 requires treaties to be laid before Parliament before ratification.
I thank the Minister for that response. With many more issues and challenges on the global stage than current mechanisms can properly undertake, would the Government, including a diminished Foreign Office, keep an open mind and encourage the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and the International Relations Committee to jointly consider revamping foreign policy decision-making processes, with necessary discretions factored in, knowing that the combined wisdom and shared responsibilities of Parliament as a whole should be made better use of by assisting in the creation of visionary policies and addressing the multiple challenges, including our country’s position in and future contribution to tomorrow’s world?
My Lords, it is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Far from it being diminished, the fact that I have used the word “Commonwealth” underlines the importance of the broad nature of its foreign and Commonwealth responsibilities. We look forward, as I am sure does the noble Viscount and the rest of the House, to welcoming leaders from across the 52 nations of the Commonwealth—the 53rd of course being the United Kingdom—in the next few weeks. As for parliamentary contributions, I alluded in my original Answer to the importance the Government attach to parliamentary debates, and I respect the wisdom of Parliament in that regard. I draw to the noble Viscount’s attention that only this morning, in my capacity as the Prime Minister’s special representative on preventing sexual violence, we had a very good engagement on that issue with many different voices. I am delighted to report back with my noble friend Lady Hodgson, who leads the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Women, Peace and Security, and my noble friend Lady Nicholson, who leads the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Prevention of Sexual Violence in Conflict. I believe the Government work constructively with all parliamentarians on the issues that matter in foreign policy.
My Lords, has the Minister seen the Foreign Affairs Select Committee’s recent report entitled Global Britain, which asks the FCO to produce a,
“coherent strategic direction, supported by adequate resources”,
and notes that resources are now being moved from embassies in fast-growing Asia to Europe? Given the decisions about going to war or even leaving major trading blocs, would it not be wise to include Parliament far more in working out a foreign policy that is multilateral and realistic?
I have of course seen the report from the Foreign Affairs Committee. Having been before the committee on three occasions over the last month, I was asked about Britain’s position in the global world. Look at our leadership in the area of development—at how we are working hand-in-glove with Commonwealth countries on preventing sexual violence and ensuring reforms in the United Nations. Our membership of NATO underlines Britain’s global position in the world. Of course we will continue to work with parliamentarians. I say to all colleagues across your Lordships’ House and in the other place that it is on all of us to ensure that the voice of global Britain is heard in all corners across the world.
Does the Minister agree that post-Brexit it will be even more important that parliamentarians are encouraged to build relationships with their counterparts in EU countries? To that end, does he agree that the parliamentary scheme should be such that it does not disadvantage parliamentarians who participate in it, so it should be put on a par with the emoluments for those who go to international parliamentary conferences?
I am sure all those who are involved with the various committees and bodies will listen carefully to the noble Lord’s suggestion. From the Government’s perspective, I reiterate that we have bolstered many of our positions in European capitals in preparedness for the post-Brexit world. As for parliamentary support, I am sure that the extra support within our different missions across Europe will also assist. If I may say so as Minister for the UN, we are also adding to our support in our missions in New York and in Geneva, which will also assist parliamentary colleagues when they visit those offices.
My Lords, something of great concern to many noble Lords is the EU withdrawal Bill going through the House, which represents the biggest power grab by the Executive. This Question relates to Parliament and its right to scrutinise legislation. The Minister may not have heard it, but last week at 2.30 in the morning I moved an amendment. It was a shame it was so late, but I had a good audience on his side. That amendment sought to empower Parliament to do its job to scrutinise international treaties. Will the Minister ensure that he is present at 2.30 tomorrow morning when we debate these issues to ensure that Parliament can keep its power to scrutinise?
I would not be as brave as the noble Lord and predict how long Parliament will sit tomorrow but, as he conceded, on the government side, we listen carefully to his words, as was demonstrated only last week.
In terms of ensuring parliamentary scrutiny, this is about taking back control and ensuring that every piece of legislation is scrutinised by Parliament. Indeed, when we discussed the EU sanctions Bill, I responded positively, I hope, on ensuring the affirmative nature of secondary legislation. As for parliamentary scrutiny of the EU withdrawal Bill specifically, look at the number of hours it was debated in the House of Commons. I turn to my noble friend who sits not too distant from me to consider the hours he and his team and other noble friends on the Front Bench are spending on this issue. I am sure the noble Lord would acknowledge that the Government are ensuring that there is full scrutiny of all legislation, including the EU withdrawal Bill.
Reverting to the form of the Question from the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, is it not an established constitutional convention that where legislation trespasses into the territory of the royal prerogative, the royal prerogative simply falls away? If that is right, it is not an exercise in making fresh legislation to determine when, how and why the royal prerogative should have status in any particular context; it is simply a question of whether the new legislation traverses the territory of the royal prerogative. Does the Minister agree?
The issue of the royal prerogative is well understood. EU legislation is currently scrutinised by different committees within Parliament but, as I alluded to in my Answer, where the UK is directly a party to a particular treaty, the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 requires treaties to be laid before Parliament, which includes their scrutiny, before ratification.
European Union (Withdrawal) Bill
Committee (8th Day)
Relevant documents: 12th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 9th Report from the Constitution Committee
214: After Clause 9, insert the following new Clause—
“Governance and institutional arrangements
(1) Before exit day, a Minister of the Crown must make provision that all powers and functions which form part of retained EU law, which relate to any right, freedom or protection that any person might reasonably expect to exercise, which were carried out by EU entities or other public authorities anywhere in the United Kingdom before exit day, and which do not cease as a result of the withdrawal agreement (“relevant powers and functions”), will—(a) continue to be carried out by an EU entity or public authority;(b) be carried out by an appropriate existing or newly established entity or public authority in the United Kingdom; or(c) be carried out by an appropriate international entity or public authority.(2) For the purposes of this section, relevant powers and functions include, but are not limited to—(a) monitoring and measuring compliance with legal requirements;(b) reviewing and reporting on compliance with legal requirements;(c) enforcement of legal requirements;(d) setting standards or targets;(e) co-ordinating action;(f) publicising information. (3) Responsibility for any powers and functions as defined in subsection (1) for which no specific provision has been made immediately after commencement of this Act will belong to a relevant Minister until such a time as specific provision has been made.”
My Lords, Amendment 214 is about retaining our standards after we leave the EU. These are the standards of the goods and services we consume, the standards that maintain protections for individual and consumer rights, the environment, employment and a whole host of things. These standards underpin what ordinary citizens have come to regard as normal in their everyday life. Quite simply, many of the standards that we have come to accept as normal are set, and enforced, by EU institutions. When the UK leaves the EU, we will lose the benefits of these EU governance institutions, and it is not clear that they will be replaced. The amendment would create a duty to ensure that any governance or regulatory function relating to this that is currently exercised by an EU institution would be transposed into UK law.
It may be impossible to replicate the highly expert and specialised institutions which the EU has built over many years, but if a governance function is to be abolished, or just not replaced, there should be a proper debate and the Government should go about it in the proper way, through the parliamentary process. The amendment would ensure that these standards can be enforced, with clear options for redress should disputes arise and with clear dispute resolution procedures if the European Court of Justice is not involved.
In addition, these institutions would have to be independent. The European Environment Agency can threaten to take a British Government to court for not maintaining air quality standards. This is why the Government are busily making proposals to satisfy those standards. If the enforcement agency was just another branch of government, that would undoubtedly compromise the enforcement.
Why is it important to do this now? Surely we can leave it for later. No, we cannot. These institutions ensure that day-to-day decisions made by national and local government, and in public agencies, do not undermine these important standards and protections. That is why the principle has to be in place from day one. It also has to be in place then because, as the debate on amendments to Clause 6 made clear, where there is regulatory alignment on standards it is unclear how courts will interpret EU decisions in the event of disputes.
This amendment would ensure that, even with its lack of clarity on enforcement, our standards must not drop. Indeed, in the debate on Amendment 144, several noble Lords were concerned about the lack of clarity and certainty in the mutual recognition of standards in food, transport, professional qualifications and communications. In his response, the Minister spoke of the Government being,
“committed to maintaining high standards”,
but in a manner,
“still to be determined.—[Official Report, 14/3/18; col.1602.]
Presumably, this is because negotiations are taking place. I suppose we all have to live with that, but this amendment would help us to do so. It would deal with our concerns so that, whatever the outcome of these negotiations, the standards that are so important in our way of life will not be sacrificed. The article by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, in the Times also touches on this. For instance, we all need to be assured that we will not alter or lower the standards of the general protection rules on data, because these govern the transfer and exchange of data. Doing so would have an absolutely devastating effect on data moving freely, impacting on the lives of millions of people.
In another place, a similar amendment was proposed by the honourable Member for Swansea West, Mr Geraint Davies. It was not voted on, and in his response the Minister there spoke of the Government’s commitment to high standards and said that some were already protected through our own domestic provisions. This, of course, is true and is very welcome, but it is the many others that concern me. I am speaking of the EU standards, and as we leave the EU it all depends on how the EU law that sets and enforces standards in this country at present remains part of our law.
This has also been a topic of much debate between noble and learned Lords earlier in Committee. What seems to be certain from this, however, is that it leaves our standards vulnerable to the discretion of Ministers with wide powers of delegation. In an earlier amendment, I pointed out that Ministers have significant licence when making international trade and investment agreements. Indeed, they can undermine domestic standards and protections even if the domestic law says otherwise. This creates a sort of back door for important standards and protections to be undermined without any kind of accountability.
This Bill, with this amendment, is the place to deal with this uncertainty. Yes, there is a lot of uncertainty over withdrawal. This amendment would help a lot towards dealing with this uncertainty by protecting much of what we have come to accept as part of our everyday life. That is why it has to be in the Bill. Our standards will be at risk unless it is. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support this excellent amendment, because it would create a duty to ensure that any governance or regulatory function currently exercised by an EU institution is transposed into UK law. It is not good enough to retain EU law that protects standards and protections if we lack the complementary functions of monitoring and measuring compliance with the requirements, of reporting on compliance, of enforcement, of setting standards and targets and of publicising information, all of which is cited in the amendment.
These rights will be empty of meaning unless they are monitored and enforced. One of the concerns is where we will find the capacity to fulfil these functions to match what the EU has built up by highly expert and specialised institutions such as the Food Standards Agency, the Environment Agency, the European Chemicals Agency, the European Medicines Agency and Euratom.
The 2017 White Paper on legislating for withdrawal gives an example that raises considerable concerns. It says:
“There will be law which will, upon leaving the EU, no longer work at all and which will need to be corrected to continue to work. An example of this”—
we might not all be familiar with these regulations—
“would be the Offshore Petroleum Activities (Conservation of Habitats) Regulations 2001. These domestic regulations contain a requirement to obtain an opinion from the European Commission on particular projects relating to offshore oil and gas activities. Once we leave the EU, the Commission will no longer provide such opinions to the UK”,
which is true.
“However, this requirement in the existing regulations would prevent certain projects from taking place unless we correct it”.
The Government were positing, in what is now this draft legislation, to allow the Government to amend our domestic legislation either to replace the reference to the Commission with a UK body or to remove this requirement entirely. It is the removal of the requirement entirely that is worrying. This is about when a company wishes to build an oil pipeline in a protected habitat, so it is not a negligible issue. So there is a series of regulatory hurdles at the moment. The Government argued that abolishing this reference to the Commission would be a mere “technical” change. However, protecting habitats from potential oil spills is not a technical change. Therefore, there needs to be some substitute for the European Commission.
The powers in the Bill, including in Section 8, which contains powers that could allow the Government to reduce the level of regulatory protection in the UK to align with international trade partners without consulting Parliament, could be of great concern. We have heard from Wilbur Ross, the US Commerce Secretary, who has specifically described the regulation and documentation of chemical exports, food safety geographical indicators—the things that protect Cornish pasties and Melton Mowbray pork pies, and so on—as presenting “key impediments” to expanded trade between the UK and the US. So this kind of thing will be very much at risk.
We have talked before in Committee about how we cannot implement things unilaterally; we have to be able to have some reciprocal enforcement. The Business Minister, Andrew Griffiths, told MPs last week that there is no,
“cast-iron assurance … that UK products will remain protected”.—[Official Report, Commons, 13/3/18; col. 711.]
They might in the UK but they will not elsewhere in the world. We need an infrastructure of regulatory enforcement, obviously on a reciprocal cross-border basis, to uphold the protection that the Government say they will give to retained EU law standards. The answers that we are supposed to understand that the Government cannot discuss this in any detail because it is part of negotiations, or that no plans are yet in place, are wearing pretty thin.
I therefore share the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, and I would like to hear an assurance from the Minister that similarly high standards of regulation as well as of protective law will be guaranteed. Otherwise, if you have the law without the regulatory enforcement, it is not a lot of use.
My Lords, I support Amendment 214, to which I have attached my name. I am not sure whether attaching my name to an amendment makes it more or less likely to be considered—perhaps it is less likely. This is an important amendment and I hope that your Lordships’ House will forgive me if I restate things slightly differently. In my political life, I have found that it pays to repeat things, because people do not always hear them the first, second or even 100th time. Repetition is not a bad thing.
The amendment is all the more important when considered in the light of the Prime Minister’s “hard truths” Brexit speech, where she committed to,
“bring our country back together, taking into account the views of everyone who cares about”,
“from both sides of the debate”.
That is laudable, because we all know that this country is deeply divided over Brexit and we have at some point to start some healing. I have not seen any sign of it yet. This amendment is therefore a chance to start that healing process and to reassure those people who are anxious about the prospect of leaving the EU—the number seems to mount every day.
Amendment 214 sets out a legal responsibility for Ministers to ensure that public authorities continue to protect all rights, freedoms and protections that any person might reasonably expect as a member of the EU. Ministers are claiming a whole load of lawmaking powers in the Bill, but the amendment would require them to use those powers for good. We are retaining this whole body of EU law, with certain rather crucial gaps, but we do not want a governance gap, where many of our rights could be contingent on some power or function exercised by an EU authority or entity that we do not have a copy of. As one example, many of our environmental protections and the protection of our health, which stems from them, are currently governed by EU entities. The retained EU laws will be absolutely worthless if there is no organisation or entity through which they can take effect and be held to account. While Ministers will have legal powers under the Bill—far more than we want them to, if they get their way—they have no legal obligation to ensure that those powers are used to protect our rights, so there is a big gap through which much retained EU law could fall without this amendment. As worrying as the Henry VIII powers are, the potential to lose rights by omission is just as worrying.
As someone who voted for Brexit, I know that no one voted to lose their rights, protections and freedoms. With this amendment in place, I would certainly sleep better at night, and many more people, be they Brexiters, remainers, “don’t carers”—I am not sure how many of those are left, but perhaps there are some—or whoever else, would feel reassured about the path down which Brexit is taking us. We all know that Brexit is a leap in the dark. None of us can say how it will work out. This amendment is our opportunity to put some certainty in place by requiring the Government to ensure that all rights, freedoms and protections that we enjoy under the EU will continue to be protected by a public authority once we leave.
I wish to take a moment to pre-empt the Minister, who will probably say lots of things with which I do not agree, and briefly explain what this amendment is not. In case the response is to refer to a list of rights such as voting in EU elections and standing for election to the European Parliament, the amendment pre-empts this by referring only to those rights,
“which do not cease as a result of the withdrawal agreement”,
so we can save ourselves from that response. The withdrawal agreement will be voted on by this Parliament, so there will at least be some democratic basis on which those rights are withdrawn. This is in contrast to rights withdrawn by omission, which has no democratic mandate, scrutiny or oversight. Therefore, I beg the Minister to give real thought to the intent of this amendment. As I said, no one voted to lose their rights. I think that the majority of people in this country would support this amendment and not see it as a measure that would block Brexit. It is about protection for us all. It is our chance to put things right and to start the healing process that is not just necessary but urgent.
In supporting this amendment, I wish to emphasise an aspect on which noble Lords who have spoken have not focused but which is a vital part of our EU membership, as I see it, that will probably be lost unless we continue to think of ourselves as a European country. This is not about being in the EU but about thinking of ourselves as a European country.
In those far-off days when Labour was in government, I was involved in establishing policy co-ordination under what was called the Lisbon strategy, which covered a range of areas such as early school leavers, which is a problem in many of our member states, child poverty, the extent to which arrangements were in place to achieve a work/life balance and enable families and women to access good childcare, research targets, monitoring how much member states were spending on research and innovation, and the best policies for promoting research and innovation. A range of soft co-ordination is carried out by the EU in areas that are not strict EU competences, which will be lost.
This is important in terms of the policy community—for civil servants, for academics involved in these issues and for people who think about education, social, poverty and innovation policy. If we detach ourselves from this, we will not be a European country any more. Involvement in agencies or bodies such as the Dublin-based European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions is important to people who think about policy in these areas. Therefore, I support the amendment.
I would like to question that intervention. I think that common standards can be a bad thing for free trade. They can be the most effective of all anti-trade policies and, when it comes to the European Union, in many cases they are. They are used, particularly by Germany, to restrict trade in a far more effective way than tariffs might do. Therefore, it is precisely the kind of vague, if I may put it that way, standards to which the noble Lord has just referred that one should be wary of in this amendment.
If I may say so, the noble Lord has just shown the real objective of people who support Brexit. It is basically to weaken common standards and to turn us into some kind of mid-Atlantic regulatory free market tax haven, which is a horrific prospect for the British people. The fact is that the people who support that, with the exception of the noble Lord, do not have the courage to tell the British people that that is what they want.
My Lords, I object strongly to that comment about people who support Brexit supporting a lowering of standards. That is absolutely not true.
My Lords, I had not intended to intervene on this amendment but I am slightly provoked by my noble friend Lord Spicer. There is a fundamental point here which was touched on both by the mover of the amendment and by the noble Lord, Lord Liddle. In fact, they have unwittingly or otherwise echoed what the Government have been saying from the word go—that they want us to remain a European power. There is no question of our not remaining in Europe; we are just detaching ourselves from the European Union. That does not bear too close an examination, because of course we are a European power and a European country.
If we are to remain an essential part of Europe—a nation that truly pulls its weight within Europe—we have to have standards that are similar to those accepted throughout Europe. Whether in the area of environmental control or the quality of sea water, which we touched on a couple of weeks ago, or other things, such as the medical issues that we have debated, we have to have rigorously upheld standards that are similar to and commensurate with those of our great neighbours, France, Germany and the rest of the European Union. Therefore, when my noble friend responds to this brief debate, it is important that he underlines the Government’s commitment to standards that are comparable with those enforced by our European neighbours. Although they will have to be enforced in a different and more domestic way, enforced they must be.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Haskel has raised some important issues, which we should carefully consider—I hope that the Government will do so. He is plainly right that one of the consequences of our departure from the European Union will be the loss of the benefit of EU governance institutions and the standards that they set and enforce. It is worth underlining the word “enforce”, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, did. This is not just about having the standards; it is also about having institutions that are capable of enforcing them.
Of course, the Government will say that we can and we should take over ourselves the setting and enforcement of appropriate standards. But there are challenges in doing that, to some of which the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, has referred. If we are going to have standards in which people have confidence, they need to be delivered by institutions in which there is demonstrable independence. That then gives rise to credibility: the standards and the institutions that set them must be seen to have a distance from Ministers and not be subject to expedient ministerial policy-making. We have so far become used to—indeed, perhaps taken for granted—the fact that there are standards that are set by the current EU institutions which have rigorously debated and taken into account national standards. However, as my noble friend said, we need to be assured that standards—he mentioned in particular general data protection rules, but other standards as well—are not lowered.
That raises an important point. In this Bill, the Government have taken the view, in my view quite rightly, that the fundamental rights that are protected by the European Convention on Human Rights, now by our own Human Rights Act, cannot be changed without parliamentary scrutiny—indeed, only by primary legislation. That is not the position that is proposed in relation to other rights or standards that are, in many people’s eyes, as important. We need clarity on these issues. It is not enough for the Government to say that they recognise the need to maintain high standards of protection; they need to explain how those high standards of protection are in fact to be achieved, and to do that in a way that gives rise to confidence.
My noble friend Lord Liddle raised a further important point—and, if I may say so, he played an important part in this himself in previous years—about the conversations and co-ordinations that have taken place between European countries in setting policy and the standards that go with policy. It would be good to hear from the noble and learned Lord the Minister whether those will be continued and in what way.
There is much to support in this amendment and in the principle that my noble friend has put forward. It is supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and I do not think for one moment that the fact that she has added her name to it means that the amendment will be looked at less—quite the opposite, I suggest. We look forward to hearing what the noble and learned Lord has to say in response to this amendment.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, for tabling this amendment. I believe the intention behind it is to ensure that United Kingdom law will continue to function effectively after our departure from the European Union. This is, of course, the aim of the Bill, and so I welcome his engagement on its content. However, despite these intentions, the Government cannot accept the amendment.
The Bill will take a snapshot of European Union law—including the rights, freedoms, protections and standards it brings—so far as it applies within the United Kingdom immediately before exit day, and seek to retain it in UK law, so far as is practical. It will then be our priority to ensure it will be able to operate consistently and without deficiency within our domestic law through the use of powers given in the Bill. This includes ensuring that there is suitable provision for the transfer of existing functions and roles carried out by the EU or its institutions while we are a member. It is of course right that the Bill is able to do this.
The United Kingdom has a long-standing tradition, one that predates 1972, of ensuring that our rights and standards are protected domestically, and of fulfilling our international obligations with regard to these matters. The decision to leave the European Union does not change this. Any regulation to correct a deficiency in retained EU law, within which such rights, freedoms, standards and protections will sit, will of course be subject to the overview of this Parliament: it will be subject to the established procedures of parliamentary scrutiny and, in addition, to the work of the sifting committee that the Leader has indicated will be constructed in this House.
The noble Lord, Lord Haskel, said that standards would be subject to Ministers. But standards, I suggest, will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. I say the same in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford. We will retain the law and it will not be empty of meaning because again, in so far as we implement it in domestic law, it will be the subject of parliamentary scrutiny. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, suggested that retained EU law would be worthless if there were no body to oversee it, but that body will be Parliament. No body is better equipped for that task than Parliament.
On policy co-ordination, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Liddell, of course, that is bound to be a matter of negotiation and not one for this particular Bill. We want to negotiate questions of the extent and depth to which we co-operate with members of the EU after we leave. As regards standards themselves, is it suggested that because we are in Europe—as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, observed, we still are and still will be—but not in the European Union, somehow our standards are bound to fall? Is it supposed that Switzerland or indeed Norway do not maintain rigorous standards in regard to consumers, the environment and so on?
Norway is in the single market. That is why it has to uphold the same standards, and Switzerland is de facto in the single market.
Switzerland is not de facto in the single market. Switzerland has a multiplicity of agreements with the EU that have been negotiated on a bilateral basis, which is the form of negotiation that we intend to carry out in due course. Membership of the EU is not, as I say, the touchstone of rigorous standards either in Europe or beyond.
With regard to the points raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith—
Is my noble and learned friend saying that we are now seeking an EU/Swiss-style agreement?
I am not suggesting that for a moment. I was saying that these matters will be the subject of negotiation going forward; they are not ones for this Bill. What one cannot suggest is that, because we are taking the step of leaving the EU, we are determined somehow to see any diminution in the standards and obligations that we maintain at the present time. As this House will be well aware, the Bill is not designed to legislate for the major elements of any future agreement between the United Kingdom and the EU. Indeed, we cannot unilaterally legislate for our future relationship with the EU without the withdrawal agreement, or seek pre-emptively to provide for the possibility of maintaining particular functions or powers within the UK after we leave the EU.
This Bill instead aims to provide a stable and certain domestic statute book on exit day—a platform—irrespective of the result of the negotiations in any final agreement with the EU. The proposed amendments, therefore, do not assist in that process, but would potentially disrupt any negotiating process that is to be carried on. At the end of the day, I respectfully suggest that the amendment would not benefit the task we have in hand and I therefore urge the noble Lord to withdraw it.
Before my noble friend responds, will the Minister give an assurance as to this? He has talked about the legal difficulties involved and the legal freedom that the Government want, but is he able to give an assurance that whatever protections and standards we leave the European Union with will not thereafter be diminished, save with the decision of Parliament through primary legislation?
Clearly, the noble and learned Lord has misrepresented to an extent what I just said to the House, because I did not refer to primary legislation—those words slipped into his observation. However, I did point out that, of course, under the process that we have and will have in place, there will be parliamentary scrutiny of the steps we take to implement these provisions in respect of EU retained law after we leave.
Can the noble and learned Lord clarify the position on the provisions, which the Government will consult on imminently, concerning the “governance gap” that will open up on environmental issues after the withdrawal Bill has been enacted? At least a proportion of the powers and functions listed in subsection (2)(a) to (f) of the proposed new clause will be ascribed to a body whose nature is not yet known but is soon to be subject to consultation. It will deal with reviewing and reporting on compliance with legal requirements, monitoring and measuring, and certainly publicising information. Can the noble and learned Lord tell us what the difference is between the body that is going to fill the environmental governance gap and the same sort of governance gap that will open up with respect to other functions outside the environmental field?
My Lords, with respect, I fear that I do not properly understand the question posed by the noble Baroness, but I will read Hansard, and in so far as I do understand it, I will write to her.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their support for the amendment and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for adding her name to it. I do not think that her doing so has diminished it in any way at all. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Spicer, standards do help free trade because without them we enter into a race to the bottom. I thank my noble and learned friend Lord Goldsmith for making the point about parliamentary scrutiny, and I would say to the Minister that I do think this is a matter for the Bill. As I said, we are not seeking to affect the negotiations that are under way; what we seek is an assurance that our standards will not drop. It is in the Government’s hands to give that assurance. I shall study carefully what noble Lords have said and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 214 withdrawn.
Amendments 215 to 219 not moved.
220: After Clause 9, insert the following new Clause—
“Maintenance of rights in the area of insolvency and restructuring law
(1) Within the period of six months of the passing of this Act, a Minister of the Crown must publish a report outlining the extent to which the benefits afforded by EU insolvency and restructuring law will continue to exist in domestic law after exit day.(2) The report provided for under subsection (1) must include—(a) the steps, if any, taken by Ministers of the Crown to negotiate the continuation of reciprocal arrangements between the United Kingdom and member States in the field of insolvency and restructuring law;(b) the nature and duration of these reciprocal arrangements, if such arrangements have been negotiated; and(c) a declaration from the Minister of the Crown outlining whether, in their view, the UK’s insolvency and restructuring framework has been weakened.(3) The Minister of the Crown must lay the report before both Houses of Parliament.”
My Lords, Amendment 220 seeks to draw the Minister’s attention to what we risk losing if the Government fail to negotiate the reciprocal arrangements we currently have in place by virtue of the EU insolvency regulation and the recast Brussels regulation. They provide a speedy and efficient procedure that determines which member state has jurisdiction to open insolvency proceedings as well as ensuring appropriate recognition of proceedings within the Union. Of course, I am referring to our long-term relationship with the EU, not just the transition period. However, I welcome today’s progress in that, in particular the realistic replacement at last of implementation with transition. I am also grateful for article, clause or paragraph 63 in the report released today—I do not yet know which it is—because it provides for the regulations to continue to apply to insolvency proceedings where these commence before the end of the transition period, but that is not enough. We are looking to the future.
The current rules allow for judgments made in the UK to be enforced across other member states. This recognition, whether of appointments or judgments, is key to investors, pensioners, employees, consumers, creditors and businesses. Without the rules, a liquidator or receiver here could lose the ability to freeze and ultimately return to the UK assets that have been squirrelled away across the EU but which rightfully belong to the bankrupt firm’s creditors, be they the staff, consumers who have paid for yet undelivered goods, investors, a pension scheme, landlords or even our blessed HMRC.
The UK has a renowned insolvency regime with one of the highest rates of return to creditors in the world. It gives confidence to investors and traders that their money will not disappear offshore because it enables a receiver to rapidly get hold of that Lamborghini, hidden away in an Italian garage, houses in sunny European climes, bank accounts in Frankfurt or even paintings in Paris, if they are rightly due to creditors here.
There are many examples; I will not go into detail. The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that the Government prioritise this in negotiating our long-term relationship with the EU. The Minister is well aware of my concerns; I set them out last year in writing to the then Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. She replied to me on 26 October last year, offering a meeting with the BEIS Minister, Margot James. However, I got a letter from Margot James on 9 January saying that she could not meet me, but Insolvency Service officials could. The problem is, I know that various bodies, such as R3 or the City of London Law Society, who feel that the Government are not taking this seriously enough, have met with the IS and feel that they are not getting traction in the Brexit negotiations. Hence, I would argue the need for a political meeting.
My ask today is a very easy one: will the Government agree to meet me and representatives from the field—perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, as well—so that we do not have to bring this back on Report but can make progress? I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, from these Benches. I would very much appreciate it if such a meeting could be arranged; I would love to be included.
I want to emphasise the importance of the UK’s insolvency framework to British trade and investment, especially where cross-border insolvencies between the UK and EU are concerned. We need to ensure that the benefits of our existing arrangements can continue, post Brexit, and we need an agreement in place before we exit the EU. We have a strong insolvency framework in the UK, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, mentioned, and some good reforms to corporate insolvency in the pipeline. They would make our rules fit for purpose for both domestic and international markets, as well as underpin the UK’s attractiveness as a place to do business by supporting trade, investment, lending, productivity and entrepreneurship.
Brexit risks creating barriers to resolving cross-border insolvencies between the UK and the EU. We cannot allow that to happen. We need to ensure automatic reciprocal recognition for insolvency judgments and appointments, post Brexit. Unfortunately, we have slipped down the World Bank rankings in resolving insolvency from 13th to 14th; frankly, now is the worst time to be heading in the wrong direction. Life will be tough enough, post Brexit, so let us not risk losing out on the international investment our robust insolvency framework currently attracts. The amendment’s reporting requirements would ensure that no one is allowed to take their eye off the ball.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that this particular set of issues is absolutely crucial to small businesses? He will know that many small businesses are happy to export to the European Union because they have protection in case of insolvency; it is as solid as if there were an insolvency from a customer or supplier literally round the corner or down the street.
There are many reasons why those companies choose not to export to many of the markets where we so often hear there are such extraordinary opportunities. It is because—especially for small businesses, I am afraid—there are long histories of non-payment. Large businesses can afford to retain international lawyers in different locations across the globe and across borders. Large companies—especially multinationals—frequently have contacts in governments, at the appropriate level, to make sure that their interests are protected, but that very rarely applies to small businesses, so this protection is crucial.
My Lords, I share the concerns that the amendment raises about the consequences of failing to maintain our co-operation with the EU in matters of civil justice, in particular, in this present context, matters of insolvency. On the matter of meetings with officials and others, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, may recollect that we discussed this topic when we met last week, albeit briefly. It might be that I am not the appropriate individual with whom more specialist bodies would wish to take this matter forward, but I would be content to pass on her request for a meeting to BEIS. I am confident that it will have no difficulty arranging that for the convenience of all parties.
Clearly, should we fail to agree a replacement for our current arrangements when we leave the EU the impact will be felt by both the UK and EU member states. I therefore believe that it is in our mutual interest to agree a close and comprehensive arrangement regarding insolvency, as well as other matters of civil judicial co-operation.
I do not think I can accept the suggestion from the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, that a small company in the UK can trade as if it is as solid as a domestic supplier that it was supplying in the context of the insolvency regulations. They do not work quite as simply as that. The insolvency regulations as restated in 2015 determine that the insolvency regime for each country stands alone. Each member has its own rules, but the recast 2015 regulations identify the debtor’s centre of main interest and treat that as the principal proceedings for the purposes of insolvency. For example, if we have a centre of interest for a company in the United Kingdom and a liquidator is appointed in the United Kingdom, that appointment would generally be recognised throughout the EU. That is certainly a step better than the insolvency regimes that operate internationally beyond the EU, such as the UNCITRAL rules, where there is not that element of recognition and it is necessary to take further steps if judicial co-operation is secured by way of litigation in each individual country. I recognise the benefits and advantages of the EU regime, although some would say that it is far from perfect or uniform.
There is a clear need for effective dispute resolution and effective jurisdictional recognition when a company enters insolvency or needs to restructure. Indeed, in its absence those who suffer will be the creditors of the company, because the cost of carrying out the insolvency process will be increased. The UK has already said in its position paper, Providing a Cross-Border Civil Judicial Cooperation Framework, published last August, that we wish to continue with substantively the same principles of co-operation as we already have in civil judicial co-operation, including insolvency. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, observed regarding the implementation period, the transition agreement from the EU referred at paragraph 63 to at least a starting point for that for insolvency processes which commenced before the exit date. We wish to build on that and ensure that we can maintain a suitable regime. We have no difficulty with that and we believe that the EU 27 will also recognise the importance, relevance and advantages of maintaining a single insolvency regime with the United Kingdom after our exit date. As I said, that would be based, as we hope it is at present, on identifying any debtor’s centre of main interest and treating it as the primary place from which insolvency proceedings should emanate and be recognised in the other EU states.
Of course, all of this involves a degree of reciprocity. That is why it will have to be the subject of the ongoing negotiation. We consider that at the end of the day we will have the means to persuade the EU 27 that it is in everyone’s interest that, in general, civil judicial co-operation should be maintained. In the context of the present amendment, that should include the insolvency regime. I hope that what I have said will reassure the Committee and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, that we are committed to seek and retain current co-operation with the EU on cross-border restructuring and insolvency following our exit from the EU. In that context, I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I do not think that I have ever called the noble and learned Lord “not the appropriate individual”. Actually, that was a very appropriate and helpful response. I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Kramer and Lady Burt, for their support. The Minister’s emphasis on it being in everyone’s interest that co-operation be maintained is the right way forward. Despite his warm words, a meeting with the relevant sponsoring department, BEIS, would nevertheless be of use. If he can set that up, I am more than content to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 220 withdrawn.
Amendment 221 not moved.
222: After Clause 9, insert the following new Clause—
“Co-operation with the European Union on tackling violence against women and girls
(1) Within one month of the passing of this Act, and then once in every subsequent calendar year, the Secretary of State must lay before both Houses of Parliament a report on continued co-operation with the EU after exit day on tackling violence against women and girls.(2) That report must include, in particular, an assessment of how co-operation with the EU will replicate mechanisms which exist within the EU before exit day to—(a) maintain common rights for victims of domestic and sexual abuse when moving across borders,(b) reduce female genital mutilation,(c) reduce human trafficking,(d) reduce child sexual exploitation, and(e) enable data sharing relating to paragraphs (a) to (d).”
My Lords, the amendment would insert a new clause that required the Government to report to Parliament on how co-operation with the European Union on tackling violence against women and girls will continue post Brexit. Importantly, it would require government to report to Parliament on progress rather than to make legal provision. It is hoped that violence against women and girls post Brexit will be pushed up the agenda in the negotiations if the Government are encouraged to report on it.
After exit day, women subject to violence could lose significant legal rights and protections such as European protection orders as well as a whole host of other measures aimed at tackling human trafficking, female genital mutilation and other crimes that disproportionately affect women. When similar amendments were considered in the other House, the Government responded by saying that they are already required to report on progress towards ratification of the Istanbul convention—I imagine I might be treated to that argument today.
However, the first Istanbul report was published by us last November and it made no reference to the European Union, European protection orders, the European arrest warrant or other forms of cross-border co-operation with the European Union. The amendment asks the Government to report on the action they are taking to continue co-operating with the European Union in the fight against violence towards women and girls and to ensure access to justice for victims. I therefore hope the Government do not give a similar response to that given in the other place, because it was demonstrably unsatisfactory. Given the gravity of what we are discussing—namely, how to protect abused women fleeing the country in which they live to escape an abuser—I hope to hear how the Government expect to continue protection for such women and girls post Brexit.
Amendment 222 is coupled with Amendment 224, which is on a related but distinct issue, around funding. As it stands, European Commission funding through streams such as the Daphne fund, the rights, equality and citizenship fund and the European Social Fund support a wide range of research and service delivery aimed at tackling violence towards women and girls in the United Kingdom. Of the 140 projects supported by the €364 million included in the rights, equality and citizenship programme since 2014, just over a third had a UK lead or partner—so we do very well out of that. I shall mention one organisation that I know rather well: the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation, a national charity which started by dealing simply with Iranian and Kurdish women but has expanded to support Middle Eastern and Afghan women and women from Africa who have been victims of violence, forced marriage, female genital mutilation and domestic abuse. That organisation currently receives up to 40% of its funding from European Union sources. It will no longer be eligible to apply for such funds once we have left. It will create an astonishing funding gap.
The Government have partially recognised the problem. They have committed to replacing some of the EU funding that goes to UK organisations and they have said that they will certainly try to replace a large part of the European Social Fund. However, no such announcements have been made regarding the Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programme fund, which has an explicit target of dealing with violence towards women and girls. Surely, by now the Home Office has set about quantifying the funding received by anti-violence and women’s rights groups and other women’s organisations from the European Union: we ought to have calculated some sums by now.
Part of what Amendment 224 entails is for the Government to report to Parliament on just how much funding is received by these organisations from the EU and, once we have that information, to consider how it will be remedied in the future and how organisations doing incredibly important work can receive reassurance about what will happen. Those are the matters that I raise here. Again, I mention the crises that we have seen publicised recently around women’s refuge beds and the absence of funding from local authorities to the refuge movement: many of those absences of money are already causing real problems for women’s organisations. The loss, on top of that, of money from Europe will have a significant impact, so I should like to hear what the Government are going to do about it.
Some £80 million of funding is already committed by the Government to existing projects and the shock of Brexit on the funding streams is not being addressed at the moment. I hope the Minister will not respond by highlighting funding that has already been promised: it will not be enough. We are talking about a different aspect of the fragmented funding sources here and I would like to hear what will happen in the future. I want to hear a commitment to reporting regularly to this House. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support both amendments but my brief remarks will mainly concern Amendment 224. There is great concern among civil society groups about the future of EU funding that currently supports those working to support survivors of violence against women and girls. As my noble friend Lady Kennedy has said, the Government have given an assurance that they will honour some European structural fund commitments up to 2020, but so long as they represent value for money and align with “domestic priorities”. What criteria will be used to decide whether projects meet these conditions? Will the Minister give an assurance about the Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programme, to which my noble friend referred, which support progress on equality and human rights, including through front-line services for people experiencing domestic abuse?
I have just read the Government’s very welcome consultation document on their proposed strategy on transforming the response to domestic abuse, but I did not spot anything on this matter—on neither EU co-operation post Brexit nor funding. It is possible that I missed it—I would be very glad if the Minister drew my attention to where it was—but, as far as I can see, there is a disconnect between our deliberations today and this very important new strategy that the Government have brought forward. If the Minister is not willing to accept two very modest amendments that simply ask for reporting, it can only reinforce anxieties among civil society groups which are doing so much to make a reality of the Government’s own aspirations to transform the response to domestic abuse.
I support these two amendments. As the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, pointed out, after exit day, European protection orders, plus other measures which give victims of violence equivalent protections across the EU, will be lost to UK citizens. But violence against women and girls has not featured in any Brexit-related papers. Can the Minister please tell us what provisions are being made to continue co-operation and data sharing on known and suspected perpetrators of human trafficking, FGM and sexual exploitation of children, and the whole host of benefits which cross-EU co-operation has brought us until now?
As has been said, Amendment 224 talks about the funding we have received hitherto and the value of the support we have enjoyed by virtue of being a member of the EU. If the Government are serious about ensuring that we continue to give vulnerable women and children the protections they have enjoyed so far, they know that this has to be properly funded. According to the Fawcett Society, many millions of pounds’ worth of funding—for research and service delivery support—are potentially at stake, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, said. Will the Minister commit to sustaining this funding post Brexit?
My Lords, I support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy. I am concerned about a number of matters, particularly the European protection order and the European arrest warrant, both of which are important weapons in relation to domestic violence.
I work with IKWRO, which the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, referred to: the Iranian-Kurdish organisation that does a great deal of good. It has really substantial funding from the EU and requires continued funding for the very valuable work it does in this country. I also ask the Minister to bear in mind that domestic violence includes forced marriage. Many women in forced marriage situations also suffer domestic violence. I declare that I am chairman of the National Commission on Forced Marriage.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 222. Human trafficking is one of the great global scourges of our generation. Globally, 66,520 people were identified as victims of human trafficking in 2016—a 40% increase from 2012. Even this number may represent less than 1% of the real scale of the problem.
Identifying and assisting victims of human trafficking is complex because their situations are complex and hidden. Someone may start their journey as a migrant but end up being exploited because of their vulnerability, and become a victim of human trafficking. The situation of a person who has been trafficked is desperate—stripped of agency, power and dignity, often in an unfamiliar country, with little way out.
This issue significantly affects women and girls. Of all the victims of human trafficking in Europe, 70% are women and 11% are girls, so a focus on tackling violence against women rightly seeks to address human trafficking. Many of these women will be victims of sexual exploitation, which makes up 76% of all human trafficking cases in the EU.
Human trafficking is predominantly a cross-border crime. Trafficking networks can often span several countries or continents as victims are recruited and transported from one country to another, so collaboration is key to identification and assistance. In 2016 only 326 of the 3,805 potential victims referred to the UK’s national referral mechanism were UK nationals—over 90% of potential victims of modern slavery were foreign nationals.
Across the EU, from 2010 to 2012, 5,611 EU citizens were prosecuted for trafficking, and almost a quarter of these were prosecuted in a different EU country. This demonstrates the need for strong collaboration, information sharing and co-operation between law enforcement and justice systems to protect vulnerable people from being trafficked.
This country has a proud history as a world leader in tackling modern slavery and human trafficking, supported by the commitment of our Prime Minister. Our Modern Slavery Act is at the forefront of legislation to ensure that we are equipped to properly tackle this issue. We have this moment in history to define the country we want to be. We should seek to maintain our proud record, and build on it, to ensure that we remain at the forefront of the fight against trafficking and the oppression of women and girls.
One of the keys to this is our role in Europol, which the UK law enforcement community, particularly the National Crime Agency, identifies as its most immediate priority. Europol’s commitment to co-ordinating the response to human trafficking and modern slavery is key. In 2016, its Operation Ciconia Alba identified 549 potential victims and launched 102 further investigations in the space of a week, in a co-ordinated effort which spanned 28 nations.
We know that the Government have, rightly, made known their intentions to remain a part of Europol and their desire to remain an active partner. Information sharing is the key to safety and security across the EU, and it is essential that we maintain our current access to exchange law enforcement intelligence with other European nations. We know too that this is possible outside the EU, as a number of countries, such as Norway, Switzerland and the US have operational agreements with Europol that allow access to intelligence. But an operational partnership such as this does not include access to the Europol information system, which pools information on suspected and convicted criminals and terrorists from across the EU. However, the EU is as much in need of our information and intelligence, so an agreement should be in the mutual interests of both parties. Tackling cross-border crime and terrorism requires us to seek the strongest possible collaboration across the EU, and I know that this is under negotiation.
I call on my noble friend the Minister to reassure the Committee that these key concerns are being addressed in the negotiations. It is an agreement that I am looking for—I am not so convinced about an annual report, but if one would lead to an agreement then it would be a good first step. We must ensure that we are able to build on our strong, historic anti-trafficking record. Will the Minister ensure that, post March 2019, Britain will use its new-found freedom to continue to lead the way on these crucial issues of justice?
My Lords, I want to say one or two words, not least because I thought it might be appropriate to have at least one male voice speaking in this debate about violence against women and girls. I declare my trusteeship of Coram, which contains the Coram Children’s Legal Centre. The centre often gives advice and tries to help the victims of domestic abuse—particularly children, including girls and boys.
As ever, these are probing amendments and we do not expect the Minister to come up with a list of magic solutions. However, we are concerned with two key areas. One is to seek reassurance that the levels and types of co-operation currently in place will, to the best of the Government’s ability, continue to be as effective—and even more effective in the future. The second is to seek reassurance that the sources of funding, some of which are plugging important gaps that we have been unable to fill domestically in the recent past, will not be unwittingly left behind.
Nobody suggests for a moment that Her Majesty’s Government do not care about these things. When I googled what the Prime Minister said about violence against women and girls, I saw that one of her first speeches when she became Home Secretary in 2010 was at a Women’s Aid conference, when she said:
“As both Home Secretary and minister for women and equalities I believe I have a unique opportunity to bring about real change to the lives and the status of women in this country and my ambition is nothing less than ending violence against women and girls”.
I am sure the Minister would agree with that.
We are not looking for chapter, book and verse. The Government have put a huge amount of effort into this. I returned to Google and looked at the Home Office website on violence against women and girls. It has no fewer than seven pages full of a whole variety of initiatives and policy statements that the coalition Government and now the current Government have undertaken and made, so it is not for lack of activity or lack of trying. We are concerned to try to ensure that that momentum continues. We are really trying to make three points. I think we know the answer to the first, which is whether the Government are aware of our concerns. Secondly, are they actively reviewing the content and looking at how to try to sort some of these out? Thirdly, to the best of their ability, can they remedy any of the unintended consequences?
Lastly, I put on the record an apology to the House. Two weeks ago, I fell an unwitting victim to what I believe the President of another country calls fake news. After googling some contributions by the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, I inadvertently attributed to him a mildly scurrilous article that appeared to be in his name in the Sun newspaper—a well-known and respectable organ. However, it turned out not to be the case. I have apologised to him in person, and I am now apologising to the House. My comments at cols. 924 and 925 of Hansard on Monday 5 March were not entirely correct.
That was a very nicely put apology.
It is important to remind ourselves that European policy currently ensures that victims escaping violence are able to access basic provisions and that restraining orders put on abusive partners apply across the whole EU. Those fleeing domestic violence across borders within the EU have the European protection order—as mentioned by several noble Lords—which is recognised across the EU. There is no guarantee we can see at the moment that this will continue to include the UK. As for women with insecure immigration status, a female migrant worker escaping violence in the UK would need to rely on the social security system, putting them in a weak position. We have to ensure these vulnerable women are protected and safeguarded. If we do not, they almost certainly will not be.
These two amendments are about issues that we have generally addressed in the House, which is that we do not want to see any gaps. We do not want to see Brexit happening and gaps in the provision of protection—in this case, for women and girls facing violence. My noble friend Lady Kennedy explained very ably what assurances we need from the Minister. They are about policy, funding and implementation. I think that every single person who has spoken in this debate has in some way or other mentioned policy, implementation, continuity and assurance. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, is completely right that the EU protection order and the EU arrest warrant are absolutely vital in this context.
I thank the Fawcett Society and Her Future, which includes 25 organisations that are intimately and actively involved in the protection of women and girls. They are very concerned about the fact that some of them will fall off a cliff if European funding is removed. They are very concerned about the implications that that will have for women and girls across Europe. From these Benches, I echo that we very much support these amendments and that we are seeking the assurance that many—I think all—noble Lords have raised today.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Russell, for his very gracious apology, and I am sure that if my noble friend Lord Callanan were present he would wish to acknowledge it in person.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, has raised an issue of great importance, and I thank her for tabling this amendment. It touches on issues that invite concern and lead people, not just across this House but universally, to seek reassurance. It may assist the House if I explain that the Government are taking forward a range of work to tackle violence against women and girls and if I set out the Government’s position on current and future international co-operation on these issues. I appreciate that, as far as the noble Baroness is concerned, I am probably teaching a very young grandmother how to suck eggs, and I apologise for that in advance. However, I hope that in giving this further explanation I will reassure her that, while her amendments are undoubtedly well-intended, at this stage they are unnecessary.
Ending violence against women and girls, and protecting and supporting victims, remain a key priority for this Government. The UK continues to be a global leader in its efforts to tackle violence against women and girls, and it is our reforms to domestic law that in turn help to support a stronger international framework; that is something that it is very important to acknowledge. Our cross-government violence against women and girls strategy outlines our ambition that no victim of abuse should be turned away from the support that she needs, and is underpinned by increased funding of £100 million through to 2020. We have put in place a range of measures to tackle violence against women and girls, including the criminalisation of forced marriage, two new stalking laws, the national rollout of domestic violence protection orders and the domestic violence disclosure scheme, and a new offence of domestic abuse covering controlling and coercive behaviour, which I think many will acknowledge is a very welcome extension of the law. We have also introduced new guidance on domestic homicide reviews and a new domestic abuse statistical tool and dataset that brings together comprehensive data on domestic abuse at a local level.
We are proud of the progress that we have led, but we know that there is more to do. The prevalence of these crimes continues to be unacceptable, with violence or the threat of it, sadly and appallingly, a daily reality for millions of women and girls in the UK and internationally. That is why we will continue to build on this work, driving forward our agenda to further address these injustices. We have committed to publishing a landmark draft domestic abuse Bill and are supporting the introduction of a new civil stalking protection Bill to protect victims at the earliest possible stage. The domestic abuse Bill will protect and support victims, recognise the lifelong impact that domestic abuse can have on children, make sure that agencies effectively respond to domestic abuse and extend our extraterritorial jurisdiction over violence against women and girls-related offences in England and Wales.
We have clear mechanisms for reporting on our progress. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, said that she hoped I was not going to give the stock response that had been given in the other place—but I am the mere obedient servant of my masters, so I have to say that I am not permitted or authorised to stray beyond what the Government have already indicated is their position. However, I will point out that we are already required to lay annual reports in Parliament on this issue in the context of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence—the Istanbul convention to which the noble Baroness referred.
It was the coalition Government who signed the Istanbul convention in 2012 to demonstrate their strong commitment to tackling violence against women and girls, and this Government have made absolutely clear our commitment to ratifying it. The convention sets forth obligations on parties to take a co-ordinated, coherent and cross-border approach to tackling violence against women and girls, and it is the first pan-European and legally binding instrument to provide a comprehensive set of standards. The convention highlights the need for more effective international and regional co-operation and, while there is no one-size-fits-all model in our approach, I suggest that the measures within the convention will ensure that more robust action is taken through legally binding and harmonised standards.
Does the Minister mean to say that the safeguards contained in the European protection order will be continued? Is that what will happen?
I am merely saying that we are committed to that convention and the provisions contained within it. I will come in a moment to the more specific issues about which a number of your Lordships were concerned: namely, the particular framework of law enforcement and mutual recognition of legal systems.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, will be aware that the Government supported the Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (Ratification of Convention) Act 2017, which places a duty on the Government to provide annual reports to Parliament on progress towards ratification. The first of these was published on 1 November 2017, and sets out the steps which the Government and, interestingly, the UK’s devolved Administrations are taking to tackle violence against women since signing the convention, and the remaining steps required as we progress toward ratification. In addition, once the UK has ratified the convention, we will be required to provide updates to the Council of Europe on compliance. This will not only further stimulate international co-operation but enable international benchmarking in tackling all forms of violence against women and girls.
I make clear that we are determined to ensure that victims can get the help they need when they need it, and we value the EU’s contribution to funding violence against women and girls services. Our future co-operation with the EU—I think this goes to the heart of the requirement of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy—will of course be subject to negotiation, but we are wholly committed to working with local commissioners to deliver a secure future for violence against women and girls services. As part of the negotiations, we will discuss with the EU and member states how best to continue co-operation on a range of issues, including the European arrest warrant and Europol. Several noble Lords expressed concern about how all this will link and dovetail post Brexit. It goes without saying that recognising the need for a workable and, as I said earlier, mutually respected framework of law enforcement is vital, and that will be at the heart of what we seek in the withdrawal agreement.
I have listened with interest to the contributions from across the Chamber. I undertake to look at Hansard. Some very good points were made and I shall see if the Government can provide any further comfort on the back of what I think has been a very well-informed and helpful debate.
I hope that I have made clear to the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, and other noble Lords who participated in the debate this Government’s absolute commitment to tackling violence against women in all its forms. Given our wider legal duties to update Parliament on the steps we are taking to tackle violence against women and girls, I invite her to withdraw her amendment.
One word that has not been used at all in this debate is “reciprocity”. It is crucial in this area and that covered by the next amendment that there is reciprocity between the United Kingdom Government and the Governments of the EU on areas such as the protection order and the other orders that are so important in relation to domestic violence.
When the noble Baroness looks at Hansard, I should be very grateful if she could address the specific questions that I asked about the future of funds that we will no longer be part of and perhaps write to those of us who spoke in the debate.
I must say that I listened to both noble Baronesses with great care.
My Lords, I will of course withdraw my amendment. I was rather disappointed not to have more from the Minister. I pay tribute to her. She is one of the most gracious and charming Ministers in this House, and that is why she is so popular with us all. I know that she, too, is a lawyer, and I remember how ferocious she could be in the Scottish Parliament. So I want her to commit to chewing the ankles of the negotiators to make sure that these issues do not fall off the agenda. The point of these amendments is that too often women’s issues are seen as second-order issues and not what the central negotiations are about—namely, having a good trade deal in the future.
I am grateful to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, for using the word “reciprocity”. Mutual recognition does not mean the same as reciprocity. We are concerned about enforcement: having the kind of collaborative arrangement whereby we can be sure that police forces and law enforcement agencies in other parts of Europe will act alongside our own agencies to protect women and girls who are facing violence. Those arrangements have been hard in the making, over many decades. We are not asking very much—just that this remains on the agenda and that there is reporting back to Parliament. Even with the good will of a Prime Minister who has been good on women’s issues and people like the Minister herself, I am concerned that this might end up forgotten about until it is too late. That is why I wanted to hear what the Government had to say.
Secondly, we have not really heard about the money. There is going to be a huge funding gap and organisations dealing with this really tough stuff are living in a state of anxiety about what is going to take place as of March next year. I think we might revisit this issue—but, at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 222 withdrawn.
223: After Clause 9, insert the following new Clause—
“Co-operation with the European Union on child maintenance claims
Within one month of the passing of this Act, and then once in every subsequent calendar year, the Secretary of State must lay before both Houses of Parliament a report containing an assessment of how, following exit day, co-operation between the United Kingdom and the EU will replicate mechanisms which exist within the EU to enforce cross-border child maintenance claims, and enable data sharing in relation to such matters.”
My Lords, Amendment 223 is about the enforcement arrangements, which rely on reciprocity, whereby a woman who has a child maintenance claim against an ex-partner can apply for an enforcement order in a court in the United Kingdom, which can then be enforced in another court in the European Union. An example which I have given a number of times in this House is a woman married to an Italian who shoves off, returns to Italy and does not pay maintenance for his children. Women being able to apply for an order which can be enforced across national borders saves time, money and stress and, ultimately, benefits mother and child. As I keep saying, if you have this problem and you are married to an American you have to get the money, go off to an American court and see what you can do over there. It is not easy, whereas it is very simple across the European Union.
This issue has not been commented on by the Government, so we can only infer that it is not yet on the agenda for any negotiations. We need to know what the Government plan to do on issues, like this one, where reciprocity is required and where mutuality makes it all work.
My Lords, I support the amendment. Anyone who has been an MP in the other place will know from their caseload that child maintenance is a huge, complex and emotive issue. When I was in the other place I learned about this and the challenges for parents with care. Chasing recalcitrant dads, or mums, across national borders without co-operative and reciprocal—that word again—arrangements would be nigh on impossible. Will the Minister commit to ensuring that parents with care are not left high and dry post Brexit, and that we have arrangements in place before we actually leave?
My Lords, from bitter experience as a family judge, I am aware how difficult it is for the mother of children—and occasionally the father; it is not always one-way—to get an effective maintenance order. I am not talking about Brexit at all, but one of the current benefits of the EU is the ability to follow an order made in an English court in another EU country, and the equal ability of the other 26 countries to follow an order into an English court. This is the absolute ultimate of good reciprocity. That is at enormous risk as we leave the EU. It is one issue that the Government must address alongside the reciprocity on divorce and other issues that we discussed earlier, and see that the good of this very good interchange between the 27 countries of the EU is not lost post Brexit.
Will the existing Hague convention on maintenance cover the situation? From what I have learned there are dozens, if not hundreds, of other states with which we have reciprocal arrangements for enforcing child maintenance. Some say that once we leave Europe, and leave the Brussels conventions, it will be simpler. We will simply have one international regime. There are those who say that it is actually better than the Brussels regime. All we need to do is sign up as an individual member—not as an EU member—of the Hague maintenance convention with its advantages stretching all around the world. I would like to be reassured that that will be just as good as the situation that we have at the moment.
I also support other Members in pointing out how very bad child maintenance law is at the moment in this country. It is very difficult to enforce in England, let alone elsewhere, but this is not the time to go into the great failings of that particular area of the law. We need to know whether the Hague convention will do, and whether we will sign up with the necessary three months’ notice before we exit from the Brussels conventions.
I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, that her neighbour, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, was shaking her head during her remarks about the Hague convention and its applicability in this case. We are again talking about reciprocity and gaps. This is a theme that noble Lords will recognise has run throughout this Bill. My noble friend Lady Sherlock spoke about it at Second Reading and at an earlier stage in Committee, painting some very vivid and moving pictures about all of these issues to do with divorce, maintenance and safeguarding children. This is yet another step along that road.
These are issues that affect ordinary people who happen to marry people from another country and have children with them. These are everyday issues—not the gigantic ones to do with human rights that we have come to recognise as part of this discussion—and will affect people because they will not be able to afford to go to law without the reciprocity that exists at the moment. The Minister needs to assure the House that the reciprocity that we have now is going to continue.
My Lords, I again thank the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, for raising a very important issue, the whole area of child maintenance. We recognise that it has a significant impact for many families in the UK and in the other EU member states. The reciprocal enforcement of maintenance decisions has a long history. Establishing procedures to enable decisions made in one country to be enforced in another helps to ensure that children receive appropriate financial support after the parents have separated and when one parent is living in another country. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, interestingly observed that even with the structures, there are still challenges. We all have to be cognisant of that.
All EU member states are party to the EU maintenance regulation and, with the exception of Denmark, the 2007 Hague maintenance convention. The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, raised a question about that. I can confirm to her that the Government have identified the UK’s continued participation in the 2007 Hague maintenance convention as an important issue for discussion with the EU in the upcoming negotiations. The sensible next step is for us to work with the EU and our other international partners to agree that the UK will continue to participate in this convention.
As the Government outlined in their position paper published in August last year, we are committed to continuing civil judicial co-operation with the EU once we leave the EU, including in the sphere of child maintenance, because this is in the interests of both UK and EU citizens and families. However, this amendment presents an unnecessary burden to the Government at this stage in the process of our exit.
The report specified by the amendment requires the Government to publish details of future co-operation with the EU on child maintenance claims and how these will replicate mechanisms which exist within the EU, as well as enabling data sharing in relation to such matters, all within one month of the Bill receiving Royal Assent and subsequently every year thereafter. This is rather an arbitrary deadline. I realise that the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, may have a good reason for picking a deadline, but it makes no reference to the position of the negotiations at that stage or to the other documents the Government will publish on the subject. These documents include not only any final agreement reached in negotiations but any Explanatory Notes on any amendments that Ministers may make to retained EU law under the Bill, including retained law relating to child maintenance. I am sure the noble Baroness is also aware that any agreement between the UK and the EU will be detailed clearly within the withdrawal agreement and domestically legislated for within the upcoming withdrawal agreement and implementation period Bill, which Parliament will be able to fully scrutinise and vote on.
The Government have made clear that civil judicial co-operation in respect of child maintenance should be part of our future relationship with the EU. However, I hope that the noble Baroness will indulge me when I say that the precise nature of this relationship is a matter for negotiation. To require a report of the nature suggested in the amendment would divert resources from these important negotiations and would bear no relation to their progress or timelines. Again, the noble Baroness has done the Chamber a service by bringing on to the radar screen an extremely important issue, which the Government are acutely aware of and which is encompassed within the negotiations. However, in these circumstances I ask her to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I think the Minister again for her sensitive response to this matter. The reason for asking for there to be reporting within a month of the passing of the Bill is to ensure that it is part of the negotiations—purely that. Its purpose is to put a flag in the sand, making sure that in the progress of the negotiations what is seen as the daily bread-and-butter stuff of people’s lives does not get lost. Thereafter, it would be an annual thing, to make sure that progress is maintained as we go forward once we are out of the European Union. That was the reason for the choosing of the dates. I hear what the Minister says, and of course at this stage I beg leave to withdraw the amendment, but we may revisit it at a later stage.
Amendment 223 withdrawn.
Amendments 224 and 225 not moved.
226: After Clause 9, insert the following new Clause—
“Referendum on terms of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union
(1) Prior to the enactment of the statute referred to in section 9(1), a Minister of the Crown must by regulations made by statutory instrument provide for a referendum to determine whether the terms of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU are acceptable.(2) In subsection (1) “the terms of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal” includes any proposed agreement or framework agreement regarding future relations between the United Kingdom and the EU and any proposal about how to conduct future relations in the absence of such an agreement or framework agreement.(3) The regulations under subsection (1) must also make provision for—(a) the conduct of the referendum, including the eligible franchise;(b) the question to be posed in the referendum; and(c) only two possible answers, one being acceptance of the recommendation made by the Government and the other the pursuit of the maintenance of the status quo regarding United Kingdom's membership of the EU.(4) A statutory instrument containing regulations under this section may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.”
My Lords, this amendment standing in my name seeks to introduce a new clause to enable a confirmatory referendum to be held to indicate that the terms of the Brexit negotiated by the Government are acceptable to the people of these islands. I also support very much the objectives of other amendments coupled with mine in this group.
Earlier in our Committee deliberations, I spoke of the need for MPs to have the right to a meaningful vote on the outcome of the Government’s negotiations, and for that vote to include provision for returning to the status quo if the negotiated package was unacceptable to Parliament. In his response, the Minister refused to give that undertaking. In these circumstances, it makes it even more important to build into the Bill a provision for the people to be allowed to endorse or reject the final negotiated outcome.
If the Government fail to come to an understanding with the EU on a negotiated Brexit package, which they may well not, and have to recommend quitting the EU on a no deal basis, the argument for a referendum is irrefutable. People were promised a new arrangement with the EU and voted to leave on that basis. They did not vote to quit the EU with no arrangement at all. Had that been the proposition put to them in the referendum in 2016, I am convinced that the outcome would have been very different indeed. In fact, the 2016 referendum gave the Government a mandate for entering into negotiations and other preparations for Brexit. Once we know what Brexit actually means, the time will come for the Government to report back to the people for a decision on whether to go ahead with it or not on the terms available. That will not be a wishy-washy Brexit which tries to mean everything to everybody, pandering to populist wishful thinking—
Has not the Supreme Court confirmed in a ruling precisely what the noble Lord is saying: that while Parliament authorised the referendum, it has yet to authorise, or have the authority to authorise, the outcome of that negotiation?
Yes indeed; it is of course finally a matter for Parliament to decide what should happen. The process we are going through in Committee, and later on Report, in particular, will enable MPs to have the appropriate pegs on which to hang the questions that then need to be decided in the light of the information that will be available to them at that stage. That is why I feel it is important that we give them this option, particularly given that they will not have the opportunity to have a meaningful vote if the outcome of the negotiations is no deal. We have had it confirmed that there will be no meaningful vote of MPs or of this House in those circumstances. That must stress and underline the logic of putting the question back to the people in those circumstances. It would not be a rerun of the 2016 referendum. It would be a new confirmatory vote conducted with much fuller information available, and would be a far fairer test of the public’s will than the last referendum, carried out with very limited available information.
A whole series of issues were not foreseen at the time of the 2016 “in principle” referendum, or, at the very least, were not drawn to the attention of the voters by either campaign or by the media. These include the significance of the Irish border question, the loss of EU citizens’ rights, the crisis facing Gibraltar, chemicals and medical testing, customs logistics at ports, the extreme uncertainty for business during negotiation periods—and not least the fact that Mr Trump had not then become US President, casting doubt on whether the UK could get an acceptable trade deal with the US following Brexit.
It would, I believe, be perfectly honourable and credible if Mrs May now said something along these lines: “We pursued Brexit in good faith, believing it was the will of the people. We have explored it thoroughly and discovered a whole series of unforeseen consequences. I now believe that it is my duty to ask the people whether this was really what they wanted when they voted and to give them the final word on the outcome of the negotiations”. I beg to move.
My Lords, I speak primarily to Amendment 227BH. It is identical to Amendment 181, which we agreed, in the interests of time, not to debate last Wednesday. This amendment seeks to give Parliament the opportunity to consider whether a referendum should be held on whether the UK should accept the outcome of the negotiations between the EU and the UK or seek to remain in the EU by revoking Article 50 —that is, it provides for a public vote on the deal.
The reasoning behind the amendment is simple. There is now near unanimous agreement that Parliament must have a meaningful vote on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations. Clause 9 provides one mechanism for a vote to be held. As we discussed when we debated Amendment 150 and other amendments last week, there are potentially more satisfactory mechanisms for doing this, and we will revert to those on Report. In any event, there will be such a vote. By definition, it could result in Parliament, and the Commons in particular, voting not to accept the negotiated terms. In those circumstances, what should happen?
It is our contention that in those circumstances Parliament should ask the people for their view and give them the final say. There are two principal reasons for that. The first is the in-principle argument that, the people having been asked to vote on the principle of Brexit, they should also be asked whether they approve of the concrete provisions of any Brexit deal. The second is the political reality that Parliament, having ceded the original decision to the people, does not have the moral and political legitimacy to override the earlier expressed will of the people on its own authority. This might be called the “Hamilton” argument in deference to the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton of Epsom, who I am extremely sorry to see is not in his place. At Second Reading, he said that if Parliament voted against a deal:
“I have no option then but to take to the streets because I cannot get representation in Parliament. All I can do is protest outside Parliament”.—[Official Report, 30/1/18; col. 1470.]
This amendment saves the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, the necessity of becoming a street protestor—a role in which I struggle to see him; but more importantly, in an era when parliamentarians do not command universally high regard, it gives the people the final say on a process which they initiated. It is also what they clearly now want.
Recent polling shows that a clear majority of people now want a vote on the deal—even Conservative voters. Noble Lords no doubt saw the results of the Survation poll at the weekend which showed that a clear majority of Conservatives wanted such a vote—by 43% to 34% across the country and by a massive 61% to 25% in London.
Does the noble Lord agree that what he has just said is very different from this quote from September 2016:
“The public have voted and I do think it’s seriously disrespectful and politically utterly counterproductive to say: ‘Sorry guys, you’ve got it wrong, we’re going to try again’. I don’t think we can do that”?
That was the current leader of his party.
We have had that quote umpteen times in your Lordships’ House. I will deal with it, but many people said many things many years ago which are not necessarily the principal subject of discussion today.
Given that a majority of people, including a very clear majority of Conservative voters, want a vote on the deal, how can anybody possibly oppose it? At Second Reading, no fewer than seven arguments were advanced against it. The first was that referenda are anathema to a parliamentary system of democracy. This view was forcefully set out by, for example, the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, and the noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes, who I am very pleased to see in his place, who called referenda,
“a sin against parliamentary democracy”.—[Official Report, 30/1/18; col. 1475.]
I understand that strength of feeling, but the question I must pose to them and to others, on all Benches, who could well vote to oppose a Brexit deal, is this: do you really believe that a House of Commons vote against a Brexit agreement and in favour of remaining in the EU, with no recourse to the people, would be politically sustainable? If not, what is more important: the “sin” of a referendum or the long-term impoverishment of the country? Many noble Lords might find that an unpalatable choice, but I am afraid it is the hard reality.
Secondly, it was argued that you cannot rerun the 2016 referendum because the people have already spoken—the argument made by the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley. I completely agree, but what is proposed is very far from being a rerun: it is the first chance for the public to vote on the reality of Brexit. I have in my mind the “maiden aunt” analogy of the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane. Another analogy is that of the prospective house purchaser who makes an offer after visiting an apparently ideal house, only to find when he gets the survey back that it has subsidence, a leaking roof and a garden beset by Japanese knotweed. Whatever analogy one uses, the distinction between an initial and a final decision is clear and well understood.
The third argument was that there would not be time for a referendum before 29 March next year, because the negotiations will drag on and any deal would be at the last minute. This is, I think, a valid concern, but one that is addressed in our amendment. Any referendum campaign is likely to need to run beyond 29 March next year, and that is why we propose that, if a referendum were voted for, the Government would need to seek approval to extend the Article 50 period for it to be held. We have every reason to believe that such a request would be granted.
Fourthly, it was suggested that it would be difficult to frame the referendum question. I cannot see why it is any more difficult to draft a referendum question than it is to draft a Motion in Parliament on whether to accept a negotiated Brexit deal, or no deal if that is the outcome, or to remain members of the EU. Indeed, Amendments 226 and 357 suggest how the ballot paper question might be phrased.
Fifthly, it was suggested that having a further referendum would be inconclusive and that there would be calls from the losing side for another referendum at a future point to reverse the result of this referendum. While this is a passable debating society point, it does not stand critical scrutiny. At the end of the current Brexit negotiations, a decision must be taken. The only question is by whom.
Sixthly, it was argued, most notably by the noble Lord, Lord Hague of Richmond, that a referendum would,
“plunge the country into a long and bitter dispute and division greater than … we have seen so far”.—[Official Report, 31/1/18; col. 1595.]
I am not by nature a fomenter of division and dispute, but division and dispute is the situation in which the country already finds itself. If noble Lords speak to young people in this country, to those who are married to or who simply know EU nationals, and to those who fear that they might lose their job as a result of Brexit, they will find a strength of feeling that is not going to dissipate any time soon if Brexit proceeds.
Once the conclusive decision is taken on Brexit, we all have a responsibility to work to heal the wounds of a bitterly divided society. But those wounds will not heal simply by accepting any Brexit deal, however damaging. Finally, it is argued that this is not the right piece of legislation into which to be inserting such a provision and that we should keep our powder dry until the withdrawal Bill appears in the autumn or at the end of the year.
Or early next year.
Or whenever it appears.
The doctrine of an unripe time is one of the most pernicious of the comfort blankets of the irresolute. The truth is that we are now only months away from a decision on Brexit. If there is to be a referendum on the deal, people need to start planning for it and campaigning on it. Passing this amendment would send a signal to the Government, the Electoral Commission and all those concerned about the final outcome that a referendum is an option for which preparation should now be made. Delaying any decision until—
Will the noble Lord explain what is meant by revoking Article 50 or reverting to the status quo? How could the electorate know what conditions might be imposed by the other 27 if we were to revoke Article 50, assuming that that is allowed, and letting us back in? In other words, it would be yet another pig in a poke because for all one would know conditions would be applied such as having to join the eurozone, Schengen or other conditions that we have avoided so far. The electorate would have no idea what conditions might be imposed if we stopped the negotiations.
If we stopped the negotiations we would not have left the EU, so we would be in in the EU then as we are now.
I am not short of sight, but I think I saw the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, leaving before this amendment was debated. If so, it is small wonder, because I have six quotations from him of which one would suffice. He said:
“I think you must accept the sovereign judgment of the British people. If we have to be out then let’s make the best of it”.
My Lords, I really think that in this point in the debate it is best if people do not revert back to what people said in 2016 or I shall start talking about what people wrote on the side of a bus. It would be completely unproductive.
With the amendment in my name, we are also debating referendum amendments in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Wigley and Lord Foulkes. There are slight differences in emphasis between them, but on one thing we are all agreed: Brexit is the most important decision that this country will face for decades. Every person in the country will be profoundly affected by it and so every person should have their say on whether it is a future that they wish to embrace.
My Lords, I beg leave to move Amendment 357 in my name.
My Lords, the noble Lord will not be moving his amendment at this stage: he will be speaking to it.
Well then, I will speak to it.
May I say something?
One of the interesting aspects of our country is that, unlike almost every other country in the world, we do not have a written constitution. Britain’s unwritten constitution could be summed up in one sentence—Parliament is supreme. I myself take the Thatcherite view on referendums, as indeed does my noble friend Lord Patten, but since this particular referendum was approved by Parliament, like it or not, I have to accept it. However, I remind the House of the Supreme Court’s ruling on this matter, of which quite by chance I happen to have a copy in my pocket:
“The 2016 referendum is of great political significance. However, its legal significance is determined by what Parliament included in the statute authorising it, and that statute simply provided for the referendum to be held without specifying the consequences. The change in the law required to implement the referendum’s outcome must be made in the only way permitted by the UK constitution, namely by legislation”.
That means that the outcome of these discussions must be laid before Parliament, and given that our unwritten constitution gives that right to Parliament, I have no doubt whatever that Her Majesty’s Government will abide by our unwritten constitution—the supremacy of Parliament.
My Lords, perhaps I may put one point to my noble friend. Is he, as I am, mildly amused by the fact that so many of our noble friends seem particularly keen to quote the views of present and former leaders of the Liberal party but do not seem keen to remember what the most distinguished leader of the Conservative Party over the past few years said explicitly about the danger of referendums being an example of the worst sort of plebiscitary democracy?
Indeed, I agree with my noble friend. What they are saying in fact could possibly mean that were the outcome of the deal to involve the killing of the firstborn child of every family in Britain, we would have to accept that.
My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that Baroness Thatcher’s last vote in the House of Commons made in February 1992 was in favour of a referendum on the Maastricht treaty? She was nothing if not inconsistent on these matters.
My Lords, is it okay to speak now? I must apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Garel-Jones, for whom I have the greatest respect. I am glad that he got in to speak because if he had not, we would not have had the pearls of wisdom not only from him but from the noble Lord, Lord Patten, all of which I agree with. They have contributed greatly to our debate.
I shall speak to Amendment 357 and in support of the amendments tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Wigley and Lord Newby, which reflects if not all-party support, at least cross-party support. I apologise too for being a couple of minutes late for the start of the debate on this group of amendments, but I had not realised that the Bill is going through at breakneck speed today. Something has gone wrong. However, I am not sure that all of my colleagues would have minded if I had not made it at all because my party, or at least some in it, has not yet come around to supporting a new referendum; that is, not a second one, but a new one on the terms. I will make a rash prediction: they will eventually come around to supporting a new referendum because the vast majority of Labour members and supporters are in favour of one. If the leadership of my party is at all wise, it will come around to realising that it is not sensible to go against the views of the majority of our supporters.
Like other speakers and those who have intervened, I have never been a fan of referenda. It is right to point out that from time to time they have been used by dictators to advance their causes. People vote on other issues and they can be easily manipulated. We saw how this referendum was manipulated. It now appears that some things were happening from outside the United Kingdom that we did not even know about. But we did see people within the United Kingdom manipulating it. I will not go over what was on the side of the bus again or the other things that were said which have turned out to be—I will not use the word “lies”—pieces of misinformation given to the British people. If for no other reason than that, the British people should be given the opportunity to think again, although of course there are a lot of other reasons.
It was an advisory referendum. As I have said in the House before, what I find is the most astonishing, disturbing and upsetting thing is that normally intelligent, bright, clever and able people know that we are heading towards a disaster, yet they continue to say, “But we must move in that direction because, ‘The British people said so’”, thus ignoring the fact that it was an advisory referendum and all the other problems associated with it.
As I have said before, the franchise in Scotland for the Scottish referendum allowed 16 and 17-year olds—I will come back to that later—and European Union citizens to vote. The European Union referendum did not. Is it not crazy that European Union citizens were able to vote on the future of Scotland but not on the future of the United Kingdom in Europe?
The noble Lord mentioned the possibility of European Union citizens voting in a referendum—and, of course, the question of franchise is referred to in Amendment 226. Is he aware that there are approximately 3.7 million EU citizens in the UK—not all of them adults, but certainly a couple of million or so who could vote—who could very well swing it? Is there anything more absurd than imagining that the future of this country would be determined by people who are not even citizens of it?
It is not absurd at all. It is sensible because those people are taxpayers—at least most of them are. The noble Lord sniggers; he is an expert sniggerer. These people are taxpayers who are contributing to our society. As I said on a couple of previous occasions, there used to be a phrase, “No taxation without representation”. Those people are being taxed and they deserve the opportunity to have their say.
I was timing it to see how long it would be before the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, rose.
I am intrigued by the idea of the noble Lord that anyone who is a taxpayer should have a vote. Does he think that every American or Chinese person—or anyone from any part of the world—who lives here and pays taxes should have a vote? It is a ridiculous proposition.
A lot of Commonwealth citizens are able to vote. A lot of people have a vote—but these are European Union citizens talking about our membership of the European Union. It seems to me to be a logical proposition.
The noble Lord was advancing the proposition that if you pay taxes here, you should have a vote. Does he now recognise that that is a silly argument?
I was answering a question. I was talking about European Union citizens who are taxpayers here—and I think most Members of this House understood that.
One of the blights of the referendum, apart from the facts of the flawed franchise and the misinformation, was the differential result. In replying to this, everyone tells me, “It was a referendum for the whole United Kingdom”. Nevertheless, some of the problems created were caused by that differential result. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, will know that in Scotland, this is fuelling nationalism and giving greater purchase to the SNP’s arguments. In Northern Ireland—I will not go into the problems because my noble friend Lord Hain articulated them brilliantly in a previous debate—there are real problems and absolutely no solutions put forward by the Government. It was a differential vote. London was overwhelmingly in favour of European Union membership, and one of the most insidious and difficult problems—which is not being talked about very much but will cause huge problems—is Gibraltar. It voted overwhelmingly—98% or 99%—to stay in the European Union, yet we will be dragging it out against its will if we go ahead. That will cause tremendous problems.
Like other noble Lords, I would argue—as I have done before—that this a parliamentary democracy and Parliament must make the decision. I did that in relation to this advisory referendum. As noble Lords—including the noble Lord, Lord Newby—said, Parliament should decide, but I accept the very strong argument that, since we went down this road on a referendum, we need to change tack by using one. I hope that the franchise will be better; I hope that European Union citizens and youngsters—16 and 17 year-olds—will be allowed to vote. On Friday, I went to George Heriot’s School in Edinburgh—a private school—and took part in a debate. I argued that the charitable status—I am nothing if not foolhardy—of private schools should be withdrawn. I was defeated, which will come as no surprise to Members. I did get 18 votes, by the way, which shows that there are some intelligent people in private schools—but I was overwhelmingly defeated. Afterwards, I said, “I think I should’ve come in and argued that we should remain in the European Union”—and I got overwhelming support. The youngsters know where their future lies. It is affecting them. I say with no disrespect, looking around the Chamber, that there are not many noble Lords here who will be affected for as long as those young people. So I hope they will be able to have a vote as well.
This argument is a very strong one. We are not talking about a second referendum; we are talking about a completely different thing. The noble Baroness opposite asked what the alternative would be if we rejected the negotiated deal. The alternative is very clear: the status quo. We are members of the European Union and we are doing well as a member of the European Union— although, day by day, with the prospect of Brexit, we are suffering some of the effects of it. The sooner we get out of this Brexit—
Quagmire. I was trying to think of a word that implied rushing towards it like the lemmings I described the other day.
I am grateful to my noble friend—this is a wonderful House, where you get so much support in so many ways. The sooner we get out of this and return to the status quo that has done this country proud for the past 40 years, the better.
My Lords, I put my name to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Newby, when it was Amendment 181. I would have put my name to his amendment today but I did not have the opportunity to do so over the weekend.
In my speech at Second Reading I agreed with others that this is not an appropriate vehicle to require a further referendum on our leaving the European Union. However, I said that I would support any amendments necessary to ensure that a further referendum would be among the options in Parliament’s meaningful vote at the conclusion of the negotiations. The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Newby, is such an amendment.
I have feared throughout that the choice the Government intend to give Parliament at the conclusion of the negotiations is, “this agreement or no agreement”. I am sorry to say that what the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, said in our debate last Wednesday confirmed that this is indeed the Government’s intention. I hope that he will tell me I am wrong, but I think it was clear from what he said last week that that is what the Government propose to do. Of course, we must all hope that the agreement that emerges from the negotiations will be good for the UK—but the Prime Minister has famously said that no agreement would be better than a bad agreement. It would be entirely wrong if the only choice given to Parliament at the end of the negotiations was between an agreement, however bad, or no agreement at all. I know that the Prime Minister and the Government feel that they have an instruction from the people to take Britain out of the EU—but I cannot believe that a bad agreement is a correct interpretation of the wishes of a majority of the people as expressed in the referendum. If Parliament judges the outcome of the negotiations to be bad, a better alternative must be to think again before we drive the nation over a cliff.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Newby, I cannot get out of my mind my noble friend Lord Lisvane’s aunts, whom he described so graphically at Second Reading. If, having voted to go to cinema, they find that the two films available are ones they do not want to see, the only sensible course must be to think again about going to the cinema at all. If that is true for my noble friend’s aunts on a Saturday evening, I suggest that it is certainly true for the nation as a whole in one of the most important decisions that we will have to make in our generation.
To take the cinema analogy further, does the noble Lord not think that if the European Commission thought that there was a possibility of a second referendum, it would be likely to put something on at the cinema that would be even scarier for the maiden aunts?
My Lords, I had expected that intervention. If that is the EU’s tactic, it has plenty of ways of doing it, and plenty of motive for doing it, other than just producing a bad agreement.
As others have said, it is quite clear that, since the people voted in a national referendum to leave the European Union, that decision could be reversed only by the people. That would require either a further referendum or a general election in which the people had the opportunity to elect a Government with an explicitly different mandate. In those circumstances, I suspect the Government themselves would prefer a further referendum.
Ever since the referendum, I have argued that the British people are entitled to a further say when the terms of the UK’s departure are known. I still hold that view, but that is not the case which I am arguing today. The purpose of this amendment is simply to ensure that a further referendum remains an option if the negotiations do not turn out as well as the Government hope.
To say that Parliament’s so-called “meaningful vote” can be a choice only between a bad agreement and no agreement would be an outrage. I shall listen carefully to what the Minister says in his reply, but I am afraid that the Government intend that the meaningful vote will be simply a binary choice between the outcome of the negotiations and no agreement. In that case, I hope that the House will support an amendment on the lines of that proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Newby—if not this evening, then on Report.
My Lords, I had the opportunity of speaking at some length last Wednesday to my Amendments 216 and 217, when I explained my thinking fairly fully, so I shall be brief today. I shall say simply that I wholly support what the noble Lords, Lord Butler, Lord Newby, Lord Wigley and Lord Foulkes, have said about this matter. It seems of cardinal importance that we should give to the British people a chance of expressing a final view as to whether we leave. They must have the choice of staying in the European Union if that is their wish. Personally, I am inclined to think that Parliament could make that decision of its own motion, but I recognise that, once a referendum has been held, it might decide that it had no choice but to test its own opinion by recourse to another referendum, which would be conducted with the full situation apparent to the entire electorate.
I fear, as does the noble Lord, Lord Butler, that the Government have it in mind to put to the British Parliament a choice of either the deal or no deal. I would find that profoundly offensive. I could not support such a situation. I doubt I could support a Government who made that their platform. It has to be right for Parliament and probably the electorate to have a choice between remaining in the European Union or accepting the terms on offer. It has to be a genuine choice, otherwise the concept of a meaningful vote is without meaning.
Does the noble Viscount agree that it does not matter what the Government say, it is up to the House of Commons to decide what the choice should be?
The noble Lord is quite right and my noble friend Lord Garel-Jones was indicating this point. When my noble friend Lord Callanan constantly says that the people have spoken and we are leaving, he is wrong because ultimately it is Parliament that will decide whether we leave or not, and maybe the British people by an election. I do hope that he will stop saying, as he has been saying rather too often to my way of thinking, that the referendum is conclusive of the matter and we are leaving, whatever. That is not consistent with my understanding of the British constitution, our history or our purpose. We have a right, as Parliament, to demand that we have the decisive say, and if we think it is right, there should be another referendum on the terms then identified.
I know the affection that my noble friend has for Parliament. Could he just remind the House of the size of the majorities against having a second referendum in both Houses of Parliament?
I think my noble friend, for whom I have the greatest respect, tempts me, and I am going to be tempted. I do not believe that there is a parliamentary majority for Brexit, either in this House or in that House. I certainly do not think that there is a parliamentary majority for a hard Brexit. I think that if Members in that place were to consult their consciences, they would vote to remain within the European Union. That is what we need to give them the opportunity to do.
I know that my noble friend does not think much of referendums, and neither do I. I think that referendums are a shocking idea. I hear around this House a lot of people who frightfully disapprove of the last referendum we had because it came up with a rotten result, as far as they are concerned. So will my noble friend please explain to me, because he is an extremely clever man, the logic for why on earth, having not liked the last referendum, we would want another one?
Parliament is supreme.
My noble friend Lord Garel-Jones says that Parliament is supreme and he is entirely right. My noble friend Lord Robathan was here on Wednesday when I gave him and this Committee my answer to that. I do not think that the last referendum was an authority to leave on any terms or no terms. I think that it was an instruction to the Government to negotiate the best terms that could be negotiated, leaving open the question: who then decides whether the terms or the absence of terms are acceptable? I have always believed that the final decision rests with Parliament and, if Parliament so requires, the British electorate.
My Lords, as a country we have only had referenda a few times in our history. This is the first time, let us remember, that the referendum result has not reflected the will of Parliament. Looking back to what the will of Parliament was two years ago, before the referendum, let us remind ourselves that about two-thirds of the House of Commons and well over 75% of this House wanted to remain. Since the referendum of 23 June 2016 we have been told to respect the will of the people. We have been told by the Government that they are implementing the will of the people; they are under the orders of the people; it is undemocratic if we even challenge this. The whole nation is now under an impression that this Brexit juggernaut is going, they have to get onto it and there is no turning back. But let us remember that from 20 February, when the referendum was announced, until 23 June represented four months to make a decision about 44 years.
It is so complex. Many noble Lords were in this House when, just before the referendum, the EU Committee debated one of its reports, and it was said that if only people realised how complex this was going to be and how impossible, they would never, ever want to leave. I have always said that I am a Eurosceptic in many ways; I am against a lot of the things about the European Union. It is nowhere near perfect—the euro being a great example—but on balance I think that it is absolute folly to implement this wretched referendum. The Brexit emperor has no clothes. People have changed their minds, people are changing their minds and people will change their minds in the run-up to October, let alone in the run-up to 29 March next year. People have to be given the opportunity to change their minds. As Keynes said, “If the facts change, don’t you change your mind?” Of course you can. Even David Davis said:
“If a democracy cannot change its mind, it ceases to be a democracy”.
What is wrong with the referendum, and what is so undemocratic about it—the noble Lord, Lord Patten, is so right—is that in a normal vote, if you win with 50.1%, you have won and that is it, but in five years’ time, people can change their minds if they are unhappy, if they have been lied to, if people have not performed. Here, there is no such chance for people to change their minds. What is more, we have had two years, as the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, said—this is why this amendment is so crucial—during which people who were 16 and 17 year-olds would now be old enough to vote. Every time I speak at universities and schools, and I do so regularly, I ask them, “If you were given a choice, would you wish to remain or leave?” I am not exaggerating; almost 100% of the hands go up saying they want to remain. In fact, I get applauded a lot of the time and people say, “Really? Do we have a chance?”
I am sorry to interrupt my noble colleague, who is very dear to me, but this idea that the young have only one view and that they will always retain this same view throughout their lives is wibble and wobble. It is simply not true. The young had the poorest turnout rate at the referendum; they were split two to one on the issue, which means that there are plenty of young people who actually wanted Brexit. His whole idea that it is impossible to have a successful Brexit is the most undemocratic view of all. Young people deserve to be heard, of course they do. Yes, they are passionate about it, and I am delighted at it, but the idea that young people will never change their minds, no matter what their experience, no matter what their age, simply goes against all the facts of politics as we know it.
I hear everything that my noble colleague has said and I respect him greatly. All I am reflecting is what I have seen when I have asked hundreds if not thousands of young people in the country. Of course they can change their minds. Of course they did not turn out to vote two years ago, and they regret it dearly. I think that if they had a chance now they would turn out in droves, and I guarantee noble Lords that almost 100% of them would vote to remain. What is more, what is worrying and why these amendments are required is that we are being told by the Government that we will get a meaningful say, but we do not know what that meaningful say is. We are being told by the Government that if there is no deal, we will still have to leave. What we are not being told is, if we are not happy with a bad deal or a no-deal, that the people should have a chance to change their minds. Will the Minister confirm that this is the case; that whatever happens—deal, bad deal, no deal—we have to leave and people do not get another say? This is nonsense, because it is unacceptable and undemocratic.
On this theme the noble Lord is pursuing that people have the right to change their minds, how many times do they have the right to change their minds? If, for example, we had another referendum and it was narrowly one way, would people like me be entitled to argue, “Actually, do you know what, we can do a better deal, and we should have another referendum”? We would have a neverendum of neverendums—is that what the noble Lord is arguing? It is clearly ridiculous.
The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, has made a point that is always made when I make this argument. But this is not a normal situation. This is a decision that is permanent, which will affect generations to come. It is a decision that has not been made with the full information. It is a decision where already in two years so much has come to light. It is a decision that depends on so many negotiations. Yes, we need another referendum so that people, with the full information, can have the option to make a proper decision, including changing their minds.
My Lords, this has the potential to be extremely divisive for the nation. We need a referendum to ensure that we do not land up, through this whole process, with a divided nation for a very long time.
My Lords, how much more divided can the country be than it is now? That is what this wretched referendum has done: it has divided our country. Our House is divided in a way that it never has been before.
That is why we need a second referendum or a vote on the final outcome.
We do, because if what I feel will happen happens and people decide to remain in the EU, we will have a future that is much better than if we crash out. When people voted to leave they did not say to the Government, “We allow you to leave on any basis”. It was not a carte blanche. It was not a blank sheet of paper.
We all loved my noble friend Lord Lisvane’s story about his aunts. One of the most well-known philosophers in the world today, at the University of Cambridge, gave me this analogy. He said: you go to see a doctor with your arm hurting and you say, “Please, doctor, take away the pain from my arm”. The doctor takes you into the operating theatre. You come out of the operating theatre and the doctor has cut off your arm. You say, “I did not ask you to cut my arm off”. The doctor says, “Well, you told me to stop the pain. I have done what you told me to. You did not say I should not do this or that”. That is the exact analogy: if we leave on any basis we will be letting down the British people.
Call it a referendum part 2 or a second referendum—we have to allow the people a chance if we are a truly democratic nation.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, as I did at Second Reading, and to answer some of his points. The noble Lord, Lord Newby, did not like it when I quoted the words of his current leader to him, for some reason. He said that I should quote from my own party.
I remind the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, of the words of Jacob Rees-Mogg, who has said:
“Indeed, we could have two referendums. As it happens, it might make more sense to have the second referendum after the renegotiation is completed”.—[Official Report, Commons, 24/10/11; col. 108.]
The Brexit Secretary, David Davis, has said:
“Referendums should be held when the electorate are in the best possible position to make a judgment. They should be held when people can view all the arguments for and against and when those arguments have been rigorously tested. In short, referendums should be held when people know exactly what they are getting”.—[Official Report, Commons, 26/11/02; col. 202.]
I was going to quote David Cameron because I was asked for the words of a Conservative. On 10 November 2015, after announcing the referendum, he said:
“It will be your decision … Nobody else’s. Not politicians’. Not Parliament’s. Not lobby groups’. Not mine. Just you. You, the British people, will decide … And it will be the final decision. So to those who suggest that a decision in the referendum to leave … would merely produce another stronger renegotiation and then a second referendum in which Britain would stay … I say think again … There will not be another renegotiation and another referendum … Think very carefully, because this choice cannot be undone”.
My noble friend really must face the possibility that Parliament will take a different view, in which case the Government will do what Parliament says—or we are not in a parliamentary democracy.
I was under the impression that that is exactly what we are debating right here and now, and it is what the other place debated fully—and came to a very different decision from the one that we might come to here.
The noble Viscount just quoted David Cameron. Was that the same speech in which he said he would not resign if he lost the referendum?
My Lords, I do not know the answer to that question but I can easily look it up. I will write to the noble Lord about it.
My Lords, this whole process began with a referendum and it should therefore end with a referendum. What is very different about the referendum that occurred in June 2016 on our status within Europe compared with other referenda is that, for example, as my noble friend Lord Wigley will recall, when we campaigned on the same side of the argument in the Welsh referendum in 1997—and that was the case in Scotland as well—people knew exactly what they were voting for and against. If they were voting for an assembly, they knew what they were getting. If they were voting against, they knew it was the status quo. The same applied in the Scottish referendum. The same applied in the referendum in 2011 on the alternative vote. People knew then that they were getting a form of electoral reform if they voted for it, as I did, or they were voting for the status quo—the first past the post system—as in the end it turned out the majority did.
In this case people knew what they were voting against—they were voting against the European Union, to leave the European Union—but they had no idea what they were voting for because that was not spelled out. That is what makes this very different indeed. For example, did people know that Gibraltar would be put in an impossible predicament, as my noble friend Lord Foulkes pointed out? Did people know that the Irish border was likely to end up a hard border given the Government’s policy? There is a whole series of issues. Did people in the south Wales valleys, whose doors I knocked on by the hundred and who voted by a majority to leave, know that as a result the Government would have the opportunity for a power grab to reverse the process of devolution, as they are now seeking to do?
I clarify that this is not a second referendum. This is not an attempt to overturn the first referendum’s outcome. This is a referendum on the final deal. That is very different from seeking to rerun the first referendum. This is saying, “You now have the deal in front of you” —or no deal, as the noble Lord, Lord Butler, mentioned—“This is now your opportunity to say, ‘We started this process by a referendum. We want to end this process by a referendum and make our decision’”. Why are those who are opposed to a referendum on the final deal so afraid of the people speaking? What is so undemocratic about giving the people a final say, just as they had a say at the very beginning of this process?
My Lords, the noble Lord asked a question. It would not matter what kind of deal we got if we had a second referendum, the noble Lord would vote for us to remain in the European Union. Every single one of the speakers we have heard, and most of the people who support a second referendum, reject the decision of the British people to leave the European Union.
The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, insists on calling it a second referendum. It is not. If he is so furled to numerology, it is actually a third referendum because we had one in 1975.
The intention is clear. I am shocked, actually, at the noble Lord. He says that he is a unionist but in the debates on the Bill he has propounded the view that the Scottish Parliament should have a veto on legislation passed by this Parliament, and now he is arguing that it is important that people have the opportunity to reconsider their decision after a referendum in which a commitment was made to implement the result. How is that going to play in Scotland, where we have a Scottish Government and a Parliament where a majority voted for independence in a referendum? The words that the noble Lord keeps trotting out—that there should be an opportunity to rethink—will be played back by the nationalists and people who want to break up the United Kingdom. This is irresponsible.
We all know that at the moment both Houses of this Parliament are held with a degree of contempt by the electorate. How are they going to react if, having voted in the biggest vote in our history, this Parliament were to decide to reverse it? There is no danger of that because both this House and the House of Commons voted overwhelmingly to reject the idea of having another referendum.
I am following the noble Lord with great interest. He says that the people will be outraged if they were to be asked again. Why then, when they are asked in opinion polls do they say time after time that they want a vote on the outcome? Why do over two-thirds of all Conservative voters who were recently polled say that they want a vote on the outcome?
I have not seen the particular poll that the noble Lord refers to but I saw the poll in the general election, when his party campaigned on the basis that we should have a second referendum and it was utterly destroyed—so much so that it now has to use this House as a platform to put forward its policies, because it is so beleaguered in the House of Commons.
Is my noble friend saying that the Supreme Court is mistaken in this matter?
I thought I heard my noble friend argue not a few moments ago about the supremacy of Parliament. I believe in the supremacy of Parliament and that judicial interference is one of the worst aspects of our membership of the European Union, and another reason why we should get out of it. I give way to my noble friend Lord Patten of Barnes.
I am very grateful to my noble friend and am always keen to build bridges with him. Given what he has said about the importance of the supremacy of Parliament, which happens to be my view, and about the extent to which referendums are an assault on the way in which we have done things for decades in this country, would he support a free vote in Parliament when the outcome of the negotiations is known?
I have always regarded my membership of this place as giving me a free vote. Members of this House are not whipped to the extent that they are—
What about the vote in another place? Is my noble friend in favour, as Sir John Major suggested the other day, of having a free vote when the terms of the deal are known? Given what he has said already about the majesty of parliamentary democracy, I imagine that he would be keen on that.
What I am keen on is people delivering on their promises. Not only did we promise in our manifesto that we would implement whatever the people decided in the referendum, but something like £8 million of our money was spent on putting leaflets through every door in the country, saying “What you decide we will implement”. The Government of the day promised to do that. Not only that, we stood in the general election with a clear manifesto commitment. So no, I would not be in favour of giving a free vote on a matter where we made a manifesto commitment, nor am I in favour of this House trying to overturn such commitments given by elected Governments.
All this is a distraction. It is the last gasp of the remainers. If the result had gone the other way, they would not be standing up making speeches “Oh well, it is a matter for Parliament and we cannot possibly accept the result of the referendum”.
The noble Lord says that I would. I would certainly not be doing that but he believes that I would, hence the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, that we should have another referendum because people have the right to change their mind. In arguing that I would make that case, they are making the case that having successive referendums will only encourage more.
I have one final point. It is a great irony, is it not, that those parties which are keen to have more referenda—the Scottish nationalists and the Liberals—are the ones which do not accept the results of referenda when we have them?
Perhaps I may challenge one point that the noble Lord made, which was really worrying. He said that one of the reasons that people voted to leave the European Union was because of the control from courts and judges. Yet the decision on Article 50 was not made by the European Court of Justice; it was made by our Supreme Court across the square and everyone should respect that. The language that he used reminds me of the Daily Mail’s headline, “Enemies of the people”. Is that what we have come to as a country and as a Parliament? Do we not respect our judiciary, which is the finest in the world?
The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, has made a great leap from what I said to what the Daily Mail said.
As to the point about judicial involvement, I will give one example. When I was a Minister of State in the Department of Employment, the European Commission decided to implement the working time directive. We thought that employment law was a matter that required unanimity, but it did so as a health and safety measure in order to have it implemented by qualified majority. The advice that I had as a Minister was that that was illegal and wrong, but I was also told that there was no point in my going to the European court because it has a duty to promote the acquis and I would lose. I do not know whether that advice was correct.
Does the noble Lord recognise that the transfer from unanimity to a qualified majority was conducted by a Government and a Prime Minister, Mrs Thatcher, from the party to which he belongs? It was in the Single European Act.
The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, is wrong.
Address the House!
I am responding to the noble Lord’s point.
Addressing the House is not simply a matter of courtesy. When the noble Lord turns his back, we cannot hear him as the sound is not picked up.
From past experience, I am sure that various people would like to change places with the noble Lord.
The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, is quite wrong. Employment measures at that time required unanimity. The working time directive was introduced as a health and safety measure and it was argued that that it was so that it would require only qualified majority voting, and we would no longer have a veto. The issue was whether it was worth going to the court to argue that that was an improper act.
The noble Lord has misunderstood what I said, which was that the provision in the treaty that provides for qualified majority voting for health and safety was introduced with the agreement of the Government of the day, whose Prime Minister was Margaret Thatcher.
So what? It was not a health and safety measure; it was an employment law measure. The point that I made still stands.
I hope that we will not spend any more time discussing this second referendum, which is just an attempt by people in this House, who are unelected, to subvert the decision made by the British people.
My Lords, last week we had an interesting debate on what should happen if Parliament was given a take-it-or-leave-it decision. There was considerable support for the point of view that I sought to put forward with the support of many other noble Lords, which is that we should maintain our membership, suspend Article 50 and tell the Government to try again. I believe that that is the right course because Parliament is sovereign. I believe very strongly that the plebiscite is inimical to parliamentary representative democracy. I also believe that, because Parliament is sovereign, it can make what decision it wishes. We are talking about Parliament and not about the Executive. Throughout our debates, we have had a disturbing series of illustrations that the Government believe that the Executive are supreme. It is not; it is Parliament that is supreme.
We will not have a vote tonight, because these are probing amendments. But were we to have one, I would not vote for the amendment—not because I am completely out of sympathy with many of the points that were eloquently made by the noble Lords, Lord Newby and Lord Foulkes, and by others who have spoken in the same way, but because I believe it is premature to put an amendment of this nature into this Bill at this time. It is crucial that we do not undermine, but underpin, the sovereignty of Parliament, which is what we should be doing when we come to votes on Report. There will be votes, and I am quite sure I will be supporting a number of the amendments.
My noble friend is talking about the sovereignty of Parliament. Does he recall that just an hour or two ago we were debating different amendments, which were essentially about putting standards from the European Union into the Bill to make sure that this country does not diverge from them later? Essentially, the basis of those amendments was not having faith in Parliament to do these things correctly.
That is a complete travesty, a total misreading or a fundamental misunderstanding. If Parliament decides to have these standards, they are there at the insistence of Parliament. That is all that those of us who took part in that very brief but rather graphic debate were arguing.
I go back to the point that I was seeking to make: we should be seeking to underpin the sovereignty of Parliament in this place. If the deal is a very bad deal, I hope that Members in another place will have the courage to vote according to their consciences. I never had any problem voting against the Government in the other place: I frequently voted against Mrs Thatcher’s Government, much as I admired the noble Baroness Thatcher. I frequently found myself in different Lobbies on issues such as the poll tax, or community charge, and did not believe that I was doing anything other than representing my constituents to the best of my ability on issues that were contentious and where I took a particular line.
We all know what a bad deal is, and I very much hope that if the deal is a bad one, they will have the courage in another place to reject it. We cannot make that ultimate decision: although I hope we give it support, this is fundamentally a House of Commons matter, and if it decides that the only proper, ultimate way out is to put that to the people, then that is up to the Commons. A sovereign Parliament has the right to do that.
I end on the note that I am very disturbed about a proliferation of referenda, because it goes a long way towards undermining parliamentary sovereignty. If it is the ultimate decision of the other place, so be it, but it is premature to seek to insert this amendment in this Bill at this time.
Could I just clarify something with the noble Lord? I am very sympathetic to what he is saying, but he has twice said, “We all know what a bad deal would be”. But we do not. I suspect in a few months’ time that we might regret not appreciating that we need some criteria to judge what is a good deal and what is a bad deal—whether, as some people might think, it is single market, customs union or whatever. Unless there are some criteria against which we can judge the outcome, we will be all over the place, which could lead to a very interesting debate on Report on this very question of a mandate.
A bad deal would be a deal where the trading relations with the other 27 nations of Europe are appreciably worse than they are at the moment. A bad deal would be one where we are not able to reach the agreements the Prime Minister has herself said she wants to reach on such things as Erasmus and Europol. We could go on and on, but we will know what is a bad deal. I hope it will be a good deal, but if it is a bad one, it will be completely wrong to say, “Take it or leave it”. There should be another go, which is why we had that amendment last week.
My Lords, my name was on the original amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Newby, and I now speak to its reincarnation. We have heard a lot about the sovereignty of Parliament, which we are of course proud of, but Parliament did pass the European Union Act 2011, which provided for a referendum on any treaty change. I do not know how individuals voted on that Act, but I suspect some of us in the Chamber who are now professing our belief in the sovereignty of Parliament and our antipathy to referenda voted in favour of that provision. It may well be that the 2011 Act and its provision for a referendum on any change in the EU’s treaty relationship with the UK is still applicable, and a legal action is going on now to try and establish that, but in the belief that the law can sometimes take a long time, I think it is important that we should move ahead on these amendments.
The people, as we have heard, are in favour of a vote on the deal. The latest opinion polling from Open Britain found that 65% of people believe that they, and not just politicians, should have the final say on the deal, and I agree with them. I voted in favour of such a move during the Article 50 process, so at least I have the virtue of being consistent. At that stage I expressed my dislike of referenda. I retain that dislike, but if one gets into a mess with a referendum, it may well be, as others have suggested, that the only way out is with another one.
We are in a mess. Parliament is in the most extraordinary position of pushing ahead with legislation which the majority of parliamentarians believe will be bad for the country, and I find it really difficult being part of that process. We are told that we must do it because we are implementing the will of the people, but this is simply not the case. As others have said, whatever the people voted for, they did not vote to get poorer. The Government are doing what the people instructed them to do: they are exploring how we might exit from the EU. But when we have an answer to that, it is the people who should decide on whether it is exactly what they want and where they want to go to.
Many times in this process it has been apparent that the outcome will be worse rather than better. Even the “Tiggerish” chancellor, when he came out with his projections of the economy, making the best of it, did not refer to the fact that all of those forecasts are lower than they were before the referendum. Things are not getting better. They may be looking slightly less worse, but they do not look good.
It should be the people who decide. We have heard about the young—my noble friend Lord Dobbs says they do not all vote as one and may well change their minds. This is true, but an overwhelming majority of them do not want to become little Englanders. They like the benefits that they get from Europe.
I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way. Is it just possible that many of those people who voted for Brexit do not wish to become little Englanders, and that many of those younger people actually see a global world as their market, not the old, traditional European world, dominated by Brussels, that our generation was brought up on?
I am grateful to my noble friend. Of course they may well see that global world, but I think they are still waiting to hear the value of the trade deals that will be accomplished with those countries. So far, no figures appear to be forthcoming, and until they see those I think they are right to be somewhat sceptical. Of course they are global in outlook, but they are also European and they enjoy the peace, prosperity and cultural benefits that have come from being part of the EU over that time. If my noble friend has time, I would refer him to a very interesting organisation called Our Future, Our Choice, which is campaigning like mad for the young people in this country, along with everyone else, to have a vote on the deal and determine their future. If we deprive them of that, they will not forgive us. I for one do not want to be responsible—
I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend again. She will know that I feel very passionately about young voters and the younger generation. The implication of what she is saying, and it has been said many times before, is that old people—us—voted selfishly and did not care about the younger voters. That is a pretty awful accusation that has been made time and again. I ask her to forgive me if she was not actually saying that, but there was an implication that elderly voters do not care about the young. Perhaps, again, many people voted for Brexit precisely because they thought about future generations and where the country was heading.
I am grateful to my noble friend for reading into my remarks something that was not there. I know plenty of people who voted to remain and would continue to vote that way and who thought about their children and grandchildren, but all the evidence from the analysis of the polls shows that as people went up the age scale they tended to vote out. I do not draw any conclusions from that, and it would be completely wrong for my noble friend to draw those sorts of conclusions from my remarks. However, I think we should enable people of all ages to have a say on the deal and look at what is on offer. If what they see is not attractive to them, they should have the opportunity to say no to it.
So I support the amendments. At the moment they are just probing amendments but I think we should table them on Report. Still, I would like to hear from the Minister whether he believes that if 65% of the population feel that they should have a vote on the terms, we should take any notice of that.
My Lords, I am tempted to reply to the vast mass of points that have been made during this debate. However, I shall deal with a more fundamental point: clearly, we need a debate and votes in both Houses on the principle of referendums. The reality is that this referendum has brought out very clearly the way in which referendums can undermine our system of democracy. This is a vital issue and we ought to take the opportunity as soon as possible to have a general debate on the principle.
The problem is that we are told that referendums are democratic. They are not democratic in the sense that we in this country understand it. In this country we believe in representative parliamentary democracy where Members of Parliament are elected to act as representatives, not delegates. The referendum undermines their ability to act as representatives, taking all the arguments into account. We should therefore look very carefully at the situation at the moment in Holland, where they are proposing to legislate to prohibit any further referendums, and indeed to prohibit having a referendum on whether they can legislate to prohibit referendums. [Laughter.]
This is not a laughing matter. Our system is in danger of being undermined. Indeed, it is being undermined on this occasion, when we are told that it is an instruction from the people. It is not; the Bill that we passed in this House was clearly for an advisory referendum, but it was subsequently hijacked, particularly the morning after the result by the Prime Minister, who sought to make it a mandatory referendum and, to a large extent, a hard referendum. We therefore need to stand back after this debate and really consider the whole issue because we are in a very dangerous situation concerning the real democracy that we in this country believe in.
I received a letter after I made a similar speech, from a member of the public who said, “But you don’t realise that it was Churchill who was defending democracy”. I wrote back and said, “The democracy Churchill was defending was not in fact the system of referendums—that was enthusiastically adopted by Hitler”. I have not had a reply to that letter, which perhaps shows that democracy works.
I wonder if I might remind the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, that the first referendum passed by this Parliament was in 1881 when Gladstone’s Government passed the Sunday Closing (Wales) Act. Wales was dry as a result of that until a Conservative Government decided in 1961 that the only way in which you could reverse that decision was to hold a series of referendums throughout Wales. Every five years or so there were repeat referendums in the various counties of Wales until ultimately, in 1996, it became wet again. So there is the precedent; I am a lawyer and I seek precedent. The Liberals introduced a referendum and the Conservatives decided in 1961 that you could deal with that by holding referenda.
My Lords, I think the House wants the Minister to reply, so I was thinking that we are probably ready to end this debate.
I have just heard the first case against referendums, which is that a referendum made my country of Wales dry—and that argument was in support of them. It was certainly dry on a Sunday when I was growing up; and this is the ex-director of Alcohol Concern confessing this.
We have considerable sympathy with one part of these amendments: that the Government cannot be allowed to mark their own homework regarding the outcome of the withdrawal negotiations, be that on Gibraltar, which is mentioned in one of them, our future relations with the EU or the withdrawal deal itself. We discussed last week, as a number of noble Lords have said, the need for a meaningful vote by Parliament on the deal and indeed on what should happen if the deal fails to win approval by the British Parliament. We also considered then the desire of some for a future referendum on the terms of the deal.
As the Committee knows, and as the noble Lords, Lord Wigley and Lord Newby, have said, we see it as essential that there is a proper, meaningful vote on the terms of our withdrawal. We trust that the amendment we will table on Report will find favour in this House and later, we hope, at the other end. As to what should happen if that deal is rejected, surely that must be decided at the time, in the full knowledge of the situation, by the House of Commons. It could be, as in a later amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours, by extending the Article 50 period. It might be by revoking the Article 50 notification. It could indeed be by a referendum, though perhaps the wording would be a matter for then, rather than by amendment today. But the first judgment on the terms must surely be for this sovereign Parliament and, if it says no, it must then be Parliament that takes responsibility for what should be the next step. That means nothing is ruled out, which therefore means nothing is set in stone at this moment.
My Lords, this has again been an excellent debate and let me say at the outset that I note that support for the amendments comes from noble Lords on all sides of the House. I am not trying to imply that this is a partisan issue, but it is one of principle. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Butler, the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, and the noble Lords, Lord Newby, Lord Wigley and Lord Foulkes, who have tabled Amendments 226, 227BH and 357, will believe me when I say that I respect their positions. But this debate has been held many times before, and I therefore hope that noble Lords will forgive me if my argument sounds familiar. The referendum question, agreed by Parliament and presented to the people, was whether we wished to leave or remain in the European Union. Parliament attached no conditions or caveats to that vote.
It was clear in the campaign that a leave vote could lead to a range of outcomes and that not all of us advocating leave agreed about the way to do so. People knew this at the time, it was extensively debated and, in the biggest democratic mandate for a course of action ever directed at any UK Government, voters instructed the Government to leave the European Union.
My Lords, it is that very term—“instructed” the Government or “instructed” Parliament—that is the subject of the amendments. I am not a fan of referenda, but it is clear that what the British people were led to believe, and what they voted for in the referendum, needs at least mostly to be delivered. The question is, if what they voted for—more money, no change to the borders, very easy trade deals; never mind that nobody mentioned ending of roaming and a potential Brexit surcharge on their flights—is not what is on offer, what should this Parliament do? It is questionable that this House should agree that the British people have instructed us to do whatever the Executive manage to negotiate with the EU, irrespective of whether it resembles even closely what the leave campaign told the British people it would achieve.
My Lords, the noble Baroness says that she is not in favour of referendums but is supporting a campaign to have another one. I think we all know what her agenda is: she did not like the result of the referendum, and she does not like the result of the policy. She is entitled to have her view, but we are entitled to disagree with her.
I am not in favour of another referendum. I am in favour of parliamentary democracy and parliamentary sovereignty. The concern here is that Parliament seems to have handed over its power to the people by believing that there is an instruction from the people. If the Government were to say that there will be a free vote and a meaningful vote on whatever is negotiated, we would not need to go back to the people, because Parliament should be able to represent the national interest. I would prefer no final referendum or vote for the people, but if that is required it may be appropriate or prudent to leave it as an option.
I am not going to continue with this debate, but I think we know where she is coming from: she wants to reverse the result of the referendum, which she is entitled to believe, but I am entitled to disagree with her.
I will give the noble Lord another target. He seems to be an absolutist about referendums. What attitude did he take in 1975 to the two-thirds of the British people who voted to join on the terms that were put before them?
I am afraid that I was not old enough to vote in that referendum, but my father tells me that he voted to join a Common Market at the time and nobody ever asked him whether he wanted to join a European Union. But that is a separate argument.
We in the Government believe it to be our solemn duty to deliver on the instructions of the people.
Will my noble friend give way?
I will make a little progress, if I may. I will take interventions later. I am on only the third paragraph of my speech.
I will not embarrass the Liberal Democrats further by quoting their leader, the right honourable Member for Twickenham, Vince Cable. The noble Lord, Lord Newby, says that that was years ago. It was not; it was in September 2016; it was only 18 months ago that he said that we should not have another referendum. Again, he is entitled to change his mind, but I hope that the Liberals will have the good grace to be a little embarrassed about it.
The Government never hesitated in accepting the verdict and, in line with the ruling of the Supreme Court, the Government than put the question of the power to notify Article 50 to Parliament. In passing it, this House and the other place voted with a clear majority to authorise the Prime Minister to trigger Article 50. The clue was in the name: it was the Article 50 notification of withdrawal Act, passed in the other place and in this House with large majorities. It was to give our notice to withdraw from the European Union, authorised by Parliament.
Is my noble friend saying that he disagrees with the ruling of the Supreme Court that although it was indeed the case, Parliament did not authorise the outcome of those discussions? That is what the Supreme Court has ruled.
Of course I do not disagree with the ruling of the Supreme Court, which is why we will have another vote later in the year and will bring in legislation to implement the result of our negotiation.
Noble Lords will of course recall that we had a debate on Report of that Bill on the options for a second referendum, an amendment that was defeated by 336 votes to 131—a telling result, perhaps, but not as telling as that of last year’s general election, where the parties committed to respecting the result of the referendum received more than 80% of the vote. Petitions have been brought to the other place for debate on this issue and have failed to garner the support of the House.
I say this: we were given a national mandate and Members must comply with the instructions for exit from the EU. I am sorry if noble Lords are shocked by those words, but they are not mine, they are the words of the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, Sir Nick Clegg. Perhaps for the first time in my life, I agree with Nick.
We hold not only that this Bill is not the vehicle for a second referendum but that the European Union Act 2011, put in place by the coalition Government to ensure that referendum would be held regarding future transfers of competence to the EU, is also not a mechanism that can be used to secure such a referendum by stealth. I know that we shall return to this point on another day.
This debate and the issue surrounding a second referendum is about more than the decision to leave the EU; it is about whether the public can trust us politicians. The British people can trust this Government to honour the referendum result. To do otherwise would undermine the decision of the British people, with worrying implications for the perceived legitimacy of our institutions.
Will my noble friend address the question put to him by the noble Lord, Lord Butler? Will the meaningful vote be such as to enable Parliament to vote to stay in the European Union if that is what Parliament wants?
I covered this point earlier. Parliament has passed the notification of withdrawal Act, to give our notice under Article 50 to withdraw from the European Union. That is the process that we are following; that is the process that was authorised by Parliament.
Is that a yes or a no?
We have said that once we have negotiated the best deal available, we will bring it back to this Parliament and Parliament will vote on whether it wishes to accept that deal or not.
Can Parliament vote to stay in the European Union?
No, Parliament authorised us to leave the European Union under the notification of withdrawal Act. We effectively gave two years’ notice under the Article 50 process.
If there is a vote in either House, particularly the House of Commons, which rejects whatever the Government put forward, what will the Government do?
In such circumstances—first, we hope that Parliament will not reject it and we will negotiate for the best possible outcome—that would be an instruction to move ahead without a deal.
Well, as I said, under the Article 50 process, we have notified the European Union that we are leaving.
Would the Government equally reject a take-note Motion in the House of Commons on that matter, even if it were carried on a free vote?
I am not an expert on the proceedings of the other place—I have never been a Member of the House of Commons—but of course the Government will listen to decisions by the House of Commons.
My Lords, this is a crucial moment. The whole issue here is whether it is a mere Motion or whether there is any legislative oomph—sorry, Hansard—behind the vote that Parliament is to have. Am I absolutely correct that the Minister has just said that even if it is a mere Motion, which is what the Government have offered so far, if the deal was rejected they would still take us out of the European Union at the cliff edge, without a deal?
We want a deal with the European Union. We have said that we will negotiate for the best possible deal and then we will put that to the House in a Motion. If Parliament approves it then we will bring legislation forward to implement the deal. That is what has been said many times in the other place as well.
Does my noble friend recall that both David Cameron and the leader of the Opposition wanted to implement Article 50 within days of the referendum result? All this argument suggesting that we have somehow precipitately moved into Article 50, and that the referendum did not give a clear instruction to both the government and opposition parties, is therefore simply froth.
I am not sure that I would use the word “froth”, but we have had a good debate about this and I am sure we will continue to do so.
Parliament authorised our notification of withdrawal in the Article 50 Bill with a clear majority. That position was supported in the general election when we and the Labour Party both said that we would implement the results of the referendum and, in the process, obtained over 80% of the vote. The Liberal Democrats, of course, said that they would not and got 7% of the vote.
I have a question for clarification. Is it now correct for us to interpret, when the Prime Minister or any member of the Cabinet says that there will be a meaningful vote, that the vote will be between whatever has been agreed—good, bad or indifferent—and no deal, and that that is the only choice? Will the Minister explain how that becomes a meaningful vote in the context of the understanding of anybody in either House?
When we have negotiated the deal it will be an extremely significant moment. We will put that deal to both Houses in a Motion to approve or not, as the case may be. This House has already considered the issue of a second referendum and rejected it. The public rejected it in the last general election.
Is the Minister seriously saying that it would be out of the question for the House of Commons to consider, in addition to whether the deal should be accepted or rejected, whether there should be an attempt to improve the deal or whether it should be put to the people? Are these options to be ruled out altogether? Is it Hobson’s choice? Is it this deal—good, indifferent or bad—or no deal and no question of an extension or trying to improve it, or putting it to the people? If that is the Minister’s position, it is almost as astonishing as the suggestion from the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, in his seventh intervention, some time ago, that the people would be outraged if they were given the final decision. I do not know if the Minister thinks that, but what he is saying about the meaningful vote is rather outrageous.
I am sorry that the noble Lord is outraged, but I am not going to stand here and try to instruct the House of Commons on what to do. It is quite capable of taking its own decisions. Many Members of this House have been Members of the House of Commons. I have not, but I am sure that if they want a vote on any subject they like they are quite capable of deciding the matter themselves.
Our focus now should be on making a success of Brexit, working to get the best deal possible, providing certainty and taking decisions on what kind of country the UK will be in the future. That is the clear instruction given to this Government in both the referendum and the general election. We believe that it is our duty to deliver upon it. A second referendum would pose a—
I have not heard my noble friend respond to Amendment 357, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock. If Spain retains a veto over any of the arrangements with Gibraltar, will the Government bring forward an amendment to the Bill on Report for this House to consider?
I suspect that we will still be in the process of negotiations at that stage. We have been clear that we are consulting closely with the Government of Gibraltar. Gibraltar is leaving the European Union at the same time as the UK is. We are negotiating for the UK and for Gibraltar, in close consultation with its Government. We recently had a ministerial meeting with them, chaired by my honourable friend Robin Walker, and we are keeping them closely informed about the process of the negotiation.
A second referendum would pose a serious risk of undermining our ongoing negotiating position. Worse still, it would prolong the period of uncertainty for businesses and citizens in the UK and EU. These are the unacceptable costs of what my noble friend referred to as a neverendum. In those circumstances, I urge the noble Lords to withdraw or to not move their amendments.
My Lords, the House has listened to the Minister with amazement over the last 20 minutes. We have had a repeat of the statement made last week, which the noble Lord, Lord Butler, succeeded in highlighting. If we end this process with no deal, there will be no meaningful vote for Parliament, because the only alternative to no deal is to leave on a no-deal basis. That is why there needs to be a safety net of referring the question back to the people. I get the impression that the Government believe that the referendum has given them the right to ignore the will of Parliament and override it by refusing such a meaningful vote. We will certainly come back to that.
There are two clear reasons why a confirmatory referendum should not be denied. The principle has been conceded in the context of triggering the first referendum and, as the noble Lord, Lord Newby, said, only a second referendum could gainsay that. Secondly, we are in the invidious position that Parliament would be asked to overturn the view of the people. That is obviously fraught with difficulties for anybody who is a democrat. Taking that together with the question of a meaningful vote for Parliament, I believe we have to provide the House of Commons with the hook necessary for it to return to this issue after we have finished with the Bill. When there is an opportunity to vote an amendment into this Bill on Report, I hope that we will give Members of Parliament the opportunity to consider a confirmatory referendum, if that appears to them to be the best way forward. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 226 withdrawn.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, it is the Government’s intention that a full hour should elapse before we resume the Committee stage of the withdrawal Bill. An appropriate motion will be moved to adjourn during pleasure at the conclusion of the exchanges on the third Question. I encourage short questions during these exchanges so that the maximum number of noble Lords can be accommodated.
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will repeat in the form of a Statement an Answer to an Urgent Question given by my right honourable friend the Minister for Security and Economic Crime in another place. The Statement is as follows:
“Mr Speaker, I thank the right honourable gentleman for giving the Government the opportunity to say what we have been doing on this area. We have made it harder for crooks to launder money through property, jewellery and betting. We have reversed the burden of proof so that people whom we think have links to organised crime have to prove where their assets come from. If they cannot, we will seize and dispose of the assets. We served the first unexplained wealth order within 14 days of the new powers being implemented. We have, for the first time, through the Magnitsky amendment, made it possible to confiscate assets from people guilty of gross human rights abuse. We will complete that with an amendment to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill currently going through Parliament.
We have made it easier to seize criminals’ money from bank accounts. We have introduced new powers to be able to freeze assets of terrorists. We did so on the day the new law came into force. We have made it a criminal offence to fail to prevent tax evasion, both at home and overseas. We are currently exploring the potential of widening other areas where failure to prevent may apply in economic crime. We have brought a number of prosecutions for those involved in bribery under the Bribery Act, and have had the first conviction of a company for failure to prevent bribery. We introduced deferred prosecution agreements to ensure we maximise the incentive for companies to face up to fraud and corruption. We are setting up the National Economic Crime Centre in the NCA and have brought together the many strands of economic crime under one Minister. We have bolstered the SFO by ensuring access to blockbuster funding to make sure that big business and overseas oligarchs cannot use their wealth to obstruct justice.
Under the previous Prime Minister, David Cameron, we initiated an international anti-corruption summit. In response to the Panama papers, we established the joint financial analysis centre in the NCA. We have established one of the world’s first public registers of beneficial ownership of companies. We have helped to establish in all overseas territories and Crown dependencies a register of beneficial ownership with mutual, and in some cases almost live-time, access for law enforcement. We have committed to establish a public register of overseas owners of property in the UK.
This Government have taken real steps to tackle criminal finance in this country. Whoever crooks are, no matter what nationality, we will pursue them and their cash”.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Answer to the Question. According to the Daily Telegraph, official figures suggest that £90 billion in crime proceeds is laundered through the UK each year. The UK has for many years been seen as a desirable place to hide suspicious wealth. Can the Minister explain why the Government have done relatively little to discourage this activity thus far? Does she agree that the current laws under which owners of overseas companies can buy UK property while hiding their identities are ripe for abuse? They have not only led to an influx to the UK of suspicious wealth, but further exacerbated the crisis in the housing market. Can she please explain why the Conservatives blocked the Labour Party’s amendment in Committee on the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill, calling for the introduction of a Magnitsky clause? When will the Government take more effective action to tackle this problem?
My Lords, I can agree with the noble Lord on one thing: the impact of money laundering in the UK. However, in 2016, 1,435 people were convicted of money laundering in England and Wales. The Government established the joint money-laundering intelligence task force in 2015 to tackle the issue, and between May 2016 and March 2017 it contributed to more than 1,000 bank-led investigations into suspect customers, the closure of more than 450 suspicious bank accounts and the freezing of £7 million in suspected criminal funds.
The noble Lord talked about Labour putting forward the Magnitsky amendment. I certainly remember that, under the Criminal Finances Bill, it was the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, who put forward the Magnitsky amendment in this House and Labour did very little to tackle serious crime and corruption in this country, so I do not accept the charge he makes that we have done nothing to address this issue.
My Lords, I have only three very quick points. First, will the Government speed up the process of getting a public register of overseas ownership of property in the UK? Transparency International estimates that some £4 billion-worth of property in London alone has been bought by suspicious wealth. Frankly, the programme the Government have laid out gives all the perpetrators plenty of opportunity to reorganise their finances. Will they please move?
Secondly, having listened—I hope—to calls from both the Minister’s own Benches as well as from the other Benches, will the Government institute a verification process at Companies House so that information on corporate ownership can be established with some clarity and accuracy as a mechanism for trying to counter laundering?
Lastly, I want to ask the Minister about a letter sent to me—I believe it was put in the Library—by her colleague the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, who is in his place. It is on the freezing order applying to Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun. In the letter, the Minister referred to a comment he had made that the freezing order applied to overseas banks. He then said:
“I should more precisely have said that the freezing order applies to any UK incorporated banks overseas”.
Could she now give us an assurance that overseas banks that have money in the UK—whether it is through branch arrangements or any other—are covered by those freezing orders, because presumably, they will be very important in the next steps to be taken in the Salisbury poisoning case?
I thank the noble Baroness for those questions. The Government will publish draft legislation on the creation of a register of the beneficial ownership of overseas companies that own property in the UK or bid for government contracts. This will mean that overseas countries that own or buy property or participate in central government procurement will be required to provide details of their ultimate owners. This will reduce the opportunities for criminals to use shell companies to launder their illicitly gained wealth in London properties, and it will make it easier for law enforcement to track and seize criminal funds. I can confirm the freezing order process for overseas banks so that criminals cannot hide their finances anywhere. Those freezing orders can be applied overseas as well.
The noble Baroness asked me a third question, but because of the noise in the Chamber, I did not quite hear what she said.
Just to be helpful, this was a call for verification. As she will know, there is a public register at Companies House, which I greatly approve of, but there is no verification process. This has led to criticism from around the House.
The noble Baroness makes a fair point. We are at a relatively early point with the public register and it is constantly being checked and reviewed to ensure that the information contained within is accurate.
My Lords, the Minister will be aware of the list published on 30 January by the US Treasury of 114 officials and 19 Russian oligarchs who are being considered for sanctions regarding Russia’s various infringements against the rule of law and international order in the last seven years. The Government know that many of the people on that US Treasury list, such as Mr Abramovich and Mr Oleg Deripaska, are based in the United Kingdom, are directors of listed companies in the UK and own property and other assets in this country. Will the Government collaborate with US authorities to list the people against whom they have evidence under sanctions, bribery and other regimes, including the fit and proper person test for corporates?
I am sure the noble Baroness will understand that I will not talk about individuals, but I am sure she will also appreciate that we work with other countries to share intelligence, certainly through the Criminal Finances Act and the unexplained wealth orders. Through these institutions, we will make progress on bringing these people to book who are laundering and hiding their money in the UK.
What do the Government propose to do about the role of the British Overseas Territories in this area? There has been a lot of controversy about the use of the facilities available there, both for UK residents and those of other countries, and the Government seem rather loath to intervene. Are they reviewing that situation?
We made it clear during the passage of the Criminal Finances Act that we would certainly not intervene with legislation but would work with the overseas territories and the Crown dependencies to have a register of beneficial ownership with mutual and sometimes almost live-time access for law enforcement purposes.
My Lords, have the Government fully thought through how the Russians might reciprocate if we take action against any of their citizens in the United Kingdom?
My Lords, I am sure that they have.
My Lords, would the noble Baroness like to revisit something she said in her opening Statement, which was that Labour in government had done nothing on money laundering? I have just been using Google, which says that the Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing and Transfer of Funds (Information on the Payer) Regulations 2017 were made under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. I have some recollection that I played a part in that legislation. Perhaps the noble Baroness ought to reflect on what she said earlier, because she is wrong.
I am sure that I may be wrong. I just took issue with the suggestion that we had not done anything.
Customs Clearance Arrangements at UK Ports
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will repeat the response to an Urgent Question given by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury in the other place earlier this afternoon. The Statement is as follows:
“Mr Speaker, the Government have been clear that in leaving the European Union the UK will also leave its customs union, allowing us to establish and enhance our trading relationships with old allies and new friends around the world. The Government have also set out that in leaving the EU customs union, we will be guided by what delivers the greatest economic advantage to the United Kingdom and by three strategic objectives: first, continued UK-EU trade that is as frictionless as possible; secondly, avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland; and thirdly, establishing an independent international trade policy.
Looking forward, as we implement the decision of the British people to leave the European Union at the end of March 2019, we want a deep and special partnership with the European Union. The Government have already set out in their future partnership paper last summer two options for our future customs arrangements—two options that most closely meet these objectives. One is a highly streamlined customs arrangement. That approach comprises a number of measures to minimise barriers to trade, from negotiating the continuation of some existing trade facilitations to the introduction of new technology-based solutions. The other is a new customs partnership, which is an unprecedented and innovative approach under which the UK would mirror the EU’s requirements for imports from the rest of the world that are destined for the EU, removing a need for a formal customs border between the UK and the EU. Those models were detailed again in the Government’s White Paper last October, and by the Prime Minister in her speech at Mansion House earlier this year and in her subsequent Statement to this House. We look forward to discussing both these options with our European partners and with businesses in both the UK and the European Union as the negotiations progress”.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Answer to the Urgent Question. According to the Guardian, Chris Grayling said:
“We will maintain a free-flowing border at Dover. We will not impose checks in the port … We don’t check lorries now; we’re not going to be checking lorries in Dover in the future. The only reason we would have queues at the border is if we put in place restrictions that created those queues. We are not going to do that. We will manage trade electronically. Trucks will move through the border without stopping”.
Does the Minister accept that it is both reckless and misleading for his colleague, the Transport Secretary, to imply that there will be no checks at Dover in the case of a hard Brexit? Can the Minister point out to the House other examples of countries that allow goods to flow through their borders unchecked without some form of customs agreement? Can he also explain to the House how HMRC will be able to implement customs checks post Brexit while the Government continue to close HMRC offices and when they have cut staffing levels by 17% since 2010? Finally, given the Government’s track record of delivering computer systems, does he honestly think that delivery of an upgraded system by March 2019 is in any way realistic?
In response to the first question, what the Secretary of State for Transport described is pretty similar to what I said in the Answer to the Urgent Question about our desiring a frictionless border between ourselves and the European Union and a deep and ongoing partnership. Clearly, “frictionless” has connotations relating to particular checks which could be undertaken at roll-on, roll-off ferry terminals such as Dover, which are important to the economy.
On the second point, the noble Lord invites me to think about whether there are other examples which could be pointed to in this regard. But again, we are looking for something unique, innovative and different We believe that it is possible; the fact that we are seeing agreement on the implementation period just today shows that it is possible with good will on both sides.
Finally, the noble Lord asked about HMRC and computer systems. That was one of the reasons why the Chancellor announced in his Autumn Budget that a total of £3 billion will be made available and, specifically, that £260 million will be made available to HMRC to prepare itself for the outcome. Therefore the resources are there. To touch on the point the noble Lord made about technology, that is interesting, because it is not as if at the moment the UK does not have any expertise in training with the rest of the world. It does so quite frequently, and if you go down to Felixstowe or other places, you will see significant amounts of imports that come through and are dealt with in an incredibly efficient and effective way, using technology. We are seeking simply to take that technology and to give it wider usage so that it achieves our objective of a frictionless border that enhances both trade in the EU and for the UK.
My Lords, does the Minister understand that even companies that have obtained trusted trader status—it is expensive—do not use it, because it is so complicated and expensive that they have found that it is not worth while? Secondly, he will know that in the container ports he cites, goods coming long distance are on ships for days and even weeks, which is why trusted trader status can be used in those situations; it takes so long that it cannot be used at an equivalent of Dover, where you have a roll-on, roll-off situation. Does the Minister also recognise that coming through the Dover port, and intermingled with the kinds of operations that could perhaps seek trusted trader status, are vans that have the accumulated goods for 12 small companies, Amazon delivery vans, and so on? The traffic is so completely mixed, and because there is no space at Dover or any capacity to pull out any of the trucks, the mechanism he describes is in effect one of turning a blind eye.
Picking up the Government proposals for dealing with the Irish border, where essentially small businesses, which account for 80% of cross-border traffic, would not be checked, that, again, is the blind-eye strategy. Does the noble Lord understand the implications for smuggling and for abuse of the system of what he is talking about? We already have extensive fuel smuggling at the Irish border and extensive abuse of the VAT tariff differential. He is now creating an opportunity in not just Ireland but at the UK ports, especially the ro-ros, for criminal activity on a scale which this country has fought deeply in the past.
The noble Baroness takes a very pessimistic view of this matter. We believe that we are taking a realistic and optimistic view of the potential agreements. For example, we believe that it is in everybody’s interest to ensure that this process takes place. If we look at the balance of trade between ourselves and the EU, there is a deficit of £96 billion on trade in goods, which suggests that it is very much in the enlightened self-interest of our European friends to ensure that that border is as frictionless as possible so that this trade can take place.
The noble Baroness referred to the situation in Northern Ireland. Of course, there is a difference in duty on certain goods between the two countries, as she alluded to, and they have introduced mechanisms for dealing with that. They have a variety of means of doing so, not just technology. They use some physical checks, particularly to clamp down on the fuel element of that traffic, so I believe that where there is a political will, there is a way. We believe that a will to make this frictionless border happen has been demonstrated, and that is what we are working towards.
My Lords, will my noble friend draw the attention of noble Lords opposite who are so sceptical about the use of technology to the evidence given to the House of Commons Select Committee on Exiting the European Union on 29 November 2017, when the chief executive of HMRC, Jon Thompson, said that,
“this has been our consistent advice to ministers, we do not believe we require any infrastructure at the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland under any circumstances”,
whatever the outcome of the talks? In the same session of the committee, the Defra policy director for animal and plant health, John Bourne, replied, when he was asked how he could achieve no border and no infrastructure,
“the risk post-Brexit does not change … Is there a problem … No”.
Whatever we say, those are very profound statements made by people who are in the front line of protecting our borders and ensuring that we collect the duties and taxes due to us. That shows that it is possible. Moreover, we say that the whole trajectory of global trade is heading in a digital direction. We also believe that our approach as a Government is moving towards a digital tax system. We believe that this necessity will force further invention, which will mean that we can deliver this process to the benefit of our economy and productivity as a whole.
If the Government are so confident that this arrangement in Northern Ireland will work, why do they not apply exactly the same arrangement to Dover? When the Minister talks about the system being frictionless at the moment and goods can go through, of course that is the case because there are no tariff requirements. When tariff requirements apply, the whole regime changes. What controls will exist in the case of trucks that come through this border that is proposed for Dover, where it might well be possible, because the entry is from the destination point, to unload the truck or the container en route, having already come through Dover, where the entry does not truly reflect the goods that are on the truck or in the container?
The noble Lord raises a technical point. I am not in the front line of dealing with these issues. The people to whom my noble friend referred, who gave evidence to the Select Committee, are, and they seem to think that it is possible to do this and achieve these objectives. We should have confidence in them and in ourselves.