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European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill

Volume 801: debated on Wednesday 22 January 2020

Commons Amendments

Motion A

Moved by

That this House do not insist on its Amendment 1, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 1A.

1A: Because it would involve a charge on public funds, and the Commons do not offer any further reason, trusting that this reason may be deemed sufficient.

My Lords, with the leave of the House I will speak also to Motions B to E.

We are at the end of what seems like a very long road. The final stages of this Bill represent something that many of us thought might never happen: Parliament passing the legislation necessary to implement a Brexit deal and finally to deliver on the 2016 referendum. It has been no mean feat, with nearly 40 hours of debate and over 100 amendments in this House in the past fortnight alone. Last night, I was able to give my thanks to officials, colleagues and friends across the House who have helped us to reach this point; let me thank them once again.

Of course, I know that many noble Lords on the Benches opposite are disappointed that the Commons has chosen to disagree with all of the amendments that noble Lords passed this week. However, I would like to reassure them that their expertise and contributions will continue to play a valuable role after Brexit. Following our exit, this House will see more legislation on a range of topics connected with our departure from the European Union, and in some cases it will be the first time in decades that the UK has legislated on some of these matters.

But today, the Motions before this House recommend that it should agree with the position that the elected House has taken this afternoon. As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State said earlier in the other place, the Government welcome and appreciate the rigorous scrutiny provided by this Chamber. He also set out in detail why the Government are unable to accept the amendments from this House. If noble Lords will indulge me, I will take a moment to touch on the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs.

The Government have been clear that we remain committed to seeking an agreement with the EU for the family reunion of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and we have already written to the European Commission to commence negotiations. Furthermore, we have gone beyond the original amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, to provide a policy statement to Parliament within two months of the withdrawal agreement Bill’s passage into law. This demonstrates our commitment to report in a timely manner and guarantees Parliament the opportunity to provide more scrutiny. We hope, of course, to have completed those negotiations as soon as possible in order to minimise any disruption to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. We will also continue to process family reunion cases referred before the end of the implementation period.

I hope that I can also reassure the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Williams, that Clause 37 of the Bill does not amend the definition of relatives under the 2018 Act. A relative means

“a spouse or civil partner of the child or any person with whom the child has a durable relationship that is similar to marriage or civil partnership, or … a parent, grandparent, uncle, aunt, brother or sister of the child”.

Finally, as we have already explained, primary legislation is not necessary to deliver our commitment on unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. I hope this reassures the noble Lord that we take his concerns seriously.

As I come to a close, I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I take just a brief moment of self-indulgence, as this may well be my last outing at the Dispatch Box as a DExEU Minister—unless, of course, the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, has some more plans for PNQs again next week. It has certainly been quite a journey. When I took on this role, I knew it would be a challenge—not least as a leaver in a predominantly remain House. After, by my rough calculations, two government Bills, more than 20 debates, 49 Oral Questions, 10 Statements, four PNQs, 10 Urgent Questions and around 250 hours at this Dispatch Box, I can honestly say that I have enjoyed almost every minute of it. Given the tremendous expertise of this House—with many ex-senior Ministers, ex-MEPs, the author of Article 50 and ex-EU Permanent Representatives, to name but a few—the sheer quality of debate, political sparring and questioning is always second to none. I can only apologise if the quality of the answers is sometimes not to the same high standard. I am honoured to be part of this House, and I thank the Leader in particular for having given me the opportunity to play my part in delivering the result of the 2016 referendum and finally getting Brexit done. That is it—the end. I beg to move.

My Lords, perhaps I ought to congratulate the Minister on his stamina, as he has described it so well, but also my colleagues on the Front Bench, who have shown similar stamina and persistence. I thank the Minister for the assurances he has given me regarding the amendment I sought to introduce on unaccompanied child refugees. I wonder if I could just nudge him a little further.

It is very gentle. He has given the definition of a relative and that is fine; he has confirmed it. He referred to the Statement that will be made by a Minister in a couple of months, setting out the Government’s further plans on this. I hope that Statement will include the nature of the preparations that the Government will make to ensure that this process works in time for 1 January 2021, by which time we have to have something new in place—just an assurance on what the Government will do to make sure that is all in place.

Finally, a lot of people have written to their Members of Parliament and some of the replies have come my way, not surprisingly. It is interesting. Conservative Central Office ought just to make sure that it is in line with the Minister. For example, one of them talked about exiting the EU and so on and so forth, and said it is important that the legislation comes under the Home Office in the form of the immigration Bill. Another letter says it is sensible and pragmatic to legislatively include it in the immigration Bill. MPs are saying to their constituents that all this ought to be in the immigration Bill. I understood otherwise; I understood that the Government’s view was that it did not have to be in the immigration Bill. I think somebody is not listening to somebody else. I say that very gently, but I thank the Minister for the assurances he has given.

My Lords, I regret the Government’s decision to reject all the amendments, in particular the amendment that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has just spoken to and the amendments that my noble friends moved.

I am sorry that in another place the Minister, when addressing the EU citizens amendment, failed to make any arguments at all. Indeed, so devoid of them was he that he resorted to a whole load of canards and non sequiturs. I could go through them at length, if I thought the Government were in any way moved by arguments on this, but it is clear to me that they are not. Sadly, and without any coherent reason at all, they have rejected an amendment which would have improved the Bill, alleviated the severe anxieties of EU citizens who are currently being refused documentary proof of their right to settled status, and ensured that the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary kept the promises they made to EU citizens during the 2016 referendum campaign.

Our amendment did not seek to interfere with any rights under the settled status scheme, nor did it do anything to thwart or delay Brexit. The proposals were not radical: the provision of documentary evidence of status is exactly the system that exists for non-EU holders of indefinite leave to remain. Our proposal for a declaratory system was simply aimed at preventing the Government and EU citizens becoming embroiled in a bureaucratic quagmire after June 2021.

As a result of the Commons’ failure to heed these modest requests, the conditions have been created for a great injustice to be visited on tens, perhaps even hundreds, of thousands of EU citizens. Millions of EU citizens will continue to face deep anxiety about their status as a result of the inexplicable decision to refuse to provide them with documentary proof. This is not an arcane debating point. This decision will have a real impact on people’s lives. Every member of the Government and every one of its supporters should, frankly, be ashamed that they are party to a casual abandonment of a solemn undertaking made by the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary to EU citizens during the course of the referendum. I am sorry that it has been abandoned so casually.

EU citizens in this country—and UK citizens in the EU, who are concerned about how the UK’s approach at home will impact their position in the EU—can be assured that, despite the set-back today, we will not give up the fight for good sense on this matter to prevail. Although our amendment has not gone through today, we will seek further legislative opportunities to ensure that it does so in future.

My Lords, I would like to say a word or two about the two amendments in which I had an interest. I am sorry that my voice is not quite up to it, but it is better than it was yesterday.

I am very glad that the situation now is that Parliament can act and get on with what is required. Clause 26 is the one I am interested in. Your Lordships will remember that the noble Lord, Lord Beith, moved an amendment to take out the provision which required a selection of courts to be made in a statutory instrument. I had understood that the Prime Minister had said that he wanted all courts to be able to deal with this matter in some way. By a majority of around 100, those in the House of Commons preferred that situation to what he said—that must be a matter of some interest. So far as I am concerned, I was extremely anxious to uphold what the Prime Minister said in his answer during the election.

Those in the Commons do not say that my amendment is unsuitable, but that it

“does not deal appropriately with the issue of domestic courts departing from the case law”.

But they do not say that their own provision is necessarily suitable either. I am sure that I, and all my noble and learned friends who spoke on these amendments, would be very willing to offer any help that may be required when it comes to promoting this statutory instrument.

I wonder if I might be allowed to follow the noble and learned Lord, since we are discussing the amendments to Clause 26. He made such a bold and ingenious attempt to provide the Government with a reasonable platform on which they could deal with this problem.

I am faced with words from the House of Commons that my amendment would not leave an appropriate means of dealing with

“the issue of domestic courts departing from the case law of the European Court after IP completion day”—

but nor does the Bill as it stands. It relies on the use of a regulation-making power, under which any or all courts could be included, including lower courts which do not have the capacity to bind other courts and therefore can make many inconsistent decisions. It still leaves the Government with the power to, effectively, impose a different, unspecified test.

This is a very unsatisfactory situation, but the best thing that the Government can now do, since they have failed to accept either my amendment or that of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, is think very carefully before proceeding, because there is already sufficient statutory provision in place in the 2018 withdrawal Act, under which the Supreme Court and the High Court of Justiciary can do the job of deciding to depart from European case law. Should the Government wish to extend that to some other courts, perhaps to appeal courts, they will probably find sympathy and support in the House, but should they try to bring forward proposals by way of regulations of the kind that were widely discussed by very experienced colleagues around the House, they will meet resistance at that stage.

My Lords, we note, sadly, that the so-called Dubs amendment has been rejected, but I am sure that many of us feel, like me, that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, will go down in history as a champion for refugee children and that he is an outstanding example of the contribution that can be made to British life by admitting a refugee child.

My Lords, I express the Green group’s very strong disappointment about the decisions made earlier today in the other place. We sent them constructive amendments that aimed to protect those whom the Government themselves recognise as the most vulnerable people in society; to retain our close ties with the continent of Europe after we Brexit; to keep hard-won protections; and to recognise the established conventions of the power of the devolved institutions. We spent five days presenting powerful arguments for those amendments. I do not intend to rehearse any of them here. Rather, I present to the House three practical arguments for a way forward that the House might not currently be planning to take.

My first practical argument is about the past five days. We have all worked very hard. We have presented the arguments and argued the case. As the noble Baroness said, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has worked astonishingly hard and deserves the highest levels of credit. But we are potentially looking at the coming five years. I am not one who believes that we will suddenly see an outbreak of stability in Britain that means we will see five years of stable government—but it is possible that we will. So I ask your Lordships’ House to consider what it will be like if we spend five years working like we just have for the past five days and then get to the point again and again of not being listened to. Do we want simply to bow down and allow that to happen again and again?

My second practical argument is that we are not going against the Salisbury convention. Nothing here reflects what was in the election that was just held—the election in which 44% of people voted for a Tory Government and 56% of people did not.

My third practical suggestion is not to be what might be described as recalcitrant, but to pick one of these amendments to say to the Commons, “Please listen to the powerful arguments and think about the impact of your actions.” I am of course referring to the amendment that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, put forward. We could hold the line on that one amendment. I ask noble Lords to think about what the impact of that might be. We are talking about people whom the Government agree are the most vulnerable children on the planet.

As we have heard in the debates, we know that lots of those children have made their way to Britain through irregular, dangerous and sometimes deadly means. A couple of years ago, I went to a memorial service for a young man who died in the back of a lorry. He had the right to come to Britain, but felt that he could not exercise that right and died as a result. I ask noble Lords to think about the message that us bowing down on the Dubs amendment will send to children in Europe today. They need to know that there are people in Britain, in the Houses of Parliament, who are on their side. So I ask your Lordships to consider our way forward, and to consider standing up for those children.

My Lords, we should take an example from the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, who replied with great graciousness this afternoon, and move forward, jettisoning wherever we can the words “Brexit”, “remain” and “leave”. Wherever we stood in the past, we are now moving forward. I am very glad that there has been no contesting of the will of the elected House, which represents the will of the people. Let us now try to have some unity and some real healing across both Houses.

My Lords, I would like to express my personal appreciation for the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, has handled his responsibilities at the Dispatch Box. Although I am somewhat anomalous on this side of the House in being—if the noble Lord Cormack, will allow me to say—in favour of leaving the European Union, none the less, I am sure that many of my colleagues have also respected the hard work and the gracious spirit in which the Minister has presented the case on behalf of the Government.

However, I cannot agree with his commendation of these so-called Commons reasons. It is disappointing for this House that the Commons has dismissed the amendments that your Lordships’ House sent to them, with no serious consideration whatever. That represents a failure to recognise and respect the proper constitutional role of this House. In the proceedings on this Bill, this House has not sought to obstruct the Government’s purpose in passing the withdrawal legislation. Everybody in this House accepts that the Government have a mandate to do so, and everybody understands the time constraints. None the less, this House sought to improve the legislation in important respects.

My noble friend Lord Dubs, and the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, have made the case very well indeed in respect of the issue raised in the Dubs amendment, but there were also important constitutional issues that arose from the Bill, and they are not negligible. They concern, for example, the formal processes and the spirit in which the Government seek to relate to the devolved institutions as we withdraw from the European Union and develop the new relationship. They concern the excessive Henry VIII powers that the Government have chosen to take in this Bill—one of them, very importantly, providing for the Government to take powers, by regulation, to intervene in the realm of the judges in determining how they should handle European retained law.

There are other areas, including Clause 41, which has provided a very large, very extravagant opportunity for the Government, by regulations, to abolish or amend, in substantial respects, primary legislation. It is not just legitimate but our duty to have considered these matters, and it is disappointing that in the other place, the Government, Ministers and Members of Parliament have not thought it worthwhile to give any significant consideration to these issues. Taking back control of our laws should represent a full restoration of parliamentary government, and a full restoration of parliamentary government should mean a proper working relationship between your Lordships’ House and the other place. It should not mean a new excrescence of, to use that memorable term coined by a very distinguished Conservative, Lord Hailsham, the “elective dictatorship.”

My Lords, I simply have one request for the Government. What will shortly become Section 37 provides for a statement of policy within two months. The Minister talked about reassuring noble Lords. Those who need reassurance are EU citizens—those covered by my noble friend’s amendment—and those affected by the child refugee situation. I hope that the Government, who have told us that they have been negotiating, can bring forward a statement of policy well before the end of the two months.

My Lords, I am not quite sure why the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, singled me out for mention. I think that I must figure in his worst nightmares—which obviously delights me.

He referred to it taking three years to get the withdrawal agreement approved, but I remind him and the Benches opposite that the failure to approve it sooner was due largely to the refusal of Brexiters to support previous efforts. We remainers do not accept responsibility for Brexit or for the negative consequences that it will entail. We have played our part responsibly in trying to improve the process and the outcome of Brexit, as we have on this Bill.

I am glad that this House was not bullied or intimidated, and that it has improved the Bill. In better times, the thoughtful contributions that we made would have received a more respectful response from the Government—I agree, for once, with the noble Lord, Lord Howarth—but the Government were dogmatically determined to refuse any positive improvement to the Bill. So here we are, and we will see what happens in the months and years to come.

Well, I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, has enjoyed this. He has certainly given us some fun on occasions.

The purpose of this debate is to handle Commons “consideration” of Lords amendments. However, as I watched the Commons—after just 60 minutes of debate on what this House had considered with such care—eventually overturn all our five amendments, it was hard to take the word “consideration” seriously. More accurate, as I watched, tweeting as I went, was the reply that I received to one of my tweets from someone who identified themselves only as DeepblueBoy. It read, “That’s democracy for ya!” I guess that it was his way of saying—in line with No. 10’s view, I imagine—“We’ve a majority of 80, so we simply don’t need to heed the House of Lords.”

I regret that. I regret it for the four vital issues that we had raised, covering safeguarding the union with the devolution settlement, safeguarding the independence of our courts and judiciary, safeguarding EU citizens’ residency by giving them a document, and of course safeguarding vulnerable, unaccompanied refugee children. Because we take our constitutional obligation seriously, and part of that is to offer MPs the opportunity to give serious consideration to the issues that we have raised. And the issues that we had raised and sent to the Commons would not have delayed Brexit by one second, would not have affected the working of the Bill or the withdrawal agreement, and did not run counter to any Conservative election promise.

So I regret the damage done in those four areas. But I also regret it, as I think I have just heard from my noble friend Lord Howarth, for what it says about the new Government—that No. 10 has decided not to listen, whether to the devolved authorities, to experienced judges and senior officeholders, or to other experienced Members of your Lordships’ House. I will just point out—my noble friend Lord Liddle told me this; I had not done the numbers—that in all the votes that we had, the Conservatives had a larger vote than the combined votes of the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Benches. So this was not a political divide; that side of the House still outnumbers us. It was, of course, with the all-important independent Peers that these results were won—an important consideration.

If this is to be the pattern of this Administration, breaking what I think are the conventions, including the recognition that in a bicameral system legislation is meant to be a dual responsibility, then I fear that we are in for an unfortunate time. Let us hope that this is a one-off as a result of the recent election and that normal service will shortly be resumed so that this House can play its full scrutiny role, secure in the understanding that all differing views will not simply be cast aside. As David Davis MP recognised in the other place, there was even a consensual way forward on the CJEU issue, crafted so carefully and expertly, as we would expect, by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern. It would have made sense for the Government to have swept up that solution without even having to give credit to anyone but one of their own. It was not to be, but I hope that they will now take up his new, generous and learned offer.

For now, the Government will have their way. In future, I hope that dialogue and compromise will once again be possible, perhaps even—who knows?— with the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, perhaps in a different guise.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to the discussion. We have debated all these matters at great length and our positions are well known, so I will not try the patience of the House by repeating those arguments.

I restrict myself to two comments. First, I concur completely with all the statements that have been made about the noble Lord, Lord Dubs: we hold him in the highest regard. I know that my noble friend Lady Williams has listened very carefully to his comments and will certainly take them on board. Secondly, we thank the noble Lord, Lord Beith, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, for their help and assistance on these controversial clauses. My noble and learned friend Lord Keen will, I am sure, want to take those discussions forward with them both when these matters return to this House, as they probably will in the future.

Motion A agreed.

Motions B to E

Moved by

Motion B

That this House do not insist on its Amendment 2, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 2A.

2A: Because the provision removed by the Lords Amendment would provide an appropriate means of dealing with the issue of domestic courts departing from the case law of the European Court after IP completion day.

Motion C

That this House do not insist on its Amendment 3, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 3A.

3A: Because it does not deal appropriately with the issue of domestic courts departing from the case law of the European Court after IP completion day.

Motion D

That this House do not insist on its Amendment 4, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 4A.

4A: Because it is not appropriate for the negotiating objectives of Her Majesty’s Government to be provided for in legislation.

Motion E

That this House do not insist on its Amendment 5, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 5A.

5A: Because it is unnecessary and inappropriate to refer to the conventions mentioned in the Lords Amendment in Clause 38.

Motions B to E agreed.

House adjourned at 6.17 pm.