Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Portrait Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town (Lab)
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My Lords, I think the Committee has heard quite enough from me so I will not speak on this other than to say that this will come up when we discuss the single market and I will reserve our comments until then. The Committee will probably know that we will not be supporting this amendment.

Lord Keen of Elie Portrait The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Keen of Elie) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank noble Lords for the amendment concerning the European Economic Area, which seeks to ensure that the UK remains a member of the EEA.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Portrait Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab)
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My Lords, I wonder if the Minister will give way—

Lord Keen of Elie Portrait Lord Keen of Elie
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Not yet, no. While I understand the issues raised and agree with the desire to debate them in this House, I cannot accept the amendment.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Portrait Lord Foulkes of Cumnock
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I wonder if the Minister can clarify—

Lord Keen of Elie Portrait Lord Keen of Elie
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I wonder if the noble Lord will allow me to make a little progress before he launches into the water. This Bill is about the process of our leaving the European Union. It is not about the Government’s approach. I will happily debate these matters with your Lordships, and I am sure that there will be other occasions on which to do so over the coming months and, indeed, years. But as the other place has shown, this Bill is not the place to put constraints on the Government’s approach.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Portrait Lord Foulkes of Cumnock
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What is it that the Minister says? I am obliged to him for giving way. As this is the first time we have heard from the Minister on this subject since the weekend, I wonder if he would care to comment on one of the most significant happenings. A very distinguished Member of this House, who sat through almost the whole Second Reading on Monday and Tuesday—a former Deputy Prime Minister for whom we all have the greatest respect—has said that he is going to oppose his own Government on this. He is completely against Brexit. What is the Government’s reaction? Are they not going to take account of the views of someone so distinguished, someone with such great experience of government and of the European Union? Would the Minister care to respond?

Lord Keen of Elie Portrait Lord Keen of Elie
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Yes, of course. The noble Lord to whom the noble Lord refers is not in the House today.

It is my intention to make some progress with this matter. The Prime Minister clearly set out her vision for the future of the UK post-exit in her speech on 17 January, including our future trading relationship with the EU. She was clear that we do not seek membership of the single market. Instead, we seek the greatest possible access to it through a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious free trade agreement. We want the UK to have the freest possible trade in goods and services with the EU’s member states but also to be able to negotiate our own trade agreements. As the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton of Epsom, observed, we seek our own, bespoke deal.

The United Kingdom has always been a leading voice for free trade, not only in the European Union but globally, and we have been consistently clear that we want the maximum possible freedom to trade for businesses in both Britain and Europe. But we also want to take back control of our laws and control immigration to Britain from Europe.

Being a member of the EEA would mean complying with the EU’s rules and regulations that implement the four freedoms—in respect of capital, goods, services and people—without having a vote on what those rules and regulations are. It would mean accepting a role for the European Court of Justice that would see it still having direct legal authority in our country. It would mean not having control over immigration. EU leaders in the other 27 states have been clear as to their belief in the indivisible nature of the four freedoms, and we respect that. The people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the EU, not to maintain partial membership of its bodies or institutions. When the people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union institutions, they did not intend that we should leave by the front door and rush back to attempt entry by the back door.

As set out in the White Paper, we recognise that we will require alternative forms of dispute resolution once we leave the EU and are no longer subject to the European Court of Justice. But again, these mechanisms are common both to agreements between the EU and third countries and in international agreements to which the United Kingdom is also party, of which there are many examples. Once we leave the EU, the EEA agreement will no longer be relevant for the United Kingdom. It will have no practical effect. It will be an empty vessel. That is because the agreement is defined as covering all EU members and those three EFTA states—Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway—which have chosen to join the EEA. As we are leaving the EU, we will automatically be outside this definition, as found in Article 126 of the EEA agreement. So there is no choice open to us to leave the EU and remain a member of the EEA, which would require a separate negotiation with the EU and the three EFTA states that I have just mentioned. For example, Switzerland, which is also a member of EFTA, has separate bilateral agreements with the EU even though it is not in the EEA. EFTA membership is not, of course, the same as EEA membership.

Although it will have no practical effect after the EU exit, we are considering what steps might need to be taken formally to terminate the EEA agreement as a matter of law, as we will remain a signatory to the agreement. This could be done through Article 127 of the EEA agreement on giving 12 months’ notice, or by some other means, but no decision has yet been taken on that. We have laid out in the White Paper, however, the relationship we are seeking: a new strategic partnership which includes a new customs agreement and an ambitious and comprehensive free trade agreement. We are seeking the greatest possible access to the single market as part of this.

The noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, referred to the fact that we would not be at the table. That is absolutely right, and that is not what 52% of our population voted for when they voted leave. It is one thing to have power without responsibility; it is another to have responsibility without power, and that is what we would have in these circumstances. It was suggested that freedom of movement could be open to a variety of interpretations. That is not the view in Europe. It is open to only one interpretation—one which we have been under for a number of years.

The noble Baroness, Lady Quin, referred to the report of the House of Lords committee. I can reassure her that we take the terms of that report very seriously, and we will be taking forward our consideration of it in due course. The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford, referred to the suggestion that somehow we could keep our options open so far as the EEA is concerned, but that is not the case. EEA membership is not an option that is simply open to us if we leave the EU. As I said, it becomes an empty vessel. We have to face up to the indivisibility of the four freedoms, as insisted upon. It is not a case of going to Europe and saying, “We would like to negotiate out of one of the four freedoms”. We are told repeatedly that they are indivisible, and we have to take that into account.

At the end of the day, we cannot embrace membership of the EEA any more than membership of the EU without freedom of movement in Europe. In these circumstances, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw this amendment on the understanding that we cannot retain membership of the EEA for the reasons I have sought to set out.

Lord Liddle Portrait Lord Liddle (Lab)
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Before the noble Lord sits down, there is one issue on this question which is very important to the national interest. When the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, came to the Select Committee to answer questions about the Government’s negotiating strategy, I asked him whether—as part of a transitional arrangement—they had ruled out membership of the single market or the EEA, and he said they had not. Can the Minister clarify the Government’s current position?

Whatever the Front Bench opposite thinks, most observers think it will be impossible to negotiate a comprehensive trade agreement within the practical 15 months of negotiation that will be available after the German elections. This implementation phase that the Prime Minister talks about is in fact a transition. Are the Government saying that under no circumstances would we consider being members of the EEA, or the single market? If they are, we are facing the most horrendous cliff edge as an economy.

Lord Keen of Elie Portrait Lord Keen of Elie
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My Lords, with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, I do not accept that we face a cliff edge—there is no cliff and therefore no edge. We fully intend to negotiate a suitable settlement within the period set out in Article 50 and that is the course of action on which we are setting out at this time.

The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, questioned whether this amendment was within the scope of the Bill. That is a question for others, but clearly it is not related to the purpose of the Bill. The Bill is concerned with process and, if we lose sight of that, we are liable to become rudderless in very difficult waters.

Lord Liddle Portrait Lord Liddle
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Will the Minister give me an answer to the question? It is a reasonable question on such a vital matter of national importance: is this ruled out in a transitional arrangement or not?

Lord Keen of Elie Portrait Lord Keen of Elie
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With respect, the noble Lord’s question proceeds on a supposition that I do not accept.

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Noble Lords will also understand, of course, that Northern Ireland’s citizens can, if they so wish, post Brexit, become citizens of the European Union by becoming citizens of the Irish Republic. That is an issue which should be raised—and all this is against the backcloth of an election on Thursday to establish a new Executive and at least three weeks of negotiations—and I am convinced that the issues that have been touched upon in this House will be dealt with there. We should remind ourselves that the people of Northern Ireland voted to stay in the European Union. The people of Northern Ireland voted to accept the Good Friday agreement. The people of the Republic voted for that, too, but the people of the United Kingdom voted to come out of the European Union. This is a tough task and I wish the Government well in it.
Lord Dunlop Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office and Scotland Office (Lord Dunlop) (Con)
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My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, to the Front Bench. He played a hugely important role in negotiating the Belfast agreement and he brings huge authority to this debate. I also thank all those who have taken part in the debate on this group of very important amendments relating to Northern Ireland. All the contributions have been thoughtful, sincere and passionate. I pay tribute to the work of the EU Committee and, in particular, its report on Northern Ireland, which has been mentioned by a number of noble Lords. The whole House is very conscious of the political situation in Northern Ireland and the need to provide support to the parties there, with Assembly elections this Thursday and the aim of re-establishing strong and stable devolved government. I am sure that we are all united in this place in our sense of duty to the people of Northern Ireland who support the devolved institutions and want to see the forward momentum of the peace process maintained.

The people of Northern Ireland have seen the benefits that flow from the peace process: a reduction in violence, although it is still far too prevalent; economic and social progress; and the gradual normalisation of everyday life. Around this Chamber, on each side and in every part, are noble Lords who have made significant contributions to the peace process and to the progress Northern Ireland has experienced over the last 20 years or so. I have said many times from this Dispatch Box that we have enjoyed the longest unbroken period of devolved government in Northern Ireland for 45 years, a period that started in 2006 on the watch as Northern Ireland Secretary of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, who opened this debate. In our House and in the other place support for establishing, re-establishing and then maintaining the devolved institutions has been a bipartisan effort. The Government recognise and are grateful for the level of bipartisan support that the parties opposite continue to provide. It is for the Northern Ireland parties to work together to form a functioning Executive, and we all have a role in supporting those efforts. Everyone in this House wants and is working for the same outcome.

The Government are very conscious that as we negotiate the United Kingdom’s exit from the EU and secure our position as an open, successful trading nation, we need to make certain that the unique interests of Northern Ireland are protected and advanced. There can be no doubt about the priority the Government attach to the interests of Northern Ireland and, as the noble Lord, Lord Lester, noted, to providing strong reassurance to the people of Northern Ireland. The Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech and the White Paper set out the 12 principles that will guide our approach to the negotiations. Two of these refer explicitly to the needs of Northern Ireland. The first makes clear that the Government remain fully committed to the Belfast agreement and its successors as part of securing a deal that works for all parts of the United Kingdom and strengthens the union. The second highlights the importance of protecting our strong and historic ties with Ireland and maintaining the common travel area. Nobody wants to see a return to the borders of the past. The border is clearly a vital economic and trade issue. We recognise that the Northern Ireland economy is deeply integrated with that of Ireland, as well as with that of the rest of the United Kingdom. The issue of milk has been raised very vividly on a number of occasions so I will not repeat what was said.

However, this is more than just an economic issue. It is a social and psychological issue as well. For example, it is about families who use hospital services or are signed on with a GP across the border, or about the coaches of Northern Irish rugby supporters travelling to Dublin to watch Ireland play in the Six Nations. It is about the ease of everyday living and how you feel about the place in which you live. The open border for people and businesses has served us well and none of us wants to see the border issue become a renewed source of tension or division between different parts of the community in Northern Ireland. We want to ensure that goods and people can still move freely across the border and the Prime Minister has been crystal clear that the Government want trade across the Irish and Northern Ireland border to remain as frictionless as possible.

Of course, I recognise that this raises practical issues of the sort that the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, and others raised at Second Reading about what specific solutions might be put in place to achieve our desired outcomes. Such questions have been raised again today. As we have said before, and as the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, expressed so succinctly and eloquently, this is a straightforward Bill that gives the Prime Minister the power to start the process of withdrawal; it does not concern the wider negotiating process that will follow or the Bills that will come before this House and the other place on such matters as immigration and customs to give effect to what is agreed. To address the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, we will look to negotiate the best possible deal to secure practical cross-border co-operation on matters of justice and security. However, we start from a position of shared interests and common ground. The relationship between the United Kingdom and Ireland has never been closer or stronger than it is today.

There is a very strong joint commitment from the Irish Government, the Northern Ireland Executive and the UK Government to find a practical solution that recognises the unique circumstances on the land border between Northern Ireland and Ireland and all the social, political and economic implications that flow from them. I believe that the EU will be sensitive to the specific challenges around the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Only last week the President of the European Commission, following a meeting with the Taoiseach, said:

“During the BREXIT negotiations, the EU and Ireland must look to minimise the impact. We don’t want hard borders between Northern Ireland and Ireland”.

I also welcome Guy Verhofstadt’s comments about prioritising,

“the specific needs of Ireland and Northern Ireland”,

and Michel Barnier’s remarks about doing the,

“utmost to uphold the success of the Good Friday Agreement”.

This reflects, I think, an acute appreciation in Brussels and in other European capitals of the important role the European Union has played in helping to ensure and preserve peace in Northern Ireland, a point touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice. I hope that this will continue.

Before I turn specifically to the amendments I want to address a point raised by both the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, on the even-handedness with which the UK Government deal with the political parties in Northern Ireland. Let me be very clear: the Government recognise the importance of establishing good working relationships with political leaders representing both unionist and nationalist traditions. We have always said that we govern in the interests of the whole community in Northern Ireland. In recent years, two very significant cross-party agreements—Stormont House and Fresh Start—have been reached, which demonstrates our ability to work effectively across the community with the major parties in Northern Ireland.

I turn now to the three amendments. Amendment 2 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, would include in the Bill an undertaking by the Prime Minister to support the maintenance of the open border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. No such undertaking is necessary in the Bill, as my noble friends Lord Trimble and Lord Howell have made clear, particularly in light of the strong assurances that I have given and our desire to keep this Bill clean and simple.

The Government’s intentions on this matter are already clear and there is no fundamental difference between us on the outcome that we seek. Maintaining the common travel area and protecting the high level of operational co-operation that underpins it will be an important priority for the UK in the talks ahead. As has already been pointed out, there has been a common travel area between the United Kingdom and Ireland for many years. Indeed, it was formed before either of our two countries were members of the European Union and reflects the historical, social and economic ties between its members.

Similarly, we recognise that Ireland is by far Northern Ireland’s biggest trading partner with goods exported worth £2.1 billion and imports of £1.6 billion in 2015. This underlines the strong mutual self-interest that exists. We will work closely with the Irish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive to find practical solutions to keep cross-border trade as seamless and frictionless as possible.

In finding solutions to the land border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, my noble friend Lord Empey sought reassurance that we will not create an internal border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. I can give my noble friend firm assurance that this Government are clear that we must do nothing that makes any citizens of our country feel strangers in that country. Our guiding principle as we leave the EU will be that no new barriers to living and doing business within our own union are created.

Amendment 10 would exempt provisions derived from the Belfast agreement. The Government’s commitment to the Belfast agreement and the three-stranded approach—which makes clear that the government of Northern Ireland will be determined by consent—is rock solid, including the principles that recognise the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both, as they may so choose. The United Kingdom’s departure from the EU will not change that. The institutions, including the North/South Ministerial Council and the six implementation bodies, remain intact. So while the Government do not disagree with the core sentiment lying behind this amendment—namely, unwavering support for the Belfast agreement—there is no need to legislate for it.

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Baroness Smith of Basildon Portrait Baroness Smith of Basildon (Lab)
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My Lords, if we can get back to the amendment—I thought for a moment we had segued into the next debate—it is on a second referendum or ratification that I think initially sounded quite attractive to a number of noble Lords. However, when you actually look at the amendment it is flawed.

First, there is the point made about the two parts of the amendment. Paragraph (a), which says that it must be,

“laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament”,

fails to recognise the primacy of the other place. That is not how we have handled this Bill or other issues. On that point, our later amendment on a meaningful vote is a better way to judge parliamentary opinion and for Parliament to deal with this issue.

Demands for a second referendum started even before the polls closed on the first one. An online parliamentary petition called for a second referendum should the first have less than a 60% vote for either remain or leave on a 75% turnout threshold. That set a high bar and it received around 4 million signatures. We do not require that level of support for Governments; the last time we had a turnout of higher than 75% was back in 1992, nearly 25 years ago. This amendment does not seek such conditions. I agree that it would be strange to set new and different conditions for a second referendum from the first one but the point has been made previously in debates that for such a major constitutional issue to be decided by a simple majority has caused concern.

National referendums are rare in the UK. As we know, there have been three UK-wide ones. In 1975, Harold Wilson called a referendum on remaining in or leaving the European Economic Community. In 2011, during the coalition Government, we had a referendum on whether to change first past the post to the AV voting system. Then we had the EU referendum in 2016. I must confess that I am naturally cautious about politicians demanding a national referendum on an issue. If I was a cynic—of course, I am not—I would suggest that we do that rarely on a point of principle but more often because we think it will endorse a position we take and give us the result we want. However, I feel differently when there is public demand for a referendum. I accept that it is not always easy to judge that. Certain petitions and polls are not satisfactory. Yet it becomes clear over time and the polls for the EU referendum were evidenced by the turnout.

Let us look at the public support for these referendums. In the EEC referendum in 1975, 64% voted. That was probably depressed by most people thinking that it was clear the UK would remain. Some 72% voted in the referendum in 2016. Yet when we had the referendum on the voting system, for which there was no real public demand as it was politician-led, it motivated fewer than half our fellow citizens, with a turnout of just 42%. My fear now is that, with no significant public demand for a second referendum at this time, this is being seen as a campaign to challenge the result of the first referendum. That in itself creates a mood of opposition and hostility from the public.

The noble Lord, Lord Newby, reinforced that view in his speech, but in the The House magazine he said it was “implausible” not to grant a second referendum if public opinion shifts in favour of the EU. What if it shifts away and more people are opposed to the EU? Is that still grounds for a second referendum? Not according to his article. Indeed, the noble Lord and the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, spoke of having a second referendum so people could express a change of mind. That is not solely a reason to have one.

As the previous debate illustrated clearly, the coming months of negotiations will be complicated and complex. We are pressing the Government to ensure that Parliament is kept fully engaged and informed throughout the whole process, and that Parliament has the opportunity for a real, meaningful final say on the exit arrangements or deals. The noble Lord, Lord Newby, made a good point on this when he said that the Government did not want to engage with Parliament through a vote and had to be persuaded to do so by a court judgment. However, Parliament will now have to make its judgment and the MPs who do so will be accountable to their constituents. That is what parliamentary sovereignty means: taking responsibility.

I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Newby, that his logic is flawed because he and others from his party feel no need to respect the result of the referendum. The noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, just refuted this but I find that hard to accept. I do not, as the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, said, call the result the will of the people. I am not sure that referendums express that. However, there is a clear result. The noble Lord’s party said that there is no need to respect that result and voted against it in the House of Commons. It is now calling for a second referendum. Is that to be the same, to be seen as advisory, or do we just accept what a second referendum says? I find it hard to see the circumstances in which a second referendum could deal with all of the detail that would be required on the terms of an exit deal and not just be a rerun on the principle of continuing the process to leave or staying in. That is, in effect, the same as the first one.

The final judgment on the exit deal has to be very measured. It is going to involve forensic detail and it cannot just be an appeal to the emotions without hard, actual facts. In the first referendum, we saw different sides campaigning; they lobbied around the principle of staying in or leaving. I am on record as saying that I was deeply unimpressed with both the remain and leave campaigns. I have not yet been convinced that the approach of a referendum works well when dealing with the detail of negotiations over a period of two years. We have to have some faith in our Members of Parliament and in your Lordships’ House to make a serious, factual judgment on the benefits or otherwise of a final deal. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Warner, who asked whether we trusted the Government. I have been clear that I do not trust the Government enough to wave them off for two years and come back, and that is why we have later amendments about parliamentary engagement and votes. However, there is no impediment: if, as time and negotiations progress, there is genuine evidence of a widespread public demand for a second referendum, that should be listened to, but at this stage, our priority has to be that Parliament has the final say.

Lord Bridges of Headley Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Exiting the European Union (Lord Bridges of Headley) (Con)
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My Lords, the House will be delighted to hear that I intend to speak briefly on this amendment, as I get the sense that many of your Lordships’ minds have already been made up on this issue. I am going to explain why the Government believe that this approach would be wrong in principle and wrong in practice. A number of your Lordships have already made a number of good points, which I will not repeat.

I begin by taking a step back to consider people’s trust in politics today. It is at a somewhat low ebb. For many people, there is a sense that too many politicians say one thing and then do another. There is a sense that Parliament is divorced from day-to-day life, and this frustration and disillusionment with mainstream parties encourage them to look to others to represent their views. This is the backcloth to the debate on this Bill and this amendment.

Let us not forget the democratic path that has brought us here. The Conservative Party promised to hold a referendum and respect the outcome. This Parliament gave people the choice of whether to leave or to remain in the European Union: a choice without caveat or condition. It was a choice that the people exercised, having been told by the Government in the leaflet sent to every household in the land:

“The Government will implement what you decide”.

The majority voted to leave, not to have a second referendum and not to think again. The people have spoken and this Bill delivers on their wish.

My first question to your Lordships is: would it help build trust in politics if we, the unelected Chamber, were to tell the people, “We did not like your first answer; please try harder”? I think not: quite the reverse. When Scotland voted against independence, what was the response from any politicians? I shall quote one:

“You have to abide by the outcome ... I don’t think re-opening old wounds would be good for Scotland”.

Those were the words of Mr Nick Clegg. Whatever the cynical machinations of the Scottish Nationalists today, I believe that what Mr Clegg said was true then as regards Scotland and is true today as regards Europe. We promised a referendum, not a “neverendum”. The government leaflet said the referendum was a once-in-a-generation decision, not a twice-in-five-years decision. We cannot keep asking the question until we get the answer that some want.

Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon Portrait Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon
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The Minister is making the case against a question that we did not ask, which is, “Shall we have another referendum on in or out?”. We accept that that is not going to happen. We accept that the Government have a mandate for Brexit. Will he tell us what mandate they now have for leaving the single market?

Lord Bridges of Headley Portrait Lord Bridges of Headley
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My Lords, I am sorry to say that the noble Lord is just making my point for me. We had a referendum in which people were asked very explicitly whether they wanted to leave or remain in the EU. The leaflet that I have here said it very clearly, and many people in this House and outside it—on both sides of the argument—made the case that a vote to leave was a vote to leave the single market. That was the choice, people were aware of it and that was the decision that they made. We are going to come on to this in the next hour or so.

Furthermore, many people on both sides of the argument, leave and remain, are now coming together to make a success of our exit from the EU and to forge a new place for our nation in the world. Why would we want to open up all those old divisions again by holding a second referendum, as this very debate has just shown? Well before last June, a number of politicians argued—

Lord Dykes Portrait Lord Dykes (CB)
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When the Minister talks about the advisory referendum which was giving an opinion, that was the result that we had to respect at the time. Of course, there are comparisons with other European countries; in the process of the European constitution and subsequent Lisbon treaty, it was very interesting that in France, Denmark and the Republic of Ireland, there was always under the compulsory written constitutions a “no” vote in that first referendum. Each one was reversed by their Governments because they knew it was a vote about the unpopularity of internal politics and nothing to do with Europe.

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Lord Bridges of Headley Portrait Lord Bridges of Headley
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I hear what the noble Lord is saying, but I am sorry to say that that boat, and all this argument, sailed when we passed the referendum Bill. That is just simply the fact.

Well before last June, a number of politicians argued that a referendum on our membership of the EU was needed precisely because Europe was poisoning the body politic. One politician said some years ago that it was,

“time we pulled out the thorn and healed the wound, time for a debate politicians have been too cowardly to hold for 30 years ... Let’s trust the people with the real question: in or out”.

Again, these were the words of Mr Nick Clegg back in 2008. I agree with the Nick Clegg of 2008. Now that we have had that referendum, I would argue that another would put that thorn back into British politics, and rub salt in the wound.

Lord Campbell of Pittenweem Portrait Lord Campbell of Pittenweem (LD)
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Since this is an occasion for quotations, I remind him that John Maynard Keynes said:

“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”.

Is it the Government’s position that if, after these negotiations, they decide that no deal is better than a poor deal, the Government will not put that to the people of the United Kingdom?

Lord Bridges of Headley Portrait Lord Bridges of Headley
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My Lords, the Government’s position is very clear. We are absolutely going to stand by the instruction given to us by the British people to leave the European Union. That was the decision and that is the Government’s policy, and that is what it will remain.

Lord Spicer Portrait Lord Spicer (Con)
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Is not the real reason people are calling for a second referendum that one side lost and they do not like it? Then, might it not be the case that somebody loses another referendum and we would have to have a third one? Indeed, we might even have to have a fourth referendum to decide which referendum was the real thing.

Lord Bridges of Headley Portrait Lord Bridges of Headley
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I agree with my noble friend, and this is why we have the prospect of a “neverendum”.

Baroness Kennedy of Shaws Portrait Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws (Lab)
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Does the Minister really think that the British people had any idea at all what it would mean if there was no deal and they ended up in the arms of the WTO and all that that means?

Lord Bridges of Headley Portrait Lord Bridges of Headley
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I am sorry to say that I dispute what the noble Baroness is saying. The British people voted to leave. There was a very loud and passionate discussion, with lots of people issuing lots of papers about what it would mean to leave, and the British people made a decision.

My noble friend raised the issue of a “neverendum”. This brings me to certainty. One thing we all agree on is the need for certainty. Therefore, let us think of European families here, of British families in Europe and of the thousands of businesses right across this country that are listening to our debate. For them, the prospect of another referendum at some unknown date years ahead, with a Bill—as the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, said—and a question we do not yet know, would simply create more uncertainty.

Let me say here a word about business in particular, given that my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft edited the Wall Street Journal. I would like to draw the Committee’s attention to a report just issued by the Institute of Directors. It recommends:

“A … measure to boost both political confidence and certainty for business would be for all parties to rule out a second referendum over the next parliament—either a repeat on EU membership or on the final terms of the deal”.

The IoD represents 35,000 businesses which employ hundreds of thousands of people. Those businesses are saying that they want certainty.

Baroness Kramer Portrait Baroness Kramer (LD)
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Perhaps I might press the Minister for clarification. He says that people want certainty. Is he saying that if that certainty is, to a business, “Yes, you must move your headquarters, you must take jobs out of this country”, and to people that, “You will face higher prices and fewer opportunities for your children”, that is what the Government will choose to make the British people live with—and with no voice to challenge it?

Lord Bridges of Headley Portrait Lord Bridges of Headley
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The noble Baroness and I have many interesting discussions, but I dispute the grounds on which she is approaching this. We have set out very clearly, to provide clarity and certainty, a view regarding what we wish to achieve in the negotiations. That has provided a considerable amount of certainty and clarity to many of the businesses I have spoken to and in nation states across Europe. That is exactly what we now need to deliver on.

I will turn quickly to the issue of parliamentary scrutiny, which the noble Lord, Lord Newby, slightly dismissed. Parliament will be heavily involved in the process of our leaving the EU. This Bill, the Bill to repeal the European Communities Act 1972, primary and secondary legislation, Statements, Select Committee appearances—the list is quite long. On top of that, the Government will bring forward a Motion on the final agreement to be approved by both Houses of Parliament before it is concluded. So the nub of the matter is very simple. On 23 June people voted to leave the EU. It was a choice that this Parliament gave them and it is a decision that, now it has been made, we must obey. So I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Judd Portrait Lord Judd (Lab)
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The Minister has deployed with great moral strength the argument that the people have spoken. I remind him that the majority of those who voted have spoken—but, in fact, barely a third of the potential electorate in Britain voted. The situation is not as absolute as he suggests. I say to your Lordships that this is a very good reason for taking very seriously the argument that the road of referenda is a very dangerous road indeed.

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Lord Bridges of Headley Portrait Lord Bridges of Headley
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I think that I would like to say a few words, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, says. I sense there is some division. Let me start by trying to mend some bridges—pardon the pun. All of us in this House wish our country to prosper. We all want to see more investment and more jobs. The very simple question raised by these amendments is this: in light of the vote to leave the EU, how can we best do that? I know that the noble Lords, Lord Hain and Lord Monks, and other noble Lords whose names are on these amendments, have long-held views that the best route to achieve that aim is, at least in part, for the United Kingdom to remain within the EU and within the single market. I respect their views and the steadfastness with which they hold them. I will try my best to be eloquent, but I am sure that what I am about to say will not deflect them and a number of other noble Lords, such as the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, from supporting this amendment. But I will briefly set out why the Government oppose the amendment. The first and most obvious reason is that it has nothing to do with the Bill. The Bill has one purpose only: to enable the Government to start the process of negotiation. It is not a means to dictate the terms of the negotiation.

The second reason concerns the democratic arguments. Very briefly, as I said earlier, the Government promised to hold a referendum and to honour its result. Yes, I know that the Conservative Government said that they would protect our role in the single market in the manifesto. But as my noble friend Lord Blencathra pointed out, the manifesto also promised to respect the result of the referendum—a promise which this Parliament endorsed by passing the European Union Referendum Act.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, said, the debate we have heard tonight has been a rerun of the referendum campaign. As I said earlier, during that campaign, every household was sent a leaflet which spelled out the consequences of leaving as regards our membership of the single market. A number of people on both sides of the argument pointed out that we could not vote to leave and then try to remain in the single market. Criticising the leave campaign, one of those arguing to remain said:

“Some of those advocating British withdrawal suggest that we can have our cake and eat it by staying within the European single market to retain the great bulk of our trade which is with EU countries”.—[Official Report, 2/3/16; col. 855.]

Those are the words of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and he was quite right. The four freedoms are seen by many across Europe as indivisible, and we should respect those views.

Much more than that, as other noble Lords have said, remaining a member of the single market would mean complying with the EU’s rules and regulations that implement the four freedoms, without having a vote on what those rules and regulations are. It would almost certainly mean accepting a role for the Court of Justice of the European Union. It would mean still not having control over immigration—relying on enforcement powers rather than creating an immigration system, which this Government intend to build, which allows us to control numbers and encourages the brightest and best to come to this country.

As to the customs union, were we to remain a full member, we would remain bound by a common external tariff, which would greatly limit our ability to strike our own trade deals and our freedom to determine the level of UK tariffs. Were we to remain within the common commercial policy, we would not be able to pursue freely our bold, ambitious trade agenda with the rest of the world. We would instead, as now, be ceding responsibility for this to the European Union. So to remain a member of the single market and to remain a full member of the customs union would, to all intents and purposes, mean not leaving the EU at all.

As to the EEA, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, that it suffers from a democratic deficit. Once we leave the EU, as my noble and learned friend said earlier, the EEA agreement will no longer be relevant for the UK. It will have no practical effect. But we expect a phased process of implementation to cover our withdrawal from the EU in which both Britain and the EU institutions and member states prepare for the new arrangements between us. This is intended to give businesses enough time to plan and prepare for the new arrangements. The interim arrangements that we rely on will be a matter for negotiation.

Lord Liddle Portrait Lord Liddle
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Does that mean that the Government are not ruling out EEA membership for the transition?

Lord Bridges of Headley Portrait Lord Bridges of Headley
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I have nothing further to add, other than to say that it is a matter for the negotiations. It is a matter for the negotiations and I am not going to go further. I checked the transcript of the Select Committee hearing that the noble Lord so rightly brought me up on earlier and that is what I said. It is exactly consistent with what I have said.

I turn to our approach to trade with the EU once we have left. My noble friend Lord Howell pointed out the intricacies of this. It is absolutely true—a basic point—that across the world countries which are not members of the single market trade with Europe. The single market is not a tablet of stone. As the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, so rightly said, in services, which drive so much of our wealth creation, the single market is incomplete; likewise, on digital services. With that in mind, the Government have a clear aim: to seek an agreement for the freest and most frictionless trade possible in goods and services between the UK and the EU. We start these negotiations from a unique position. The EU exports to the UK £290 billion of goods and services each year, and on day 1 we will have exactly the same regulations and standards as our negotiating partners. The focus will be not about removing existing barriers or questioning certain protections but about ensuring new barriers do not arise, and the scale of trade means that it should be in our interests, and Europe’s interests, to come to an agreement.

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Division 1

Ayes: 136

Liberal Democrat: 78
Labour: 33
Crossbench: 19
Independent: 4
Plaid Cymru: 1

Noes: 299

Conservative: 208
Labour: 53
Crossbench: 29
Independent: 6
Ulster Unionist Party: 2
Democratic Unionist Party: 1

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Lord Lennie Portrait Lord Lennie (Lab)
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My Lords, Amendment 22, on impact assessments, seeks to put us on a level playing field with the Government. We want the information that has already been published—the impact assessments that may have taken place, or have taken place, since the referendum in the various departments listed: nothing more, nothing less. Others have commented on other areas of the work of the European Union where we stand to suffer a loss, and they are right to make those comments. They referred to the north-east, the environment, equalities and so on.

In the Commons the big issue was how to deal with confidentiality. We have made provision for that by the subsection of the proposed new clause in Amendment 22 that defines the right of the Government to hold back from publishing anything that they feel would harm our negotiating position in any way, for any reason, and to restrict it to a few wise heads. We do not even define how that should happen. It could be on Privy Council terms or whatever other terms the Government wanted. That seems to me an entirely sensible way to proceed. I shall not detain the House any longer, but I ask the Minister to respond to these requests in the spirit in which they have been made. These are probing amendments, which we expect to be useful, and we look forward to a positive outcome to the discussion.

Lord Bridges of Headley Portrait Lord Bridges of Headley
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My Lords, I, too, shall try to keep things brief. To pick up on what the noble Lord just said, I share the motive that I believe genuinely and sincerely underpins many of the amendments, which is to ensure that Parliament has the means to scrutinise the negotiations as they proceed. Obviously, that is the subject of the next group of amendments, which we want to get on to, but let me say now that the challenge that we—that is, Government and Parliament—face is to get the balance right between providing enough information to enable scrutiny and ensuring that our negotiating position is not revealed.

I would argue that some of the amendments fail that test, as they would expose the Government’s negotiating position. The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, and others spoke about business and business experience, and I have to say that I disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, on this point. We have had many amicable discussions but I disagree with her on this. I see it as a cardinal rule of any negotiation not to tell those on the other side of the table how much certain scenarios and outcomes would cost or benefit you—but that is what the publication of an impact assessment would do. I fully accept that Amendment 22, which the noble Lord just mentioned, accepts that an impact assessment could be kept confidential. The whole matter of sharing information is the subject of the next group. All I would say at this stage is that this Bill is not the vehicle to insert conditions on negotiations.

Since the referendum the Government have indeed been undertaking rigorous and extensive analysis work to support our exit negotiations, to define our future partnership with the EU and to inform our understanding of how EU exit will affect the UK’s domestic policies and frameworks. This includes analysis of what it means right across the UK, including regional analysis. I realise that this House and the other place are obviously eager to know more. So let me repeat to your Lordships what I and my fellow Ministers have said before—I am thinking specifically of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, when I say this. If and when we believe we can share further information, we will—so long as it does not undermine our negotiating position. We will ensure that our Parliament receives at least as much information as the European Parliament.

Let me now address some specific points that were raised. Amendment 27 refers to the Equality Act 2010 and protected characteristics. We are of course aware that exiting the EU will herald change in a whole host of ways. I can assure the House that all the protections covered in the Equality Act 2006 and the Equality Act 2010 will continue to apply once the UK has left the European Union. The UK is already well placed to continue championing equality, thanks in part to the legal protection assured by the Equality Acts.

The public sector equality duty requires public authorities, in the exercise of their functions, to have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, harassment and victimisation, to advance equality of opportunity and to foster good relations between people who share protected characteristics and those who do not. We will continue to comply with our legal obligations under that Act.

I agree with the sentiments of Amendments 13, 14 and 15. The UK is fully committed to remaining an international leader on environmental co-operation. As part of the great repeal Bill, we will bring current EU law, including the current framework of environmental regulation, into domestic British law. As my noble friend pointed out, any changes to it would be subject to parliamentary scrutiny and approval. However, this is not the time to set down in statute anything on environmental regulation.

As to the Aarhus convention, this is a United Nations agreement to which the UK is a party in its own right, meaning that the convention will continue to apply to the UK after we leave the EU. Many of those convention obligations are currently implemented through EU law, which, as I say, will be converted into domestic law.

Amendment 28 refers to the impact of withdrawal on the UK’s trade, security and aid policy towards developing and post-conflict countries. As I have said, leaving the EU does not, and cannot, mean the UK turning its back on Europe or the rest of the world. We will continue to face the same global challenges. We want to work with our partners in Europe and elsewhere to alleviate suffering and hardship. Doing so is not just in our national interest, it is the right thing to do. Therefore, we aim to enhance our strong bilateral relationships with our European partners and beyond, projecting a truly global UK across the world. As your Lordships will know, we are one of only a handful of countries in the G20 that has pledged to, and delivered on, spending 0.7% of GNI on overseas aid, and the UK will continue to be one of the most important global actors in international affairs.

As to trade, to which the noble Earl referred, the UK’s exit from the EU creates a major opportunity to send a positive signal that our markets are open and that we wish to forge new trade deals with nations across the world, both developed and developing. I know that this House and the other place will wish to debate this in the months to come. My door remains open to the noble Earl and others to discuss this. However, once again, now is not the time, and this Bill is not the place, to commit to publishing a report on this prior to notifying under Article 50.

Amendments 9 and 6 call for impact assessments on the individual regions of the UK to be published before we trigger Article 50. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, that I and my fellow Ministers in other departments regularly talk to local government and regional organisations about a whole range of issues as we are completely committed to securing a deal that works for the entire United Kingdom. To illustrate that, my Minister of State met the chairman of the Local Government Association in January and will hold further regular meetings. He has held a joint meeting with the Local Government Associations in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. There are monthly meetings hosted by the DCLG, including representation from local government, the local enterprise partnerships, the National Housing Federation and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives. On top of that, my Secretary of State is already committed to bringing together the northern elected mayors for a summit in York in the summer, to which the mayors of Liverpool, Greater Manchester, Tees Valley and Sheffield will be invited. So we are very engaged. If the noble Lord or the noble Baroness wish to meet me to discuss this, and have further ideas on how we can do more, I am all ears.

As regards funding, all I can say is that where we can we will give as much certainty as possible. My right honourable friend the Chancellor has confirmed that the Government will guarantee EU funding for structural and investment fund projects, including agri-environment schemes, signed before, and which will continue after, we have left the EU. Funding for projects will be honoured by the Government if they meet the two following conditions: they are good value for money and in line with domestic strategic priorities. However, when considering this amendment, I repeat the point I made earlier that such a publication of regional impact assessments would not serve to strengthen our negotiating position, any more than a general impact assessment would.

While I understand the wish and desire for more information, the Government cannot, and will not, do anything to undermine our negotiating position. We will not accept conditions being attached to a Bill that has a very simple purpose—to deliver on the result of the referendum. Therefore, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Quin Portrait Baroness Quin
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My Lords, as I made clear from the outset, my amendment and, I believe, others in this group simply sought to raise issues that we feel it is important for the Government to consider, even at this early stage. I am glad that the majority of contributions to this debate show that that purpose was worth while. I thank the Minister for his reply. I am sure that I and others would like to take up his offer of further dialogue on these important issues. I hope, too, that he and his officials will look at some of the points raised in this debate that he has not been able to answer in his wind-up speech and perhaps write to us on those important subjects. Having said that, and repeating that it was a series of probing amendments, I beg leave to withdraw this amendment.

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Lord Lennie Portrait Lord Lennie
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My Lords, in Amendment 18 we seek a quarterly report on the position that the Government have reached in negotiations across the European Union. It is quarterly rather than bi-monthly because the latter was dismissed by the Commons as being rather too frequent—so it was looked at and extended. We want to make sure that we are at least as well informed in this place as in the European Parliament by the provision of the public documents that are available there during this process.

The Government have now said that we will always be as well informed as the European Parliament, so now is the opportunity for them to prove that they mean what they say and confirm that this will be an acceptable way forward. It will not be sufficient to come back at the end of the process with a take it or leave it deal. Much, much more will be needed in the intervening period. The Government should properly recognise the expertise available in this place, which has been contributed partly today and partly in the debate that has already taken place—and which will also be contributed next week.

The technical agencies listed by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, are essential working bodies. They are bodies that the Government volunteered to become part of; they exist because of the unanimity about their need to exist in the European Union. It therefore seems perfectly appropriate to ask what on earth happens when we leave the European Union to those affected by the work that these bodies undertake.

These are the two fundamental questions in the amendments and I ask the Government to agree to quarterly reporting and to publish a report about continuing co-operation with the agencies listed in the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Berkeley.

Lord Bridges of Headley Portrait Lord Bridges of Headley
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My Lords, restoring parliamentary sovereignty lay at the core of what the British public were seeking to achieve when they voted to withdraw from the EU, so it is right that Parliament must and shall play a key role in scrutinising and shaping our withdrawal. As I said in my remarks on the previous amendment, the issue is one of balance. Parliamentary scrutiny must not come at the price of exposing our negotiating position and jeopardising what is in the national interest. All the evidence suggests that we can find common ground on this issue and get the balance right.

The EU Committee of this House produced a report last autumn that noted:

“Parliament can make a significant contribution to the development of the Government’s thinking, using conventional means such as debates and Select Committee inquiries”.

However, it also got to the heart of the matter when it acknowledged that scrutiny cannot jeopardise our national interest, saying:

“We agree with the Government … that Parliament should not seek to micromanage the negotiations. The Government will conduct the negotiations on behalf of the United Kingdom, and, like any negotiator, it will need room to manoeuvre if it is to secure a good outcome”.

It is worth remembering that this is something that the other place agreed with overwhelmingly when it was put to a vote on 12 October last year. Furthermore, it should be noted that this approach is shared by the European Commission itself. Its factsheet on EU trade negotiations states:

“A certain level of confidentiality is necessary to protect EU interests and to keep chances for a satisfactory outcome high. When entering into a game, no-one starts by revealing his entire strategy to his counterpart from the outset: this is also the case for the EU”.

Before I turn to the amendments, let me set out some of the steps that the Government have taken and will continue to take to ensure that Parliament is able to scrutinise Brexit. I start by answering a question asked by my noble friend Lord Blencathra about what I have done since Brexit. Since 23 June, I have given six Statements to your Lordships; my noble friends and I have taken part in four debates and answered 18 Oral Questions, which shows my willingness—I enjoy every minute of it—to deliver on this commitment. Along with that, Ministers in my department, myself included, have made no fewer than 13 Select Committee appearances. We believe that this approach is better than the one suggested in Amendment 18 for reasons that I will come on to.

We will continue to support and welcome the Take Note Motion debates that will tackle the most difficult aspects of our withdrawal, as well as the debates that emanate from the Select Committee reports referred to by the noble Earl and produced across Parliament. We are also continuing the programme of debates in government time in the other place. DExEU Ministers will also continue to appear at the EU Committee after every European Council and General Affairs Council, in addition to the Prime Minister giving a Statement in the other place, and my noble friend the Leader in this House, after every European Council. Ministers from across the Government will continue to give evidence at Select Committees on a wide range of withdrawal-related issues. Over and above this, we will also deliver on our commitment to ensure that this Parliament gets as least as much information as the European Parliament.

Parliament’s role goes beyond scrutiny, a point that I would say the noble Lord, Lord Warner, somewhat underplayed, for Parliament will also be a decision-maker. The Government will bring forward a Motion on the final agreement to be approved by both Houses of Parliament before it is concluded. We expect and intend that this will happen before the European Parliament debates and votes on the final agreement. Parliament will also shape the legislation required to give effect to our withdrawal from the EU, including the Bill to repeal the ECA and the legislation that will be required for any significant policy changes. For example, we have said that we expect to bring forward separate Bills on immigration and customs, plus a programme of secondary legislation to address deficiencies in the preserved law. So we entirely accept the spirit of the amendments before us today.

However, there are several reasons why the Government cannot accept them. Some are superfluous in that what they are seeking to achieve while others are prohibitively inflexible or prohibitively broad, but most important of all, none of them is relevant to this Bill which has a sole purpose: to trigger the process by which we leave the European Union. Let me expand briefly on these points.

As regards Amendment 18, I recognise the desire to formalise a timetable for scrutiny of negotiations, but it is much better that the Government should come back to this House at the point at which they have something significant to update noble Lords on, and as I have said, we have shown our willingness to do that. Amendments 8 and 24 will delay us from triggering Article 50 until the Government have reported to Parliament about how the UK will continue to co-operate with some 16 agencies or institutions. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, is right to highlight the importance of these agencies. I am more than happy to meet him to discuss them all. They are very important and flagged in the White Paper. But, looking at the words of the amendment, I argue that many people want us to get on with the negotiations. I do not think they want us to hang around while the Government produce reports on agencies such as the Community Plant Variety Office, even though we are a nation of gardeners.

Other amendments are problematic because they force us to reveal what should remain confidential and may well still be under negotiation. Amendment 8, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Warner, requests Parliament’s approval on a report about the progress of the negotiations some nine to 12 months after we have notified. It includes an impact assessment on how trading relationships with the EU will affect UK industries and sectors, and a report on the cost and make-up of the exit charge to be paid by the UK to the EU. It also says that these reports should be made for Parliament’s approval, meaning that the Government could be committed to an outcome from negotiations before we are able to judge what might be deliverable. Plainly, the Government cannot accept such prescription. Doing so would fall foul of the very concern that the Select Committee of this House raised: micromanagement and restricting the Government’s room for manoeuvre.

The Government entirely accept the need for parliamentary scrutiny, but these amendments are unnecessary or detrimental and have nothing to do with the purpose of the Bill, which is to deliver on the referendum result and to allow the Government to trigger Article 50. I therefore ask that noble Lords do not press them.

Lord Warner Portrait Lord Warner
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My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation. It does not totally surprise me what his attitude is towards this, but the idea that there is one report back to Parliament half way through a two-year negotiating period hardly seems micromanagement of the Government’s negotiations. Some would say that I have been rather kind in waiting for nine to 12 months before we got that report back. I will certainly read the Minister’s comments and consider what has been said, but there is an issue about how we take an overall look at the negotiations at a reasonable period after they have started, but before we reach the end game. I will talk to other colleagues before Report, but in the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.