2 Baroness Williams of Trafford debates involving the Department for Exiting the European Union

Tue 21st Jan 2020
European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill
Lords Chamber

Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard - continued) & Report stage:Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard continued) & Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard - continued): House of Lords & Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard - continued) & Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard - continued): House of Lords
Wed 15th Jan 2020
European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard continued) & Committee stage:Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard continued) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard continued): House of Lords & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard continued) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard continued): House of Lords

European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill

Baroness Williams of Trafford Excerpts
Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard - continued) & Report stage & Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard - continued): House of Lords
Tuesday 21st January 2020

(4 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who spoke before lunch. As the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach have said, the British public rightly support our need to help the vulnerable children who most require our refuge. Parliament and Government feel this too. No one group or party has a monopoly on humanitarianism.

I must first correct some statements that noble Lords made this morning. The first was by the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, who said that if it were not for the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, the Government would not have done anything. I will outline why that is not the case—without, of course, diminishing the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, over the years. As my noble friend Lord Hamilton of Epsom pointed out this morning, our record over the last 10 years clearly demonstrates that the Government are committed to protecting vulnerable children.

I reiterate our proud record, much of which goes back before the 2018 Act. More than 41,000 children have been granted protection in the UK since 2010, most of them under obligations through the refugee convention and wider commitment to resettlement, rather than through EU structures. More than 5,000 unaccompanied children are being cared for in England alone—a 146% increase since 2014—and we received more than 3,000 asylum claims from unaccompanied children in 2018. That, as my noble friend Lord Hamilton also pointed out, was the third-highest intake of any EU member state, and accounts for 15% of all asylum claims from unaccompanied children across the EU. There is also our commitment to resettle 5,000 people from the wider region in the next year alone.

Our refugee family reunion Immigration Rules provide an existing route for children to join refugee family members granted protection in the UK, with more than 27,000 family reunion visas issued over the last five years. Three thousand were issued to children, enabling them to reunite with family members under this route, in the last year alone.

The second point I must correct is what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr—that in the end we agreed to “let in” only 480 children, rather than 3,500, as demanded by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, in his previous amendment. I think the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, might be confusing our obligations under Section 67 with the clause that the amendment before us would delete, which considers only unaccompanied asylum-seeking children family reunion, on which I hope that I have demonstrated our commitment over the years. I reiterate that that policy, in relation to UASC family reunion, has not changed.

This Government were elected on a manifesto which includes a commitment to

“continue to grant asylum and support to refugees fleeing persecution”.

I think the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, might be dancing on the head of a pin—

None Portrait Noble Lords
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Oh!

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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If noble Lords will hear me through—when he says that it excludes children. I suggest that if that were challenged in court, the court might come to a different view.

Furthermore, the UK will continue to be bound by the Dublin regulation during the implementation period, which means that unaccompanied children in the EU and the UK will continue to be able to reunite with family members during 2020. We will continue to process family reunion cases referred before the end of the implementation period.

Our record reflects the unique importance of protecting unaccompanied children and preserving the principle of family reunion, and that policy has not changed. My noble and learned friend Lord Mackay provided some clarity on the effect of both Clause 37 and Section 17 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. Section 17 does not grant family reunion rights to unaccompanied children but concerns only negotiations on this matter, although I noted that the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, expressed disgust at the notion of negotiating. As per the amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, which became Section 17, the Government remain committed to seeking a reciprocal agreement for the family reunion of unaccompanied children seeking international protection in either the EU or the UK—that is, to ensure that these vulnerable children can reunite with family members in the UK or the EU.

Clause 37 concerns only the removal of the statutory duty to negotiate an agreement on family reunion for unaccompanied children who have applied for international protection in an EU member state and who have family in the UK, and vice versa. This debate is not on wider issues relating to refugees, asylum or family unity. Indeed, the Home Secretary wrote to the European Commission on 22 October, as I outlined in Committee, to commence negotiations on this issue, seeking to negotiate, as Section 17 set out. I assure noble Lords that the Government are intent on pursuing an agreement no less than that which we would have pursued under the original Section 17, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, posited earlier, although I confirm that I am unable to share the letter.

However, a statutory negotiating objective in primary legislation is not necessary nor the constitutional norm. We are restoring the traditional division of competences between Parliament and Government when it comes to negotiations, and similar changes have been made to negotiating obligations across the Bill. Furthermore, rather than removing Section 17, we have gone beyond the original amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and provided a statutory guarantee that the Government will provide a statement of policy 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 scrutiny. As I have said, we have already commenced negotiations. We will continue to deliver this negotiating commitment while removing an unnecessary statutory negotiating obligation, restoring those traditional divisions of competencies and going above and beyond to provide Parliament with an additional opportunity for scrutiny with Clause 37.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, raised the point about best interests. There is no intended or actual legal difference between the phrasing about how and when the best interests of the child should be considered for child family reunion transfers from the UK to the EU and vice versa. Both in the original Section 17 and in Section 17 as amended by Clause 37, there will be a consideration of whether it is in the best interests of the child to transfer from the EU to the UK in order to reunite with a family member, and vice versa. Neither Section 17 nor Clause 37 ever intended to consider whether it was in the child’s best interests to transfer to or from the UK separately from the consideration of whether it was in their best interests to join a family member. In addition to that, our existing statutory obligation in Section 55—

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Portrait Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB)
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The noble Baroness makes a characteristically careful and conscientious speech—I learned a lot and for that I am very grateful. Could she just tell us why Clause 37 is in this Bill?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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As I explained in Committee, Clause 37 is in this Bill because the Government wished to reiterate their commitment. It is similar in almost every way to Section 17, except that it does not instruct the Government to do something—it merely states the Government’s intention to do something.

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Portrait Lord Kerr of Kinlochard
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With respect, it waters down that commitment by making a completely different commitment to make a Statement to the House rather than seek to negotiate a deal in Brussels.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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That is correct. If the noble Lord has finished his intervention, I ask noble Lords to reconsider their intention to divide the House because I hope that I have provided the clarity necessary.

Lord Dubs Portrait Lord Dubs (Lab)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for at least having stated, again, the Government’s position, but I still do not understand it. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, explains why it was difficult to follow. For all the time we spent on it, it is not clear to me or many noble Lords, including on the Government Benches, why the Government are doing what they are doing. Part of the Minister’s speech could have ended up with her saying yes, and that she supported the amendment—part of it led to that conclusion. Somehow, she changed course and said no. She talked about an unnecessary statutory obligation. By that, I believe she means the provision in the 2018 Act—an obligation accepted by the Government in the Commons after we passed it in this House. I do not know why it was okay then but unnecessary today; that has not been explained.

Above all, it seems to me that there is a very clear proposition on family reunion: unaccompanied child refugees should be able to join family members here. All we ask is for the Government to take that and negotiate on that basis with the EU. We cannot predict the outcome; it could not be more modest. All we are saying is, “Please do it”. But the converse, by the Government saying, “We are not going to do it”, sends a very difficult signal. Some people have called the Government mean and nasty. If the Government want to disprove that accusation, surely they should accept this amendment. It is very simple: we do that and then we are in line with what we decided in 2016.

European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill

Baroness Williams of Trafford Excerpts
Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard continued) & Committee stage & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard continued): House of Lords
Wednesday 15th January 2020

(4 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Portrait Lord McNicol of West Kilbride (Lab)
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My Lords, I rise to explain why Clause 37 should not stand part of the Bill. There is very little to add after the dozen contributions and the eloquent speech by my noble friend Lord Dubs, so I shall keep this short as we wait to hear from the Minister. I hope that her words will be positive.

The Government’s inclusion of Clause 37, which reneges on their previous binding commitment to seek to negotiate reciprocal agreements with the EU to facilitate the safe passage of child refugees with family in the UK is unnecessary and unjust. We will shortly be told that the Government’s commitment has not changed and that their policy remains the same. Your Lordships’ House was not convinced by this argument during consideration of the withdrawal Bill, which is why it voted overwhelmingly to insert the negotiating objective, and I am sure this House will not be convinced by the argument now, although we wait.

The provisions in the 2018 Act have been in place for 18 months and were not opposed by the Government. That surely means that they cannot be considered hostile or as examples of Parliament unfairly asserting itself over the Executive. The closest parallels I can see to the Dubs provision are the environmental ones in Section 16 of the 2018 Act. These required the Government to do something. Ministers fulfilled the requirement and that section has now been replaced. Ripping up prior commitments in the face of such opposition is not how a new Government should start their term in office. It is not too late for the Minister to accept the amendment or to bring forward the Government’s own text ahead of Report. I hope the Government will do the right thing. However, if they do not take note of this debate, we will certainly bring back the substance of it on Report.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate and, in particular, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. I have had many discussions with him, as he outlined. We do not always agree on how we are going to get to places, but we certainly agree with the end. I think Parliament and the Government are in absolute agreement that we are all fully committed to the principle of family reunion and to supporting the most vulnerable children in the world. Our policy on this has not changed. I want to underline that point because noble Lords seem to think that perhaps the policy has changed. It has not. On the point the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, made on the manifesto commitment, it is writ large in our manifesto:

“We will continue to grant asylum and support to refugees fleeing persecution”.


We intend to keep to that commitment, and I am sure Parliament will hold us to account if we do not.

Clause 37 underlines that. We could have just deleted Section 17 and, by turn, Clause 37. We did not because we wanted to outline that commitment again in legislation. The commitment builds on the Government’s proud record of providing protection to vulnerable children. Since 2010, the UK has granted protection to 41,000 children—7,500 of them in the year ending September 2019—most of them because of our obligations under the refugee convention and the wider commitments that we have made. It is mostly nothing to do with EU structures.

More than 5,000 unaccompanied children are being cared for by local authorities in England alone—an increase of almost 150% since 2014. The noble Lord referred to local authorities, and he knows that the Government wrote to local authorities in good faith, and that whenever we heard about additional places being available, we took note and upped our number under Dubs. We have granted 27,000 family reunion visas under the refugee family reunion Immigration Rules over the last five years. This is not a mean Government or a mean country, and I am very proud of our record.

In 2018, the UK received more than 3,000 asylum claims from unaccompanied children, accounting for 15% of all such claims across the EU. That makes ours the third highest intake in the European Union. On national resettlement schemes, we take more children than any other country in the European Union. It is worth saying this because sometimes, if you listen to debates in this House, you would think that we do not do anything. It is important to outline our record, which reflects the unique importance of protecting unaccompanied children and preserves the principle of family reunion, which will continue. I commend this House on its strength of feeling on this issue—we are all humanitarians, and I assure noble Lords that the Government share an undiminished commitment to addressing these issues.

Clause 37 concerns only whether there should be a statutory duty to negotiate an agreement on family reunion for unaccompanied children who have applied for international protection in an EU member state, and who have family in the UK, and vice versa. The debate is not on wider issues relating to refugees, asylum or family unity. It does not represent a change of Government policy—as I said at the outset—it simply removes the statutory requirement to negotiate. We remain fully committed to providing protection to vulnerable children, and noble Lords might note that we have already committed to taking 5,000 people from beyond the MENA region, in dangerous areas of the world with vulnerable children, in the next year alone.

Noble Lords will be aware that, as part of the negotiation and making of treaties, including international trade agreements, this is a function of the Executive. It is interesting that the noble Lord, Lord Newby, said in the previous group that he did not want to tie the Government’s hands, but in the group before that, the noble Lords, Lord Butler and Lord Howarth of Newport, said that Parliament should not tie the Government’s hands. My noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern made a good analogy with the Prorogation decision.

A statutory negotiating objective is neither necessary nor the constitutional norm. It is unnecessary because the Government have already written to the European Commission on 27 October to commence discussions on this issue. It is vital that the Government are now able to get on with it. The UK has existing and extensive legal provisions to guarantee family reunion, and one noble Lord—it may have been the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, but I apologise if I am wrong—spoke of no guarantees going forward, yet this legislation already exists, and is not affected by EU exit in any way. Furthermore, the UK will continue to be bound by the Dublin regulation during the implementation period, as my noble and learned friend pointed out.

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven
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That is a bit perplexing. If the guarantee is already in law, what is this clause about?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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The noble Lord hits the nail on the head, because one might ask what Section 17 was about in the first instance. I said at the beginning of my speech that Clause 37 could not have existed, and we could have deleted Section 17, but Section 17 is, in most part, as it was originally, and is amended to include the reporting to Parliament and not the seeking to negotiate. It goes above our obligations and commits the Government to lay that Statement to Parliament on our policy regarding future arrangements with the EU for the family reunification of unaccompanied children seeking international protection, providing Parliament the opportunity to scrutinise our progress.

The clause makes it clear that supporting the most vulnerable children remains a priority, along with restoring the traditional division of competences between Parliament and government, as the noble Lords, Lord Howarth and Lord Butler, pointed out. The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, said that Parliament cannot give the Government their marching orders in negotiations. I hope that I have quoted him correctly.

Lord Howarth of Newport Portrait Lord Howarth of Newport
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As long as the Minister does not suppose that I do not fully support the spirit of the amendment of my noble friend Lord Dubs.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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No, I was not making that inference. I was trying to point out both consistency and inconsistency within some of the debates we have been having today, as noble Lords seem to have contradicted themselves depending on what the issue is. On the division of competences between Parliament and Government, noble Lords will have seen, and will continue to see, changes being made across the Bill. It does not undermine our policy intent and rightly ensures that Parliament is informed of our policy intentions in respect of our future arrangements. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said that we have already written to the Commission, and that is correct. It shows our intent and commitment in the coming year.

The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, spoke of Clause 37 killing Section 17. It does not; it amends it, as he went on to outline.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick Portrait Lord Hannay of Chiswick
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I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Could she be clearer about this correspondence with the Commission? The Minister said in the meeting we had yesterday, and again just now, that a letter went to the Commission in October, to which there has been no reply. It is perhaps not surprising, since the Commission does not have a mandate to negotiate until after we have left the European Union. Perhaps that is a perfectly innocent explanation, but surely the amendment being moved will actually strengthen the Government’s hand when they come to negotiate in March or April, by demonstrating the high priority which Parliament gives to it?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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The reason we have not had a reply is probably, as the noble Lord pointed out, to do with the fact that we have a new Commissioner. I do not agree with the noble Lord’s point—this amendment ties the Government’s hands in negotiation, and we do not wish to see that. We want to articulate our commitment through the manifesto and in Clause 37.

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Portrait Lord Kerr of Kinlochard
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I am not quite clear on how it ties the Government’s hands. If we leave what is now on the statute book in place, there is an obligation on the Government to seek to negotiate. The Government say that they have already started seeking to negotiate, so I am not sure how it ties their hands.

I am left suspicious. I am with the noble Baroness and am prepared to agree that policy has not changed. I reject dog whistles and dead cats, and I believe the Government’s policy has not changed. What bothers me is that I do not know what priority they attach to it in the coming negotiations, and I fear that we are into bargaining chip country, which is really offensive.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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The fact that the Home Secretary wrote to the Commission underlines our commitment, as does the fact that we put it in the manifesto and in Clause 37. The amendment to Section 17, to which the noble Lord referred, was an instruction to the Government, and I do not think that the Government should be bound by that.

I want to pick up on the noble Lord’s point about bargaining chips. Section 17 of the 2018 Act talks about seeking to negotiate. In one context—the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, puts it—that is noble, and I have absolutely no criticism of his intentions. On the other hand, when the Government say that they will write to the Commission and seek to engage with the EU in the coming year, that is seen as using children as a bargaining chip. I am not entirely sure how the Section 17 amendment, which talked about seeking to negotiate, and what the Government are proposing, which the noble Lord feels very sceptical about, are in any way different when it comes to bargaining chips.

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Portrait Lord Kerr of Kinlochard
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If the Government say, as they did on Monday night, in terms, that that amendment will not do because it is vital that the Government are not legally constrained in these discussions, that seems to imply that the Government might not pursue this point if the EU 27 decide to strike some sort of bargain with us which entails our not pursuing this point. If the statute book remained unamended—if the 2018 Act, which binds the Government only to seek to negotiate, remained in force—in what way would the Government be legally constrained unless they intended to negotiate in bad faith, which I do not think is the case, or to regard this as a lower priority, as a card that could be played? I find that very offensive.

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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I would find it offensive if the Government saw children as bargaining chips. I do not think that any Member of this House or the other place sees a child as a bargaining chip. The Government are seeking to undertake an arrangement in which there is reciprocity. It makes absolute sense that we have reciprocal arrangements with Europe. We might be leaving the EU but we are certainly not leaving Europe, and children here will have family in the EU, just as children in the EU will have family here. We are seeking reciprocity, and Dublin III, as my noble and learned friend said, will be ongoing to the end of the implementation period. Please let us have no more comment about bargaining chips, because the legislation seeks to do the best by all children, whether they be in the EU or the UK.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee
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Before the Minister moves on, I do not understand the answer to the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, although perhaps reading it will help. None of us wants to think the worst of the Government over this matter. It might be helpful if noble Lords could see a copy of the letter that went to the Commission in October. It has been referred to several times but I do not think that it has been seen by any noble Lord.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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I am not sure that I can give that undertaking but I will certainly request it. I will also come on to the noble Baroness’s question about the words “best interests” appearing in subsection (1)(a) but not in (1)(b). The phrase “equivalent circumstances” in subsection (1)(b) duplicates that. She might like to take a look at that and, if she is not content, I will be happy to go through it with her.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, talked about the gap, and my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay pointed out that Dublin III will exist until the end of the implementation period. My noble friend Lord Elton asked for the definition of “relative”. I think that there has been another misunderstanding—that all the relatives were listed in Section 17 but do not appear in Clause 37, although they do. A relative in relation to an unaccompanied child 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”.

That is quite an extensive list and I hope that that helps my noble friend.

I shall finish on the words of my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay. Section 17 in and of itself gives no rights to children. Through Clause 37 we are attempting to lay out our intentions. We have done so in the manifesto and have already started talks with the EU on this subject. Our commitment to children has not changed.

Lord Dubs Portrait Lord Dubs
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My Lords, perhaps I may say a few brief words. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, which has been quite illuminating in the main, but perhaps I may comment on two or three specific points.

First, I want to refer to what the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, said. I very much respect her important work with Save the Children and other organisations overseas, but I think she is quite wrong on the trafficking argument. Where there are no legal routes to safety, people will allow themselves to be trafficked and will come illegally. Surely, by having legal routes to safety, we are making the position of traffickers much more difficult and making it much easier for people to achieve safety. Therefore, I am sorry but I do not agree with her on that.

Perhaps I may also return to the point that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, made. I do not have the wording of Section 17 of the 2018 Act in front of me but it has been referred to. It says that the Government should seek to negotiate on a particular basis. We have already talked about Clause 33 of this Bill, which would add something to the 2018 Act. It says:

“A Minister of the Crown may not agree in the Joint Committee to an extension of the implementation period.”


That is telling a Minister of the Crown exactly what he or she may or may not do, which is totally at variance with the argument that we have heard on Clause 37. I do not understand. On the one hand, the Government are saying in their own Bill that Ministers may be told what to do; on the other hand, they are using that as an argument against my amendment.

I am sorry to quote the Minister’s letter again but one paragraph seems to be at variance with other points and I wonder whether the Minister would like to withdraw it. It includes the words,

“so that the traditional division between Government and Parliament be restored”—

that is, by removing Section 17—

“and the negotiations ahead can be carried out with full flexibility and in an appropriate manner across all policy areas.”

That goes a lot wider than what we have been talking about tonight. It seems to me that this is meant to talk about some relationship between government and Parliament, which in any case Clause 33 disproves, and it refers to

“an appropriate manner across all policy areas.”

I am sorry but I cannot interpret that in the way the Minister suggests.

I want briefly to make two or three other comments. I agree that the manifesto talks about a commitment to refugees but it says nothing about child refugees. It says nothing at all that would enable the Government to invoke the Salisbury convention against my wish to remove Clause 37 from the Bill. If the Minister would like to meet me to talk about local authorities, I would be very happy to do so. I know that local authorities are very helpful. I know of Northern Ireland organisations that will want to help now that the Government there has been restored. The debate is going on in the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, although no decision has been made there yet. It seems to me, however, that there are more local authorities. In addition, Safe Passage, one of the NGOs with which I am working closely, has written to all local authorities and we have got quite a lot of positive answers. This shows that local authorities are willing to take more.

When we debated Section 67 in 2016 and the amendment that I put forward about child refugees with no people here, there was a fierce battle. I was asked time and again to withdraw my amendment. The Home Secretary asked me to withdraw my amendment. It got through, despite the Government’s wishes, and it got through the other House, despite their wishes. Then we had the amendment to the 2018 Act that we are talking about now. Again, there was a big vote fairly late in the evening; the Government did not want it. In opposition, we had to argue for amendments on behalf of refugees and now the Government seem to be taking credit for that. I am sorry, but that is not the way the world has been. I appreciate that the Minister is totally sympathetic to refugees, but that is not how the Government have behaved. They have resisted all these amendments and all we have in opposition is the chance to move amendments in the hope of making our point. That is why we have had these arguments.

I shall not press this issue tonight, but particularly in the light of the discussion, I might wish to return to it on Report.

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Lord Tunnicliffe Portrait Lord Tunnicliffe
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for moving Amendment 33, which has provided an opportunity to discuss an aspect of the future relationship that rarely receives the attention it deserves. As my party’s Treasury spokesman in this House, I recognise that our future trading relationship with the EU is of vital importance. However, it is not the only future relationship up for negotiation; nor is it the relationship that will keep British citizens, and our streets, safe.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Warner, that this is a vital area, in which we must do well, and which we must all understand. The political declaration includes a commitment to agree a

“broad, comprehensive and balanced security partnership.”

However, we should remind ourselves that although it is referenced in the withdrawal agreement, that declaration is non-binding. As well as lacking legal force, it is short on detail—largely, we understand, at the Government’s request.

Although Mrs May was misguided to threaten the withdrawal of security co-operation if the EU refused to grant us favourable trading terms, her Administration did at least provide an indication of what a future security partnership might look like. We have not had the same indication of what a Johnson-led Government wish to negotiate—and it seems that the Bill, which strips out the original requirement for proper engagement with, and scrutiny by, Parliament, means that we are unlikely to find out any time soon. If we do not know, it is highly doubtful that our police forces or security and intelligence services can be any more confident that the Government will preserve UK participation in the EU agencies and data-sharing protocols that are so important in their day-to-day work.

In the Commons, my Labour colleague Nick Thomas-Symonds outlined the risks that we face from any loss of access to EU databases, such as the Schengen Information System, meaning that

“information that today can be retrieved almost instantaneously could take days or weeks to access.”—[Official Report, Commons, 8/1/20; col. 509.]

Modern crime, whether cyber or terrorist attacks, requires quick decisive responses. As we have seen time and again in recent months, organised crime increasingly takes place across borders, taking advantage of any vulnerabilities that exist. Those vulnerabilities are best identified and addressed by working alongside our neighbours.

To lessen our degree of co-operation with our EU neighbours would be reckless. But, given the Government’s determination to conclude both our economic and our security relationships with the EU in just 11 months, it feels almost inevitable that there will be a diminution of the benefits that this country and its security agencies currently enjoy. I hope the Minister will be able to provide at least some of the detail so sorely lacking to date. I repeat my support for the principle underlying the amendment. If the Minister’s response is lacking, we may return to this issue at a later stage.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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I thank noble Lords for their comments. I support them in drawing my and the Government’s attention to the various elements of co-operation that are so crucial in keeping our citizens safe.

It has never been in doubt that it is in everyone’s interest to maintain that strong relationship with the EU in this area. The political declaration provides the framework for the strong relationship, including co-operation on the specific capabilities that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, has set out in his amendment. However, the precise details that noble Lords seek will be a matter for the next phase of negotiations that will be carried out, I hope with flexibility, in this and other areas. A statutory requirement to negotiate—a matter discussed quite vocally in this Chamber today—is neither necessary nor appropriate.

On the role of Parliament, I refer noble Lords to the strong commitment given by the Prime Minister that Parliament will be kept fully informed of the progress of the negotiations and will have the opportunity to scrutinise any legislation required to enact the future relationship. Therefore, a reporting requirement is not needed.

The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, made a point about Norway and Iceland and their extradition agreement with the EU. Apparently, it is now in force as of 1 November last year.

I am sorry that I cannot fill in any detail but no detail is yet forthcoming. However, I hope the noble Lord will feel happy to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Warner, for his support and his perspective, from his experience in the Home Office, on how important this issue is. He made an important point about the Government acknowledging the weakness already of the UK criminal justice system without losing these EU mechanisms. I am also grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe.

It is all very well for the Minister to keep putting matters off by saying, “This is going to be negotiated and I can’t say what the details of the negotiations will be.” Time is running out. That excuse will not be available in less than 12 months’ time and we are concerned that our law enforcement agencies will be handicapped as a consequence of losing some, if not all, of these EU mechanisms, as the National Crime Agency lead for Brexit told us in a briefing a few years ago.

I am grateful for the correction on the modified European arrest warrant arrangements with Norway and Iceland, which apparently came into effect on 1 November last year. That means that they took 18 years to come into effect. If that is the kind of timescale we are looking at to get a similar agreement between us, as a third-party country, and the EU, we are in serious trouble. However, at this stage I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.