11 Lord Green of Deddington debates involving the Leader of the House

Mon 28th Mar 2022
Elections Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Committee stage: Part 1
Wed 18th Aug 2021
Mon 16th Apr 2018
Tue 21st Feb 2017

Elections Bill

Lord Green of Deddington Excerpts
Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Committee stage
Monday 28th March 2022

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Elections Act 2022 View all Elections Act 2022 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 96-VI Sixth marshalled list for Committee - (24 Mar 2022)
Moved by
154: After Clause 13, insert the following new Clause—
“Commonwealth citizens: reciprocal franchise
(1) The Representation of the People Act 1983 is amended as follows.(2) In section 1 (parliamentary electors)—(a) in subsection (1)(c), for “a Commonwealth citizen” substitute “a citizen of a Commonwealth country in which British citizens are entitled to vote in general elections”, and(b) at the end insert—“(3) For the purposes of subsection (1)(c), a country is deemed to be “a Commonwealth country in which British citizens are entitled to vote in general elections” if it is specified as such in regulations made by statutory instrument by the Secretary of State. (4) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (3) is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.”(3) In section 4 (entitlement to be registered as a parliamentary or local government elector), in subsection (1)(c) after “Commonwealth citizen” insert “of a Commonwealth country specified in regulations under section 1(3)”.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment will ensure that the right of Commonwealth citizens to vote in UK general elections will in future be confined to citizens of those Commonwealth countries that grant to British citizens the right to vote in their own general elections. The amendment will not affect Irish citizens with whom the United Kingdom has had reciprocal voting arrangements since 1922.
Lord Green of Deddington Portrait Lord Green of Deddington (CB)
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My Lords, I gave notice at Second Reading that it was my intention to bring forward an amendment on votes for Commonwealth citizens in general elections—and I repeat that. We have had a very good debate on local elections and got into a lot of technicalities, but this is now about general elections.

My suggestion is that, to vote in general elections, the basic requirement should be citizenship of the UK. That is clear, simple and logical, and I trust that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, agrees. In the wider context, however, it would be a pity to take an action that might be perceived as unfriendly to the Commonwealth. We should therefore introduce the principle of reciprocity; I will come back to that point.

At present, all Commonwealth citizens have the right to vote in not only our local elections but our general elections without becoming British citizens. That is the case whether or not their countries of origin permit British citizens to vote in their general elections; as I will explain, most of them do not. In practice, as things stand now, Commonwealth citizens in the UK can simply put their names on the electoral register. Indeed, now that the register is reviewed every month, they could acquire the right to vote very shortly after their arrival. By contrast, foreign nationals in the UK must first obtain British citizenship—a process that takes five years or so.

A word about the background—as I mentioned at Second Reading, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, a Labour former Attorney-General, recommended in 2008 that this virtually automatic right for Commonwealth citizens should be phased out. He made three points, which briefly were that: first, most countries do not permit non-citizens to vote in national or even local elections; secondly, the UK does not have the same clarity around citizenship as other countries do, which is quite important; and thirdly, it is right in principle not to give the vote to citizens of other countries living in the UK until they become citizens of the UK. All that makes perfect sense. It is just a pity that it was not listened to at the time.

I just mentioned reciprocity and I am grateful to the House of Lords Library for its research into this. Only about 10 of the 53 Commonwealth countries grant British citizens the right to vote in their general elections, and nearly all those countries are small Caribbean islands. It would be wrong to remove the vote from nationals of those countries that continue to grant it to British citizens, so my amendment therefore makes that one small group of exceptions.

Sadly, no action was taken on this matter by the Labour Government at the time, nor by subsequent coalition or Conservative Governments. However, this Bill provides an opportunity to deal with it quickly and, I hope, quietly.

The effect of my amendment would be to put virtually all those coming legally to live in Britain on the same footing—namely, they would be entitled to vote when they had achieved British citizenship and not before.

On the numbers potentially involved, according to the Office for National Statistics, the number of Commonwealth citizens has increased by about 100,000 a year in the past five years. At this rate, very generally, about half a million would be able to vote in a general election without having acquired citizenship.

As a further point, and not an unimportant one, the present law is expressed in what one might call Home Office speak. That is picked up by the Electoral Commission, the website of which says:

“Any type of leave to enter or remain is acceptable, whether indefinite, time limited or conditional.”


That is absolutely extraordinary. In practice, it means that any Commonwealth student or work permit holder can register to vote before an approaching general election and so could their adult dependants. This right could even be extended to visitors, as most get six months’ leave when they arrive, as noble Lords know. As the noble Lord, Lord Collins, mentioned, this makes no sense. I would be grateful if the noble Earl, Lord Howe, would confirm that I have correctly explained the meaning of these words on the Electoral Commission website, which corresponds to the Home Office website. Could he also confirm that British nationals overseas are Commonwealth citizens for the purpose of voting? I believe they are.

Migration Watch, of which I am president, has made a rough estimate of the numbers involved. If one takes just the top 10 Commonwealth nationalities, the number of entry clearances granted in 2021 was about 360,000. If visitor visas are included, the total is over 500,000. If Hong Kong is included, it would add those who are adults among the 100,000 who have already arrived. I realise that may sound a little techie, and these numbers are not exact, but they are certainly not insignificant. I leave it to noble Lords to consider whether election agents in the relevant constituencies would be able to work it out. I suspect that they might.

It is important to be clear that my amendment would not take the vote away from anyone who now has it, only from future arrivals until they became British citizens. I add a final note on Irish citizens in the UK. As most Members know, they have had the right to vote in general elections since 1922, and vice versa. These arrangements would not be affected by my amendment and nor should they be.

To sum up, this amendment is about four matters: first, the simplification and rationalisation of the system, as the Liberal Democrat spokesperson, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, pointed out and which the noble Lord, Lord Desai, called for; secondly, reciprocity and therefore fairness; thirdly, a basic requirement of citizenship; and fourthly and perhaps most importantly, maintaining confidence in the electoral system. There can no longer be any justification for this anomaly. My amendment makes a simple and sensible change, and this Bill is an opportunity to get it done.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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Before the noble Lord sits down, could I ask a question? He referenced my noble and learned friend Lord Goldsmith. If he recalls, this issue came up during the debate on voting rights in the referendum. The noble Lord, Lord Green, referenced this as the second issue that my noble and learned friend Lord Goldsmith raised in his report: what is a British citizen? Does he think that fundamental question has been properly addressed for this purpose?

Lord Green of Deddington Portrait Lord Green of Deddington (CB)
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A lot has changed in 14 years, but the thrust of what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, said is absolutely right. We now have a system that has developed somewhat in defining what a UK citizen is—I accept that—but it is not too difficult, is quite well known and has been discussed recently. I do not think that undermines his recommendation or the logic of saying that the clear thing, if you want to vote in this country, is to become a citizen, and you know how to do that.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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My Lords, I have great sympathy with the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington; I am sorry he looks so surprised. We need to sort out what we mean by UK citizenship. I cannot now remember which election it was when I was canvassing in Southwark and I came to a block that had a large number of Congolese-born people and a large number of Tanzanian-born people. The latter had the right to vote; the former did not, although I deeply suspected that some of them had got themselves on the register, somehow or other, because the local people were not quite sure who was what. This is at least as much a legacy of empire and our great-grandparents’ day as the sacking and pencils in polling stations, which the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, was talking about. Both need to be modernised and it is high time we did so.

I ask the Minister whether he can tell us when Mozambique joined the Commonwealth and whether that meant that all Mozambiquans in Britain immediately gained the right to vote. I think I am right in saying that Rwanda joined the Commonwealth and that must have given them the vote, as well. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, if he were in his place, would remind us that he has campaigned for Algeria to become a member of the Commonwealth. The hypothetical question of how many voters we would be adding each time a new country became a member of the Commonwealth is interesting.

Of course, we should be sorting out the categories of our voting. We have been saying that all afternoon. The noble Lord, Lord Green, is entirely right on this and I hope that the Government take some notice, but I suspect that they will not act on this unfortunately illogical and messy Bill.

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Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, this is the third occasion on which I have had to say that, given the way our constitution is, it is obviously not an exercise in logic. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, is right that the Bill should have been an occasion to sort out in a clear, straightforward, logical way what the qualifications are that give somebody a right to vote in this country. The right to vote in this country has been based on the principle of the Empire. In 1858, Queen Victoria’s declaration for the Indian empire, a very important document, said that she would treat all subjects of her Empire as equal. She meant that the people in this country were the same part of the Empire as people in India. One of the leading Indian nationalists in the 1870s described that as a Magna Carta for India.

Mahatma Gandhi fought in South Africa for the rights of indentured labourers on the grounds that, being Indian subjects of Queen Victoria, they had the same rights as the white settlers in South Africa. He did not get very much, but that was the principle on which he fought.

Lord Green of Deddington Portrait Lord Green of Deddington (CB)
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I assume the noble Lord is aware that British citizens in India are not permitted to vote.

Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Non-Afl)
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I shall come to that; this is the beginning of a lecture that will take some time.

When I arrived here, I was the holder of an Indian passport. India had become a republic in 1950. Just as we recently saw in the exercise of persuading the Jamaicans not to become a republic, becoming a republic takes a Commonwealth country out of the reciprocity relationship because the country can then choose whether to give reciprocal rights. That is Jamaica’s choice, not ours.

We have to be aware that our original right to vote was as subjects—we are still subjects—of the Crown, and the whole notion that we are citizens is an entirely European import. We became citizens only when we joined the EU; we ceased to be citizens when we left. The notion of citizenship is not relevant. We are not a democracy: the Crown in Parliament is sovereign; people are not sovereign. That is the constitutional position. Noble Lords can challenge me if they wish.

I am not disputing the principle of what the noble Lord is proposing, because he has explained very clearly and patiently that there ought to be reciprocity or symmetry. The Commonwealth itself is an anomaly because it is not a symmetrical association of equal states. Her Majesty the Queen heads the Commonwealth because of her position as the Crown and she has asked the Commonwealth Heads of Government to agree that His Royal Highness Prince Charles will head the Commonwealth when he succeeds her. So the Head of the Commonwealth will always be the British monarch. The Commonwealth is not a society of equal nations; there is an asymmetry there.

We are not French; we are British. We do not believe in logic; we believe in convention, tradition and evolution, and therefore there is an anomaly. If the Government want to have a logical structure, let them bring a Bill that in the first clause defines who has the right to vote in this country and why, and who does not have the right to vote, despite being a resident, taxpayer or whatever. That exercise has not been carried out, and so we have an anomalous position. That is the beauty of the constitution—it is not a logical construct.

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Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, I understand that. It is clear that this is an argument that runs very deep. We may or may not return to it on Report but if there is anything else that I can add to the remarks that I have made, I will ensure that a letter is sent to all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate.

In short, it is for reasons of history and because of the well-established ties that we in this country have with the family of nations that we call the Commonwealth that the Government have no plans to change the voting rights of Commonwealth citizens. Therefore, I am afraid we cannot support this amendment.

Lord Green of Deddington Portrait Lord Green of Deddington (CB)
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My Lords, it has been a very interesting debate. I welcome the response of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, on behalf of the Liberal Democrats and note the careful response from the Labour Front Bench. There are wider issues here, and I hope that both opposition parties will look at this and that the Government will, too.

The point that the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, made is a very important one. This loose end, to call it that, rather devalues the worth of UK/British citizenship. We need to sort it; this Bill is a very simple one, this could be a very simple amendment, and this is an opportunity to support it. I intend to bring it back at Report, and I hope that there will be a different reception to it. Meanwhile, I am happy to withdraw it.

Amendment 154 withdrawn.

Afghanistan

Lord Green of Deddington Excerpts
Wednesday 18th August 2021

(2 years, 10 months ago)

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Lord Green of Deddington Portrait Lord Green of Deddington (CB) [V]
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My Lords, this has been a very interesting debate, and I add just two points. One is a warning note on military interventions and the other concerns the possible future scale of asylum claims from Afghanistan. First, I suggest that we must be much more careful in future about military interventions in foreign countries, especially in the Middle East. The liberation of Kuwait was certainly successful, perhaps because it was a relatively limited operation in both time and scope, and because it had full support from the people of that country. Since then, we have had Iraq, Libya and, I would add, Syria. All of them have largely failed. Having served for 15 years in the Arab and Muslim world, including as ambassador in Syria and Saudi Arabia, I have concluded that those outcomes were mainly because we fail to understand the internal dynamics of those very complex countries. I support the calls by other noble lords for a wide-ranging inquiry—and the sooner the better, so that lessons can be learned.

Secondly, of course we should grant asylum to those who have worked directly for us, together with their families; the same should also apply to female judges and officials, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, pointed out, but we need to be careful. The scale of further applications from Afghanistan could be huge. The Afghan population is now about 40 million, and there are a further 5 million who are refugees, mainly in neighbouring countries.

The British Government recently made a promise of eventual settlement in the UK to 4.5 million people from Hong Kong. Meanwhile, our own society is already struggling to cope with massive levels of immigration, which has averaged 300,000 a year. That is despite 10 years of promises to reduce it. This has driven population growth of 7 million in the past 20 years, placing considerable strain on our social cohesion.

The noble Baroness, Lady Casey, pointed out in a 2016 report that there are

“worrying levels of segregation and socio-economic exclusion in different”

areas of the UK. She is right. The Government should be very careful about adding to our difficulties in this very delicate area.

Brexit: Negotiations

Lord Green of Deddington Excerpts
Thursday 15th November 2018

(5 years, 7 months ago)

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Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park
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I have been quite clear that we will not be having a second referendum. We have had a people’s vote, and we are now delivering on that. However, the noble Lord is absolutely right that the withdrawal agreement and implementation treaty will be brought forward to the House and there will be opportunity for both the House of Commons and this House to scrutinise it and discuss it. It will be for Parliament to pass it.

Lord Green of Deddington Portrait Lord Green of Deddington (CB)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness will be aware that the question of immigration was a major factor in the referendum. Can she explain why these documents, apart from dealing with the rights of EU citizens in the UK and vice versa, are virtually silent on this important issue?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park
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We will end free movement when we leave the EU, which means that we will develop our own independent immigration policy. We will bring forward a White Paper setting out those thoughts shortly.

Brexit: Negotiations

Lord Green of Deddington Excerpts
Monday 15th October 2018

(5 years, 8 months ago)

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Lord Green of Deddington Portrait Lord Green of Deddington (CB)
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My Lords, this is a field day for the Opposition. Is it not the case that the Europeans might now be deciding that there will not be a deal and, as I believe they are, preparing themselves for no deal? Should that not be the focus of our own work very soon?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park
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As I said, we believe we are not too far apart. We have obviously been discussing some key issues today. We believe we will still get a good deal, but we have been working to prepare for a no-deal scenario, as the EU has and as any responsible Government would. We have published over 106 specific technical notices to help businesses, citizens and consumers prepare for no deal. There is work going across government, but I repeat that a good deal for the EU and the UK remains our focus and we believe that we will get that deal.

Syria

Lord Green of Deddington Excerpts
Monday 16th April 2018

(6 years, 2 months ago)

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Lord Green of Deddington Portrait Lord Green of Deddington (CB)
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I declare an interest as a former ambassador in Damascus and as a member of the board of the British Syrian Society.

I understand the reasons for the Government’s actions, I support them and I strongly endorse what the noble Lords, Lord Kerr and Lord Jay, said on the subject. I also endorse their concern at a lack of strategy in tackling what is an extremely complex situation, as the noble Lord, Lord Hain, so clearly explained.

The reality is that the Assad regime is winning the civil war and, given that it has the support of Russia and Iran, it is going to stay there. So we had better wake up to that. This will not be popular, but we need to move from the support that we are giving to his opposition to a neutral position where we can actually help, with such influence as we have, to get some kind of discussion going. Let us face it, it will be a discussion that will leave in place the present regime in Damascus, whether or not it is led by Bashar—which, by the way, is very much the wish of many of those in the government-controlled region, especially the minorities, and especially the Christians.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park
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All I can do is to reiterate that we remain committed to the UN-led political process. This particular action was about degrading the regime’s chemical weapons capability and deterring their use. We remain committed to broader diplomatic efforts to deal with the Syrian crisis in a broader sense, but this military action was specifically focused on chemical weapons.

European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

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Tuesday 30th January 2018

(6 years, 4 months ago)

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Lord Green of Deddington Portrait Lord Green of Deddington (CB)
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, referred to ex-Foreign Office luminaries. I am ex-Foreign Office, but I make no claim to be luminary; indeed, I am not entirely sure I agree with some of what it is saying.

I will cover rather different ground in my contribution, which, as usual, will be brief. Until I read the papers for this debate, I had not myself realised the extent to which the UK has been inexorably drawn into a binding legal structure so completely different from what the public, and I, originally voted for. However, the public have now come to recognise this, instinctively, if not in detail. That may explain why the outcome of the referendum was as it was: quite clear, but, as we have all recognised, narrow.

Irrespective of their own vote, many members of the public now look to the Government and to Parliament to get on with it and extract us from the European Union. In looking at this Bill, we must surely play it straight with the public. There are, no doubt, many valid and important legal objections to the Bill as drafted, but any impression that legal arguments are being used as a cover to frustrate the UK’s departure from the EU would be deeply damaging to the future of this House and, perhaps, to our political system as a whole, as the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, pointed out earlier.

I would like to refer specifically to one central issue, which is something of an elephant in the room. Noble Lords will have guessed that I am talking about immigration. There is no doubt that this was a major issue—some would say a decisive issue—in the referendum. Therefore, surely the outcome of this process must lead not just to control over immigration but to a substantial reduction.

Let me illustrate the consequences of failure to get such a reduction in three brief, simple but telling points. First, over the last 10 years net migration has been running at about 250,000 a year, almost half of it from the European Union. Secondly, at these levels of immigration, our population would grow by almost 10 million in the next 25 years, of which 82% would be due to migration. Thirdly, the continuation of current levels of net migration to England—I am talking only about England here—would mean having to build a new home every five minutes, day and night, just to house new migrants. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Public concern about the scale of immigration is well founded and should not be condescended to. More generally, the public are also aware of something of an alliance between some employers who prefer to employ cheap foreign labour and a metropolitan elite who sometimes suggest that any call for control of immigration is essentially xenophobic. If nothing else, the vote for Brexit has signalled a need for this to change.

This is not the place or the occasion to pursue these matters any further. Indeed, the implementation Bill in the autumn and the immigration Bill expected shortly will be more directly relevant. In conclusion, I simply invite the House to be alert to the wider consequences of our work for the future size and, indeed, nature of our society.

European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill

Lord Green of Deddington Excerpts
Lord Green of Deddington Portrait Lord Green of Deddington (CB)
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My Lords, I take a rather different approach from the noble Lord, Lord Liddle. That may be one of the strengths of this House.

I would like to address three issues. First, on the Bill, I agree with our Convenor: the decision is now taken and there is no turning back. That was set out with remarkable clarity by my noble and learned friend Lord Judge last night. We must now get on with it and bring the expertise of this House to making it a success. As for a parliamentary vote at the end of the process, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hill, that in an extremely complex negotiation with 27 partners and a two-year timeframe it is simply not feasible.

Secondly, in contrast to some noble Lords, I would like to introduce an optimistic note. I believe that the decision to leave the EU will eventually be seen to have been right for Britain. That is for three reasons. First, the direction of travel towards ever-closer union was increasingly uncomfortable for many people in this country, as the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, outlined. Secondly, there was a real desire to take back control of our own affairs, expressed not in detail but in a very widespread sentiment. Thirdly, the prospect of massive levels of uncontrolled immigration was placing unacceptable pressures on our society. Indeed, Mr Blair acknowledged in his speech last Friday that, for many, immigration lay at the heart of their decision to leave. I would like therefore to speak briefly about this central issue.

The fact is that there were good reasons for the public’s view. It is no use skating over them. At current levels, we will be adding to the population of this country half a million every year. That is the population of Liverpool. Imagine building that every year. Secondly, at similar levels, we will have to build a new home every five minutes, night and day, for new migrant families. Thirdly, there is the rapid change in the composition of our society—a society that is already struggling to absorb and integrate newcomers. The present Government, and indeed earlier Governments, have understood the need to get the numbers down. Unfortunately, our European partners stuck to what they saw as a position of principle and they declined to offer any viable remedy—hence, I suggest, in large measure, the outcome of the referendum.

Lastly, I will speak about the central question of what in fact can be done to reduce immigration from the EU. Efforts have been made—one was made yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson—to suggest that Brexit will make no difference to immigration numbers. Clearly, if that is true, the project is in real difficulty. But it is not true. Migration Watch has made some suggestions. Here I declare a non-financial interest as its chairman. In briefest outline, the key lies in the fact that 80% of EU workers who have arrived in the last 10 years are in lower-skilled jobs. We have therefore recommended that the current work permit scheme be extended to EU migrants who wish to work here. We estimate that that would reduce net migration from the EU by about 100,000 a year—that estimate has not been seriously challenged. That would be a significant step forward. Of course, there will have to be some transition arrangements—the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, referred to various categories where there is the need for transition—but in the medium to long term, that will be its effect. For others, such as students, tourists, the married, the self-sufficient, we would like to see, and we believe can get, visa-free access in both directions. That, we think, is extremely important to maintain the enormous variety and important links that we have with the people of Europe.

I recognise that I have skated over a lot of complexities, but I thought it right to outline that there is a way forward. I fully appreciate that the ride will be bumpy—perhaps extremely bumpy at times. It may well take five or 10 years, but in the end we will have stepped away from a union that in my view we never really fitted into. We will indeed have taken back control of our own country.

European Council: March 2016

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Monday 21st March 2016

(8 years, 2 months ago)

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Lord Green of Deddington Portrait Lord Green of Deddington (CB)
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My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is an important legal snag that has been overlooked? European legislation requires that those now being dealt with in Greece should have a right of appeal. That is in the reception directive. Will the Government therefore take steps to get that directive amended?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston
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The noble Lord raises a point of detail that I am sure is being properly addressed in the normal processes. If I have anything I can add to that, I will of course write to him.

Syria: UK Military Action

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Wednesday 2nd December 2015

(8 years, 6 months ago)

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Lord Green of Deddington Portrait Lord Green of Deddington (CB)
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My Lords, I was very strongly opposed to military attacks on Iraq and Libya and, two years ago, to the proposal to attack Syria. This time I see no alternative, for the reasons that many noble Lords have given. That said, I should like to focus on the political aspects. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House spoke of a new Syrian Government, representing all the Syrian people, which will be our partner.

It is there that I have my doubts about the Government’s approach. This could prove to be a fatal flaw. I come to this question having followed events in Syria since I first arrived in the Middle East 50 years ago, almost to the day, and having been ambassador in Damascus, following in the distinguished footsteps of the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, a few years later.

This talk about a political transition in Damascus carries great risks. I am no defender of the extremely cruel Alawite regime, but we need to be clear about two points. First, the collapse of the regime would lead to the most terrible bloodshed. These are revenge societies, and you would see revenge on a terrible scale. We would see the collapse of the civil order, just as we saw in Iraq, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Solely. We shredded that society. That could happen again and must not be allowed.

Secondly, Russia and Iran will do everything possible to sustain an Alawite regime in Damascus for their own strategic and political reasons. I therefore agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, that it should not be our aim to overthrow the Damascus regime. This is a complex struggle that we cannot avoid. It will have many years to run. No one at this point can see a viable way through the web of conflicting interests. As the noble Lord, Lord Hague, said, we may eventually have to consider partition, but a useful start would be to reappraise our attitude to the Damascus Government, including our attitude to the Baath party, as was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Williams. This is partly because it is indeed the enemy of our enemy, and partly for fear of worse—much worse.

Syria: Foreign Affairs Committee Report

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Thursday 26th November 2015

(8 years, 6 months ago)

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Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston
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My Lords, I must be absolutely clear that ultimately, Assad cannot be a part of Syria’s future, because the Syrian people will never accept his rule. That is at the heart of this. When we talk about good governance—a theme I have returned to, having repeated a couple of Statements recently—we are saying that the people who run that Government have to command the confidence of the people within that country. The Syrian people cannot accept Assad as part of their future. However, we are flexible about how political transition would work. We are certainly discussing that, and ultimately it is for the Syrian people to decide. But Assad cannot be part of the future.

Lord Green of Deddington Portrait Lord Green of Deddington (CB)
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My Lords, I welcome the Government’s very clear Statement of their policy towards Syria and endorse in particular what one might call the evolution of their attitude towards the Government in Damascus. Here I endorse the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Wright, and the noble Lord, Lord Davies. We underestimate the strength and stability of the regime in Damascus. More importantly, will the Minister assure us that while seeking a regime more widely acceptable in Damascus, we will above all avoid a collapse of authority in central Syria? The only result of that would be not just chaos but the most appalling bloodshed, and it must be avoided.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston
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My Lords, to be clear, we are proposing military action to attack ISIL. However, we are saying that Assad cannot be part of the future of Syria, because for us ultimately to eradicate ISIL we will have to see a different regime in Syria. I say to the noble Lord, and partly in response to my noble friend Lord Dobbs, that Assad has been barbaric to his own people; he has used chemical weapons on his own people. That is why he cannot be part of a future, because there has to be a stability if we are to see a future that is safe for all of us, wherever we live in the world.