Lord Lea of Crondall debates involving the Cabinet Office during the 2019 Parliament

Thu 17th Mar 2022
Elections Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 2 & Committee stage: Part 2
Wed 9th Feb 2022
Fri 12th Mar 2021
Tue 10th Nov 2020
Mon 28th Sep 2020
Mon 27th Jul 2020
Parliamentary Constituencies Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading

Elections Bill

Lord Lea of Crondall Excerpts
Lords Hansard - Part 2 & Committee stage
Thursday 17th March 2022

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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I accept the point made by the noble Lord about the wider ambit of negative campaigning, and I hope that is where we will find—whenever we finally get there—a measure of agreement across the House, in the context of, for example, digital campaigning. I agree with the noble Lord and the Committee on Standards in Public Life that third-party campaigning should be transparent, and campaigners should participate on equal terms and be accountable. These principles are already represented in current law.

I have heard what so many noble Lords, and people who have a proud record of commitment to the trade union movement, have said in this debate, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, was kind enough to say at the outset, my officials have met with the TUC and the Trade Union and Labour Party Liaison Organisation, and we remain open to continuing those discussions. I have met with the noble Lord and his colleagues, and I am ready to do so again. We have listened closely, and I have listened again today to their concerns that Clause 27 will unduly limit the close relationship between the Labour Party and some trade unions. Much of the expressed concern has centred around the definition of “joint campaigning” and whether it would capture, for example, trade unions agreeing policy or manifesto commitments as part of the Labour Party’s governance structure. Clause 27 does not alter the definition of joint campaigning as it is commonly understood, and the Electoral Commission already provides guidance on what is and is not likely to constitute joint campaigning under the current rules, and we would expect them to update their guidance were new rules to come forward in the Elections Bill to reflect the extended circumstances. We will come onto statutory guidance later.

The Elections Bill also does not change the definition of “controlled expenditure”, meaning that only spending which may be reasonably regarded as intended to promote or procure electoral success in the lead-up to an election is regulated, whether that is undertaken by a political party or a third-party campaigner. In practice, such activity as formulating policy for inclusion in a manifesto is unlikely to meet the Electoral Commission’s “purpose” or “public” tests, which will remain used to determine whether spending is regulated. It also would not include campaigning or advocacy on issues such as poverty or climate change that are not linked to the electoral success of parties or candidates.

Finally, I want to be clear that under the current rules or under the rules proposed in the Elections Bill, a party being affiliated or having a formal relationship with another campaigner does not in itself automatically constitute joint campaigning. Being an affiliated trade union does not mean that all activity of any other member of the affiliation would immediately count as joint campaigning, unless that activity met the Commission’s existing tests for joint campaigning. Affiliated groups running related or complementary election campaigns would not necessarily constitute joint campaigning, as the campaigns may be being run independently of each other. Only if the campaigns were being conducted in pursuance of a common campaign plan would both groups need to account for the spending.

I hope my response has gone some way towards at least assuring noble Lords that the Government are listening and have listened to the debate on this subject. I hear the concerns that have been expressed, but this clause is not intended to target trade unions. I have heard the submissions made about unintended consequences, but, as I fulfil my duty to sit here, listen to and respond with great respect to your Lordships—

Lord Lea of Crondall Portrait Lord Lea of Crondall (Non-Afl)
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Before the noble Lord sits down, would he reflect on the fact that the last two hours have been about something to do with legislation affecting the Labour Party in particular? It would be intriguing to find a similar amount of time in a Bill looking at the Conservative Party in very similar terms.

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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Before the Minister answers that, could I gently remind Members that it is within the Companion and courteous not to intervene in debate when they were not here and did not come in until 10 minutes after the debate started?

Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill

Lord Lea of Crondall Excerpts
Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I thank noble Lords again for an interesting debate and their many contributions. Like others who have never been called to the high profession of the law, I bow to the expertise of so many of your Lordships in this matter. However, as a lay man, I notice the diverse opinions put forward by those eminent enough to have the title of noble and learned, and other learned speakers versed in the law.

The underlying point here is what a pleasure it is for me, after the previous debate, to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, and others who said a similar thing. There is an underlying political point here, and a point, which I will come to, regarding the degree to which the public would simply not understand what would happen if there were interventions by the courts—a point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown. It could not redound in any way to the credit of the courts for there to be an intervention.

I submit to your Lordships that the concerns of those who have them are misplaced. We believe that this clause is proportionate and required, considering the direction of case law—a point underlined by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, when he talked of the way in which the law had moved on. That is a matter that people in another place will want to notice when they consider the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Butler, should your Lordships, to my regret, approve it. The Government are seeking to confirm the long-standing position that the Dissolution of Parliament should remain non-justiciable.

I explained the Government’s rationale behind the drafting of the clause in detail in a lengthy speech in Committee, which I promise not to repeat at length. However, I said to the Committee that I wanted to put the legal position on the record. I commented further in a letter, and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, opposite for her interest in and reference to that. The letter has been laid in the Library and I hope it will be of assistance to your Lordships. I shall not repeat all the arguments but in the Government’s view, which I hope most noble Lords will agree with, it would be highly undesirable for the courts to be permitted to intervene in the Dissolution and calling of Parliament. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, and my noble friend Lord Faulks made devastating interventions on this in Committee. We heard similar arguments repeated today.

Just imagine the scenario. A Prime Minister requests a Dissolution, which is granted. The BBC news starts—“dong, dong, dong”; I do not know what music it has these days, but it fades away to a dramatic headline: “There will be a general election on 7 July”. Up in Telford, workers in the Labour constituency office start the printing presses. The orange tabards come out wherever the Lib Dems are congregating. The poster sites are booked, the canvassers are out, the expenses begin to accumulate and the statutory election clock begins to run. Then the news flashes across social media. Two days later, the BBC headline is “The general election on 7 July may not now go ahead because of an application to the courts.”

Such a situation would be absolutely incredible to 70 million people in this country, even if it might be understandable to a couple of people trying to get a court case going. We really must avoid any risk of this happening in the interests of the country, of politics and of the courts. It would be inappropriate for them to become embroiled in what many have said is the inherently political matter of when an election is called. We must avoid the practical risk of the uncertainty concerning the general election that would follow. Even the possibility of such a court case would be disruptive, drag our judges into the political fray and frustrate the democratic process.

There are checks and balances, to which I referred in Committee. Ultimately, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, has said more than once, the check on any alleged abuse—whatever that might be—of calling an election is the decision of the people. The noble and learned Lord referred again today to Brenda from Bristol.

Lord Lea of Crondall Portrait Lord Lea of Crondall (Non-Afl)
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I understand everything that the noble Lord has said, but is there not a contradiction there? One wants to say that the matter should not be taken to court but, in that case, where is the confidence that something could not go badly wrong with the process? Scenarios ought to be spelled out. Is there not a scenario in which this could go badly wrong? People would say, “Well, it was not conducted in the right way.”

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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Once the general election genie is out of the bottle, it should stay out of the bottle. The decision lies with the electorate. There is no question of a dodgy scenario. It is then down to the electorate. The ultimate political reprimand is available to them, as my party discovered in 2017. You can go backwards, as well as forward.

I cannot accept the amendments of by my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth for the reasons I explained at length in Committee. He argued that this clause conflicted with the rule of law. The Independent Review of Administrative Law, chaired by my noble friend Lord Faulks, said that it was ultimately for Parliament to decide what the law on non-justiciability should be and for the courts to interpret what Parliament has said. The majority of the Joint Committee agreed that a non-justiciability clause was compatible with the rule of law in a case such as this, where the power is to enable the electorate to make a decision. As my noble friend Lord Faulks said in Committee, unless you reject the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty, there is nothing constitutionally objectionable to the clause.

The Government see a strong argument for its principled and pragmatic case that the courts do not have a role to play in the issue of dissolution. That our sovereign Parliament should be able to make provision for this is entirely consistent with the rule of law. For the reasons I gave at length in Committee—and will not repeat here—we believe that the entire wording of Clause 3 is necessary to secure against the risk of an intervention by the courts.

On precedent, I am happy to repeat the reassurance I gave in Committee that we do not see this as setting a wider precedent. Speaking at this Dispatch Box, I repeat that this clause is very specific and has been drafted with a particular purpose in mind, namely, to confirm a widely shared view of the nature of the prerogative powers to dissolve and call Parliament. In this case, it is seeking to ensure the non-justiciability of the prerogative powers for the Dissolution and calling of Parliament, which traditionally the courts have had no role in reviewing—nothing more. It is a bespoke exclusion to address this precise task. I stress again that we are asking Parliament to consider these arguments and endorse this clause in this Bill—nothing more.

In conclusion, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, whom I consider my noble friend, that he cannot have his cake and eat it. He tells us that there is no chance that the courts would intervene, but then puts before us an amendment that would enable them to do so. I am not sure which is his argument. My noble friend Lord Norton of Louth made the same argument: that it is unlikely that the courts would intervene. In that case, why are we having this argument, with this point put forward?

The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, told us explicitly that such a challenge might come. So the purported, or in fact actual, intention of this amendment, were it to be passed, would be to procure the circumstances that the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, envisaged: namely, that the courts might one day intervene on a Dissolution. That is what I assume the noble Lord, Lord Butler, is wanting: that the courts should have that opportunity—although at the start he said he did not really envisage or like the idea.

I agree very much with the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Trevethin and Oaksey: it is vital that we maintain this clause. Deleting or altering it, as proposed by my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth, would be, in my submission, like building a fence around a field only to leave the gate open—or having an umbrella with holes in it. It would not be completely effective in the light of past judgments by the courts. Desiring to avoid the involvement of the courts and to secure absolute certainty on this point, and on the basis that this does not provide a precedent for the future, I sincerely hope that noble Lords will withdraw or not move their amendments and join with the other place in supporting this clause.

Budget Statement

Lord Lea of Crondall Excerpts
Friday 12th March 2021

(3 years, 1 month ago)

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Lord Lea of Crondall Portrait Lord Lea of Crondall (Non-Afl) [V]
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I have two points—one economic and one social—and there is a connection between them. I am afraid that, although it does not feel like it, we are living in a fool’s paradise. One aspect that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, pointed out is Brexit. Three years ago, it was predicted that foreign direct investment in Britain would dry up. It has; it is zero. Technology transfer, as the Earl of Selborne would have pointed out, is denied to us. We have a crisis about where new jobs will come from. Other noble Lords cited the disasters for our visible exports to the EU, and our trade balance is becoming a nightmare. Singapore-on-Thames indeed—it is more like Singapore in 1941.

I was struck by a letter from a nurse in the paper a couple of days ago. It referenced this £3.50-a-week increase. It is funny, she said, as that is what her hospital car park charges for an hour’s parking. My sense is that we need to get back to a period of income policy, because the social crisis requires a social contract.

I played a part in that for the TUC in the 1970s. It was much maligned at the time, but was in the national interest. I was interested in the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, who in the 1970s had a very good feel—and still has a good feel—for income distribution and the social partnership needed. I am not quoting him, but I drew the inference that there is a need to reinvent a body like the National Economic Development Council to deal with the relation between the two parts of the problem.

EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement

Lord Lea of Crondall Excerpts
Friday 8th January 2021

(3 years, 3 months ago)

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Lord Lea of Crondall Portrait Lord Lea of Crondall (Non-Afl) [V]
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My Lords, as a friend of the Wigmore Hall, I add my voice to those who say that there is something quintessentially European about music—classical music in particular and of course, within that, chamber music; artists fly around at very short notice, and that is how it has to be.

I have two main points to make. First, I echo what my noble friend Lord Hain said about the inadequacies of the agreement. He is one of a number of us who, on a cross-Bench basis, are trying to work through how a new type of framework agreement with all the countries of the European Economic Area could be constructed over the next five years to make sure that we are able to play a full part. Unless we do so, we are in a vicious circle on the question of “taking back control”.

Secondly, we have to demonstrate to people in Wakefield and Widnes, and I think we can—we tried to do it when Jacques Delors came to Bournemouth, in 1988, as many noble Lords will remember—that the one way in which we can protect workers’ rights in an increasingly multinational framework is to have a strong European social chapter. That is something we have to present afresh. The reason why the British system is now seen to be anti-worker in many quarters, with the phrase “take back control” ringing that bell, is that 60% of the hostile mergers in Europe in the last few years have been in Britain. We have to go forward and engage people in industry. I was a member of the Bullock committee in the 1970s, and that sort of approach has to come back.

Spending Review 2020

Lord Lea of Crondall Excerpts
Thursday 3rd December 2020

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Lord Lea of Crondall Portrait Lord Lea of Crondall (Non-Afl)
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I have two questions to put to the Minister. I declare an interest, in a sense, as a former head of the TUC economic department donkeys’ years ago. One of my jobs was as a member of the Retail Prices Index Advisory Committee. How is it that the Government have referred with prejudice, using the word “discredited”—it is all over the newspapers —to an index that has been around for the best part of 100 years to get an advantage in terms of the relationship to pensions and wages?

A second, statistics-type question relates to net zero. Why have the Government not assessed the need for a moving index of progress towards net zero by tracking the progress of the greenhouse gas coefficient of productivity growth? That is a key thing that the Government have not done. We have to persuade the green family among us that we can have economic growth by reducing the greenhouse gas coefficient.

Finally, this will not work if it is only per head. Africa’s population growth is staggering. It may come down, but at the moment it is staggering. The aid budget change that I would have made is to put a lot more effort into the interaction between family planning and the aid budget. The way to get African Governments to stop people trying to swim across the Mediterranean, which we are trying to do with prejudice, is to make sure that the budget ensures progress in governance. It is in the mutual interest of Europe and Africa to agree on that if we are not to make a nonsense of the net zero greenhouse gas coefficient.

Economy Update

Lord Lea of Crondall Excerpts
Tuesday 10th November 2020

(3 years, 5 months ago)

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Lord Agnew of Oulton Portrait Lord Agnew of Oulton (Con)
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My Lords, the Government are in constant contact with the business community. They absolutely accept that the wealth creation engine of our economy is vital for us to recover from this pandemic. I share the noble Lord’s optimism about the vaccine. Of course, we need to be careful—we are not through the last hurdle yet—but it is certainly nice to have a little bit of good news occasionally. I have answered the point about the self-employed, raised by several other noble Lords. It is perhaps worth reminding the noble Lord that we have improved the universal credit system to try to provide a little more protection at that end of the system. We have also confirmed that those on mortgage holidays can extend to six months without any impact on their credit file.

Lord Lea of Crondall Portrait Lord Lea of Crondall (Non-Afl) [V]
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Three weeks ago, the Minister agreed with my remark—first made by the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, I believe—that we have to integrate our employment assistance policy in relation to jobs that are affected by Covid-19 and jobs that are affected by Brexit. This task is becoming increasingly urgent. Looking forward, we will be in another crisis in which we are behind the curve. Will the Government commit to following up the Minister’s reply when I last raised this point and agree that there should be at least a White Paper or a Green Paper arising from the important talks in which, as the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, said, the TUC and the CBI agreed with the Government? Would it not be a good tripartite agenda for them to examine why there has been so much difference in how jobs have been affected by Covid-19 and how jobs have been affected by Brexit? The situation will be dreadful by the time we next have a Statement, as it is likely that Dover-Calais will shut down for many hours if we do not get a settlement, which is unlikely at this stage.

Lord Agnew of Oulton Portrait Lord Agnew of Oulton (Con)
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The noble Lord raises a number of questions. Perhaps I may reassure him that the Government are in constant dialogue with business at all levels. He is right that we face some uncertainty on 1 January with the emerging exit from the transition period. It will certainly be helpful if we can get some kind of clarity within the next couple of weeks. However, he should also understand that, whether we get a deal or not, we are leaving on 1 January and we will be out of the customs union. The only real difference for businesses will be the tariff structures that exist and their preparedness for that. We are doing an enormous amount of work to support businesses in being ready for that, including work at the ports and inland sites to ensure that the disruption that the noble Lord is concerned about is minimised.

Economy

Lord Lea of Crondall Excerpts
Monday 28th September 2020

(3 years, 6 months ago)

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Lord Agnew of Oulton Portrait Lord Agnew of Oulton (Con)
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My Lords, I think the noble Baroness is looking too narrowly at the comparison. If we summarise the total fiscal interventions of the various economies over the last few months, the UK contribution has been somewhere just under 11%, those of Canada and France under 10%, Germany’s about the same, and Italy’s is about eight and three-quarters. My point is that you should not look at any one of these individual interventions as the single solution; we have tried to aggregate them.

Lord Lea of Crondall Portrait Lord Lea of Crondall (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, as has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Monks, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, there is a need to integrate policy that arises from Covid and policy that arises from Brexit. Does the Minister agree? This is described as a plan for the winter, and there is the danger of a Brexit without even a framework agreement with the European Union, as is the case with Switzerland.

Lord Agnew of Oulton Portrait Lord Agnew of Oulton (Con)
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My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that there needs to be integration. The overriding priority is to crank up the economy again; that is why we have created a group in Downing Street called Project Speed, which is designed to take hold of any opportunity that is being blocked in any way, to shake it and make it happen quicker. I remain optimistic, as I said in response to an earlier question, that we will resolve our difficulties with the European Union and will have some form of workable deal by the end of the year.

Parliamentary Constituencies Bill

Lord Lea of Crondall Excerpts
2nd reading & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Monday 27th July 2020

(3 years, 8 months ago)

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Lord Lea of Crondall Portrait Lord Lea of Crondall (Non-Afl) [V]
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My Lords, I very much admire two of the speeches made since the tea break—those of the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, and the noble Lord, Lord Hussain—and their analysis of the structural nature of this problem, which has been excluded, of people being excluded from the register. I hope that the Minister can say a bit more about this in his reply. It ties up with many social problems at the moment. If people are not part of a society, they will not behave as members of a society. That is very important.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have people who are very much members of society and have greater economic weight because of greater educational opportunity. We have to look behind this issue at some of the fractures in British society, although perhaps not in this debate.

I will go off-piste, if I may, and rise to the bait, to mix a metaphor, about moving the House of Lords to York. I do so not because I think that it is anything other than a bit of rhetoric by the Prime Minister, but because he is pretty good at fingering an issue that he thinks will have resonance with people—even though Dominic Cummings probably does not know when he leaves Durham whether he ought to go south-west to Barnard Castle or north-east to Sunderland, where Nissan is going to close its factory because we are leaving the European Union. These socioeconomic questions are much more important to many people than the size of the constituency, as we know. There are so many problems for people, ranging from the Scottish question to those to do with all parts of Ireland, Wales and so on.

Having been born in south Lancashire, I could make the case that we really ought to think for the next 20 years ahead about what would be a balancing factor of another Chamber. The noble Lord, Lord Prescott, was always on to this. There are many possibilities. It would not just mean “electing the House of Lords”. I come from the trade union movement, where we had the social contract. It was the forces in society that had to make an agreement between them to make the economy work.

Perhaps those people who have just left the European Parliament on a regional ticket can give us a benchmark of some of the systems that operate in the countries of Europe—we have nothing to learn from them, of course—and that may be relevant to restructuring our politics so that we do not have the sense of relying just on rhetoric to talk about fractured Britain and the north-south divide. Of course, with the north-south divide, the more rhetoric, the worse it gets. That is not to say that the 70,000 people in constituencies around Lancashire—

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook
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Could the noble Lord start winding up now, please?

Lord Lea of Crondall Portrait Lord Lea of Crondall [V]
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I will wind up now. In the real world, these socioeconomic forces comprise the social contract. We have to think about how that relates to the bicameral system.

Beyond Brexit (European Union Committee Report)

Lord Lea of Crondall Excerpts
Tuesday 12th May 2020

(3 years, 11 months ago)

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Lord Lea of Crondall Portrait Lord Lea of Crondall (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, first, is it not becoming a likely consequence of the Government’s present policy that they will be responsible for breaking up the United Kingdom?

Secondly, is it not a fact that the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Rising, could not be more wrong in characterising the EU as not negotiating in good faith? Is it not the case that Monsieur Barnier put his finger on it when he pointed out that it is we and not they who have moved the goalposts with regard to the content of the political declaration, which we presumably signed in good faith?

Thirdly, has not 2020 demonstrated two or three major points? The first is that we cannot rely on the United States any more than we can rely on China, and it is palpable nonsense that we think it is an advantage to go in the direction of saying that Britain gives the lead rather than that Britain is helping by comparing ourselves with best practice in the European area? Ought we not to stay within the European Economic Area, compatible with leaving the EU?

European Union: Negotiations (European Union Committee Report)

Lord Lea of Crondall Excerpts
Monday 16th March 2020

(4 years, 1 month ago)

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Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, it will not surprise the House to find that I will not be echoing the sentiments of the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayter and Lady Ludford. I welcome the Government’s plans for a future relationship with the EU, as set out in their White Paper, and I particularly welcome my noble friend Lord True as the Minister in this debate; it is in very capable hands.

I could not be more proud of the approach that the Government are taking to our relationship with the EU. We have left behind us the servile acquiescence that characterised the first three years of negotiations with the EU after the referendum. In its place, we now have a confident Government who really believe in our future outside the EU and have the strong backing of the British people from last year’s general election.

In the Command Paper, the Government have set out their vision of

“friendly co-operation between sovereign equals”.

Those of us who strongly supported the UK’s exit from the EU are much heartened by both the content and the spirit of the Government’s position, and I look forward to my noble friend’s summary of the key elements of our policy when he winds up.

For me, the most important aspect is that we are seeking a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU. We are one of the world’s largest economies, and we expect to be able to negotiate trade agreements with our trading partners on a basis of mutual respect on both sides. The EU is no different from any other trade counterparty in this respect. It is the same basis on which we should approach negotiations with other important trading partners, such as the USA.

Of course, that means that we do not want an association agreement and will not bind ourselves to the rules and mechanisms of the EU, whether for a level playing field or any other purpose. Our country did not vote to leave the EU in order to recreate the past relationship all over again. We especially did not vote to leave the EU to be bound to mirror any part of its regulatory environment in perpetuity. Dynamic alignment is a million miles from any reasonable interpretation of what the British people voted for in 2016.

Lord Lea of Crondall Portrait Lord Lea of Crondall (Non-Afl)
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Is the noble Baroness saying that she is advocating no deal?

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Lord Hamilton of Epsom Portrait Lord Hamilton of Epsom
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We could go on arguing about this indefinitely. However, the noble Earl is rather underestimating the intellectual abilities of his committee if it cannot reach a conclusion on this relatively simple issue without taking evidence. I will move on to the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter.

Lord Lea of Crondall Portrait Lord Lea of Crondall
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We may be criticised on our structure. In the next month, noble Lords will have the chance to make comments on the work of committees. I agree that committees are too reliant on “evidence” which is simply regurgitating things that other people have said. This is an excellent report by an excellent committee; the noble Lord may have just contradicted himself.

Lord Hamilton of Epsom Portrait Lord Hamilton of Epsom
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I do not know whether or not the noble Lord, Lord Lea, was on the committee. I am saying merely, as he did, that committees should be intelligent enough to reach their own conclusions without necessarily having to take evidence.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, said that it was not good enough for the Government to inform devolved assemblies what was happening: there should be consultation. However, when we talk about consultation we are actually talking about reaching agreement, so you are, therefore, giving the devolved assemblies a veto over a compromise on the final deal. I have a problem with Parliament getting too involved in all this. At the end of the day, everybody has a different opinion. My noble friend Lady Noakes thinks that we should be preserving all our fishing. I suspect that quite a bit of it will be given away. That will be part of the negotiating ploy and my noble friend will have to ask herself whether or not the compromise which the Government have reached and the overall deal—which I suspect will include some sacrifice of fishing—are acceptable as a whole. That is what Parliament will have to decide.

However, the Government cannot possibly go into these negotiations constantly referring back to Parliament and asking if it is all right to do this or that. By their nature, the negotiations will be a compromise. Concessions are going to be made in some directions and gains made in others. At the end of the day, the Government have to be judged on whether the overall package is satisfactory as a whole. We have to be wary of undermining the Government’s negotiating position but, now that they have a decent majority, I do not think they will be too moved by many of these arguments.

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Lord Lea of Crondall Portrait Lord Lea of Crondall
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My Lords, if we were moving towards a love affair with Monsieur Barnier, this would be a funny way for us to go about it. If one was the proverbial man on the moon, one would say that the U-turn we have done since January is undoubtedly much more egregious than anything Monsieur Barnier and the Council of Ministers have done.

I begin with a remark made by the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, in this House on the withdrawal Act. He said that

“the Government’s vision for the future relationship with the EU is already set out in detail in the political declaration”.—[Official Report, 20/1/20; col. 1004.]

I do not know why the noble Lord is no longer with us but he was always very much on top of his brief, and he would not have said that if it had not been the policy at that time. Whether it is a U-turn or a 90-degree turn, there has certainly been a considerable change. I do not know whether the noble Lord who just spoke claims that it is cosmetic or fundamental, but it is pretty fundamental.

At present, we face a severe economic prospect. We have to step up to the plate as a country in the next few months in two or three obviously very difficult areas, and come together, as was said. However, we need to do so with a close understanding and good will with our neighbours in the European Union. Coronavirus has been mentioned, and it is fortuitous—of course it is. We did not invent it as some sort of political stunt to make it more likely that we would stay in the European Union. However, there has been an enormous change since 31 January. At that point, two things happened. There is an EU room with two doors in it. One is signed “Exit” and we walked out of it, while through the other one, signed “Enter”, walked a big elephant. Its name is coronavirus. In the next few months, the political climate in this country will conflate these two questions, especially as the already forecast decline in GDP will become significant for people’s living standards, whether or not they are affected by the virus per se. We can already see transport, restaurants and so on shutting down. We have not had this sort of mixture—rationing et cetera—in our lifetime, apart from those of us who were just about alive during the war. This will change the political psychology in Widnes, Wakefield, Wolverhampton and Walsall.

In December we had a change of Government. We are only beginning to recognise that this was a huge change. We are, at the same time, both becoming more nationalistic and starting to tear up the Union Jack. We will lose the cross of St Andrew and be left with a strange combination of Parliaments in the different parts of the British Isles—if we still call them that. People have to be careful about the sort of nationalism that they now say trumps every ace because they have a majority of 60, 70 or 80.

As a former TUC official, I want to explain something that has been happening in the European Union for many years. The Social Chapter has been there since 1990. Robin Cook signed it as Foreign Secretary when the Labour Government came in in 1997. I will read out a list of things that have been achieved, with the agreement of employers, through collective bargaining: equal pay; protection from discrimination; protection when a business changes hands; equal rights for part-time workers; maternity and paternity rights; equal rights for fixed-term workers; four weeks’ paid holiday; eight hours in the working day; having a voice at work through information and consultation; European works councils; the posting of workers in Europe; and health and safety at work. No employers in this country are asking for the repeal of that lot. They know that it helps a modern labour market and we have to do more to deal with zero-hours contracts. This is the new agenda with which we are locking antlers in Brussels. The TUC will be part of the social negotiations because they are conducted with the European TUC and European employers. There is a notion that something is being imposed on us through qualified majority voting, but there was always a consensus on these things. There has been no voting on anything. It has been a huge step forward but we need to go further on the new labour market trends emerging, on new technology and so on, but I do not hear that speech from the Government at the moment.

As Philip Stephens pointed out in a very interesting article in the Financial Times last week, if one said, “Of course, there will be a Brexit trade deal, stupid”, everyone would accept it. But he is not so sure, now that the conservatives have taken over the Conservative Party. For 200 or 300 years, they were hard-headed pragmatists; now they have become the champions of English nationalism. It is a totally different party, according to the article. Whether that will stand the test, with everything that is happening in the next six months, is another question. I think it probably will not. We will need as close co-operation with our EU neighbours as we can get in the next six months, in every possible way, not just because the elephant has entered the room, but because it has come in at a time when we are putting at risk a lot of the factors that determined our rate of economic growth.

I remember, again from the Financial Times, that four or five years ago a French person was wandering around London and he or she happened to be interviewed and said, “Of course everyone knows that London is the capital of Europe.” This was in South Kensington. It is not said now—of course not, because we have just thrown it all away. I think there is something in the fact that we have a nationalistic media. The only part retaining its sanity, for the most part, is the BBC, on which we had a very interesting debate the other day.

We have to move to a position where we can find some construct to meet together as the European economic area—I say that without the capitals, necessarily. I cannot believe that we can do all the things that now need to be done in every sphere without being part of a forum, having left the European Union. No one in this Chamber is saying other than that we have left the European Union, but there is no reason why we cannot do some geometry with something like the European economic area, apart from what we might call the trade geometry. Instead of trying to negotiate 10,000 different agreements de novum, we have the option of buying a bundle that more or less suits.

I do not understand at all what to make of the Government’s new negotiating strategy, apart from the fact that it began with a proto-Churchillian speech—“We will fight them on the beaches, we will fight them on the hills; we will never surrender.” That sounded pretty good for a bit, but it will not sound as though it has a shelf life for more than two or three weeks from now. I very much hope that we can ask the Minister to bear in mind the opportunity for the Government to take up some of the ideas mentioned by my noble friend Lady Hayter at the beginning, instead of trying to override the very interesting remarks made over the last couple of hours with some ideological override. If the Labour Party were doing this, the very people on the other side who are doing it would say, “Marxist dogma.” This is the equivalent of the Marxist dogma, and it is not like the Conservative Party we used to know. I can give some free advice to the Conservative Party: get real.