My Lords, I want to address two issues. The first is the question of British nationals living in the EU, and in addressing it I declare an interest as I live for a lot of the time in France.
We have rightly heard a lot in this debate about EU nationals living in the UK, and I am glad that all around the House we have had great support for the Government coming out and saying that they can continue to come here to live and work. However, I want to talk about British nationals in the EU, and the first duty of the Government is to them. The Government’s record so far on this issue is poor, having denied many of them a vote in the referendum because if they had been abroad for longer than 15 years they had no vote. They have not really had a voice at all, and they are now very worried about what the future holds.
The government line expounded by Philip Hammond is that this question has to be reciprocal—the bargaining chip approach. That has been excoriated in your Lordships’ House yesterday and today. Not only is it the wrong approach, it is inaccurate. Several of the things most worrying Brits abroad about their future are in this Government’s gift now—for example, the pensions of those who have worked for Britain as teachers, nurses or soldiers or in local government. They are worried that their pensions may be frozen. That is a matter for this Government, not for other EU states. Will the Minister make a clear statement that the Government at least recognise that that is in their purview and that they will make an announcement about it?
Of course there many other worries around matters such as work permits, schooling, access to universities, healthcare, visas and the reciprocity of qualification recognition. The Government have a duty to consult British citizens living in the EU about matters that need to be considered, and they need to start now. With so many of them having been denied a vote, surely those people deserve a voice.
The second issue I want to mention concerns the environment—things rural, food production and agriculture. The EU was and still is a great force for things green and environmental matters. You have only to think of all the directives that have improved water quality or air, such as the bathing water directive, and the EU birds and habitats directive that ensured that our special areas of biodiversity stayed special. Those are not things that domestic Governments find it easy to spend money on, so it is very important that the EU has had an overarching view. That is where I really fear for the future of all the green issues that I have mentioned.
There is also the question, as mentioned yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Curry, and today by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, of British food production. These things have been intertwined with, and largely determined by, the common agricultural policy for generations now. I admit that the CAP, like the EU itself, has had a lot of problems—it has needed far more reform than has been forthcoming fast enough—but here in the UK it has meant the survival of many our family farms. I find it ironic that rural areas voted so heavily for Brexit, given what a detrimental impact it is likely to have on rural England at a time when farming faces massive challenges, with commodity prices getting lower and lower. In common with other noble Lords, I must make the point that seasonal labour is essential, and the Government need to make a very early statement and assurance to farmers that they will be able to continue to access seasonal labour.
My next point concerns the support that the Treasury gives to rural areas. I find it hard to believe that the Treasury will continue that support at the sort of level that came from Europe. To date, the Treasury has already been incredibly parsimonious even when it comes to match funding the Pillar 2 issues under the CAP—things of great importance, like young entrants into farming. I worry that many of those measures will no longer be supported just at a time when we need to be addressing issues such as low-carbon agriculture and better soil, so that our very food system can continue and food security will be assured.
The future of food security needs vision, strategy, political will, commitment and investment. Defra has always been at the bottom of the political pecking order—last to be considered, first to be cut. I say to the Minister that in a post-Brexit Government that needs to change, not least because of food security. It is hard to see how the Treasury is going to continue to support that if the rural recipients of any payouts cannot demonstrate the public goods in return for that subsidy, so links need to be made between cleaner water, better biodiversity and all the public goods that should flow from the subsidy of those stewards of our land.
I feel deeply about this vote for our children’s sake. If we have made living and travelling elsewhere that much harder, then at least let us start to really look after this island.