European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill - Second Reading (2nd Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:07 pm on 21st February 2017.

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Photo of Lord O'Neill of Clackmannan Lord O'Neill of Clackmannan Labour 10:07 pm, 21st February 2017

My Lords, as a remain voter my first reaction was to consider opposing the Bill and voting against it if the opportunity arose. However, given the view expressed in the elected House, that is not an option. In some respects, I am here to abstain in person at this stage. What has concerned me since the vote is not so much why we did not get these issues brought out and addressed in the debate but more the exposure of unintended consequences. We seem to be encountering difficulties that nobody thought about before.

For example, the European sub-committee for policing and security, on which I serve, discovered that the European arrest warrant would be one of the casualties of our departure. This is an eminently sensible means of avoiding lengthy extradition processes and it brings prisoners speedily to justice. If we go further, UK involvement in police collaboration through Europol will have to end. Neither of these involves great financial cost, so the health service is not going to benefit. They are largely irrelevant to the free movement of people, apart from accelerating the process of moving accused from one country to another. The fact is that the withdrawal of the UK’s participation in both schemes will make our country less safe and our criminal class more comfortable, to the contradiction of all the hopes about defending our shores and having the ability to pass our own laws.

This was evidenced when the noble Baroness, Lady Evans, in opening the debate, spoke about another of these “Oops” issues, as it were, that we did not really anticipate were going to happen. She devoted a paragraph of her speech—in the context of the length of the speech, this was quite a generous contribution to the debate—to the Euratom treaty. We joined Euratom at the same time as we joined the Common Market. The two are now inextricably linked as they have been integrated into EU institutions, so we find that Article 50 requires us to leave not only the EU but Euratom.

The noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal was less than fulsome in the assurances that she sought to give us. She said:

“Our nuclear industry remains of strategic importance and leaving Euratom does not affect our aim of maintaining effective arrangements for civil nuclear co-operation, safeguards, safety and trade with Europe and our international partners”.—[Official Report, 20/2/17; col. 13.]

One of the consequences of leaving Euratom will be the termination of British participation in the fusion projects at Culham. This is a scientific project of enormous significance, one in which Britain has historically played a significant role. It will to an extent be overtaken by the establishment of the ITER programme in France in the next two or three years, but our contribution and the significance of British involvement in this will be of massive importance. I will not trouble the House by reading out the White Paper in its entirety. Suffice it only to give the title of paragraph 10:

“Ensuring the United Kingdom remains the best place for science and innovation”.

The pious wishful thinking is there for all to see.

The point is that as far as the nuclear industry is concerned, there is far more involved than simple power generation. We enjoy a significant presence in a number of these areas. Once we are outwith Euratom, though, our ability to co-operate will be very limited. As I say, this is only one example of how our negotiators are likely to be encumbered by these—as I call them—“Oops” issues, the issues that we forgot all about. If we need any argument for the accessibility of Ministers coming to this House and providing us with clear indications of what the emergent problems are, the examples I have shown are crystal clear.

I am not arguing about arrest warrants or Euratom. I am making the point that this is an issue of process. That is what the legislation is about: improving the process whereby we can make the Government of the country, our negotiators, more accountable, clearer and more disciplined in the manner in which they go about it. Rather depressingly in this debate, from the introductory speech onwards—I have quoted the example of Euratom—we have had a thoroughly misleading approach to this whole issue. If that is the way the House is going to go and that we are going to be treated then we need to amend the legislation, and as quickly as possible.