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Queen’s Speech - Debate (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:20 pm on 28th June 2017.

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Photo of Lord Jopling Lord Jopling Conservative 5:20 pm, 28th June 2017

My Lords, I want to enlarge on two issues that I have spoken about in your Lordships’ House previously. First, on the Brexit negotiation itself, I have always been an enthusiast for remain; I was desperately disappointed with the result of the referendum—but this is where we are. The nation spoke, and we should let those who led us into Brexit pursue their policy. They made extravagant and sometimes arrogant claims, but let them show what has never been shown before: the full implications of Brexit. We cannot go on in this House fighting the referendum all over again, which I fear we are hearing too much about. I spoke last year criticising those in the House who were talking about a second referendum. Likewise, I would be very unhappy to see any of the three amendments being agreed tonight. We should leave the Brexit enthusiasts to get on with it—one hopes while listening to advice—and then, in 2019, we shall see whether the negotiations lead to a triumph or a catastrophe. If it turns out to look like either a triumph or a catastrophe, of course Parliament will be in a position, with the promised vote of both Houses, to make a judgment. Much will then depend on whether public opinion regards Brexit as a triumph or a catastrophe. If Parliament were then to reject the deal, then, and only then, would there be a case for a second referendum, which would be only one of several future options.

I turn to the second issue that I want to raise. We were told that there is going to be an agriculture Bill, and I want to refer to the implications of Brexit for agriculture. I repeat my interests in agriculture as a farmer. In Monday’s debate, some reference was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter and my noble friends Lady McIntosh, Lord Colgrain and the Duke of Wellington to the importance to agriculture of import levies. I remind the House that after the Conservative defeat in 1964, for the 1966 and 1970 elections the Conservative Party adopted a new form of agricultural support in the form of import levies. That was, of course, before we joined the European Community. It was clear then that to move to import levies had little effect on shop prices for food. Indeed, if you were to perpetuate import levies in future, that would have even less effect on the price of food because food is becoming less and less a part of the household budget and farm gate prices have become less and less part of shop shelf prices.

I am concerned about talk that I hear about moving to a free trade policy for agricultural products. I just make the point that if we were to do that United Kingdom agriculture would be hit hard twice over, first, by moving away from the present system, where we have protection by EU import tariffs on third-country imports, and a second time by having to face the prospect of our exports going to the European Union and having to face its external tariffs, which would continue. I believe it is essential, in the negotiations and in the Bill that is promised, that we do not set aside the chance to perpetuate the import tariffs that currently exist. They are, frankly, much the neatest way of supporting agriculture, which everybody seems to say is necessary. On both sides of the House I hear the desire to continue to support the agricultural industry.