Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Queen’s Speech - Debate (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:42 pm on 28th June 2017.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Lea of Crondall Lord Lea of Crondall Labour 8:42 pm, 28th June 2017

My Lords, the debate today has revealed no credible plan on the part of the Government, but the outline of an alternative plan, although I hope it is not hiding behind too many weasel words about an interim or transitional agreement. In February, I moved the first amendment to the withdrawal Bill to provide that we would remain in the European Economic Area. I have only a couple of points to add to the most lucid analysis of the EEA and the case for it which was made earlier by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood. They concern how the two-pillar system works.

Two weeks ago, I spent a few days in Norway. In Oslo, I met a senior person from the Norwegian foreign office, the Norwegian equivalent of our director of Chatham House, the chief of staff of the Norwegian Labour Party and the head of the European department in the equivalent of the TUC. The first thing they said, at separate meetings, but in unison, was that the UK needed to focus on the institutional framework to which it wishes to belong. As the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, said, of this there is as yet no sign.

Contrary to what the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, surmised, each of the Norwegians said that if the UK wished to remain in the EEA by rejoining EFTA as the only alternative to staying in the single market, we would find that the Government of Norway would certainly not stand in our way. That was the very clear message.

Does the Minister agree that the referendum that we had a year ago did not say anything about remaining in the EEA? The matter is not subsumed, as the Norwegian example shows, in just saying that it is the same as staying in the EU; that is just not true.

In contrast with what I have just said about the EEA and so far as I can see, the impression in Oslo, in other parts of Europe and in Brussels is that there would be little appetite on the EU’s side to recreate in our case the Swiss relationship. I shall not go into more detail, but that is a difference. If they were us, they would see the EFTA-EEA as an institution which has the merit of actually being there—that was also pointed out to the committee chaired by my noble friend Lord Whitty. It is actually there and it actually works. That is in total contrast to the fog that we have heard today.

On the EEA Joint Committee, there is scope for us to be a little more ambitious in what we might visualise. It is a quite different concept from the rather odd words used last Thursday by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, when speaking on the gracious Speech. He used the phrase,

“as the UK steps back from Europe”.—[Official Report, 22/6/17; col. 29.]

It may have been just a descriptive throw-away line, but, at the minimum, we will be in a Europe of concentric circles. Near the centre of the circle is the euro. I would hazard a couple of pence on the idea that, by the time the pound reaches parity with the euro, we might even want to join that.

The withdrawal Bill has led us to the point where I will vote for the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Adonis, but with the proviso that there is a missing dimension. I am not referring to nostalgia for the British Empire; I am referring to the fact that for many of the 52%, whether they live in Wolverhampton, Widnes or Wakefield, their experience at work and in society has led to some disaffection and lack of morale. They need high value-added contracts of employment.

In 1988 we had a forward movement, a conversion of the Labour Party, which we at the TUC had something to do with, by Jacques Delors addressing the congress in Bournemouth. I repeat that because we need another step forward. I hope that we can get behind the idea that at the European level we can have a framework agreement, under the social chapter, on the gig economy, and that this can mean that we can improve the quality of the contracts of employment for those people who, at the present time, have the worst perception of their role at work.