European Union (Withdrawal) Bill - Second Reading (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:45 pm on 30th January 2018.

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Photo of Lord Balfe Lord Balfe Conservative 4:45 pm, 30th January 2018

My Lords, I begin by drawing attention to my entries in the register as the serving chairman of the European Parliament pension fund and vice-president of its former members association, both of them 28-country organisations. I am not a UK president of something but a European one, and that probably gives noble Lords some idea of where I am coming from on this.

I have been involved in international affairs all my working life, from the age of 16, when I began as a junior official in the Crown Agents at 4 Millbank, opposite this House. Indeed, my first visit to the House of Lords—to sit up there—was when I was an official in that department. Whether it did any good or not I will leave to noble Lords to judge.

I regard this as the greatest single failure of my political life. I firmly believe not just in the European Union but in the wider concept of multilateralism: the idea that we need to do things together, whether through the UN, the Council of Europe, the European Court of Human Rights, the UN agencies or the European Community. I am a firm believer in that idea, and all the evidence, from a lifetime in international affairs, leads me clearly to the point that we work better when we work together. We may not get everything, but we certainly work better.

This is a withdrawal Bill. I know of no club, anywhere, where you get better terms from being outside it than from being in it. That is why they set up the club: to give members benefits. We, outside the European Union, can talk about what sort of result we want, but the fact is that we cannot get as good a result. I have returned this afternoon from talking to a delegation to Parliament from Norway, and I put that specific question to them. They told me, “Yes, we’re outside the main decision-making structure. When we want to influence something, we have to go to another country and convince them to raise our case alongside theirs”. Indeed, when I was in the justice ministry in Oslo not that long ago, someone said that the most important desk in that ministry was the one with the direct telephone line to Stockholm. However we delude ourselves, the fact is that whatever deal we get, it will not be as good as if we were inside.

I am particularly concerned at the impact that withdrawal may—I say may—have on organised labour. As some noble Lords know, I have a long connection with the trade union movement, and I have noted that the Government have given a good number of assurances. I will, however, be carefully reading three excellent briefings I have had: one from Greener UK, one from Liberty, one from Amnesty, and of course one from the TUC. We will be watching very closely and seeking agreement and undertakings from the Government that the safeguards won from Brussels will not be threatened. We need to protect existing rights, for instance to equal pay, and to transpose Article 157 of the treaty of the European Union—and its judgments—into the situation that we have after we leave the European Union. We also need to safeguard all the other labour advances that have been won.

We need to make sure that we do not, as Philip Hammond indicated we might, start competing by reducing workers’ rights. In an interview in the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag, “World on Sunday”, a year ago, he stated quite clearly that,

“we could be forced to change our economic model and we will have to change our model to regain competitiveness. And you can be sure we will do whatever we have to do”.

We will be watching Philip Hammond carefully. We will obviously not be the only people watching him, as he has a whole raft of people watching his every move—he probably has a spy cam in his bathroom. But we will watch carefully to see that things are protected.

Finally, Clauses 7, 8 and 9 give Ministers powers that seem worryingly wide. I hope that the Opposition will join us in opposing them, but to my own side I say: “Would you be happy for Mr Jeremy Corbyn and Mr John McDonnell to have these powers in their hands, to change legislation in ministries without reference to the democratic structure? That is what these clauses do”. I was always brought up to believe that you should look at the worst-case scenario, and believe that the person whom you really do not want driving the train is in the driver’s seat. So I challenge my Front Bench: how many powers are you willing to give our dear friend Jeremy?