European Union (Withdrawal) Bill - Report (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:30 pm on 25th April 2018.

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Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Chair, EU Internal Market Sub-Committee 8:30 pm, 25th April 2018

My Lords, Amendment 48 is in my name and in the name of my noble friend Lord Judd. I have often remarked, in my long years in this Chamber, that the attendance in the Chamber is often in inverse proportion to the range of interests in the population and economy as a whole. I am glad we have the additional attendance of the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg. This is a very important issue to a large proportion of our population and a large chunk of our industry—everybody who is ever a traveller, a tourist, an importer or an exporter, or who buys those imports or sells those exports, everybody who works in the international transport sector and the whole of the aerospace and other manufacturing industries which support all those sectors.

Ministers will recognise that I am returning to my favourite subject in the Bill: the future relationship with the EU agencies. Frankly, I have at no point received clarity from the Government—nor have the industrial sectors—as to their aim in the negotiations and what they would like the future relationship to be between our industries in those sectors and the EU agencies of which we are currently full members.

I was encouraged in this view only yesterday. As noble Lords will know, I am a member of your Lordships’ EU Select Committee. This was in public proceedings, so I can reveal it. We had before us yesterday among our witnesses the director-general of the CBI. We asked her what were the practical problems for her members that were being brought to her, of the uncertainty and lack of clarity over Brexit. The very first thing she mentioned was that there were so many sectors that did not know what their future relationship with those agencies and the processes under those agencies would be—in other words, the very terms of trade and the terms of the relationships under which they will operate. That underlines the Government’s failure to explain what they are after.

We had some glimmer of light from no less a person than the Prime Minister herself. In her Mansion House speech, she referred to having to have continued relationships with the aviation agencies. She referred to associate membership. I have said before that associate membership does not bring the kind of rights and influence that we currently have, but nevertheless it is a step forward on anything else the Government have said. On the rest of the agencies—there are not only the three mentioned in the amendment, but roughly 40 other agencies that affect different sectors of our economic and cultural life—we have no glimmer of what the Government intend.

Transport is a vital sector. I would hope that Ministers could give at least as clear an assurance as I think the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, gave on Monday in relation to my equivalent amendment on the environment and food safety agencies. He said that, because the Government were committed to bringing forward a new statutory authority for environments, before we reach Third Reading greater clarity will be shed by the Government on the role of the environmental agencies. I would hope that we could have at least a glimmer of such hope with regard to the transport agencies.

The aviation industry is probably the most acutely affected by this, as not only British airlines and European airlines but also American and third-party airlines do not know what they will be selling in a year’s time. We do not know what the landing rights will be; we do not know how British-based airlines will operate, even through the transition period. At the moment, in the transition period, if we understand the EU’s position clearly, they will no longer be members of those agencies. EASA, to take the most important example in this amendment, has been greatly influenced by British presence, expertise and regulation. The British aviation industry is the biggest single such industry in Europe, and the tourist industry in Spain and several other Mediterranean countries depend on it continuing to be so. If we are no longer full members of EASA, the airlines themselves will be in difficulty in knowing quite what they will sell to their customers—passengers —in less than 12 months, and even more so beyond 2020.

I am not entirely sure whether the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, or the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, will reply to this debate. I do not mind who says it, and hope that they are all agreed, but I would like a bit more hope that we can get greater clarity on these vital transport agencies, which are key to connectivity across Europe. We ought to have clarity before we complete the passage of the Bill, and the Government have only a few weeks to provide that clarity. I beg to move.