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European Union (Withdrawal) Bill - Report (6th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:15 pm on 8th May 2018.

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Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative 3:15 pm, 8th May 2018

It is a great pleasure to support and echo the eloquent words of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds. In doing so, I commend the generosity of the noble Lord, Lord Alli, in so graciously agreeing not to press an amendment that would find a place later in this Bill, while also recognising that we have had the opportunity to debate the matter that he wishes to discuss in that amendment at three different stages, and I do not believe that he was present at any of those stages. So we are very grateful to him.

I declare my interest in that I advise on environmental matters, as declared on the register, and am also delighted to sit on the Rural Affairs Group of the Church of England General Synod. I particularly believe that the European Environment Agency would benefit from Amendment 93. Many noble Lords will be aware of my particular interest in Denmark, since I am half-Danish. I have had the opportunity to visit some British members of the European Environment Agency while in Copenhagen last year. To follow through on the thoughts and arguments developed by the right reverend Prelate, I argue that the European Environment Agency provides essential research on which the European Commission and other institutions depend and on which environmental protections for British citizens currently flow.

I want to put some questions to the Minister who is responding to this debate. First, I presume that the British Government wish to continue to benefit from the research undertaken by the European Environment Agency, as was indicated by the Prime Minister in the words quoted by the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Leeds. Will the Minister confirm that that is the case and what financial arrangements will be made to cover the work of the agency? Many environmental protections have been debated in this House during the passage of the Bill.

Secondly, and more importantly, there is a matter which was impressed on me in the meeting I had in Copenhagen in August with British officials working for the European Environment Agency. This is not the first time I have raised this; I had a number of conversations about it with the Minister’s predecessor, my noble friend Lord Bridges. However, over a year has passed and I have had no reassurance whatever in this regard. Many of these officials are British; many are married to Danes, Swedes or people of other nationalities. Many of them are experts and not on permanent contracts. I met one who was a very clever scientist who has a big question mark hanging over her future. Her young family wish to attend school and, subsequently, university. The House will recall an amendment that deprived EU citizens living in this country of the right to vote in our original referendum.

There is an urgent need for clarity because President Juncker has committed that British officials working for European institutions—I presume this is both permanent officials and those on expert contracts—will be able to apply for Belgian nationality from 30 March next year. If that is the case, British officials working for European Union institutions in Brussels will have preferential status, compared to those working for other agencies such as the ones mentioned by the right reverend Prelate and to the ones I met who were working in the European Environment Agency. It is now a matter of urgency that we reassure those excellent British officials working for such agencies that they will have at least the same status as those working for EU institutions in Brussels.

To sum up, what will be the Government’s future relationship with agencies such as the European Environment Agency? What will be the extent of our financial commitment, and when will we know what that is? What will be the status of those working for the European Environment Agency, the European Medicines Agency, and all such agencies? When will they know what their future will be?