European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 6) Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:28 pm on 5th September 2019.

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Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative 3:28 pm, 5th September 2019

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, on so eloquently introducing the Bill, which, as we know, achieved a sizeable majority in the other place. Like the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, and a number of other noble Lords, I was a Member of the European Parliament. I also had the honour of advising Conservative Members of the European Parliament for five years. I think the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, and I were stagiaires together in the same year in the European Commission—not something I would care to mention in polite Conservative company in the present climate. For the reasons given by my noble friend Lord Hayward, I have no intention of calling No. 10 any time soon.

I will make a few personal remarks on why my policy on Europe has remained so strong. I have always considered myself to be a Scot by birth, British by nationality, and European, and the only comfort I take from this and other debates is that we have been assured that we will not be leaving Europe. Yet many of my friends, particularly parliamentary friends in the other place, are quite keen to prevent us remaining and reapplying to bodies such as the EEA—the European Economic Area—and the European Free Trade Area because of connotations to do with the customs union and the single market.

I also regret that many of the opportunities I had to be a stagiaire and practise European law in Brussels, albeit briefly, and to be a member of the European Parliament, will not be open to present and future generations in this country. I am proud to speak a number of other European languages—some more fluently than others—and it has always been a source of concern to me that we do not applaud or encourage that; speaking a foreign language is considered almost a bit of a crime, and one’s loyalty is questioned for that reason.

I will argue strongly that the Bill is needed and, if I remember, I will end with a question to the Minister who is summing up the debate today. We have a short and very focused Bill, followed up by a letter to the President of the European Council from our current Prime Minister. It puts a deadline of 31 January 2020 that is obviously a focus of some contention in the debate today, or earlier if agreement is reached on a deal.

I would argue that prorogation is premature. It was my distinct understanding that we faced a two-year parliamentary Session that was longer than usual, but with the distinct purpose of fulfilling our legislative duty in both Houses of Parliament of passing the Bills that were required not just to prepare us but businesses, which the noble Lord, Lord Wigley—whom I consider a noble friend—referred to, such as hill farmers, who are particularly concerned. I know that the Uplands Alliance has had a series of meetings with at least 100 hill farmers up and down the country in England. Like the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, I feel that it is a privilege to have a seat in this place and to participate in debates such as this, because, as it is said when we are introduced here, we have a voice, and, even though we do not have a constituency, we can raise the concerns of others.

We learned this week that the Agriculture Bill will fall; we have not even seen the environment protection Bill and the immigration Bill; the trade rollover Bill is blocked in the other place; and we have yet to see the second trade Bill. All these have implications for the farming community—and we have not yet seen the Fisheries Bill. Why on earth, then, are we concluding this parliamentary Session prematurely before we have had the chance to thrash out what the detail will be?

In the spending review yesterday, some £400 million was allocated to Defra to prepare. Obviously, we have passed all the statutory instruments, and some we had to correct because we had done so rather quickly, but timeously. There was a reference to £30 million of support, both this year and, more particularly, next year. That raises the question of what the legal basis is for that sum of money. However, my greater concern about why we need the Agriculture Bill in particular is: how can farmers, who have concluded one harvest and are about to sow a winter crop with a view to sowing summer wheat early next year, possibly make a commercial decision until they know what the level of support will be? Arable farmers are probably the least likely to need or benefit from future support. The contrary is the case with the hill farmers: they need to know, if they produce lambs and put the ewes to tup this autumn, whether there will be a market for them. I believe that both Houses of Parliament owe it to them to give certainty about whether there will be a market. Many will be preparing for the sales of spring lamb in France next year.

I want to respond to something that I thought was quite provocative that my noble friend Lord Howard said. I greatly admire him and was a shadow Minister under his leadership in the other place for a number of years. I am not dissimilar to my noble friend Lady Meyer, although my heritage is not quite as exotic. I have a Scottish father and a Danish mother, who met on a blind date—so I am obviously very keen on blind dates. They met in Hamburg, where they found themselves allocated after the war. I formed a distinct understanding when I studied history, especially as a student of JDB Mitchell at the University of Edinburgh. I was the first intake to do a six-month obligatory course on European Community law, and I am absolutely bewildered that the Edinburgh Law School and the Law Society are deciding whether we need to continue to have such an obligatory course—of course we do, particularly in this period of transition as we come out of the European Union.

The reason that the original six member states pooled the resources of coal and steel was precisely that those were the two commodities that led to an act of aggression leading to two major world wars in the space of some 40 years. That is not coincidental. Further, I would argue that, when the Soviet bloc and COMECON, the economic bloc, collapsed, we in the European Economic Community, as we were at the time—now the single market going forward—were the natural economic partners of the now comparatively new member states of the European Union.

Feeling as I do for personal reasons, I deeply regret the way that my 21 heroic colleagues in the other place have been treated. I hope that they will have the Whip restored and that those who wish to will be allowed to fight the next election. I do not believe in a second referendum. I believe that the first referendum on this issue was a complete disaster. It led to the death of Jo Cox, and I believe that any future referendum would be equally divisive. We just need to go outside the entrance to this building to see why that would be the case.

I support this Bill. I would vehemently argue that we need the six Bills that were meant to be set out in this parliamentary session before we prorogue. I would sign up to a general election, but after 5 November, when I hope that we can agree a deal. The Bill before us today is instrumental in that regard.

I am sorry that the Minister is not in its place, but I hope that the Government will abide by the terms of this Bill if it is carried by both Houses, and the letter in the schedule as well. Can we have confirmation today not just that the Government will apply for an extension in the terms of this Bill but will vote for such an extension in the European Council?