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My Lords, we are all well aware that, for the last three years, the country and Parliament have wrestled with the problem of Brexit. I therefore pay tribute to the current Government for the way in which the Prime Minister, the Ministers in charge of Brexit details and, in particular, the hundreds if not thousands of civil servants are wrestling with producing a workable basis on which we can move forward with either a deal or no deal.
The noble Lord, Lord Monks, asked whether there had been any progress over the last six months. I can only vouch for one particular industry in Northampton, which is a distribution base. I am told by the hauliers in Northampton that, yes, they are confident that they can continue as they do today under any changes that are made, and that their relationship with Calais and other ports is a good one now and will continue as such. So I say a big thank you to them, and to all the people who are involved at the moment.
I do not say thank you, frankly, to those MPs such as Messrs Grieve, Letwin and Burt. Alistair Burt is my MP and was the Tory side of the Benn Bill. I do not think that they did play a role—or at least not a role that I have ever seen in Parliament before. I do not say thank you to the two former Prime Ministers. I hardly think that John Major was a great success over Maastricht, or indeed in the 1997 election, if I remember rightly—not least as I lost my seat, along with over 100 others. I do not say thank you to Mr Cameron, whose idea it was to have a referendum in the first place and who saddled us with this extraordinary business of a fixed-term Parliament.
I am by profession an economist—a practical economist who spent 20 years in business working in the UK, India and Sri Lanka. Anybody who is a businessman looks at the general situation that they face in the markets that they are in. I was interested to note today two headlines in the Telegraph about the world economy. The first is that Swedish economy is the canary in the coal mine, and it has just keeled over: there has been a violent drop in manufacturing output right down to 2008 levels. Secondly, the risk of global recession grows as factory woes go from bad to worse, particularly in the US, the EU, France and Germany. So the background is not good.
I have mentioned the haulage industry in this country. Add to that the pharmaceutical industry, which I know well. Every company that I ever worked for in that industry had reserves and action plans for reacting to shortages, whatever the difficulties might be, and I am totally confident that every company in that industry is ready and able, whatever the result may be. There will be some potential difficulties. I drove back from Devon and noticed all the overhead signs telling every lorry driver and every other driver that, if they are not yet aware that things may change on
I have just come back from Sri Lanka, where there is the port city of Colombo. It is open for business, similar to the Victoria Dam, and there is a conference in the City of London. I am also involved in Chile. I declare an interest as chairman of the Cofradía del Vino Chileno. That country, on its own basis, has now contracted 26 individual deals with other blocs and countries covering 86% of global GDP. If Chile can do that on its own, I am totally confident that we can do it on our own.
Of course there will be challenges, but what on earth is the Bank of England there for if not to react to challenges? What is the Treasury there for if not to provide some incentives and help in the interim? The idea is being put about that MPs want to see the list of industries and companies that may be in difficulty. That is entirely wrong. It would undermine that particular company, its employers, its employees, its pensioners and its supplier relationships. That information must remain confidential.
As colleagues will know, I spent a few years as Chairman of Ways and Means and as Deputy Speaker; I took through the Maastricht Bill. I had a little look at the proceedings of the Benn Bill, and by any yardstick they are unusual. Standing Order 24 is not something that you normally see being used for a Private Member’s Bill. That does not necessarily mean that it is wrong, but it is certainly quite extraordinary, particularly when a Private Member’s Bill has massive consequences for the nation and our economy—and it never seemed to follow any of the normal parliamentary procedures. Maybe that is right and maybe that is what should happen, but I say this: a law has now been brought in over Prorogation, and if I were in government I would have a long, hard look in relation to the letter. I see that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, is getting a bit worried that there is something amiss with that particular element of the Bill. I suggest that if I were sitting there, I would have a long, hard look at it as well.