My Lords, it is a great privilege to be closing this debate following Her Majesty’s gracious Speech, which set out the programme of legislation put forward by this Government. I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Collins, who is restored to full health and with a new beard. He is back enjoying his place on the Front Bench again and we are pleased to see him. He has lost none of his customary wit and influence on the legislation.
The Speech sets out a legislative agenda that seeks to protect our people, promote our prosperity and project our influence on the world stage. I am particularly grateful to noble Lords for their considered and thoughtful contributions made over the course of two days of debate. I will do my utmost to respond to as many points as possible, but I apologise in advance if I do not have time to get through everybody’s contributions.
I will commence, as so many others did, with Brexit and my own department—as expected, it was covered by many noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Desai, Lord Wrigglesworth and Lord Wigley, my noble friends Lord Ridley and Lord Flight, and my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay. The Government’s priority has always been, and remains, to secure the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union on
The Government have had fruitful and constructive discussions with the European Commission over the last few days. I have been here in the House but I am told that, as I speak, the technical talks are continuing with the Prime Minister’s Brexit Sherpa, David Frost, and the UK negotiating team. Their talks last night were constructive and the teams worked late into the night. They met again this morning and are continuing discussions today. I agree that, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry reminded us, it is important that throughout this process we must work constructively together and seek to nurture our relationships, both in Europe and further afield.
I will address the points made on EU meetings by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and the noble Earls, Lord Kinnoull and Lord Sandwich. As I informed the House last week, it is now the policy of the Government that UK officials and Ministers will attend EU meetings only where the UK has a significant national interest in the outcome of discussions. This will enable officials to better focus their talents on our immediate national priorities—our top priority being work on preparations for Brexit. This decision is not intended in any way to frustrate the functioning of the EU. The UK’s vote is delegated in a way that does not obstruct the ongoing business of the remaining 27 EU members. I look forward to meeting the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull—I think we have a date in the diary for next week—and no doubt he will want to discuss the matter further.
The noble Baroness, Lady Quin, asked about the implementation period. We are still awaiting the final agreement but I remind her that the existing withdrawal agreement sets December 2020 as the end of the implementation period, and for good reason: it is the end of the EU’s existing multiannual financial framework. There is an option in there to extend. I am not aware that that will change, but let us wait and see what the final agreement says.