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Motion A

Part of European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill - Commons Amendments – in the House of Lords at 5:45 pm on 22nd January 2020.

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Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Minister of State (Department for Exiting the European Union) 5:45 pm, 22nd January 2020

My Lords, with the leave of the House I will speak also to Motions B to E.

We are at the end of what seems like a very long road. The final stages of this Bill represent something that many of us thought might never happen: Parliament passing the legislation necessary to implement a Brexit deal and finally to deliver on the 2016 referendum. It has been no mean feat, with nearly 40 hours of debate and over 100 amendments in this House in the past fortnight alone. Last night, I was able to give my thanks to officials, colleagues and friends across the House who have helped us to reach this point; let me thank them once again.

Of course, I know that many noble Lords on the Benches opposite are disappointed that the Commons has chosen to disagree with all of the amendments that noble Lords passed this week. However, I would like to reassure them that their expertise and contributions will continue to play a valuable role after Brexit. Following our exit, this House will see more legislation on a range of topics connected with our departure from the European Union, and in some cases it will be the first time in decades that the UK has legislated on some of these matters.

But today, the Motions before this House recommend that it should agree with the position that the elected House has taken this afternoon. As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State said earlier in the other place, the Government welcome and appreciate the rigorous scrutiny provided by this Chamber. He also set out in detail why the Government are unable to accept the amendments from this House. If noble Lords will indulge me, I will take a moment to touch on the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs.

The Government have been clear that we remain committed to seeking an agreement with the EU for the family reunion of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and we have already written to the European Commission to commence negotiations. Furthermore, we have gone beyond the original amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, to provide a policy statement to Parliament within two months of the withdrawal agreement Bill’s passage into law. This demonstrates our commitment to report in a timely manner and guarantees Parliament the opportunity to provide more scrutiny. We hope, of course, to have completed those negotiations as soon as possible in order to minimise any disruption to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. We will also continue to process family reunion cases referred before the end of the implementation period.

I hope that I can also reassure the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Williams, that Clause 37 of the Bill does not amend the definition of relatives under the 2018 Act. A relative means

“a spouse or civil partner of the child or any person with whom the child has a durable relationship that is similar to marriage or civil partnership, or … a parent, grandparent, uncle, aunt, brother or sister of the child”.

Finally, as we have already explained, primary legislation is not necessary to deliver our commitment on unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. I hope this reassures the noble Lord that we take his concerns seriously.

As I come to a close, I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I take just a brief moment of self-indulgence, as this may well be my last outing at the Dispatch Box as a DExEU Minister—unless, of course, the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, has some more plans for PNQs again next week. It has certainly been quite a journey. When I took on this role, I knew it would be a challenge—not least as a leaver in a predominantly remain House. After, by my rough calculations, two government Bills, more than 20 debates, 49 Oral Questions, 10 Statements, four PNQs, 10 Urgent Questions and around 250 hours at this Dispatch Box, I can honestly say that I have enjoyed almost every minute of it. Given the tremendous expertise of this House—with many ex-senior Ministers, ex-MEPs, the author of Article 50 and ex-EU Permanent Representatives, to name but a few—the sheer quality of debate, political sparring and questioning is always second to none. I can only apologise if the quality of the answers is sometimes not to the same high standard. I am honoured to be part of this House, and I thank the Leader in particular for having given me the opportunity to play my part in delivering the result of the 2016 referendum and finally getting Brexit done. That is it—the end. I beg to move.