Monday, August 13, 2018

Report from Medellin

Report from Medellin.

Medellin is the most stunning place I’ve ever been to. In the early 1990s, it was the most murderous city in the world (over 27,000 murders in 1992 alone). Today Medellin is mainly peaceful. This transformation has involved a truly astonishing level of forgiveness. Equally astonishing is the speed at which the population of Medellin has grown. In 1950 there were around 350,000 residents. By 1970, the population had increased by a factor of 6, and today Medellin has 2.64 million residents - a truly dramatic urbanisation. It’s also become connected to other adjacent settlements taking the total population to over 4 million. 

This population is crammed into a city with more defined dividing lines than anywhere else I’ve known  - leading to huge physical and social challenges that ‘city planning’ has sought to counter. With outstanding success it seems to me. 

Firstly, there is the ‘Rio’ area. The Medellin River runs through the length of the city. The rapid urbanisations had destroyed its natural and ecological value to the city. Today the river valley floor has been, and continues to be transformed. There is more to do. There are impressive buildings, a striking civic centre, and a brilliant botanical garden. All very impressive but it’s not what’s most striking. That’s the connection of this job-creating river central zone to the much poorer population which lives on the steep hillsides rising up from the river. Probably over a million of mostly poor people live in what are shanty developments. Very small self-built houses, with tin rooms, often weighed down by rocks and pieces of wood. No way could this population walk to where the jobs are. The most astonishing aspect of Medellin planning has been the transportation system to connect these people with the more prosperous parts of the city. A Metro, connected to a Metro cable car system, which brings the houses on the hillside into contact with the work in the valley. It’s the equivalent of the tube system in London. The end of the Metro line is at Santa Domingo Cable Car Station high up the side of the Andes. Santa Domingo is also the start Point for another cable car which travels miles through forest treetops across the Andes heights. Hundreds of thousands of hectares of wildness. A journey not to be missed.

The basis of the city planning is transportation up the hillsides by several cable car systems and escalators. And there are parks, offering education and other services around every stop. Planning aimed to serve the poorest people. Farsighted. Inspirational. There are parks all over, promoting environmental awareness and connections across the city. The Parques del Rio Medellin involves recreating the river environment that had been lost. So much I could write about. 

Much of the rest of the world think of Medellin as the home base of Pablo Escobar, the most notorious drugs baron ever. It was in Medellin he based his evil empire. He died in 1993, whether shot by the police or by his own hand we do not know. Since his death Medellin has undergone a revolution - in a good way. Led by the people of the city who turned away from violence. The world should know about this remarkable turnaround. 

How has all this been paid for? It’s another remarkable story. Much of it funded by a publicly owned public services company, providing the water, energy, gas and telecoms. The EPM (Empressas Publicas de Medellin) is a dream come reality for Jeremy Corbyn, providing a huge annual payment to the city. 

Of course there are still problems. So many people to be rehoused. I hope they are not simply being piled high in tower blocks, creating ghettos of the future! Hopefully the parks will help prevent this. And every Colombian city will have to manage an influx of desperate Venezuelans escaping the economic disaster in their country. The border is hundreds of miles away but they are to be seen walking the roads or perched on the back of Lorries - mostly heading to Bogata. And while Colombia is a country I could love, its cities are noisy, and over dominated by the motor car, full of wannabe Lewis Hamilton’s in yellow taxis. 

And then there’s the flowers. Incredible flowers, and wonderful wildlife. Every August there is the Medellin flower festival, the best flower carnival in the world. Regrettably I missed it, having to move on to other parts of this fascinating country. Next few days, before returning to Montgomeryshire, I will be in what I’m promised is quieter countryside surrounded by exotic birds and flowers. Next stop Boyaca. But be back home for Berriew Show.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Colombia - County Times

I am spending the first weeks of August in Bogotá, capital city of Colombia in South America. It’s a country not as well known within the UK as its size and importance warrants. Colombia has a population of 50 million. It is bigger than France and Germany combined. Bogotá itself has a similar population to Greater London. It’s a safe developing city, transformed from the danger of attacks and kidnapping that has been a feature of its past. Bogota is built on a high plateau, surrounded by the mighty Andes mountain range providing a spectacular backdrop to the city.  Colombia is a fascinating and diverse modern country with an equally fascinating, sometimes dark history. More British people should visit.

There are two reasons for my being in South America for three weeks this August. Firstly, I have a family interest in that two of our grandchildren are half Welsh - half Colombian. Although they live in the UK and spend much of their time in Berriew, they will always have close family ties with Boyaca, a region of Colombia north east of Bogotá. Family links are very strong throughout Latin America. And secondly, as the UK leaves the EU, I think every politician has some responsibility to use their own capabilities and contacts to help develop diplomatic and trade links with nations of the world beyond Europe.

Colombia, like all of Latin America has a bloody and violent history, particularly as independence was being won through brute force from the Spanish imperialists. Internationally acclaimed author, Robert Harvey, who lives near Meifod has written a book, the Romantic Revolutionary, based on the life of Simon Bolivar, the Liberator of much of Latin America. If you want a flavour of the sheer violence and brutality which has shaped modern South America, it’s a must read.

It’s been a historically important week to be in Bogotá. On Tuesday, Ivan Duque was inaugurated as Colombia’s 60th President following a closely fought election, when three men were involved in a bitterly fought contest. There was no violence or corruption reported. Duque is a typically modern politician - charming, engaging, can sing and play football, but with little political experience. He is also closely linked to controversial and influential former President, Alvaro Uribe. So he is an unknown quantity, and faces two huge challenges. Plus several lesser challenges.

Firstly he has to consolidate and take forward the ‘peace process’ which ended a 50 year terrorist campaign by the FARC, (amongst other groups) following an election campaign which has led to concerns about his commitment to it. Hopefully, questioning of the peace accord and implementing adjustments to it does not lead to a resumption of violence. And secondly, President Duque has to take on the drug cartels, and the wanton murder of human rights defenders who challenge the drug cartel’s activities. President Duque will have no choice but take a stronger role in challenging these ‘sons of Escobar’ if his 4 year presidency is to be a success. And on Monday, there was a ‘supposed’ assassination attempt on the life of President Maduro next door in Venezuela, whose history is so intertwined with Colombia. Venezuela is a political and economic disaster, brought to its knees by the policies of Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chavez. Huge numbers of desperate Venezuelans are crossing the border into Colombia, bringing yet more challenge to Duque. 

Over the last few days I’ve met with politicians of the ‘left’ and ‘right’, the British Embassy in Bogotá, and the important Bogotá Chamber of Commerce. Later this week I will meet with Mayor of Medellin, Colombia’s second city, which is bigger than any other city in the UK, and which this week hosts the week long biggest flower festival in the world. Colombia is a truly amazing country, with a history steeped in tragedy and a future steeped in promise. I believe the UK is well placed to help it achieve its potential.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Latest from Cil Farm and Royal Welsh on Brexit.

Two days at the Royal Welsh Show at Llanelwedd this week - the best agricultural show in the UK. This year, Montgomeryshire is the host County, and lots us have helped raise money to make it a memorable year. And thanks to wonderful weather it has been memorable. Our own Tom Tudor of Llysun Farm, Llanerfyl is the President, just reward for a lifetime given to farming and his local community. The Royal Welsh is a great place to meet old friends and discuss matters of concern to all of Wales - the Politics of Powys, Wales, the United Kingdom, Europe and the world. At the heart of all this discussion are those issues that relate to the future of our countryside. Was hoping to talk about something other than Brexit! My hopes were disappointed.

First event was a seminar in the NFU Cymru marquee. Strong panel including Carwyn Jones, Welsh First Minister and presidents of NFU Cymru and UK. And the issue was (you’ve guessed it) Brexit. There was widespread concern about the future. Almost nil reference to the opportunities. After an hour of relentless pessimism, even my natural optimism began to wane. It was obvious to me that the leaders of the farming unions remain deeply opposed to Brexit, as they were when the people of Britain voted Leave in 2016. 

As I listened to the platform presentations (and most of the contributions from the floor), my mind drifted back to the rancorous debate before th e EU Referendum. After listening to the leaders of the farming unions the, I discussed the issue with farmers selling their lambs in the local livestock market. Surprisingly, they were mostly in favour of Leave, despite the uncertainty. I suspect it’s the same now.

I voted Leave myself, despite being consumed by uncertainty. I simply did not want my country to be subsumed in an “ever closer union”. I still don’t. My hesitation in 2016 was because I thought disengaging from the EU would be a very long and difficult process. Nothing since has lessened my uncertainty. But we did hold a referendum, we did vote Leave, and we are going to Leave. Anything else would be a constitutional outrage. 

There are many voices who are calling for a second referendum. There are some in all political parties. I am not one of them. In my view it would be the worst option of all and could well lead to civil unrest. I would prefer to be honest with the people and tell them that Parliament is not prepared to accept their judgement as expressed in the referendum, as hold another one. In my view, the calls for another referendum come from those who do not accept the result of the 2016 referendum. This ‘campaign’ must not be allowed to succeed. 

I was very supportive of the agreement about a UK negotiating position agreed by the Cabinet at Chequers two weeks ago. It wasn’t exactly what I would have wanted personally. I was disappointed that MPs amended the agreement, mainly because it made it less likely to be accepted. We have reached the stage where the intransigence of the EU mean ‘No Deal’ is become a likely option. No-one wants this, but I’ve always thought it a better option than being bullied into submission by the EU. 

Despite the confusion and uncertainty surrounding the EU/UK negotiations, I still feel optimistic and would still vote Leave. The behaviour of the EU negotiating team over the last two years has strengthened my resolve. It may be my bloody-minded streak, or my continued belief in the can-do spirit of the British people. And I think the silent majority feel the same.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon.

So it’s a No to Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon from Secretary of State at BEIS, Greg Clark. Lots of opposition to this decision in Westminster and around Wales today. You really would think it’s a massively unpopular decision. I’m not so sure. The reason the project was refused was to protect consumer’s electricity bills. I suspect the hard working people of Wales, not linked to politics or the media might just take a different view.
I’ve always supported the Government encouraging the private sector seeking new ways of generating renewable energy. But not at any cost - either financial or impact on our landscape. I’ve been really taken aback by the calls for the UK Govt to back the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon, no matter what it’s cost. I just cannot think like that. I do not think it’s the way a Conservative does think. Not this Conservative anyway.
Personally, I’ve been hoping we could find a way of delivering this scheme, but a few months ago it became obvious to me that it wasn’t a goer. Despite being a supporter of searching for a way to harness the energy potential of the tide, and marine renewables in general, I’ve thought we should have withdrawn support months ago.
Here’s a quote from today’s statement - “The inescapable conclusion of an extensive analysis is that however novel and appealing the proposal that has been made is, even with these factors taken into account, the costs which would be incurred by consumers and taxpayers would be so much higher than alternative sources of low carbon power that it would be irresponsible to enter into a contract with the promoter.
Securing our energy needs into the future has to be done seriously and, when much cheaper alternatives exist, no individual project, and no particular technology can proceed at any price. That is true for all technologies.”
Just do not understand how any Conservative can be in favour of it.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Legalising Cannabis

There was much publicity about legalisation of Cannabis this last week. Two reasons. The Home Secretary signalled a changed approach from Government, introducing some flexibility into Cannabis use for medicinal purposes. And former Conservative Leader and recent Home Secretary, Lord (William) Hague called for Cannabis to be legalised for both medicinal and recreational use. That’s further than I’ve ever gone. William is always logical and worth listening to. On this he may be too far ahead of social change, and public opinion won’t be ready accept it. Personally, I’m open to a review of evidence, including from jurisdictions where marijuana use is already legal. And looking forwards to a discussion with William about this next week. Anyway, here is the column he wrote for the Telegraph last Tuesday, which I’ve just read again. It’s worth reading.

“The case of Billy Caldwell, the 12 year old with epilepsy whose vital cannabis oil medication was confiscated by Border Force officials to comply with UK drugs laws, provides one of those illuminating moments when a longstanding policy is revealed to be inappropriate, ineffective and utterly out of date.
That our border officials, with so much to deal with to prevent the smuggling of arms, people, wildlife and much else, should be expected to make off with a medicine that contains a tiny quantity of the psychoactive element in marijuana but had clear benefits for a boy with severe seizures, is beyond ridiculous. It suggests that official intransigence is now at odds with common sense.
Over the weekend, the Home Office sensibly backed down and returned Billy’s medicine. By doing so, it implicitly conceded that the law has become indefensible. It must now be asked whether Britain should join the many other countries that permit medical-grade marijuana, or indeed join Canada in preparing for a lawful, regulated market in cannabis for recreational use as well.
Under successive governments it has been assumed that there has been little alternative to trying to win a war on drugs, cannabis included. Medical advice to ministers has always stressed that limited use of soft drugs can lead to harder drugs and addiction. It has also been one of the taboo subjects of British politics at a senior level, on which taking an alternative view has been regarded as indicating a tendency to weird, irresponsible or crazily liberal opinions.
It’s time to acknowledge facts, and to embrace a decisive change that would be economically and socially beneficial, as well as rather liberating for Conservatives in showing sensible new opinions are welcome.
First of all, as far as marijuana, or cannabis, is concerned, any war has been comprehensively and irreversibly lost. The idea that the drug can be driven off the streets and out of people’s lives by the state is nothing short of deluded. Surveys of young people attest that they find it easier to purchase cannabis than virtually anything else, including fast food, cigarettes and alcohol. Everyone sitting in a Whitehall conference room needs to recognise that, out there, cannabis is ubiquitous, and issuing orders to the police to defeat its use is about as up to date and relevant as asking the army to recover the Empire. This battle is effectively over.
Some police forces, recognising this and focusing their resources on more serious crimes, have stopped worrying about it. When a law has ceased to be credible and worth enforcing to many police as well as the public, respect for the law in general is damaged. We should have laws we believe in and enforce or we should get rid of them.
Just as bad is the next unavoidable fact, that where prosecutions still take place they create burdens on the criminal justice system for no appreciable gain. Tens of millions of pounds are still spent each year in forensics, legal aid, courts, prisons and probation services. Estimates of the savings involved from ending the prohibition on cannabis vary, but can easily add up to about £300 million a year.
In the meantime, something of decisive importance has happened, which for me has tipped the balance of argument. The grey zone of something being illegal but not effectively prevented has permitted the worst of all worlds to arise. The potency of drugs available on the streets has risen sharply in recent years. This has led to an increase in dependency and health problems, but of course people are reluctant to seek help for using drugs that are still illegal. The overall result is the rise of a multi-billion pound black market for an unregulated and increasingly potent product, creating more addiction and mental health problems but without any enforceable policy to do something about it. The only beneficiaries are organised crime gangs. It is absolutely unacceptable to allow this situation to continue.
A major change in policy is therefore necessary. The licensing of medical products, such as Billy Caldwell’s oil, is already allowed in Australia, Germany, Switzerland, Norway, the Netherlands and most of the US. Adopting the same approach would be a step forward. But the Canadian parliament is now on the verge of agreeing something much more radical: a legal, regulated market for cannabis for recreational use.
The proponents of this in Canada have been clear from the outset that a legal market will involve licensed stores selling cannabis of regulated strength, with a strict prohibition on sales to teenagers and no relaxation of laws against other and more powerful drugs. The expected benefits include reduced harm and addiction for users, a major reduction in the black market, less pressure on police and courts and tax revenues running into billions of dollars. If this works, it sounds more sensible than the current position.
Can British Conservatives be as bold as Canadian Liberals? We ought to be. After all, we believe in market forces and the responsible exercise of freedom, regulated as necessary. We should prefer to provide for lawful taxes than preside over increased profits from crime. And we are pragmatists, who change with society and revise our opinions when the facts change. On this issue, the facts have changed very seriously and clearly.
For Tories who cannot quite bring themselves to admit that this is all necessary, I leave you with the story of one of our great heroes, William Wilberforce. One of the fascinating aspects of writing a biography of him was the realisation that he was, for his whole life from his late twenties onwards, a daily user of opium. He lived when the dangers of addiction were only just becoming recognised, but finding that opium brought reliable relief from debilitating digestive problems, he recommended it widely while going on to achieve the abolition of the slave trade and become one of the most universally admired figures in British history.
I feel that Wilberforce would have spoken up very quickly for the Billy Caldwells of today. And while not advocating the recreational use of any drugs at all, I think it is right that people of all persuasions should now focus on sorting out a failed policy and an unsustainable law, and replacing both with new ideas that might just command respect and success.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Tribute to Jane Harvey

Last week I went to the funeral of Jane Harvey in Meifod. For many years she suffered from the condition, Schizophrenia. I didn’t know Jane well, but her husband Robert has been a source of good political advice and support to me for many years. I was so moved by the tribute, written by Jane’s family that I asked if I could post it on my blog. Schizophrenia is a condition not much understood. Posting the tribute on A View for Rural Wales may extend knowledge and understanding of this cruel disease. With permission of the Harvey family, here is the Tribute. 

“Jane was an exceptionally beautiful woman,within and without.  She was famous for her smile, which could light up a room or anyone she met, precisely because it reflected her inner warmth. In her later years, on hospital admissions, every nurse that met her would call her ‘a lovely lady’ and one even thought she could remember which film she starred in.

Her beauty also reflected her happiness, joy, gaiety, free spirit, sweetness and untameable personality, also her exceptional gentleness and humility. She was completely unpretentious, uninterested in the superficial things of life; there are innumerable stories of her kindness to children and vulnerable people, even when she herself was highly vulnerable.

When well, she never had a cross word to say to anyone. She was, in Winston Churchill’s phrase about his own wife Clementine, ‘a being without an ignoble thought’. Her interests were simple: children, cats, other animals, birds, flowers and trees, which meant that her quarter of a century in the Meifod countryside were a paradise to her; she was utterly happy here. Her nature was pure, innocent and without guile.

The fact that she had a very serious chronic condition, ultimately bringing on three more, did not make her house a place of sadness. The exuberance of her nature and her determination to conquer her disabilities meant she would still walk when she could barely do so and feed her cats when she could hardly bend down. She loved being taken for drives around the Meifod hills, when she would exclaim, ‘who couldn’t believe in God on a lovely day like this?’ as she did on the day before she passed away. She was quietly and devoutly religious. She was also still active in the anti-pylon campaign a couple of years ago. She was irrepressible.

Jane came from Devon, another very beautiful part of the country and was educated at the Sherborne school in Dorset before she met Robert at Oxford where they both studied. Jane was also a talented pianist and singer, performing in a choir in the Albert Hall in London. She was a highly intelligent person with a high IQ but was uninterested in academic work and joined the Foreign Office - in fact the security service, MI6 - as a secretary (a Miss Moneypenny!). She went on to a job as PA to the head of an oil company based in London and then as PA to a famous, but hard-driving industrialist, the then chairman of BOC. She had a wonderful, full young life going to parties, plays, concerts and holidaying all over the world.  She then devoted herself to campaigning and the often difficult and exhausting role of being an MP’s wife, where her natural warmth and approachability made her many friends, both among the constituents and her husband’s political supporters.

But soon afterwards she began to suffer from the symptoms of Schizophrenia - one of the most devastating and life-changing of all mental illnesses. We now know it is not caused by some lurid experience in life, it is simply a malfunction of one of the transmitters in the brain. The illness was diagnosed at one of the most advanced psychiatric hospitals in the world - the Bethlem and its sister hospital, the Maudsley, in London. The illness involved periods of huge fluctuations in her emotions, from over happy to very angry, to crying miserably, plus sometimes paranoia and delusions, but, as was to be the pattern for the rest of her life, after a few months, she recovered to being exactly the same rational, happy, person she was before. The joyous event that most fulfilled her soon afterwards was the birth of her son, Oliver.

Shortly afterwards Jane, Robert and Oliver moved to Montgomeryshire, where Robert hailed from, on his grandmother’s side, and the stresses of life in a big city were lifted from Jane’s shoulders, while Robert continued to commute weekly, then monthly to London. Meifod in history was famous as a place of healing. It is also, as is Montgomeryshire and indeed of Wales, a place of great welcome. Jane was as happy as a lark, although her condition could not be cured and recurred with regularity. The people of Meifod and its surroundings were always understanding and embraced her as one of their own. The family extends its heartfelt thanks to them all.

Even more unexpected was the small army of helpers that emerged from the hills here and the plains of Shropshire. When Jane was first hospitalised in Wales, she entered the then Shelton Hospital in Shrewsbury, then the famous Housman Ward in the grounds and recently the modern Redwoods Centre. The patience, love and care of all the doctors and nurses involved in her care was overwhelming.

Jane’s happiness derived from the happiness of other people and nowhere was this truer than on special occasions like birthdays and Christmases. 

On one occasion, Jane was in hospital at the Redwoods Centre on her son's birthday. It was a Friday, and Oliver had travelled up from London to Shrewsbury, and had said he would try to stop by and see her.

Although it was very late at night and well past visiting hours, the wonderful staff at the Redwoods Centre allowed him to come onto the ward. He had hoped to spend just a few minutes with her and was quite tired from his journey.

When he arrived on the ward, mum appeared from behind a corner with a cake and candles, which somehow herself and her fellow patients on the ward had managed, perhaps illicitly, to procure, a signed card from the nurses and all patients, and some party hats.

In spite of her and her fellow patients’ difficult illnesses, they had evidently spent much time and planning preparing this late-night party on the ward and carried it off with aplomb. It was also the most enjoyable Oliver had ever had, with much cake and laughter had by all.

When Jane returned home, she was not left to her own devices: a pioneering and wonderful outreach and support centre, called Bryntirion, in Welshpool, carefully monitored her condition and supported her for some 20 years under a succession of dedicated, conscientious and hugely competent community psychiatric nurses who became firm friends and should be a model for the rest of the country. We are very touched to see some of them here today.  More recently this was added to by the Crisis Team from Newtown. There were also many dedicated social workers.

In addition, the doctors’ surgery at Llanfyllin was unbelievably sympathetic and professional and again we are delighted to see them represented here. Finally, there were the emergency services. The police were considerate, gentle and utterly professional on the very many times she would call them with her concerns. The Fire Service, on the fewer times they were called, were sympathetic and very cheerful. And finally, the Ambulance Service was beyond praise on every occasion in rushing her to Shrewsbury as her condition deteriorated in recent years.

It did so because of a breathing condition, now known as COPD, but many recognise it as Emphysema, as result of her chain smoking during periods of acute mental illness, despite all the attempts of her family and the nurses to control it. This also weakened her and finally her valiant heart, which had fought and survived four critical hospital admissions in recent years, gave out. But she consciously died at home, not in hospital, as she had always wished, went out like a light, with no pain and was brave, active and happy to the very end.

There are some 600,000 people, one in 100 of the British population who suffer from Schizophrenia. Most are sweet, mild, gentle and intelligent and are only a problem, often a difficult one, for their own families and, as in Jane’s case, can live full, if restricted lives and can enormously enhance those of their families. Too often Schizophrenics are ignored, treated as lepers or regarded as dangerous, although the incidence of violence among them is less than that of the general population.

Jane’s life was cut short before her time but was certainly not in vain either for her family or if it helps to serve to raise the profile of her fellow sufferers and destroy the stigma of Schizophrenia.

Robert and Oliver and all her many dedicated carers were privileged to know her; to love and be loved by her and to care for her, for chronic illness and disability brings out the best in people in the fullest expression of the real love described in St Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, read earlier. The more limited life Jane had to live in the past 10 years simply increased the intensity of love she gave out to the small circle fortunate to receive it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

David Davis writes to MPs.

Dear Colleagues,


On Tuesday the EU (Withdrawal) Bill will return to the Commons to take its final steps through our Parliament. It is worth reflecting on the fundamental purpose of this Bill. The Withdrawal Bill is not about influencing the policy choices we make as we leave the EU. It is, instead, simply about ensuring the entire United Kingdom has a functioning statute book on the day we leave. That is an aim on which I am sure we can all agree. Our constituents – whether they voted leave or remain – will rightly expect the Government to provide continuity, certainty and clarity as we leave the EU. And that is exactly what this Bill will deliver.

We have already had over 250 hours of debate in both Houses and reviewed over 1,000 non-Government amendments, and hundreds of Government amendments.

Throughout, we have listened carefully to those who have sought to test, scrutinise and improve this vital piece of legislation. We have already made a significant number of amendments to address the fair concerns which have been raised. And I firmly believe that the Bill is better for it. So, while the fundamental goal of the Bill has remained unchanged, it now rightly reflects the knowledge and expertise of both Houses in that respect.

As the Bill returns to the Commons, it is worth having at the forefront of our minds the state in which it was sent to the Lords. A clean and correctly focused Bill, aimed solely at ensuring that our laws continue to function seamlessly on the day we leave the EU. The Bill that has been returned to us has, in some aspects, been strengthened. But in others, it has become less focused and, therefore, less clear in the goals which it is trying to achieve.

The amendments from the Lords fall into four broad categories. First, there are those which are constructive and genuinely seek to address concerns about certain aspects of the legislation. Second, there are some which seek to address issues which the Commons has already considered. Third, there are certain amendments, while possibly well intentioned, which may hamper our attempts to provide continuity, certainty and clarity via the Bill. And

fourth, there are some changes which simply risk undermining our approach in our negotiations with the EU altogether.

Let me start with this fourth category. The amendments which seek to force the UK to re-join the European Economic Area (EEA) after we leave would involve continuing the free movement of people with the EU and would mean accepting a huge swathe of EU rules without a say on them. That amounts to less control, not more. We have been clear since day one that such an approach is not the right path for the UK to take after we leave the EU. Pursuing it would fail the fundamental tests we have set for our future relationship with the EU – to return control to the UK over our money, our borders and our laws.

Similarly, amendments which seek to encourage us to stay in a customs union are not compatible with our desire to take the opportunity to build deeper links with old friends and new allies across the globe. Nor are they compatible with the manifesto on which the Government was elected last year. We want to ensure that our new customs arrangements with the EU can allow for trade which is as frictionless as possible, while ensuring we can tap into fast growing markets elsewhere and that there is no hard border around Northern Ireland, either between it and the rest of the United Kingdom or North-South. We recognise however that Parliament will want to be kept updated and as such will give our support to the amendment tabled by Oliver Letwin and supported by colleagues from across the Party including Nicky Morgan and Theresa Villiers.

Of course, in any case, this Bill is not the right vehicle for debating these policy choices. Such discussions can and will be had during the passage of other bills. This Bill is simply about making sure that our statute book continues to function after we leave.

One of the most important issues raised by the Lords is the process by which the outcome of the negotiations will be considered by Parliament. While we agree with the spirit of parts of the Lords amendment – much of it mirrors commitments we have already given – there are other parts which risk fundamentally undermining our negotiations with the EU. It would be impossible for negotiators to demonstrate the flexibility necessary for an effective negotiation if they are stripped of their authority to make decisions. That will do nothing but guarantee a bad deal for our country. In its current form the amendment would set a range of arbitrary deadlines and milestones after which Parliament may give binding directions to the Government - up to and including an attempt to overturn the referendum result.

Fundamentally, the British people voted to leave the EU and the Government is delivering on that. Since the referendum, there has been a general election in which both of the major parties committed to deliver the result of the referendum. It is simply not right that Parliament could overturn this. That is why we have tabled our own version of the amendment, which respects the commitments we have made, ensures Parliament can have its say on the final deal, but that we also that we respect the result of the referendum.

On the second category - most notably on the Charter of Fundamental Rights and General

Principles of EU law -  the House of Lords has amended the Bill on issues that the Commons has already considered in detail. We have been clear throughout this process that the removal of the Charter from UK law will not substantially affect the substantive rights that individuals already benefit from in the UK, as the Charter was never the source of those rights. And on General Principles, we have now tabled a further amendment to protect the rights of challenge accrued before we have left the EU for 3 years after exit.

There are also amendments which seem purely technical but which risk significantly constraining the Government's ability to deliver a functioning statute. For example, the amendment on 'enhanced protection' will mean the Government is prevented from acting quickly to update environmental regulations. Throughout this process we have listened to concerns regarding the delegated powers in this Bill, not least on the scrutiny of their use, and we tabled further amendments in the Lords to this end. But we cannot allow for the fundamental aim of this Bill to be put at risk.

The final category of amendments are those that the Government can agree or at least agree in principle. For example, the Lords have flagged important issues regarding family reunification. While we agree with the spirit of these amendments, they required further clarification. Therefore, the Government has brought forward its own amendments to make the amendments more accurate and to enable the Government to deliver the intended outcome in a far more effective manner.

The process around this Bill has been thorough, and inclusive. I have always said that I will listen to members of all sides of our House to ensure we get it right. As it re-enters the Commons we must work together to consider the various amendments constructively but we must also work together to ensure its fundamental purpose is not undermined. I look forward to working closely with you all over the coming days to ensure the UK has a functioning legal order on the day we deliver what people voted for in the referendum and leave the European Union.