European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill - Second Reading (2nd Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:32 pm on 21st February 2017.

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Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour 8:32 pm, 21st February 2017

My Lords, there is a very strong argument that the constitution belongs to the people and that we and our friends in the other place are practitioners within that constitution. We have one of the biggest decisions to have faced Parliament for many years, and the challenge to get on with our responsibility as practitioners is a heavy one. We in this House have become very good at scrutiny. Our job will be to take scrutiny seriously, to look at the implications and consequences of what is proposed and contribute our findings to the public debate.

Looking at the situation in the other place, I must say that I am one of those who is disappointed, because the strength of British democracy has very much relied on its representative nature, individual responsibility and the role of the individual conscience of Members of Parliament. I find it extraordinary that there has been a sort of herd action in the other place which seems to have said that our conscience—what we know to be right—must be put on one side because we must bow to the will of the people. It is not that we are not bowing to the will of the people; it is enabling the people to understand, as the practitioners we are, the real implications of what is happening. We must take that seriously.

There has been a good deal of talk in this debate about taking the 48% seriously, but there is another statistic that we must never discount. Only 37% of the electorate actually voted for Brexit. That is hardly an indication of the overwhelming popular will; it is an indication that some highly motivated people mobilised their case well and effectively.

Of course the consequences of coming out of the single market will be far reaching across so much of our lives, and it will be unthinkable for Parliament not to establish how the Government propose to deal with the consequences. It is an abandonment of responsibility; this is what Parliament is here to do—to find out what the Government are proposing and how far they will look to the well-being and interests of the people.

On Ireland, we are playing with fire, almost literally. We must know from the Government how they are going to meet the new challenges of potentially a border between Northern Ireland and the European Union in Ireland, and what the consequences politically and in any other dramatic ways might be.

My noble friend Lord Grocott, who is an old friend, said that the people feel we have lost touch. That is because we have allowed ourselves as a political community to become elitist and inclusive, and have failed to communicate with the public as we should by explaining to them why issues matter and why legislation is being introduced in response to what matters.

The issue will not go away. We are in a highly interdependent world. We need ways in which to co-operate with others to meet almost every challenge that faces us, our children and grandchildren. That is true of climate change and the environment. There is no way in which to protect the environment or respond to climate change on our own. It is also true of security and terrorism, as we have heard clearly in this debate. It is true also in the operation of justice and legal co-operation. I serve on the European Justice Sub-Committee and it has been striking to hear distinguished lawyers explain how so much law now crosses borders and how useful practice is being implemented all the time, enabling lawyers to meet their responsibilities to their clients. That is strong in, for example, the sphere of children, when there are broken families and so on, and making sure that children can be properly protected. That is getting better year by year, and we are in danger of throwing that away. How are we going to meet that situation? Interdependence is also there in the case of learning and knowledge, as we have seen with universities. We can have effective universities only if they part of international communities that in every sense of their operation reflect the challenges of the world and the way in which we must work together.

I am sure that when we have done our work in Parliament, which we must take seriously, it would be unthinkable not to have put before the British people again the outcomes of what we have discovered and are finding. We owe it to them. What on earth are we talking about when we refer to democracy and responsibility if we do all this work, and then make a decision in the inclusive club of Parliament that we do not put to the people?