European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill - Report

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:30 am on 7th March 2017.

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Photo of Lord Carlile of Berriew Lord Carlile of Berriew Crossbench 11:30 am, 7th March 2017

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hain. I remind him of one or two aspects of the Welsh devolution referendum. I was the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats from 1992 to 1997 and strongly supported devolution to Wales, as he did. It has worked extremely well. However, I remind him that nobody—certainly no Liberal Democrat I knew in Wales—envisaged that, if we did not like the way devolution was set up, we would have a second referendum. We would have considered that view completely idiotic and unconstitutional.

I have been on this side of the House for only the last two or three months, so my memory of being a Liberal Democrat is reasonably fresh. It is clear in my mind that at the time of the European referendum last year the starting point for Liberal Democrats was as follows: there would be one referendum. It was not suggested for one moment that there would be two, three or even four referenda. I see the logic of what the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, said earlier and think he was rather wrongly put down by the noble Lord, Lord Newby, because he made a perfectly fair point. It was envisaged by Liberal Democrats that there would be one referendum and that it would be in accordance with the law. The law provides that referenda are advisory and subject to parliamentary procedure thereafter. If a referendum result, for good reason, is rejected by Parliament then the result is rejected by Parliament. That is what Liberal Democrats expected—namely, the normal process. We would have heard had it been otherwise.

I want to make two particular points, one tactical and the other constitutional.