European Union (Withdrawal) Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:38 pm on 30th January 2018.

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Photo of Lord Butler of Brockwell Lord Butler of Brockwell Crossbench 1:38 pm, 30th January 2018

My Lords, I apologise to those noble Lords who thought they had reached their lunch break; my name is hidden in the spillover on the second page of today’s speakers list.

I do not disguise the fact that the wording of Clause 1 of the Bill:

“The European Communities Act 1972 is repealed on exit day”,

strikes a dagger to my soul. My career has been long enough that I remember the difficulties with which the UK negotiated membership of the European Economic Community, and I have been conscious of the benefits that our country has derived from the membership of what has now become the European Union. Having said that, I think I understand why the 52% voted as they did.

The rush towards a federal union is a mistake and may lead to disaster. Nevertheless, there is one thing that is worse than being a member of the EU—not being a member of it.

The United Kingdom being motivated by an illusory quest for independence, in a world which becomes more interdependent day by day, is a painful prospect. It becomes more so when the UK appears to be carried along on a tide of narrow nationalism which has brought so much trouble to Europe and the world. However, I shall not vote against the Second Reading of the Bill, nor shall I support any attempt to delay it. Given the decision of the British people in the referendum, and the notice given with the assent of Parliament under Article 50, I agree with those who say that the Bill is necessary so that there is not a void in UK law if and when we leave the EU.

Ever since the referendum I have argued that the British people are entitled to a further say when the terms of the UK’s departure are known. However, I agree with the Leader of the Opposition, and other noble Lords, such as the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, who said that this Bill is not the appropriate vehicle to require a further referendum. I shall, however, support any amendments which may be necessary to ensure that a further referendum will be among the options when Parliament is given a meaningful vote at the conclusion of the negotiations.

There is clearly a substantial job for your Lordships to do on this Bill within our normal constitutional role of scrutiny, improvement and giving the Commons an opportunity to think again. There are areas where the Government have said they will bring forward further amendments, for example on the relationship with the devolved assemblies. The role of the House of Lords in scrutinising delegated legislation, introduced under Henry VIII clauses, needs to be clarified. There are important issues relating to the interpretation of judgments of the European Court of Justice and the place of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. As has been said, we owe a great deal to the House’s Constitution Committee in identifying these areas and suggesting remedies.

I believe that there is a job for this House to do, without straying beyond its proper constitutional role. I share the hope that we will do it firmly but constructively.

Sitting suspended.