European Union (Withdrawal) Bill - Second Reading (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:51 pm on 30th January 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke Labour 4:51 pm, 30th January 2018

My Lords, I will not answer that question.

It was very obvious when the Bill was passing through the other House that it was not fit for purpose. That has been dramatically emphasised with the report from the Constitution Committee, ably introduced this morning by my noble friend Lady Taylor of Bolton, and it is the job of this House to take a badly drafted Bill and try to make it into something adequate for the purpose. Yet we are doing it with what is probably the most historic and significant Bill that any of us have ever dealt with.

I suppose it is inevitable that when a Government put a party before country, their life will get very complicated. Prime Minister Cameron did that when he called the referendum; he was putting a tactical issue within the Conservative Party to the nation and assuming it would get us out of a hole. It did not, and we find ourselves now in a very difficult position. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, said in a forensically argued speech that the Bill, in the way that it was written, was “naive and … damaging”. I agree. The noble Lord, Lord Newby, cited “arrogance and incompetence”. There is a pattern emerging here. Almost everything that the Government have touched in relation to Brexit and the detail of Brexit has come catastrophically unstuck.

Parliament fought for, and was granted, access to the sectoral analyses that the Government had denied they had. Like many noble Lords, I spent an afternoon going through those sectoral analyses. It left me with a distinct feeling that we, as parliamentarians, were being taken for fools. They were shallow, unilluminating and frequently ill-thought out. They looked for all the world like a diversionary tactic. I have spent a better afternoon in bed with the flu watching replays of “Babe” and “Babe: Pig in the City”. It was a complete and utter waste of time. But should I have been surprised, when the Government have evaded every opportunity to be open and frank about the choices the country faces?

The noble Lord, Lord Higgins, put it succinctly in a powerful speech this morning by saying that under the guise of not hampering the direction of negotiations, the Government refuse to reveal anything. But by their bashfulness, they reveal what many of us have suspected all along: that they do not know the direction of travel or the destination. That is a very dangerous situation to be in.

The noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, talked about financial services. We were promised an analysis in financial services. This is critical. There are a million jobs in financial services and we cannot get from anybody an indication of how the regulatory framework and the legal framework are going to work. This is not about the fat cats of the City; it is about the people who live in the next street to me and work in Glasgow, and others who work in Edinburgh, Leeds and Bristol. We need to make that information available to business; not to do so is unacceptable and extremely risky.

We hear a lot about free trade agreements and how they will sort out our difficulties with financial services. Free trade agreements deal with goods. Services are not traditionally covered in free trade agreements. On a couple of occasions they were tried and knocked back. It is not going to be easy to get an FTA relating to financial services, and everybody is pretending that it is not going to matter. Meantime, we have the Prudential Regulation Authority saying to all the big institutions, “You have to have your worst-case scenario ready”, and most of them know that it has to be ready by the end of the first quarter, at the end of March.

The noble Lord, Lord Hill, put it well when he said that there was a need for speed, honesty and certainty. That is true right across the board. I say in relation to Ireland that we have not got the speed, the honesty and the certainty about the nature of borders. Where I come from in the west of Scotland, the history of Ireland was regularly played out until a few years ago, when the Good Friday agreement resolved an awful lot of the issues. We have already talked about Gibraltar and the other territories, but it is critical in relation to the devolution settlement that we stop mucking about on this. Noble Lords have spoken with much greater authority than I ever could—despite having been, at one stage, Secretary of State for Scotland—about the detail of the devolution settlement, which could lead us to a constitutional impasse of quite significant proportions. Quite frankly—let us talk base politics—this is a gift to the separatists, and the longer we muck about on this the greater the gift is.

We are in a ludicrous situation where a Prime Minister cannot even make a speech that sets out the direction of travel. The noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, in a very witty speech, talked about how we need to behave ourselves or we will start losing powers here—actually, some of us would say, “Bring it on. We think this place needs to be reformed”. I say to noble Lords in every part of this House: we are one of the most expert Chambers in the world, so let us use that expertise, for the good of our country, to try to make some sense out of this badly flawed piece of legislation. Frankly, if we cannot do that, we always have my noble friend Lord Adonis’s alternative.