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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:14 pm on 30th January 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Hooper Baroness Hooper Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 7:14 pm, 30th January 2018

My Lords, this is a historic debate and I wish to claim my moment in history, just as I felt I was doing in 1979 when I was elected to the European Parliament—the first democratically elected international Parliament in the history of the world. Subsequently, as a Minister in your Lordships’ House, I participated in Council of Ministers meetings leading up to the Maastricht treaty, always hoping that the UK was playing a constructive part in building an economically strong, united and peaceful Europe. I concur with the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, about the often forgotten but most important peace dividend that our membership of the European Union has brought. The only good thing that can be said about the present realignment of our relations with our European neighbours is that it is not taking place in the wake of a war, as happened so often in the past.

We have been assured today that this is just a technical Bill and that, as my noble friend the Leader pointed out, there will be no change on the day of exit. In other words, it may be a change de jure but it is not a change de facto—at least, not to start with. That a transitional period is required if we want a smooth transfer is hardly surprising when we consider the way in which we have been working closely with our partners in the European Community, the European Economic Community and now the European Union for almost 50 years. To be in receipt of many and diverse briefings from organisations and individuals affected and concerned about this Bill illustrates the complexity of what we are facing and the way in which Brexit impinges on so many of our institutions, organisations and citizens.

As far as having a second referendum is concerned, I never want to see another referendum, and certainly not a referendum that brings about constitutional change without at least a two-thirds majority requirement. This is probably the only point on which I agree with my noble friend Lord Hamilton of Epsom, who sadly is not in his place to hear that. I shall follow with interest the arguments in favour of a second referendum, because it is important to understand the thinking of those who think it could work.

In scrutinising the Bill, I shall have particular concerns about the environment and the creative industries. The former has been raised today but not, so far, the latter. I am also taking an interest in the role of the devolved legislatures of the United Kingdom. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, put this issue in the right context when he said that this is a constitutional Bill, not merely an enabling Bill, because of the need to take into account the devolved legislatures that did not exist when we joined the European Community in 1973.

I shall concentrate my final remarks on the overseas territories. The noble Lord, Lord Luce, dealt comprehensively with Gibraltar’s special case. In the justified consideration of the border in Ireland, Gibraltar’s border with Spain has slipped out of the spotlight, and there is yet another forgotten border for which we are responsible: the border between Anguilla and France, in the shape of Saint Martin. There are other ways in which these tiny territories are affected. What about British Overseas Territories passport holders post Brexit? Will they still be able to travel freely throughout Europe? There is great concern about that.

At a meeting with parliamentarians from Bermuda today, a question was asked about the exchange of tax information treaties and the common reporting standards treaties which they are obliged to follow within the European Union. What about the European development funding that some of the overseas territories receive? Will that be replaced by direct UK funding? These may seem small matters affecting small groups of people, but they should not be overlooked, and I shall take every opportunity to remind the Government of the need to consult, inform and reassure the overseas territories to keep them in the loop, notwithstanding that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, would probably say that these are matters for the withdrawal implementation Bill—when, of course, I shall raise them again.

This has been an excellent and good-humoured debate so far, and I trust we can continue to avoid a bitter and acrimonious approach during future stages of the Bill. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds struck just the right note on that at the outset, and we are indebted to him. I liked the quotation from Margaret Thatcher’s Bruges speech, referred to earlier by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace:

“Our destiny is in Europe”.

I hope that, whatever happens post Brexit, we shall have a strong and enduring relationship with our European neighbours.