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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:52 pm on 30th January 2018.

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Photo of Lord Russell of Liverpool Lord Russell of Liverpool Crossbench 7:52 pm, 30th January 2018

My Lords, to help orient the Minister both socially and geographically, may I explain that I speak as a hereditary oik of the Cross-Bench variety? I wish to make two points very briefly, one on the rather fevered political climate and its effect, good or bad, on this Bill’s passage, and secondly, and perhaps rather more importantly, on the need to protect the rights of children.

First, people largely ignored party politics when they voted in the referendum, as is evidenced by the state of our two largest political parties today, and we should do the same in doing our best to improve this Bill. Undoing 43 years of legal, regulatory and commercial entanglement within the highly compressed post-Article 50 timescale was always going to be difficult, particularly as it was triggered from, effectively, a standing start, as the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, powerfully reminded us. In its passage through another place, frankly—I went and observed some of the proceedings—it was often quite painful. It was overtly political, and sometimes it was needlessly puerile. We can and we must do better in this place, and I appeal to all noble Lords, especially the 30% of our number who in a previous incarnation were in another place, to try hard to leave their perfectly formed or partially formed bad habits behind them. I make one exception: the rather splendid speech of the noble Lord, Lord Patten. With friends like that, the Conservative Party has really no need of any political enemies.

So let us do our job properly as a constitutional Chamber, not as a bickering group of partisan factions. We have seen some very good examples today of noble Lords from all sides of the House demonstrating that this is indeed possible. I thought the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition was extremely balanced in what she said, and I thank her for that. I thought the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds was extremely thoughtful, and reminded us that there is a lot more out in the world that is rather more important than the details of some of the clauses we will be going through. Then there was the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, as well as my noble friends Lord Lisvane and Lord Krebs, who I thought made a very powerful personal statement, our Convenor, my noble and learned friend Lord Hope of Craighead, the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, who skewered the idea of referenda extremely effectively, and the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Dinton. This is what we need more of. We have also heard one or two contributions which frankly, in my view, we need rather less of.

Before I move on to children, I state my interest on the register as the trustee of the charity Coram. As the noble Baronesses, Lady Massey, Lady Hamwee and Lady Lister, and others have mentioned, the Joint Committee on Human Rights report on this Bill has flagged up major concerns about excluding the European Charter of Fundamental Rights from our domestic law, stating that it will create uncertainty and a lack of clarity. The Government assured Members in another place that their ability to support and safeguard children’s rights will not be affected, but I have a question for the Minister. In the light of the concerns from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, are he and the Government committed to working together to ensure that there is no erosion whatever of children’s rights and entitlements after exit day?

I give notice that some of us will table amendments, particularly to Clause 7, and I hope we can work together to get the best results for children, rather than do so in needless opposition.