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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:42 pm on 30th January 2018.

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Photo of Lord Roberts of Llandudno Lord Roberts of Llandudno Liberal Democrat 8:42 pm, 30th January 2018

My Lords, first, can I say how much we welcome the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon? I am sure that, in Wales, people will have been listening very carefully to what he said. My emphasis will again be on Wales and in a different context.

We need to confirm Brexit or otherwise, and we do that by voting. We voted in the referendum. People will say that we had one vote—that the people voted and made their voices heard—but it is unusual for people to rely on just one referendum. In Wales, we had a referendum on Welsh devolution way back in 1979, when 20% of the people of Wales voted for devolution. Some years later, just over 50% voted for it, but people had changed substantially in those years. People are allowed to change their minds. If they do not, they are like stagnant water that is not fit to drink.

Let us look at other things that have happened in Wales. In 1961, we had the first referendum to open pubs on Sundays. As a Methodist minister I was not in favour and the people were not in favour. Nine local authorities voted to stay dry. Eight local authorities voted to open, so it was just over 50%. The next election on this came seven years later, and another two or three voted to open. We came to the last vote, which was the sixth referendum. This was in 1996 and then the whole of Wales voted to open.

People change their minds, very substantially. People are allowed to change their minds. Of course they are. What is this House but a place where we change what has been decided by the House of Commons? If we do not change our minds then it is hardly worth our sitting here. Of course, today we do not penalise people because they change their minds. In the Middle Ages if someone changed from one faith to another, that was the end of that person. Some areas of the world today have that total opposition to people changing their minds. Let us not be embarrassed at all. Let the people change their minds. Let them think. If we do not want them to think, we are doing something very dangerous. So I say, yes, we need another decision. The people voted in a referendum, 48:52, to come out of the European Union. There is no threshold there, only a majority, but it is said, “People have voted”. Is it not reputable for us as a House to say, yes, we have confidence that, having explained the details, the people will be able to take a rational decision—a rational decision very necessary at this time?

How will coming out of Europe affect us? We are in a world where we have North Korea, a President of the United States whom I do not understand most of the time, and Putin in Russia. These are dangerous people and if we opt out of a stable relationship with a Europe that has the confidence of the members who belong to it, are we not really saying that we as a UK have no confidence; that we are content to be a backwater? We are not a backwater. Over the centuries we have had a distinctive position. Now we come out of Europe, we weaken Europe and we weaken ourselves.

Therefore I suggest briefly: do not be afraid of changing your mind or having a second vote. That first vote was only one vote. Also I want to say, and others have said it this evening too, that young people aged 16 and over should be allowed a vote in any referendum. It is their future. I and most noble Lords have done our best in the past but these youngsters have the future and they have to shape that future. Wales has already decided. Today, in the Assembly in Cardiff they are going to vote to give youngsters the vote at 16. Do not let England be far behind Wales and Scotland.