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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:28 pm on 30th January 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Murphy Baroness Murphy Crossbench 9:28 pm, 30th January 2018

My Lords, I wish that I could agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Pidding. She occupies a wonderful nirvana to which we are all heading following this Bill—but I fear that I do not share her view.

I confess that my original thinking on this Bill was to deny it a Second Reading, since voting on the Bill would end up with headlines in the Sun, the Express and the Telegraph saying, “House of Lords votes to support EU withdrawal Bill”, and there would be no more explanation than that—and that is indeed what will happen. However, I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that that may not be a sensible approach. The noble Lords, Lord Norton of Louth and Lord Framlingham, want us poor remainers to shut up and get on with it and not take up the House’s time during the Bill’s passage. However, this is a Second Reading debate. We will have an awful lot of time in Committee to get to grips with the difficulties of the Bill, which need to be addressed whether you are a remainer or a leaver. I am definitely a remainer and I hope very much that the Bill will eventually contain clauses which will give the public an opportunity to have another think at the end of this process. I am not sure whether that will be in the form of a referendum. I am not keen on referendums—I wouldn’t be, would I?—but certainly we need a way of allowing the people of this country to change their minds once they understand what this process really means.

I wish that members of the Government would stop squabbling among themselves over their aim. The referendum gave no clues about what the public think the Bill should contain. Anyway, they are not interested in this kind of a Bill. However, it is about time that the Government had some notion of what we will face in a year’s time. Every minute they spend talking about Brexit, concentrating on it and talking about the divisions between the different factions in the party, they are not addressing the real issues that this country faces such as the failing education system and a hospital system which is failing to work because we have destroyed community care, primary care and social services care. We are failing to provide adequate housing and wages are disgraceful, with working families having to depend on benefits to survive. If those issues had been addressed earlier, we might not have had a referendum and voted to leave the EU.

I am persuaded that a technical Bill of this kind is certainly required, if and when we leave the EU, to avoid the legal hiatus and total uncertainty that would otherwise occur. However, the Bill goes far beyond its obvious original purpose and is drafted in such a way as to deprive Parliament of any sovereignty over much primary legislation. There are some crucial elements such as those contained in the Charter of Fundamental Rights. I am deeply suspicious about why they cannot be transferred. If we want them, why should they not be? I hope that we will take the time to consider what they mean.

I was a bit shocked by the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Ribeiro, on the European working time directive, having worked 48 hours on the trot when I was a junior doctor. The European working time directive has been excellent for our health service. It has changed the culture and the way that consultant doctors treat their juniors. I know that it has been difficult for surgeons in particular, but I do not want it repealed.

The referendum may have established that the majority want to leave the EU, but I still think there must be ways to rethink what we want at the end of the process. I will listen to the proceedings on the Bill with great interest. I will support many of the amendments that seek to make the Bill one we can be proud of, and one which, if we must leave the EU, at least translates into our legislation the good things that the EU has done for us. However, I very much regret that it is necessary to do this.