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European Union (Withdrawal) Bill - Report (1st Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:18 pm on 18th April 2018.

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Photo of Lord Deben Lord Deben Conservative 7:18 pm, 18th April 2018

My Lords, the proposal here is to overcome the problem that arises under this present law, as presented to your Lordships’ House, which is that it does not include those elements of European Union law that are not specifically written down but are in the protocols and the like. I will not press this amendment to a vote, and I am sure my noble friends will be pleased about this. I make it clear now, however, because an amendment will be debated on Monday that I will want to press to a vote. In this circumstance, some of my colleagues may wish to press it, but I merely put the point to the House that the Government promised us something very simple. They said, “We are going to put into British law all that we now have in European law. Then, after that, if we want to make changes, we will be able to make those changes”.

Even those of us who are deeply disturbed by the Government’s decision to continue with the extremely damaging activity of leaving the European Union at least felt that we were then going to start with a situation where we were not automatically losing some of the protections provided by the European Union. What was more, we felt that, were we then to decide to change things, perhaps we would find that there were some advantages to our leaving the European Union. So far, I have not found any, but let us imagine that we were to do so. Then we would, in proper parliamentary order, decide on the changes. I say to my noble friends that the real issue for me here is that—and I say this, too, to those who are leavers—the Government have not carried through what they said they would. They have not put into the withdrawal Bill all those things that protect us and provide for our sensible behaviour in the European Union. They have also made it clear, by a number of parts of it, that they will not offer Parliament the chance in the future to make decisions in a proper parliamentary way. Indeed, they intend to do by subsidiary legislation a whole range of things that, in my view, should not be done.

We have just had a vote that has made it clear that this House believes in parliamentary democracy and this is another attempt to raise these issues. I say to my noble friends—particularly to my noble friend Lord Callanan, who is, of course, a leaver, so he has the disadvantage of believing in this Bill—that the Government have promised something, and I do not believe that they are carrying out that promise. Therefore, we sought in this amendment to encourage the Government to think to themselves that they should really take seriously the proposition that, in future, we would have in our law,

“the rights, powers, liabilities, obligations, restrictions, remedies and procedures which, immediately before exit day, form part of domestic law by virtue of section 2(1) of the European Communities Act 1972”.

These should continue and, after exit day,

“be recognised and available in domestic law (and to be enforced, allowed and followed accordingly)”.

Even if my noble friends do not like this fact, we need this because the public, our businesses, our organisations and our voluntary organisations need it too. They need certainty and I do not see why they should not have it. We have managed to have all this for a very long time. I cannot say we have had all of them for 40 years, because some of these things were brought in in the meantime, but we have had them for a very long time and it has not destroyed our nation. Why can we not continue in this way until we decide, in a parliamentary manner, that we want to change it? That seems a perfectly sensible attitude. Therefore, we have tabled this amendment, which is designed to ensure those protections.

Many people will feel that this is the right amendment to support. I hope that they will also support the amendment on the environment that we have tabled for Monday, with the enormous support of people from across the House, particularly the Liberal Democrats, who have been very helpful in understanding what this is about. We have an amendment that covers much of what we are trying to say here, but I still think this is the Government’s opportunity to explain a simple thing to us: why do the Government not want to ensure that what they said they would do is in fact done? If the Minister says that there is something wrong with the amendment, I understand: we are all amateurs at writing amendments. Of course, it is quite possible that there is some fundamental reason why this is not the way to do it. If that is the case, I would like the Minister to say, “We will take this away and, in the excellent manner that we have in the House of Lords, come back at Third Reading with an amendment that simply does what we promised”.

I have been in politics for a very long time and was a Minister for 16 years. I have always thought that Governments should do what they promise. I have always been as critical of my own party when they did not do it as I was of coalition parties and the Opposition. I do not like promising things and not delivering, so I hope that as a result of this amendment my noble friend will say, “Yes, you have a point here; there are some things we have left out. Can we sit down and talk about what those things are and can we produce an amendment that will meet that requirement?” Can we also guarantee that, if in the future we wish to change those things, we will do so with proper parliamentary procedure and not with something that we all know is a means by which the Executive imposes things on the people?

This Parliament—elected or not elected—is here to protect the people against the overuse of executive powers. That is what we are here for. I am afraid that some of my noble friends are not here, but I am appalled by some people who get up and say that the reason why we are proposing these things is because we do not want to leave the European Union. We know perfectly well that we do not want to leave the European Union, but the reason we are proposing these things is that, if we do leave the European Union, we do not want to lose some of the things that are beneficial to us. I object to people insulting me, saying that I am trying to stop the Bill. I am trying to make the Bill acceptable to the British people. People did not vote to muck up their whole future, to get rid of things merely to enable some rather extreme people to run the country in a way that is unacceptable. They voted to maintain the good things and they did not want to remain a member of the European Union. I am sorry that they decided that, but I do not see why I should not try to make this the best Bill that I can. I object to being insulted by saying that I am trying to do something else. I am trying to make this a good Bill. Therefore, I say to my noble friends: “Will you help me make this a good Bill? If this is the wrong amendment, then will you please promise to produce the right amendment?” I am very happy—and I am sure my noble friends will join me—to help the Government to produce the amendment that would do what we want to do here, if this is not the right way to do it. I beg to move.