European Union (Withdrawal) Bill - Report (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:00 pm on 2nd May 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Labour 4:00 pm, 2nd May 2018

My Lords, in Committee, I and others spoke about the importance of paying attention to the voices and rights of the children and young people of Northern Ireland in our considerations, not least because they had no say in the referendum but will live with the consequences long after the rest of us. Indeed, just on Monday, my noble friend Lady Massey reminded us how important it is to consider children in all aspects of our discussions on Brexit. From a meeting that I and others had with some children and young people from Northern Ireland in March, and reading reports of conferences that they themselves had organised, it is clear that they are really anxious about their future rights as citizens of the island of Ireland and about how their lives will be affected on a daily basis if the border issue is not resolved. As one briefing put it:

“Children in NI, and not just those living close to the border, live their lives ‘across’ what has become an increasingly seamless border”.

We owe it to these children of Northern Ireland to provide the certainty of writing the rights and protections into the legislation.

More generally, I and others have also emphasised on a number of occasions the centrality of human rights protection to the Good Friday agreement and, therefore, the importance of ensuring non-diminution of human rights in Northern Ireland as a result of Brexit and the maintenance of the equivalence of rights between Northern Ireland and the Republic. On a couple of occasions, I have also raised the fact that civil society organisations in Northern Ireland have asked for movement on a Bill of rights, promised in the Good Friday agreement and subsequent agreements, as they believe that Brexit makes it even more important now than before. The Minister, who has always been extremely charming and helpful in his responses, has not responded on this point. If he is not able to respond today, I would be grateful for the promise of a letter from him on that. The Minister has otherwise been consistently positive and reassuring on the questions of the Good Friday agreement and the border, which is of course very welcome.

As the noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes, said in his marvellous opening speech, I do not think there is anything in this amendment that the Government could not agree with. But warm words in this context are not enough. The children, young people and civil society organisations of Northern Ireland are looking for something stronger. That must mean writing such commitments into the Bill itself. That has both practical and symbolic significance. That is why I believe it is crucial that we pass this amendment on behalf of our fellow citizens—children and adults—in Northern Ireland, who are looking to us for firm, legally binding assurances about their future rights.