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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 2nd May 2018.

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Photo of Lord Campbell of Pittenweem Lord Campbell of Pittenweem Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Defence) 5:00 pm, 2nd May 2018

My Lords, I almost hesitate to take part in this debate because I do not have the specialist knowledge and understanding of many who have spoken about Northern Ireland. But I do know a little about sectarianism because I was born and brought up in the west of Scotland. Although there was never violence, none the less, there was deep division. Some of that may have been alleviated, but from time to time it still expresses itself, not least when two football teams play against each other.

I want to go back to the terms of the amendment, because I hope I may be able to alleviate the anxiety of my noble friend Lord Alderdice. It is important to consider the whole terms of the proposed clause. It begins by saying:

“In exercising any of the powers under this Act”— so it confines its application to this Act and not to any other Act. Subsection (2) says:

“Nothing in section 7, 8, 9 or 17 of this Act authorises regulations”— among which my noble friend picked out with anxiety subsection (2)(b)(iii) relating to,

“a requirement for security checks”.

It is only if a Minister of the Crown, with the authority and powers conferred on them by these sections proposes to act, that these other matters arise. That does not preclude in any circumstances, nor could it, the exercise of other powers for the purpose of security.

The noble Lord, Lord Trimble, knows more about this and was properly rewarded for his enormous contribution to the welfare of the people of Northern Ireland. He talks about the very last two lines of the amendment:

“that did not exist before exit day and are not subject to any agreement between Her Majesty’s Government and the Government of Ireland”.

Many individuals, like the noble Lord, argue fervently that the United Kingdom as a whole left, or proposes to leave, the European Union and therefore the reference to “Her Majesty’s Government” is entirely consistent with the position which says: “Irrespective of the views of the people of Northern Ireland, who after all voted to stay, none the less, it is the Government of the whole of the United Kingdom to which are accorded both the responsibility and the power”.

If this matter were easy, why has there not been a solution? I think I am correct in saying that I do not believe any of those who have spoken have offered a solution. We know that the Cabinet is divided. We know that that Robespierre, Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg, has already issued yet another of his threats. We know that the Government are deeply divided. If this is a simple issue, perhaps the Minister will be able to tell us precisely what the solution to this matter is that the Government now endorse. I think I can argue with some force that they have had plenty of time to get to that conclusion.

As has already been said, I think by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, the Good Friday agreement is a fragile piece of agreement. The noble Lord, Lord Trimble, shakes his head. From time to time there are terrorist outrages in Northern Ireland, and were it not to be fragile in any way one would not have expected the kind of attacks that we have seen on prison officers and members of the police. I believe the agreement combined both symbolism and practicality, and I support the amendment because it does exactly that.

It is said that those of us who talk about risk are overstating the case. I want the House to remember for a moment how many people on both sides of the argument died, and how many people’s lives were materially affected by the Troubles. I have one illustration in mind, which is entirely personal; other noble Lords will have equally valid and compelling illustrations. I remember the three young privates of the Royal Highland Fusiliers who, on the promise of sexual favours, allowed themselves to be persuaded to go to a flat where they were executed by being shot in the back of the neck.

A huge price has been paid for this agreement, and nothing should be done that has the effect of undermining it. That is why I support the amendment.