European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 6) Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:48 pm on 5th September 2019.

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Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 4:48 pm, 5th September 2019

It is all the more courteous of the noble Lord to return if he had a speaking engagement in Scotland. I regret that the noble Lords, Lord Dobbs and Lord True, and the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, have not had the respect for the House to be here today, having detained us for so long in those circumstances last night. I hope that the Conservative Whips will make it clear to them that respect for the House in these circumstances would have suggested that attendance was more appropriate in their circumstances, as far as those of us who cut short our sleep and returned on time are concerned.

We are discussing some fundamental constitutional issues in this Bill: the relationship between Parliament and the Government. It is highly relevant to that that the leave campaign promised us that Brexit would restore not just British but parliamentary sovereignty.

Listening to the noble Lord, Lord Howard, reminded me of some of my undergraduate studies in history—the 17th-century conflicts and the emergence of the Tories and the Whigs, the Tories being those who defended the Crown against Parliament, with the Whigs favouring a stronger Parliament. However, the noble Lord referred not to the divine right of kings but to the will of the people. In some ways, this is an equally difficult concept to pin down and define.

These are very wide-ranging issues. The future of the union has been mentioned. My son now lives and works in Edinburgh and I have therefore visited it much more frequently in the last three years. I understand that the future of the union is at stake in this debate for Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Then there are the questions suggested by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds, my noble friend Lord Campbell, the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Dinton, and others. What sort of country do we want to live in? What sort of values do we think we are about? Do we think that we do not share European values, that we share more with the American right and that that is where we would like to be instead? We have also discussed the conventions of what we used to regard as our wonderful unwritten constitution.