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European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:53 pm on 13th January 2020.

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Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Chair, Economic Affairs Committee, Chair, Finance Bill Sub-Committee, Chair, Economic Affairs Committee, Chair, Finance Bill Sub-Committee 4:53 pm, 13th January 2020

My Lords, we have just listened to a powerful speech and I congratulate the noble Lord on it. From its timbre, it was a speech drawn from passion, conviction and integrity. Although, even in his own party, people have not always agreed with him, the noble Lord has the courage to say what he thinks. Often his party would have done well to take on board what he thought and said, not only in regard to his work in campaigning against the scourge of anti-Semitism, but also his warning that if his party ignored the wishes of the people on Brexit it would find that the people would take a terrible revenge—and indeed they did. He warned his party that if it went into an election with Jeremy Corbyn as leader there would be a catastrophic result. I have to tell him that I am grateful that his party ignored that advice for it has given the Prime Minister an enormous mandate to carry through what the people of this country voted for. I am delighted to see him in this House, which he described as a curious place, because he is on record as saying that it is a care home for failed politicians. His very presence here shows he was wrong about that.

As I walked across Victoria Gardens last week, the sun was shining, the birds were singing, and when I got to the Peers’ Entrance, there was the sound of silence. There were no mercenaries shouting “Stop Brexit”. It was extraordinary. When I came into the building and looked at the Order Paper, there were no Questions spreading project fear from the Liberals—the questions were on matters that should concern us, such as health, education and other matters—and I began to think that we had crossed the Rubicon. I have to say, however, that, listening to the speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, although the first part was good, and the speech from the noble Lord, Lord Newby, I am not sure that this House has entirely got the message. The other thing, which I commend to noble Lords, that cheered me up on Thursday was the speech by my noble friend Lord Bates. It was a brilliant speech, which set out what a great country this is and how we have a great future ahead of us if we will pull together and work together. I hope that message was taken on board by this House.

I found it extraordinary that the other place dealt with all the amendments on all the subjects that will be covered in the speeches today—and have already been covered—in less time than had been provided under the guillotine. Is that not remarkable? Only one month ago, we were told that there was not enough time to discuss any of this stuff. What was there reason? It is because the House of Commons has got the message from the voters. This place needs to do the same, for I fear it has strayed from its path like lost sheep—a reference that might make some impact on the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds. He said this is about democracy. I have to say that there is no democracy in this Chamber. We are all appointed to this Chamber. Democracy lies in the other place. The voters have given a very strong message, and the other place has voted with huge majorities against all the amendments laid and in favour of the Bill.

The Bill is about delivering the mandate given to the Prime Minister by the British people. I do not believe that there is a single soul in this Chamber who believed that he would have such a dramatically positive result. If this House chooses to challenge that—I totally agree with what my noble friend Lord Cormack said, although he and I have not been as one on Brexit —by all means use the time and try to persuade my very reasonable noble friend the Minister to take on board the arguments, but please do not send an amendment back to the other place. It will make this Chamber look ridiculous and it will play into the hands of those people who wish to destroy it, many of them now putting themselves forward to be leader of the Labour Party.

The truth is that we lost our way. We ripped up our Standing Orders. The Opposition took control of the agenda. We moved more closure Motions in one Session than had ever been moved before, and we did so because this House became a campaigning House instead of a revising House. It is time we returned to our proper role and acted as we should, with respect, on issues of health, education, the economy, social care, gambling and a whole range of things. Then we might earn the respect of the British people again.