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European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:01 pm on 13th January 2020.

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Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Liberal Democrat 7:01 pm, 13th January 2020

My Lords, there seems to be a body of opinion on the Conservative Benches that there is a great pressure group in this House seeking to wreck this Bill and to stop it happening so that the 31 January deadline cannot take place. That is complete rubbish, and it would be far better if Members on the Government Front Bench and Conservatives joined us in scrutinising the Bill properly, which is our function, and stop raising hares which do not exist.

We are already having an extraordinary procedure—six consecutive sitting days on the Bill—which I have never seen before. That is a huge concession made by the usual channels but, if we are not supposed to properly scrutinise and perhaps revise the Bill, why on earth are we going to spend six days discussing it? It is nonsense. There is a general consensus among everyone in this House that the Bill will pass at the end of next week, and we will do everything possible to assist in that happening. That does not mean that we do not have to do our job.

One or two speakers—I will not name them because I am about to attack them—have made the suggestion that the future of this House is in danger if we do our job properly on this Bill. That is bullying, and I do not react to bullying in a way that allows it to happen. There are two ways to deal with bullies: one is to bully them back, which we do not have the option to do here; and the other is to ignore them, which I suggest we do.

A long time ago, the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said that it is the will of the people that we should leave, which has been repeated by various people, but the noble Duke, the Duke of Somerset, pointed out that less than 30% of people had voted for the Conservatives. In practice, in 2017 the Conservatives received 43% and had a minority of 10 seats, and in 2019 they received 1% more, 44%, and a majority of 80 seats. As a Liberal, I could spend a long time ranting about the iniquities of our rotten and corrupt electoral system, but it is probably not relevant now. The fact is that, whether or not some of us like it, the election was a landslide for the Conservatives as far as the House of Commons is concerned and in practical terms that is what matters.

The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, said that our revising responsibilities are important but that we should not undertake them this time. If this House has an important revising function, surely it is in difficult times that we should make sure that we do it properly and not lie down and be bullied.

On 9 January, in the House of Commons, I think during the Third Reading debate, the Minister, James Duddridge, said:

“just as we will be watching the House of Lords carefully next week, they have been watching us carefully during the Bill’s passage. They will have listened to the change in tone and seen the majorities by which votes were won”— quite right—

“and I am sure that they will reflect on that in their deliberations, doing a proper job of scrutiny as part of the whole democratic process”.—[Official Report, Commons, 9/1/20; col. 652.]

That is the Minister in the Commons telling us to do a proper job of scrutiny, and I do not think we should resile from that in any way.

The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said that there is euphoria in the Commons. I am sure there is in a majority of the Commons, but many MPs seem to be in a state of shock, not euphoria. However, out in the country there are still many angry people. It is not the will of the people that Brexit should be done, as the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, said, but the will of half the people. The country is divided, and there are angry people on both sides. Many people who think we should stay in the European Union are shocked—they cannot understand what has happened and why it is happening—and are in a grieving process. To be euphoric, mint silly coins and organise triumphalist fiestas will not get anywhere. However, on the other side, many leavers are still angry because they do not understand why we are still debating it. They do not understand why that is happening and, given that there will be a huge amount of news about it for at least another year and perhaps beyond, it is time that the Government started telling people the truth about what is happening and why Brexit is not yet done.