Amendment 48

Part of European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill - Committee (3rd Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 5:15 pm on 16th January 2020.

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Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Liberal Democrat 5:15 pm, 16th January 2020

My Lords, I find myself having to move the last amendment slightly by accident. I will also speak to the other three amendments in the group. I apologise to the Committee: I had intended to group them with a much earlier group that was debated yesterday morning. Unfortunately, the way in which the Bill has been concertinaed caught me napping and I have ended up having to do this at the last gasp.

Since it is the last gasp, I want to say one thing. I am a little concerned. I have listened to a lot of the debate both in the Chamber and outside it, and I am reading the rest of it. I feel that this has not been a normal Committee in the House of Lords. That is not just because it has been concertinaed into three days; we understand why that is so. It is the first time, I think, that I have not heard or read debate on a single amendment when the Government Front Bench have said, “Yes, there are interesting points to consider here. We’ll take them away and consider them and perhaps have some meetings outside the Chamber before Report.” Again, the concertinaed timetable makes that difficult but that is the way the House of Lords normally works. This is a special and unusual Bill and we are in unusual times, but it is an indication of the way Brexit has divided not only the country—almost down the middle—but this House and every institution in the country. I believe that there is a fundamental lack of trust here.

Perhaps I am being presumptuous, but I will have been here for 20 years come May, so I have a right to be slightly so. I say this to the Government Front Bench: at times, I have seen the House of Lords descend into a certain amount of chaos, but most of the time it does a very good job of scrutinising and revising Bills. We now have a majority Government in the Commons. I have been here when there have been big majority Governments. There have been periods of Labour government during which we in the Liberal Democrats worked closely with the Conservatives, as the two opposition parties, and sent things back to the Commons time and again.

We have also negotiated with the Government; indeed, there were Lords Ministers in a majority Government during the 2000s who took it upon themselves to go back to the Commons and the Government to try to get a deal. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, who was here earlier, was excellent at that. On a number of occasions, he got deals on agriculture Bills and then came back here and satisfied—or at least half-satisfied—the Liberal and Conservative groups. I hope we will move back to that sort of thing once we get over the traumas of Brexit.

I sense a feeling on the Government’s side that everybody who is against Brexit—who voted to remain and tried to stop Brexit—is trying to stop the exit day on 31 January and to put off the final reckoning at the end of the year until some time in the far future. I can speak only for myself—I cannot speak for my group, and my Chief Whip is here so I had better be careful what I say—but I believe that there certainly is consensus in our group. We accept that the UK will leave the EU on 31 January. That decision has been made. That is why we are more than happy to co-operate in getting this Bill through in time.

I believe that, now the decision has been made, to quote whoever it was:

“If it were done when ‘tis done, then ‘twere well

It were done quickly”.

The quicker it can now happen—and everything can be sorted out in the meantime—the better. Then there is certainty and we can all move forward into the future. If some of us want to start long-terms campaigns to go back in, we can do that; but let us have the certainty of the end of this year, if at all possible. Many of us are very doubtful that the Government can do all the necessary negotiating by this summer but, if they can, good luck. They will need the help and assistance of opposition parties in Parliament—including in the Commons, where there is a huge majority—to achieve that. I believe that is what should happen. I do not know if that is the view of my group generally, but it is what I believe.

I have four little amendments, on which I will try to be quick because everybody who is still here wants to go for the trains. Amendment 48 comes back to the relationship with the devolved authorities and other “relevant” authorities, as it says here. We are back to the composition of the independent monitoring authority. Three of the members—or perhaps four, if Gibraltar is included—will have to know about “conditions” in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and perhaps Gibraltar. It is a strange phrase, “knows about conditions in”. That leaves the rest of the UK appointees, who are supposed to know about conditions everywhere.

The appointments of the specific people who will, in a sense, have a duty to represent what is going on in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—and perhaps Gibraltar—are subject to consultation with the relevant authorities in those areas. But if the authorities say they do not like the person put forward, the Government can go ahead anyway and appoint the person; all they have to do is write a few words as to why they have done it. That is a tiny thing, in a sense, but it seems to strike at the heart of the relationship between Whitehall and Westminster and the devolved authorities. I think it is wrong, and this amendment and another say that they have to come to agreement, in effect. It is not difficult to negotiate and come to an agreement in those circumstances.

The other amendments, which are slightly wild, add England to this. The present devolutionary settlement in this country—I am talking particularly about England and Scotland here—is not stable and, I believe, not sustainable for the future. This is just one little example of that. People will be there as UK persons but also representing England. It is not clear whether the people with special knowledge of Scotland and so on will have anything to do with England, but it is an asymmetrical relationship and is falling apart in all sorts of ways. Every time there is a little example of something falling apart, it just stokes up the pressure for Scottish independence.

In my view, Scottish independence as such, just brought about by a referendum, would be pretty disastrous for this island. We must sort out the relationship between Scotland and England. I say “we”, because at the moment it is assumed that the future of Scotland is all to do with people in Scotland. I do not think it is; it is to do with people in Scotland and England, because it is a question of the relationship between us.

Finally, if Scotland and Wales have representatives or people who know about the conditions there, why does not the north of England? These issues of devolution within England are going to come to the fore. I know this is far and away beyond the purview of this Bill and these amendments, but such issues will underline a huge amount that happens in this Parliament and a huge amount of the politics out there during this Parliament. If this constitutional convention can start to get to grips with those things—starting from scratch; not from “Will Scotland be independent or not?” but from “What relationship do we really want in future between Scotland and England?”—then Wales and Northern Ireland can follow along. Having said that—I am totally out of order talking about this under this group of amendments—I beg to move Amendment 48.