United Kingdom Internal Market Bill - Committee (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:30 pm on 9th November 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of The Archbishop of Canterbury The Archbishop of Canterbury Bishop 5:30 pm, 9th November 2020

My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 161, to which I have added my name, alongside the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick. The previous speeches have all been both moving and deeply eloquent, and I shall therefore be very brief.

As the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, so powerfully explained, the purpose of our amendment is simply to put on the record a concern that this Bill in its current form fails to take into account the sensitivities and complexities of Northern Ireland, and could have unintended and serious consequences for peace and reconciliation. The noble and right reverend Lord spent 20 years as Archbishop of Armagh, between 1986 and 2006, and the force of his words was most remarkable. He has experience of everything from the funerals in small churchyards of those caught up in the Troubles through to negotiations behind the scenes for the Belfast agreement. He speaks with the integrity and authority that those 20 years have earned him, and I trust that the House will listen carefully.

One thing must remain certain in a time of turmoil and uncertainty, and it is the inestimable value of peace. The process of peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland did not end with the Belfast agreement, as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, said. It remains an ongoing process that requires work, and awareness from leaders that almost every decision taken and word spoken in relation to Northern Ireland will have an impact. This Bill must show that it is sensitive to these circumstances.

I will conclude by saying something about the amendments in the names of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and others, including my right reverend friend the Bishop of Leeds. I will not add much, as the words of the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Lympne, were absolutely convincing and extremely clear. I also associate myself with his important tribute to Lord Sacks, whom we will miss terribly in this House.

At Second Reading, I stated that the primary purpose of this House was to amend and improve legislation, not to derail it. But I was wrong in saying that. There is an even more primary function, which the noble Lord, Lord Howard, set out very clearly. It is to defend the rule of law and to protect the balances of power and peace in our union. The amendments put forward by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and the wish that this part is excised from the Bill, will therefore have my unqualified support.

I hope that the Government will reflect on the strength of feeling, depth of experience, and wisdom of expertise shown in the debate on these clauses, and will push not for their reinstatement but for their replacement with others that better guarantee that the rule of law, peace, and the balances of power are upheld within our United Kingdom. As the noble Lord, Lord Howard, said, this is not a return to old arguments about Brexit. That debate is long gone and long finished. Like many who were on the other side from him, I now fully accept that the decision has been taken democratically and am entirely supportive of pursuing it. This is about the fundamental values we stand and live by as a nation, now and in the years to come.