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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:30 pm on 9th November 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green 8:30 pm, 9th November 2020

My Lords, earlier today in the debate on the Agriculture Bill, there was a great deal of rightful praise for the impact of your Lordships’ House, particularly on the crucial issue of trade standards. That reflected 90 hours of debate. We are already well into double figures on this Bill, and that is a good job: first, for the coverage of crucial issues, particularly the effective destruction by the Bill in its current form of the devolution settlements canvassed in earlier sessions; and, secondly, because the time taken to get to these amendments has meant that there is a positive global atmosphere for today’s debate, to which the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, has just alluded.

I want to respectfully disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Lympne, who said that nothing had changed since Second Reading—although he was right to say that nothing had changed in the government position. But the global picture has changed. Had this debate been happening even a week ago, the atmosphere and environment in which it was occurring would have been very different—far more fearful. It would have felt more like the Committee was swimming against a fast-flowing current. But now the Government are the side in this debate that looks isolated and exposed. The global tide is running in the opposite direction, and they are high and dry.

The technical issues have been very clearly set out by major legal minds, and I do not intend to draw on the highly useful multiple briefings received from the major legal institutions of the nation—backing the action of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, in particular—to repeat what they have already said. I simply offer the Green group’s support for all the amendments in this group tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and for all the non-government amendments, and I will reflect on the national, and indeed global, reasons for your Lordships’ House to follow the lead of the noble and learned Lord on Part 5.

Today dawned with the dangerous forces of disorder and decay—those who want to sweep aside the rule of law and who demonise the vulnerable and the different, building walls and seeking to install nets to keep them out—very much on the defensive. Donald Trump has lost the US presidential election. The EU has decided to impose sanctions and deny funding to members that defy the rule of law—a move very clearly directed at Hungary’s far-right regime. In Poland, an outpouring of anger led by women against a further tightening of tiny abortion rights has developed into a far broader challenge against regressive forces. In Thailand, young people are standing up against the long-term repression of the combined forces of the military and tradition.

By backing the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, the Committee can today begin to point the UK in the direction that the rest of the world is travelling: towards restoring a democratic culture and the rule of law. That restoration protects the Good Friday agreement, that crucial bedrock of security and communal trust. That the unelected House—a phrase we hear a lot from the last-stand defenders of our isolated Government—should be doing this is, however, a pointer to the future.

The surge of fascism and extremism, and attempts to destroy the rule of law, that we have suffered in recent years, had their origins in the failure of the old order. Constitutions in the UK and US do not reflect the will of the people but have led them to want to take back control. If the Government want to be “world-leading”, as we so often hear, they have a very long way to go to catch up with the positive signs of turnaround in the international order. But obeying international law, dropping Part 5 of the Bill, is a crucial starting point, although we need much bigger changes.