Baroness Dianne Hayter speech to the House of Lords
My Lords, this has been a memorable, indeed a historic debate, as befits your Lordships’ House. At 187 contributions, I think it has beaten the record of 182 who spoke in the debate on the House of Lords Bill in 1999. We have had Peers from across the House putting their legal, constitutional, political, public service, scientific and environmental expertise at the disposal of the Government over one of the most important decisions any country can take.
We heard the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, with his description of our debate as “an elegy” for 45 years which might become seen as an “aberration”. The noble Lord, Lord Hill, reminded us to heed what the other 27 countries are thinking. The noble Lord, Lord Blair, warned of threats to security and law enforcement. The contribution of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, was an education as well as a privilege to hear—as it always is, I am corrected. Some 150 others recounted a little bit of history, here in the Chamber in the last couple of days.
Of course, every speaker kept to the “Just a Minute” rule—no deviation, hesitation or repetition. As the person volunteered by my noble friend to reply, I may not be quite so disciplined.
One issue that has been well covered should be unrelated to the Bill—that EU residents should not be used as bargaining chips, for moral reasons but also for the age-old principle that no one should be affected retrospectively by legislation or, indeed, a referendum. A mere 5% of our people think that EU citizens should be asked to leave.
It is no surprise, therefore, that 39—at my count—of your Lordships pressed this point in the debate. The Government’s response tonight will indicate how they will respond over the coming 18 months to future debates and the work of our EU committees. If they do not heed such a clear call, what hope is there for them to be in listening mode as we move forward?
I hope, therefore, both for the interests of EU nationals here and for what it says about the Government’s genuine willingness to engage, that the Minister will give more comfort than we have heard so far. He has seen our amendment on EEA nationals, for which we anticipate majority support.
How much better would it be to resolve this before we get into Article 50 territory, because this really has nothing to do with our negotiations with the other 27 and everything to do with our regard for people already on our shores, including many dedicated front-line public servants in care services and the NHS?
The Leader of the House told Radio 5 Live that the Bill should not be amended and we should not vote on our amendments, as was suggested also by the noble Lords, Lord Blencathra, Lord Lawson and Lord Forsyth —now what do they have in common?—and a few others. What kind of a legislative Chamber would that make us?
We have a duty to perform our constitutional role. Our amendments are not to tie the hands of negotiators but to ensure that the legislation dealing with the outcome of the referendum and the negotiations is correct. We would certainly be happy not to vote on our amendment on EEA nationals if the Government give that pledge. But without it, I see no reason to hold back.
I turn to a key demand, which has been rehearsed by a number of your Lordships, and given a learned and erudite introduction by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, which is the necessity for legislation to implement our actual departure from the EU. At present, the Bill authorises the Prime Minister only to open negotiations. It says nothing about their outcome or the role of Parliament in giving legislative authority to the final deal.
We welcomed the announcement in the Commons that there would be a vote in both Houses before any vote in the European Parliament. But this should be clear in the Bill so that come what may—a full withdrawal treaty, just the withdrawal agreement with a framework for future relations, or even a failure to agree, or an extension to the negotiating period—wherever we are when the talks are over, the outcome should be voted on to give the Government the legislative mandate to conclude the deal. We will seek to amend the Bill to provide that certainty—for the public, for Parliament and for the Government themselves.
The Minister can count, I think. If not, he has a five year-old who can teach him. He will have heard the numbers tonight and will have totted them up. So perhaps a government amendment in line with the advice of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and others would be the best course of action. Our role in this House, however, will not be simply at the end, so we will seek access to the same impact assessments that the Government see and a continual quarterly dialogue with negotiating Ministers, both so that they can benefit from the expertise of this House, but also so that there are no surprises when the final deal is done.
No matter how much I regret the choice of the British people, I respect and accept it. Indeed, I have learned throughout my rather long career that the true worth of any leader, chair or chief executive is not simply to take the right decision but to make the decision taken right. That is why I believe the priority is to ensure that the terms of our exit create a Britain that instils a sense of hope, especially for the young, and protect living standards, consumer and workers’ rights, the environment and our children’s futures, all of which also depend on the peace and security of our country, which in turn rely on our relations with our neighbours and close allies.
I share the view of my noble friend Lady Royall that the EU has helped to stabilise democracy. Indeed, as my noble friend Lord Darling said, most other countries joined the EU to escape their history, as with Estonia, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and Poland, mentioned by my noble friend Lord Monks. As put so elegantly by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, the EU changed the pattern of history, replacing centuries of war by peace. This should remain uppermost in the Prime Minister’s mind as she negotiates our exit.
Getting a good deal will be a tall order for this Government, whose leader never favoured Brexit. As my noble friend Lord McKenzie and the noble Lord, Lord Owen, said, she inherited no contingency plans for our method or pace of leaving, nor for our future relationship with the remaining 27 or with other trading nations.
She leads a divided country, with Scotland and many of our great cities and university towns having voted one way and Wales and much of England another. As she begins the talks with the 27, she has a duty to put all our people’s interests centre stage: the regions and areas which have fared poorly from globalisation; consumers and shoppers; the retired and the young; manufacturing, the service sector, agriculture, pharmaceuticals, tourism and travel; EU nationals, and our own people living elsewhere in the EU. She also has a duty to seek to reunite our divided country—to come together, I think the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said—and to heal the fractures caused by the referendum.
If the Government think they can take the UK out of the EU any old way, they are wrong. We will be watching them, which I think the Prime Minister will appreciate, having indeed come to watch us.
This Bill only starts the negotiations with our partners. Our amendments will be to safeguard the Northern Ireland peace process, to ensure that the devolved Administrations are involved throughout the process and to ensure, as the Government negotiate the divorce and the framework for our future partnership with the EU 27, that the prospect of needing legislative authority at the end of the process will make certain they produce a deal which can win the consent of the elected representatives next door and of your Lordships’ House.
We would welcome a positive willingness from the Government to reach consensus on this. That would be good for Parliament and the right way to start this challenging process.
Baroness Dianne Hayter is Shadow Brexit Minister in the House of Lords. She tweets at @HayteratLords
Published 21st February 2017