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Article 50 (Constitution Committee Report) - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:02 pm on 22nd November 2016.

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Photo of Lord Higgins Lord Higgins Conservative 5:02 pm, 22nd November 2016

Since I am not in favour of any more referendums, that question does not arise. However, I certainly do not think we can go on having a continuous series of referendums in which we decide whether the result of the previous one was right or not. That would not be a very satisfactory situation.

I find the Government’s attitude somewhat puzzling. I do not understand why the Prime Minister seems so determined not to allow Parliament to play a role, to the extent that the matter was submitted to the courts. Surely we want an element of co-operation now, which I hope we will have. None the less, the Prime Minister has seemed very reluctant to have any parliamentary involvement if she can possibly avoid it. It is worth mentioning a specific point regarding the courts. In an earlier report the Select Committee took the view that the decision to implement Article 50 could be reviewed in the course of the two-year period. At the end of the two years, what has been negotiated might well be clearly less favourable than the situation pre-Brexit, and we will want to change our minds. The Select Committee’s previous report said that it was clear that we would be able to change our minds. In considering this matter the court took a common ground between the two sides before it, but it is still rather undecided. I hope that when the Supreme Court considers the matter further, it will be made clear whether we can change our mind during the two-year period.

Finally, on the way the negotiations are to be conducted, the summary of the European Union Committee’s report makes it clear that:

“It is inconceivable that these negotiations should be conducted by the Government without active parliamentary scrutiny”.

The report then looks at the various ways that might take place and suggests a middle course whereby Parliament is involved and there is interchange between the Government and Parliament. The paragraphs I have referred to and the summary effectively set out a shopping list of the information Parliament ought to have during the negotiations. There is a good shopping list on page 3 of the report. I hope the Minister can confirm that that is an appropriate way for us to proceed and that the Government will ensure that, while we will not have a running commentary, Parliament will none the less participate to a considerable extent throughout this process until we are able to reach a final decision. At that stage, Parliament will need to decide whether the deal that has been struck is better than the situation we had before Brexit.