Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:04 pm on 22nd November 2016.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Bridges of Headley Lord Bridges of Headley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union 7:04 pm, 22nd November 2016

My Lords, I am delighted to be likened to a brick wall. When my wife says that talking to me is like talking to a brick wall I shall remind her that it is a compliment.

I thank the members of the Constitution Committee and the European Select Committee not just for securing this debate but for their extremely interesting and useful reports. I also thank all noble Lords who contributed to this very good debate.

From the outset I want to stress the importance that I personally attach not just to the role of Parliament but to the Select Committees in the process before us. I hope to continue to draw on the invaluable expertise and experience that I have heard, and been able to use, in recent months. I intend to continue to have as many meetings as I can with members of those committees. I am grateful to the Constitution Committee for agreeing to extend the deadline for the Government’s response to its report given the legal sensitivities that currently exist. I assure noble Lords that the Government will respond formally to the EU Select Committee’s report in line with the usual timeframe.

However, clearly this debate gives me an opportunity to set out the Government’s thinking on a number of the issues raised this afternoon, and I shall begin by outlining the guiding principles that underpin our approach. The first principle is one of which noble Lords will be well aware—that we must respect the view of the electorate expressed on 23 June to leave the European Union. The Government, as I have said before at this Dispatch Box, are determined to deliver on what the people of the United Kingdom voted for. There must be no attempts to rejoin the EU through the back door and no second referendum. On that point I welcome the comments made previously by the shadow Leader of the House, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, that the Opposition will not seek to block Brexit. I hope that that approach will be followed by all sides of the House and, meanwhile, that the scrutiny of the process of the legislation will be constructive, as I am sure it will be, with this House exercising its usual discipline and restraint.

The second principle is that we respect and value the role of Parliament, and the third principle is to negotiate in the national interest. I bracket those two principles together, as clearly a balance needs to be struck if we are to respect both those principles. We do indeed want to be as open and transparent as we can with Parliament. However, it is also crucial, as a number of your Lordships have said this afternoon and previously, that the Government negotiate from the strongest position possible. Revealing too much information before triggering Article 50 will, as a number of your Lordships know, weaken our hand. Indeed, the EU Committee of this House has noted that point. Getting the balance right is clearly a core aspect of the debate today, as my noble friends Lord Bowell and Lord Lang said, and it is something on which we are very focused—a point I will return to.

The final principle governing our approach is to respect the rule of law and abide by due process. That obviously means respecting the ruling of the Supreme Court as regards Article 50, and respecting the independence of the judiciary. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Davies, I thoroughly concur with what my noble and learned friend, Lord Keen, said a couple of weeks ago at this Dispatch Box:

“My Lords, we have a judiciary of the highest calibre”.

Sadly, however—and I say this as a journalist myself—that cannot always be said of the media and the press. As my noble and learned friend also said:

“Sensationalist and ill-informed attacks can undermine public confidence in the judiciary, but our public can have every confidence in our judiciary, a confidence which I believe must be shared by the Executive”.—[Official Report, 8/11/16; col. 1029.]