My Lords, when I first joined your Lordships’ House, I was given tutelage in the ways and proceedings of this House. Indeed, I had a watcher who held hands with me, as it were, right through my opening period. One of the first things he said to me was, “When you get a new Bill, look at the commencement clauses, because they tell you how serious the Government are about their intentions”. Hidden in the interstices of the commencement clauses there is often a very good clue about how things happen. Some of the powers in a Bill come into effect immediately the Bill receives Royal Assent. Quite a few do not, and for them usually various elements come forward under regulatory procedures which are sometimes difficult to guess but which are very important to follow through to their logical conclusion. Nine years ago that was seared on my brain as an important thing, and I have never had the opportunity to do anything about it until today. I am therefore delighted to bring forward my first amendment on a commencement clause—and what an amendment it is.
As we speak, Divisions are happening in another place that will bear to some extent on the future of this Bill in its entirety, because consideration is being given to the question of whether there will be no deal. We have anticipated some of the thinking on that by wondering whether it would be sensible to give regard to the question of whether this Bill in its entirety had a commencement at all in relation to whether the other place had actually resolved that measures that would be affected by the legislation contained in this Bill had been given satisfactory agreement by the House of Commons.
There are two parts to this. Either a withdrawal agreement and framework for the future relationship with the EU must have been approved by a resolution of the House of Commons in a move by a Minister under Section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, or the House of Commons must have passed a Motion that it approves of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union without a withdrawal agreement or a framework for a future relationship. These are quite tight and narrow constraints on the ability of this Bill to come into force. They are important because, in a sense, they tie the whole of the debates about our future relationship and trade in the widest context to the question of what exactly the Government intend for the future of the country in relation to the withdrawal Act.
The whole process can take effect only on the formal passing of a Motion or Motions by the House of Commons. This may not be the night on which such a Motion takes place. I understand that the amendments selected for discussion today do not fulfil the criterion set out in the withdrawal Act as being binding on the Government, although they will give us a clear view about where things will go. But we have been saying this for ages. Indeed, my credibility is shredded by the number of projections I have given to my family about what I thought was happening, all of which have turned out to be wrong. I am not proposing to go further tonight than simply saying that activity is happening that may have a bearing the future of this amendment. With that, I recommend to your Lordships’ House that we seriously consider this amendment. If necessary, I would like to test the opinion of the House.