Amendment to the Motion

Business of the House - Motion on Standing Orders – in the House of Lords at 12:55 pm on 4th April 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean:

Moved by Lord Forsyth of Drumlean

Leave out from “move” to the end and insert “that the Standing Orders of the House relating to public business shall apply to all proceedings on the European Union (Withdrawal) (No.5) Bill.”

Photo of The Countess of Mar The Countess of Mar Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the House if I say that, if any of the amendments in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, the noble Lord, Lord True, the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, or the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, are agreed to, I will not be able to call the amendments in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton of Epsom, and the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, by reason of pre-emption. In addition, if any of the amendments in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, the noble Lord, Lord True, or the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, are agreed to, I will not be able to call the amendment in the name of the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley.

Photo of Lord Empey Lord Empey UUP

My Lords, before we move to the next speech, I make a plea. Those of us who sit at this end of the Room cannot hear what is being explained from the Woolsack. I ask the authorities of the House, if the human race can send people to the moon and do wonderful things, how is it that we cannot get a sound system by which we can hear very important notifications about what we are supposed to be doing?

Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Chair, Economic Affairs Committee, Chair, Finance Bill Sub-Committee

My Lords, nor, it seems, can we actually implement what 17.4 million people have voted for.

My amendment is very simple and requires that we reject the proposal from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, to suspend our Standing Orders, and that we treat this Bill in the same way as we would treat any other Bill. I appreciate the points that have been made about the urgency of the consideration of this matter, but I have already indicated that it would have been perfectly possible for us to consider the Second Reading of this Bill today and have its Committee stage on Monday. That would have given people a chance to absorb the arguments, to treat them properly and to put down amendments. As it is, it will be extremely difficult for people to put down amendments for the Committee and Report stages of what is a vital Bill.

The noble Baroness suggested that this is some kind of partisan exercise by leavers. I have to say that those who are jeering have probably not read the Bill. If they read it, they will find that it makes it much more difficult for the Prime Minister to reach an agreement on her extension, because she has no authority. She has to come back to the House of Commons if something is proposed that is not as she has proposed, and it actually makes the process more difficult for those who wish to avoid no deal and see this carried through speedily and effectively. It passed the House of Commons by one vote without amending that very basic point.

What this House is very good at is reading legislation, putting down amendments and agreeing sensible conclusions. It was impossible for the other place to do this, given the timetable that was set. When the Secretary of State, Stephen Barclay—who I think has done a magnificent job in very difficult circumstances—complains that he has only a few minutes to address these matters, something has gone very awry. I was struck, and indeed moved, by what he had to say at 7 pm last night in the House of Commons:

“We are passing the Bill in haste and do not have adequate time to debate it in the manner that I would like us to—there is only one minute left on the clock. There are problems with the speed of its passage, the constitutional principle of it and the way it will interact with any decision reached by the Council that differs from the earlier decision taken by the House. I hope that the constitutional experts in the other place will address some of the Bill’s flaws. It is because of those defects that the Government will oppose the Bill, and I urge Members to oppose this defective Bill”.—[Official Report, Commons, 3/4/19; col. 1146.]

If ever there were an invitation from a Secretary of State to ask this House to do its constitutional duty, that is it.

In the most appalling circumstances, when time for debate was very limited, the thing was rammed through the House of Commons in nine hours. All my amendment does is say, “Please can we actually do our duty and carry out the proper scrutiny of this Bill, and reject the suggestion by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, that it all has to be done in haste?”

It is not just the Secretary of State who has expressed concern about this: concerns have been raised about the speed, and the precedent that would be created, undermining our ability to govern this country—that is pretty serious. Concern has been expressed by the chairs of the European Scrutiny Committee, the Procedure Committee and the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee. This House cannot ignore that and just say, “We are not going to have proper debate; it is all a filibuster”. This is what we are here for. If we are not capable of doing that, what is the point of us? What is the point of having 100 people on the Liberal Benches if they are not actually carrying out their constitutional duty, which is to be guardians of the constitution, to scrutinise legislation and to hold the Government—in this case Sir Oliver Letwin and his chums—to account?

I almost made the point earlier that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, is sitting in the wrong place today. She should be sitting on the Government Front Bench, because she is acting as if she is the Government. That is an extraordinary thing to happen in this House. It shows complete contempt for our constitution and the ways in which we operate.

There are other issues we need time to consider. The Speaker of the House of Commons, who has made some interesting rulings, has taken the view that this Bill does not require a money resolution. If the Prime Minister asks for an extension to a particular date and the European Union says, “You can have your extension but you will have to pay us another £30 billion”, would that not involve expenditure? Does this Bill not commit the Prime Minister, as a matter of law, to accept that? And yet, apparently it does not require a money resolution. Why not? Because if it did, the other place would not have been able to send it here. There is chicanery going on here, and it is up to this House to scrutinise that.

People are watching. Time and again they have been promised that we will leave on 29 March—I will not go through the whole litany of things. The pantomime which they have seen in the other place has done huge damage to the standing of Parliament, whatever side of this argument you are on. Please let this House carry out its duty in a way that will be respected by the public. That involves us not setting aside our important Standing Orders, which are the guardians of ensuring this matter be dealt with properly. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Fowler Lord Fowler Chair, House of Lords Commission, Lord Speaker 1:00 pm, 4th April 2019

The original Question—I hope the noble Lord, Lord Empey, can hear me—was that this Motion be agreed to, since when an amendment has been moved to leave out from “move” to the end and insert the words as set out on the Order Paper. The Question I now therefore have to put is that this amendment be agreed to.

Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

My noble friend Lord Forsyth’s amendment gives me the opportunity to speak both to the amendments tabled to the Business of the House Motion and to the Motion itself.

I regret that we find ourselves in this position today, and I believe that there are concerns around all corners of this House regarding the precedent that the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 5) Bill has set in the House of Commons. I am extremely disappointed that we are now facing a similar attempt to force that approach on this House. This House gets its legitimacy not from its composition but from the performance of its role. As Leader of the House, I have the responsibility within government to ensure that this House’s role is respected in the way that the Government ask it to consider legislation. In these unusual circumstances, where the Commons has passed legislation which is not supported by the Government, today this is the responsibility of those promoting the Bill.

When the Government seek the expedition of a Bill, we include the Explanatory Notes, including notes on the case for it to be expedited. Unfortunately, there appear to be no such Explanatory Notes today, which does not aid our consideration of the Bill. The amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Robathan notes the irregularity of the position we find ourselves in. The amendments in the names of my noble friends Lord Hamilton of Epsom and Lord Blencathra raise the roles of the Constitution Committee and the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, and I have sympathy for all three of these amendments.

However, to avoid any accusations of hypocrisy from these Benches, I must acknowledge that there are situations where this House has to take decisions on legislation without the guarantee that our Select Committees will be able to produce reports. I know that the Government, and past Governments, have not always covered themselves in glory on those points, as noble Lords have regularly pointed out. Therefore, Ministers will not be taking part in Divisions on the amendments in the names of my noble friends Lord Hamilton or Lord Blencathra. The amendments in the names of my noble friends Lord Forsyth, Lord Ridley and Lord True argue that the Standing Orders should apply to the Bill in the normal way. This is the view of the Government, and we will therefore support these amendments.

On Tuesday evening, the Prime Minister set out the Government’s next steps, including her intention to seek a further extension under Article 50. A European Council meeting is scheduled for Wednesday 10 April, at which this request will be discussed. I am therefore in full agreement with the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady Noakes. The Government see this legislation as unnecessary to achieve such an extension with the European Council.

Because of the speed at which this legislation is being considered, we have genuine concerns that this Bill could tie the hands of government and, in fact, be contrary to its stated objectives, as my noble friend Lord Forsyth rightly pointed out. The Bill creates a process whereby, if the European Council proposes an alternative date on 10 April, we would need to come back to Parliament the following day—Thursday 11 April —to get its agreement to that alternative date. By this point the Council would be over. The leaders of the other member states would have gone home and it would put us in the position of potentially having to try to agree a further extension with the EU through correspondence in the 24 hours leading up to our departure on 12 April. I simply do not believe this is a sensible or desirable process. On that basis, the Government’s position is the same as that stated yesterday by the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. We will be opposing this Bill again today.

Many noble Lords have commented today, and on other occasions, on the lack of scrutiny legislation often receives in the House of Commons. I ask noble Lords to think carefully before they vote in favour of the Motion of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, which would indicate that, although small, this significant piece of legislation should require only two days of parliamentary debate across both Houses. If, after amendments have been disposed of, the noble Baroness presses her original Motion to a vote, the Government will oppose it, as we did in the House of Commons.