Business of the House - Motion on Standing Orders – in the House of Lords at 1:36 pm on 4th April 2019.
Moved by Lord True
Leave out from “move” to the end and insert “notwithstanding the non-binding resolution of the House of
My Lords, it is probably worth placing on the record what has happened so far today, because it is germane to the argument I wish to put to your Lordships. It is the same argument that I put to my Front Bench last week: your Lordships would make a grave error if they adopted the habit of not adhering to their Standing Orders. Last week I was rather disobliging to my Front Bench, and I apologise if I was a little sharp to my noble friend the Leader of the House. I submitted to the House—and found some support across the House, although notably it was whipped against by the Front Bench opposite—that it would be wise for your Lordships to wait for a report from the appropriate committee before taking a grave and important decision. The Government declined to do so. What transpired afterwards was that no doubt the Government took advice from wiser people than me, and wiser people outside the House. The Government actually adjourned the House the next day to do precisely what I had asked them to do the previous day and waited to hear the report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. I condemn the Government’s attempt to set aside Standing Orders, but I congratulate them on listening.
Today we have a similar but even graver attempt to set aside our Standing Orders, which comes not from the Front Bench of the Government but from Her Majesty’s Official Opposition. Let us be under no illusion here: that side is whipped and is acting not at the behest of the slightly risible figure of Sir Oliver Letwin. It is the Labour Party that provides all the votes for Sir Oliver Letwin—the bulk of the votes—that is moving this procedure today and that is seeking to abuse the procedures of the House, with the support of the Liberal Democrats. I believe that when the Official Opposition seek to usurp the role of the Government and to set aside the proper procedures in this place, they should submit themselves to the same scrutiny as the Government are required to do, which we glory in every day. Why do we come here every day?
What did the noble Lord say? Would the noble Lord like to stand up and repeat what he said?
I said I am beginning to wonder why the noble Lord comes here every day.
The noble Lord is a great wag, is he not? I have often thought the same about him, but I find him too engaging to have said such a thing.
I return to my argument. One thing I regret about the amendment I have tabled—but it was necessary because of the nature of the Bill before us—is that it mentions the House applying,
“unprecedented procedures to this Bill”.
I believe my amendment would be better if it said “any non-emergency Bill”. I think your Lordships are teetering slightly on the edge of a different dangerous place from that which was put to us earlier in the debate. In this part of our proceedings, the argument is ultimately about procedure. That may be arcane, but later in my remarks I will develop why I think that that is extremely important.
Our first discussion today was when my noble friend asked us to go into Committee. I would like to have spoken on that and I will now develop the points that I would have made then because they are absolutely germane to the point. My noble friend was responding to a situation where the Official Opposition, at the behest of the Labour Party, has come to the House and for the first time is asking your Lordships to accept this unusual procedure: the combination of the Bill before us and what happened in the Commons yesterday. That deserves to be examined. Why did my noble friend suggest that we should go into Committee? The reason was shown to us. When the former Leader of the House, my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, tried to intervene on the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, based on all of his experience—my noble friend Lord Strathclyde enjoys great respect on both sides of the House because he is a great servant to this place—he wanted to ask for an explanation from the noble Baroness, acting for the Official Opposition, about usurping the role of the Government and demanding that this House pass legislation which is not approved by the Government in one day, she declined to take his intervention.
That showed me why my noble friend was right to ask that we should go into Committee. Why should not the Official Opposition or anyone else who might want to use this procedure in the future not be required to make the same response to the House on the whys and wherefores as a Minister of the Crown who comes before noble Lords has to do? What is it about the Official Opposition with this bogus cry—
I am very interested in what my noble friend is saying. For clarification, do the people who are backing this not understand that this will be used against them if it is allowed to continue?
Well, my Lords, it is for each noble Lord to draw whatever conclusion he or she wishes. I simply draw attention to the fact that this is a device that is being used by the Official Opposition, with the approval of the leader of the Labour Party, against the House of Lords.
My Lords, to support my noble friend Lord Robathan, the point he has not made clearly is that members of the Opposition wish to be sitting on this side of the House, and one day they will. They will then find the dragon’s teeth they sowed cutting away at their feet.
I am sure that my noble friend is right but really I am not so interested in the politics of the matter. Of course that is the case, but it is the case of life and of democracy. The cry of democracy is that the people choose and the Government change. That is the glory of freedom. What is going on in the House of Commons, with your Lordships being suborned to assist in it, is that those who the people of this country did not choose are trying to use the procedures of both Houses to deny the people of this country what they actually did choose, which was to leave the European Union.
One of the reasons why the Opposition are is using the strange technique that my noble friend has exposed is in search of the word “compromise”. Surely that is something that we are going to have to look at later in the proceedings. That is because in a binary situation, you cannot have a compromise: you are either in the European Union or you are out of it. You particularly cannot reach a compromise with someone who is an extreme socialist and is using that as his red line.
Again, my noble friend makes a strong point that takes us to the substance of the Bill, which we will discuss later. After many years in the usual channels trying to do the best for this House, and 13 years of opposition when we never attempted a procedure of this kind, I am trying to say to noble Lords, particularly our reasonable colleagues on the Cross Benches, that we should be cautious about waving this through so easily.
Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, had a bad day in court because he jumped up and tried to cut off argument. Are lawyers not supposed to listen? I apologise because the noble Lord is not in his place, but he did not allow anyone else to make the case for going into Committee. I turn to the last Motion we had. Let me remind noble Lords of what was before the House.
Noble Lords may know but they need to be reminded and the world outside needs to understand. The last proposition was that in relation to this Bill, shoved through the House of Commons late at night, which a former Leader of the House has just risen to tell us has flaws which need to be examined and addressed in Committee, we should be prepared not to set aside the Standing Orders but to look at its different stages on different days. Perhaps we could take the Second Reading today and take the remaining stages on another day. Is that such an unexceptionable proposition? Is that not what your Lordships are here for? I repeat the question I put earlier: why do your Lordships come here, if not to scrutinise? What is the purpose of the House if not to scrutinise properly?
I thank my noble friend for giving way. I just make the point that this House has been asked by the other place to consider a Bill that it would like to pass. We are debating issues here that could have been debated on so many other occasions. We have been passing statutory instruments for no deal without impact assessments and without proper consultation. We have overridden, when it has been convenient for those who perhaps want to leave with no deal, but this is about stopping us crashing out with no deal and giving the Prime Minister the support she may need to stand firm and go back to the European Union to ask for a longer extension so that we do not crash out with no deal.
My noble friend is entirely wrong. That is not the point before the House in this Motion. Indeed, the procedure I have suggested would still allow the Bill to be passed. However, since when has it been the function of this House to say “Yes, sir” to any piece of legislation suddenly rushed down the Corridor? That is the proposition being put to us by my noble friend Lady Altmann: “The House of Commons has asked us to pass this, so we must be pass it. Get on with it”. Every time someone comes to this House bearing papers with a green ribbon on them, they are asking us to agree. Of course they want us to agree and they would probably prefer us to do so quickly, but we do not have to. That is called freedom and it is called scrutiny. It is also called consideration, but none of that is allowed for in the procedures that have been put before us today. The Bill comes with no Explanatory Notes and not even a name on it, as the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, admitted, yet we are being asked to pass it in a hurry or we are behaving badly. The day when the House of Lords is behaving badly because it is giving proper due consideration to a proposed Act of Parliament in the time that is sufficient and necessary for it to do so, as the noble Baroness asks in her amendment, is the beginning of the end for the House of Lords. That will be when the House of Lords says, “Yes, sir, we all want to go home”. I am sorry, but need to be mindful of the importance of proper procedures.
I do not care for tweeting but I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, is a great tweeter. I was sleepless last night, thinking about what I might say today, so I had a look at what she had been tweeting. Your Lordships will be interested to know that on
It ought to be
While I am talking about the noble Baroness, I feel I must say how discourteous it was to the House to table this Motion so late. We heard from the putative Prime Minister, Sir Oliver Letwin, yesterday morning that he had been discussing matters with his friends down the Corridor—who are here in person—so why could she not have tabled this Motion before that? She tabled it before the Bill had arrived from the House of Commons and knew what was there. She could have given better notice to the House but failed to do so. She tried to bounce the House at the very last minute and then came up with this trumpery that something has to be passed quickly when the Prime Minister has already said that she will do what the Bill asks her to do.
What nonsense is this? Why are noble Lords going along with this nonsense and being prepared to set aside their Standing Orders?
I have taken one intervention from the noble Lord and that was enough. All right, I will be different from his Front Bench.
Talking about Standing Orders, the noble Lord, Lord True, will recall from when he was bag carrier for the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that the Companion to the Standing Orders recommends that speeches should not exceed 15 minutes. He has now been speaking for 17 minutes. Would it not be appropriate for him to draw his remarks to a close?
My Lords, I am introducing an amendment to a Motion, which is a different matter. I ask the noble Lord and others to consider that this is a matter of extreme importance to the House. In this little book—I do not know if the noble Lord has ever read it or knows what it is—are the Standing Orders of your Lordships House, which have been established over centuries to protect our procedures and to help secure the liberties of the British people. They should not be lightly set aside. We set them aside frequently when there is an emergency, but on no basis of credible argument can what is going on today be considered an emergency. It is a charade—“chicanery” was the word used earlier—to enlist this great House in the political activities of the Labour Party, with which certain useful people in other parties, such as the Liberal Democrats, may go along.
The Liberal Democrat Leader should have been heard. Why did the noble Lord, Lord Warner, tell the House to choke off debate when the leading member of the Liberal Democrats wanted to follow the important remarks of the Leader of the House? It was wrong. That procedure of closure is also in our Standing Orders but it is not without reason that there is a note saying that it should not be lightly entered into. The noble Lord, Lord Warner, entered into it rather lightly.
What we have here is a pre-cooked plot—the gaff was blown by Sir Oliver Letwin in the other place yesterday—but it is the tip of the iceberg. One of my colleagues said earlier that if your Lordships consent to this kind of procedure being standard, what will happen when another Government are formed and a different person on the Front Bench says, “We set aside these Standing Orders. Your Lordships may consider this to be a scrutinising House but, no, it all has to be done in a day”? That is where we are heading.
That is not my surmise or what I am suggesting; it is what we see from the Official Opposition. As to the person who may be sitting here in a few months’ time if there were an election, what demur or doubt would she have in bringing forward such a Motion to frustrate your Lordships’ ability to consider and scrutinise legislation? Once you begin with a little sin and a little lie, big ones readily follow. We should be extremely cautious in assenting to this setting aside of Standing Orders.
Has my noble friend noticed the internal inconsistency of the Motion of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter? It begins by referring back to the resolution of the House on
My noble friend is right. He has anticipated the fast-approaching conclusion of what I will say.
It cannot be right not to allow sufficient time to consider a Bill which, as we have heard from my Front Bench, is still flawed; on which committees that have reported raised doubts; and which was being amended on the hoof by its own proponents in the House of Commons last night. There is no argument in logic because the Prime Minister has said that she will ask for a delay. There is no argument in procedure to say that we have to pass the Bill today. It is a political position taken up by the Official Opposition—I repeat, the Official Opposition—and we should not support it.
Everything I have sought to do in politics—and, by the way, I was proud to be the bag carrier, as the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, so kindly put it, to my noble friend Lord Strathclyde—both in administration and local government, and the privilege I have in being a Member of your Lordships’ House, is to speak for freedom. One of things that defines the freedom of this House is its free procedures: the right of us all to put down an amendment and to have it heard, not closed; and the right of us all to put down a Motion and have it closed, not waved away. These things may seem small and arcane to those on the outside but, to me, they are a small part of freedom—and I have always wished to live and conclude my life in that. I beg to move.
Could my noble friend reflect on the fact that it would be a great disappointment if, after he sat down, someone were to move that the following person who wants to speak should not be heard? That would amount to a bigger abuse of procedure altogether. Curtailment of debate in this House is a serious matter. There should not be curtailment and I find it extraordinary that the Liberal Democrats and the Cross Benches go along with it. I remind them what JS Mill wrote in On Liberty. He warned democracy about the tyranny of the majority. He thought that that was the greatest threat to democracy. There is a clear majority on the Benches opposite that this Bill should pass. There is a minority on this side of the House. To silence the minority is very much against the principles of JS Mill, the founder of the Liberal Party. He would not have approved at all. I beg Members not to move the closure Motion too quickly because it is abuse of a basic democratic principle. This is an abuse of majority power. This House should not be sanctioning it.
On the point that the noble Lord made, two Cross-Benchers have moved closure Motions, but he should not assume that the other Cross-Benchers agree with them. We do not operate like that.
Some of them may have done, but the noble Lord should not assume that the group as such supported them.
I would like to move to a conclusion, although I of course respect and acknowledge the noble and learned Lord’s intervention. Indeed, I suspect that the House, because it is pre-cooked, will not want to listen to what I am saying today, but I say to the House that this is the tip of a very deep and dark iceberg if we go on this way. Part of the protection of freedom in this House has been the existence of the Cross Benches. The Cross Benches are sometimes, often and always used to be prepared to listen and be the balance in the argument. Who will be a guardian, that balancing element in this House that guards against the tyranny of either of the great parties, if they survive this crisis, which wish to tip aside our procedures, supress what we normally do and allow proper scrutiny? Who will be the protectors of that if not the Cross Benches?
Following the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, I say that it is perfectly true that the Cross Benches do not take a collective view. It is also true that the two previous closure Motions were moved by Cross-Benchers and quite a large number of them voted for them.
On these things, people have to stand up and be counted. I reflect that having made my speech last week against a strong Whip from my party saying that we should obey Standing Orders, I did not regret it and I asked myself whether I should intervene in this debate—I have intervened only on the Standing Order and the procedural point—and do it again. I felt that I must because not only is the pace so extraordinary but it is so odd that 227 Members of the House of Lords— your Lordships’ House, the revising Chamber—voted to close off, after a few minutes, discussion of whether your Lordships should allow yourselves more than one day to discuss a Bill of such importance and such significance. I think that was a sad reflection on our love of our procedures which I confess are part of our freedom. Our freedoms were won by Parliament. They are held by Parliament and we in this place have a part in that, irrespective of where we stand on the debates on Europe. One thing I agree with my noble friend Lady Evans on is that we have heard a lot, but surely on this business of how we conduct ourselves we can rise above the debates that we are having later and consider whether this House wishes to embark down this road. I submit that when I suggested to my noble friend on the Front Bench last week that the Government should listen and adhere to Standing Orders, they did listen. They adjourned the House and we had the debate the next day. I now submit to the noble Baroness that she should show the same grace and that she should accept the proposition that we hear one stage today and have time to reflect on the later stages of the Bill on another day. That is not an unreasonable provision. I put that submission in conclusion to the noble Baroness.
I would have stopped 30 seconds later if the noble Lord had not risen. He calls it an abuse of Parliament. I call it the right of any Member of Parliament to put the case for proper procedures, freedom and accountability, and accountability lies there just as it must lie here.
My Lords, I shall begin by responding to the noble Lord, Lord Baker, who very helpfully quoted Mill at me. I absolutely agree that democracy requires the exercise of free speech. It also requires the following of rules and the exercise of its powers with responsibility. We have just heard a 30-minute speech. It may have been an excellent speech, and I am sure that if I now speak for 30 minutes it will be an excellent speech as well, but if I speak for 30 minutes, and all my colleagues speak for 30 minutes, we will never get to the substance of today’s debate. Therefore, your Lordships will be pleased to know that I do not intend to speak for 30 minutes—25 should be enough.
The burden of all these amendments is that the House is being expected to follow unprecedented procedures. Is this surprising? We are in extraordinary, unprecedented times. We are in a national crisis the like of which has not occurred in my lifetime. It is a national crisis which consists in no small part of the fact that there has been a collapse of government. The Prime Minister, after seven hours in Cabinet, addressed the nation to say that she would like the leader of the Opposition to tell her what to do and that, if she did not like that, she would go to the House of Commons and ask it to tell her what to do within hours of having to put something to the European Council next week in order to prevent no-deal Brexit. This collapse of government is unprecedented, and it would be slightly surprising if Parliament did not respond to it by taking unprecedented measures to fill the vacuum where normally one finds government. The third unprecedented point, which is unprecedented in human history, is that unless we prevent a no-deal Brexit at the end of next week, this country will be the first democracy ever to have agreed to make itself poorer, less secure and less influential. Therefore, it is unprecedented and needs dealing with in unprecedented ways.
The key element which means that it is necessary to deal with this Bill today is just how little time there is. We are talking about a very few days before the Prime Minister has to write to the European Council, hopefully with some view about why we should have a further extension. As of this minute, the only thing that can be written in that letter about why we are doing it is because we cannot think of what we want. I hope that by close of business on Monday we will be a bit further forward on that, but, if this House blocks this Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Owen, whom I do not always agree with, said earlier, how would that be perceived? How would it be perceived if we were to agree with the noble Lord, Lord True, that we could not possibly deal with this until a Select Committee had dealt with it? At a time of national crisis, I think that the world would think that your Lordships had lost a sense of proportion.
The other argument that has been made against the Bill, including by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, is that it is unnecessary because of a commitment made by the Prime Minister. However, it is a sign of the confidence that the Commons has in the Prime Minister that it does not think that that is enough. It thinks—and I agree—that, unless we have something like this Bill, there is absolutely no assurance that the Prime Minister will come forward with the necessary guarantee.
Finally, I have two points to make about the amount of time that we have to debate the Bill. First, we will have longer to debate the Bill, the less time we waste on these procedural Motions. Secondly, I look forward to the debates that we shall have later. I look forward to the Second Reading and to debating amendments in Committee and on Report. I have brought my toothbrush. It will not be the first time that I have spent all night in your Lordships’ House, and many of my colleagues have done the same. We are here at the service—says he very pompously—of the country to debate this issue for as long as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, and his colleagues want to debate it. No doubt we will hear the same arguments time and time again but, if that is what the noble Lord wants, I shall, as always, look forward to hearing them and will be in my place to listen to them, however long it takes.
My Lords, the noble Lord the leader of the Liberal Democrats will be glad to know that I shall be brief. I will address myself to the main point embedded in what he said. To begin with, this is a most appalling day. I have served in Parliament for 45 years and there has never been an instance of constitutional vandalism of the scale that we are witnessing today and at the present time more generally.
I am on the record as having long been concerned that in this country we do not have a written constitution. The reason that we do not have a written constitution is not because there is anything bad about written constitutions interpreted by the appropriate courts and safeguarded by the courts; it is our history. If one looks across the world, one sees that written constitutions come into being only when there is a historical discontinuity. For example, when a colony of the United Kingdom is given self-government, it equips itself with a written constitution—although ironically, or worse than ironically, it seems that the majority of the Members of this House do not believe that we are capable of self-government. A written constitution also comes into being following a bloody revolution and frequently after defeat in wartime. We have been blessed uniquely in this country in not suffering these historical discontinuities, and that is why, uniquely, we do not have a written constitution and have to rely on respect for the procedures of Parliament. However, we pay a price for not having a written constitution. We pay a price for having had a reasonably trouble-free history, unlike the rest of the world, and that price has become evident today and in recent days.
The main point made by the noble Lord the leader of the Liberal Democrats is that the issues surrounding Brexit are so important that it is necessary and right to tear up the constitution. However, the reverse is the case: the more important the issue, the more important it is that the constitution and the conventions are respected. As there is a really important substantive issue of a constitutional nature lying behind this, the more important it is that we respect the constitution and do not engage in this vandalism. I respect the fact that views differ on the length of this debate but I think that everybody agrees that this is a very important issue, including the noble Lord, who said so himself.
Can my noble friend address this point? The problem that the Bill is trying to address is a disagreement between the Government and Parliament and between Parliament and the country. The idea that you resolve such a thing by ramming something through an unelected House in one day is surely a constitutional monstrosity of an even greater kind.
My noble friend makes a very strong point. I am deeply concerned at the growing rift between Parliament and the people, with the refusal to accept the people’s judgment, whether you agree with it or not. A very clear judgment was made in the referendum. There is a real danger that undesirable but very often understandable insurrectionary forces will feel that they cannot trust the British Parliament or the British constitution, and a very ugly situation could well arise. Therefore, my noble friend is absolutely right.
My Lords, I had not planned to speak, but I am literally moved to tell your Lordships what my feelings are. I have spent 55 years teaching and studying law, including constitutional law. If you want to know how effective I am, I have had in my lectures the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, the former Prime Minister Tony Blair and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. The point about studying law—and probably many people in this House practise or have practised as lawyers—is that you internalise respect for the rule of law.
The noble Lord, Lord Lawson, explained about us not having a written constitution. Our constitution works only because of trust. Why do we accept the authority of the Lord Speaker, whoever he or she may be? Why do we accept the rulings of the clerks, disguised as they are in their wigs? It is because we trust them and because this has gone on for centuries. It is not a question of personalities; it is a question of the role that people fill. Each Session we take an oath, standing by the Dispatch Box, to be loyal to the Queen and, implicitly, to uphold the law. Why do judges not interfere with the proceedings of Parliament? There is no question of anyone challenging this law if it goes through today because the judges accept that Parliament deserves their trust. We trust the judges and they trust Parliament, and if that breaks down, the whole system breaks down. Not only is the constitution being damaged and trashed today but we have been subjected to gagging orders. I am speaking now because I think that, if I wait another five minutes, there will be another Motion to stop us talking.
I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way. Can she categorise in terms of respect for constitutional convention and order a Government who are defeated in the House of Commons by 230 votes and just carry on, then have another vote on the same thing and are defeated by 180 votes and then carry on? Is that not a little odd in terms of practice?
It is unusual but it is not unconstitutional, because it lies in the power of the House of Commons to put an end to that situation, if it wishes to, by getting rid of the Prime Minister or passing the withdrawal agreement. We are suffering from a lack of trust that is about to come upon us, as I said. The constitutional damage may be irreversible.
I will add that there has been a lot of loose talk about sovereignty and Parliament taking control. We do not have our sovereignty; we gave it up in part when we joined the EU, and we will not recover it until we leave. At the moment we are like prisoners rattling the cage while outside the warders have the keys. We can debate all we like here, but we can see from this Bill that the EU 27 will tell us what to do. What is the point of delay, and of advising this and that, when they have said that they will not alter the withdrawal agreement, and the power lies with them?
I am sorry to say that I blame this breakdown in respect of the constitution in part on the EU. The effect of the EU has been to preside over judicial corruption across Europe; to preside over financial mismanagement and a lack of accountability in Brussels; to allow creeping right-wing extremism across Europe; to allow the appointment of Juncker when we did not want it; and to accept the appointment of Selmayr, apparently breaking all the rules that there are. This disregard for the constitution and for the rules that the EU itself lays down, which are flagrantly disobeyed by Poland, Hungary and others, is now lapping around our ankles.
Unless we uphold the constitution by following every little bit of our rules today—albeit that this might require people to be brief in their remarks, as I will be—the damage will be incredible. People out there who respect us, who respect the law, who do not need to be whipped into submission or coerced and who obey the police and the rule of law will wonder why they too have internalised the legal system if we cannot do so. We have to believe in our own legal system and our own procedure.
My Lords, I have considerable sympathy with the amendments, but the reason why I will not be supporting any of them is precisely that we are in a position where the Government have failed to deal with the Brexit referendum. The constitutional problem started there, and to suggest that we should not deal with procedures today is misguided. We have to deal with the crisis that is developing in this country. We need to get this legislation through and work with the House of Commons in order to try to resolve the constitutional mess that was caused by the referendum in the first place.
My Lords, I will say a few words following on from the speeches of my noble friend Lord Lawson and the noble Baroness, Lady Deech. Both of them referred to the fact that we have—and we have always regarded it as one of our glories—an unwritten constitution. That has its risks. In a set of circumstances where a country has an unwritten constitution, the safeguards of our liberties lie with our conventions, precedents and procedures. An unwritten constitution works only if the institutions of government respect those conventions, procedures and precedents. Under an unwritten constitution, the House of Commons has very great power—but the House of Commons should exercise that power with constraint, circumspection and respect for those conventions, procedures and precedents.
The noble Lord, Lord Newby, the Leader in this House of the Liberal Democrats, says that a breach of those conventions, practices and procedures is justified because we are in a state of national crisis. He will know that that is the pretence that tyrants have used down the ages for abrogating the safeguards that have existed in those countries to safeguard the liberties of their citizens.
That brings me to the role and responsibility in these circumstances of your Lordships’ House. Surely if your Lordships’ House has any role and responsibility, it is to put a brake on the breach of those conventions, precedents and procedures that has undoubtedly taken place in the House of Commons. Be under no illusion: what has happened in the House of Commons will set a precedent that may be followed in circumstances that would have a much more dire effect on our liberties than the issues that we are debating and discussing today. If that precedent is to be tempered, the only body that can do it is your Lordships’ House. That is why your Lordships’ House should today put a brake on the breach of those conventions, precedents and procedures and vote for my noble friend’s amendment.
My Lords, I have form in speaking on emergency procedures whereby our legislation is put through in one day. It is frequently the case that legislation pertaining to Northern Ireland is shoved through Parliament in a day. The Government Front Bench will know that I objected strongly—I raised the matter in this House—to several Bills coming into the House to be dealt with in one day when it was perfectly clear that they could have been dealt with in a different way. However, the one big difference was that both the Government and the Opposition supported those pieces of legislation.
If I were the promoter of the Bill today, I would have to say to myself: “We are now at 2.26 pm, our proceedings started after Questions at around 11.30 am, we are still on procedure and we are going to be on procedure for quite some time”. I would take the option that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, put forward: get on to Second Reading and finish the business on Monday, when we will have had time over the weekend to consider it. I cannot see any reason why a rational person would not do that.
There is a more important issue. I have not been in this House that long; many noble Lords have been here far longer than me. However, I detect a complete change in the atmosphere in this place. Today has shown me that we are becoming the nasty House, and I do not like it. We have continuous interruptions of speakers from a sedentary position; we have heckling; and we have some nasty comments coming from wherever they happen to come when a certain individual is expressing his or her views.
The irony of it all is this: I represent a party that recommended remain, but the people spoke in a referendum that this House and most of the Members in it put their hands up for, and we accept the result without question. It is over. Leavers and remainers are gone—at least, that is the way it should be. But, if we go on in this way, we are going to leave behind us the bitterness that we found in Northern Ireland after the Belfast Good Friday agreement or the bitterness that was left behind after the miners’ strike. In such circumstances personal relationships get damaged, and that is a great shame.
Technically the usual channels are not functioning, because it is not entirely clear today who is the Government and who is not. However, if I were promoting this Bill I would be working now to get us on to Second Reading and finish the thing off on Monday. There will be no loss of impetus in so far as the EU is concerned because, ironically, I think that the proposal coming forward in the Bill actually does more harm than good. The fact is, sadly, that the European Union will see a Prime Minister going in to meet them on Wednesday virtually on her hands and knees—and that is not something I want to see.
From where I come from, I want to see a deal. That is by far the best outcome for my part of the world—but I know that that view is not expressed everywhere. However, I appeal to the House to prevent this nastiness, and the heckling and the gagging. The procedures could have been dealt with differently if we had been operating across the Chamber through the usual channels as we should. I urge Members to focus on dealing with this matter in a proper way, before we do irreparable damage to our House. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Newby, that there is an emergency of a sort and that we have to try to get our act together by Wednesday. I accept all of that. Leaving the finishing stages of this legislation to Monday will not make an iota of difference to that, but I appeal to noble Lords not to proceed with this nastiness. It will not be repaired quickly if we continue in the way we are going.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Empey, has spoken with a good deal of sense. My understanding is that the usual channels had formally agreed to finish this Bill on Monday, and that that arrangement was withdrawn yesterday. The noble Baroness is shaking her head. I have 19 years’ experience of dealing with process and procedure in this House. One abiding rule is that once you do not involve the usual channels, it all goes wrong. That is exactly what has happened today.
I know the noble Baroness is about to speak. Can she explain why it is so urgent that we sit virtually all night to pass this Bill? We could do what all the precedents set have done, and have the Second Reading today and finish the remaining stages at the beginning of next week, asking the usual channels—the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, and my noble friend the Government Chief Whip—to organise it. That would get rid of the nastiness that the noble Lord, Lord Empey, referred to. It would make for a far more rational debate, and the Bill would be completed—I recognise there is a majority for the Bill in this House—in plenty of time for whatever else happens next week.
My Lords, we are actually dealing with the amendment on whether we should have a committee report. I draw the attention of the House to the speech Mr Steve Baker gave late last night in the Commons. I do not know why I should pick on him at this particular moment—
Oh! I had not noticed. Mr Baker was looking forward to the Bill coming to your Lordships’ House, in the,
“fervent hope that their Lordships will examine this Bill line by line”,—[
However, I speak now to only the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord True. He asked me why I did not take an intervention from the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. I was moving a Motion: normally, you move a Motion, then people stand up and ask questions and points of order, and at the end one comes back with the clarification. That seems to be the correct way to do it.
On the particular issue of whether we should have a committee, we have a committee report on this Bill. Even if we did not, the point of committees is to assist this House, not to stand in the way when something needs doing. Their members are also Members of this House, and can therefore give their very wise—and often learned, in the case of the Constitution Committee —advice directly to the House. We can do it then.
The important thing I want to raise, because I was not able to on the last amendment, is the idea of how awful it was that we were moving this, rather than the Government. As I said at the beginning, it should have been the Government who brought the Bill to the House, because that was what the House had passed before. We are doing it because that was not done. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House said that it is normally the Government who table Private Members’ Bills. Yes, but they failed to do so. We will do it when they do not. The Leader of the House is obviously in a difficult position—
I think I will continue, if the noble Lord does not mind.
I am sure the noble Lord does, but I would like to answer the point that the noble Baroness the Leader of the House made some time ago, which I have not been able to answer. She is in a difficult position; I understand that. She is a member of the Cabinet and of the governing party, but she is also the Leader of the House. In the absence of a Speaker with authority—although we do have a very authoritative Speaker—she also has to consider the whole House’s interests. It would have been her responsibility in that role to have brought forward this Bill as it was voted for before.
We have talked about a “constitutional monstrosity”, “tearing up the constitution” and “constitutional vandalism”. We are asking that this House considers a Bill sent to us by the other House. Is that “constitutional vandalism”? As the noble Lord, Lord Newby, said, this country faces a national crisis. The people in the Gallery—I am sorry that there are some there, because I am quite embarrassed that they are watching us—must wonder what on earth is happening when, at a time of national crisis, we are debating not the content of the Bill or the issues that have been raised by some speakers, but whether we should even consider the Bill today. This is out of order. In fact, I think it is shameful that this is being done. I find it shameful that the Government are helping on this.
I think the noble Lord has spoken quite enough. We have heard from him; I think we know his views. We should not still be debating the content of the Bill, because we have not got on to it. We want a Second Reading. We can vote against the Bill if we do not like it; that is the democratic way of dealing with a Bill that you do not like. But to try to talk out the ability of us even to take the Bill is an abuse of process. I will not support the amendment to my Motion in the name of the noble Lord, Lord True.
Since the noble Baroness does not like taking interventions, I will have to make a speech. It will be a very brief one.
I always thought that this House was about courtesy, but I have noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, does not really agree. Never mind. Indeed, if I might digress slightly, the noble Lord rudely accused my predecessor in the seat of Blaby in the House of Commons of being in Parliament too long. I note that the noble Lord first wanted to come into the House of Commons in 1966—that would make it 53 years—so he has not done badly himself, although the electorate kept throwing him out.
The point I would like to make is this. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, asked why the Government had not put down a Motion. It is quite straightforward: the Bill was not passed until 11.30 pm last night. How could the Government possibly have put down a Motion then? The Bill was passed by one vote—I regret to say that it was passed at all. There was never any certainty of it being passed, and it would have been extraordinary if my noble friends on the Government Bench had said, “Oh, we’ll put it down just in case”. That is not the way Parliament works. It has procedures. That is the whole point of the amendment.