Moved by Baroness Noakes
Leave out from “move” to the end and insert “notes that the Prime Minister has already indicated her intention to ask for a delay in the date for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union and considers it unnecessary, as well as undesirable and unprecedented, to apply exceptional procedures to the European Union (Withdrawal) (No.5 Bill) and therefore regrets the proposal by Her Majesty’s Opposition to do so.”
I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, would be looking forward to hearing from me. The amendment standing in my name on the Order Paper gives reasons for not supporting the Motion of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, which are as follows:
“that the Prime Minister has already indicated her intention to ask for a delay”; and that this House “considers it unnecessary”—as well as “undesirable and unprecedented”—“to apply exceptional procedures”. I shall speak to those elements in a moment.
I wish that the House had committed this Motion to be debated in Committee because we could have had a more natural, free-flowing discussion about some of the issues raised so far—all of which have been brought to an end by the closure Motion, which I believe is undesirable. However, the House chose not to go that way; that leaves a number of unanswered questions, which we still need to explore, about exactly how the procedures will work today. I am quite unclear about how we proceed between Second Reading and Committee, given that there has to be an interval to allow for amendments to be processed and made available to noble Lords, and for noble Lords to consider them.
My Lords, going back to the Bill that I took through in a day, clearly, gaps were put in. There was a gap of an hour or so between Second Reading and Committee to allow people to draft amendments and have them printed. The same could happen between that stage and Report. It is perfectly proper and easy to make this work in one day.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, makes a very good point but the Bill he refers to was undertaken with the full co-operation of the usual channels; because they co-operate, they set out how those things will work. That has not happened in this case, as I understand it, and therefore this House is quite unaware of what will happen when we get to the end of Second Reading.
My Lords, the temptation to live past glories is ever-present in your Lordships’ House but the point is that the Bill I am talking about had its contentious points: I remember that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who is not here is his place, and Baroness Blatch, who I think noble Lords opposite will recall with a great deal of respect, were very much opposed to it. Perhaps the noble Baroness was there when we did it; the point I am making is that we were not unanimous on that Bill.
I completely agree with my noble friend, which is why it is important to understand the implications of this. If, as I suspect, a number of amendments to the Bill will be tabled after Second Reading—of course, they cannot be tabled until then—the Public Bill Office will require considerable time in which to manage them. It will arrange for them to be printed, then noble Lords will obviously need to have sight of and consider them, as well as consider whether there are any appropriate groupings of them. This is not a rapid process, so we then come up against the issue of what time this will all happen. I have absolutely no idea.
Can I answer the question of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack? If noble Lords who have tabled wrecking amendments decided not to move them and if the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, decided that the important reports from his committee should not be debated half way through the night, we could go straight to considering the Bill now. That would show this House in a good light, considering the Bill properly.
The truth is that the objection of most of us to this business Motion is to it being rushed through. Why, for instance, could the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, not move for Committee on Monday and have only Second Reading today? How about that? It would seem to be a reasonable compromise.
The noble Lord may well find some commonality in some of the things that each of us says about our Motion, but they are distinct Motions that deserve to be considered in their own right. That is why we have tabled them in that way. Before I leave this point, there is a serious issue that I hope the Front Bench opposite will consider, which is what will happen to the time of this House. We should consider in particular the impact on the staff of this House, who have to serve the way that this Bill is being processed.
I very much agree with the point my noble friend made, particularly about the staff. There are two Motions from the Economic Affairs Committee that are being taken together. One relates to 50,000 people who are affected by the loan charge. Another relates to small businesses that have to submit their VAT returns digitally by tomorrow. These are big issues, and it is not my Motion but the committee’s. I say to the noble Baroness on the Front Bench that it seems that there is a consensus in the House that it is more sensible to take Committee on Monday.
If there is not, it would be interesting to know what the arguments are. Then we could proceed in a sensible way that reflects people’s plans and also those of the staff of the House.
I thank my noble friend for that intervention. He reminds me of the importance of his debate, and indeed I am speaking in that debate. It is not just about the 50,000 people who are affected by the loan charge—although it is very serious for all those individuals—but there are issues with suicides that have flowed from that loan legislation. That is why it is really important that we continue with that debate.
The noble Baroness is right that these are two important reports. It would be much better for them to be dealt with properly, at a sensible hour on Monday afternoon—which they could be if the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, wanted them to be properly debated instead of used as an obstruction to today’s business.
I am sorry that the noble Lord thinks they are an obstruction to today’s business, but today’s business has been forced on us by the Benches opposite—it seems without any consideration of the sequencing of the Bill as it comes through this House, as I raised in my opening remarks. These are important issues and I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, will reflect on them.
The first reason for my amendment to the Motion of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, is that the Prime Minister has already indicated her intention to ask for a delay. I remind the House of what my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said earlier this week, when she addressed the nation. She said:
“I know there are some who are so fed up with delay and endless arguments that they would like to leave with no deal next week”.
I count myself in that group—but that is not the point of today. She said:
“I’ve always been clear that we could make a success of no deal in the long term. But leaving with a deal is the best solution. So we will need a further extension of Article 50, one that is as short as possible and which ends when we pass a deal. And we need to be clear what such an extension is for, to ensure we leave in a timely and orderly way”.
My right honourable friend the Prime Minister said that to the nation on television. She said it in the other place and in a letter that has been written to all Conservative parliamentarians—so she means it and we should take her at her word.
My noble friend argues that the Bill is therefore unnecessary, but I am afraid that it would be necessary if, for example, the European Council made a counterproposal for a significantly longer extension of Article 50. In the absence of this legislation, the Prime Minister would have to use the prerogative power to refuse that, and we might then leave on
I do not wish to quote the Prime Minister to embarrass her, but to remind colleagues in the House that the Prime Minister has, perhaps belatedly, recognised that there is a need to reach across and hear the views of others to facilitate a consensus in what most of us would agree is a moment of crisis. That is not a word I use frequently, but we are in the eye of the storm and I would like this House to be seen playing to be its role in taking things forward and facilitating agreement on a strategy.
The debate of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, is on a matter of considerable importance. Nobody who suggests that it might properly be delayed until early next week should be accused of, in some way, belittling the issues involved. The nation is now genuinely looking to this House to have a mature and proper debate on a matter of great importance. It reflects badly on the House and the institution if we are seen to become besotted with procedure, thereby denying the vital need to address the issue. We will not address the issue until we move on from matters of process to matters of substance.
Indeed, but there are important issues of process that we do need to address. I was saying that the Prime Minister had not always made a success of Brexit to date, but she has been persistent throughout in trying to achieve the will of the majority 17.4 million people who voted in the referendum, and we have to give her credit for that. She has also acted throughout with integrity, and I hope that no noble Lord would suggest otherwise. In some ways, the Bill suggests that we cannot trust the Prime Minister, and I resent that.
As the noble Lord, Lord Myners, pointed out, the Prime Minister has now engaged in discussions with the Opposition. We understand that they are constructive; whether anything comes of them remains to be seen. To date, the Leader of the Opposition has shown no interest in doing anything other than pursuing a political line on Brexit. He even refused to go into cross-party discussions which my right honourable friend set up last month because he could not walk into the same room as Chuka Umunna, one of the MPs who had left his party and was a founder member of the independent group—the TIGers. It is of great credit to the Prime Minister that she is now reaching out to try and reach some consensus on a deal that the Commons can align around when it goes back to them. This Bill is saying that we do not trust the Prime Minister to do that. That is an unfortunate thing, and why the Bill is unnecessary.
The next reason for not agreeing with the Motion in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, is that it is unnecessary to apply exceptional procedures. Your Lordships’ House has good procedures to allow it to do its job as a revising Chamber. The House normally prides itself on its ability to scrutinise legislation carefully. The reason we do this—
The reason we do this is that the other place does not do a very good job of scrutinising legislation. There are a lot of reasons for that. Compared with the normal proceedings of your Lordships’ House, the proceedings in the other place are much more party political. Anybody who reads Hansard can see that. In particular, since 1997, when Mr Blair introduced programme Motions, the amount of time dedicated to legislation has been severely truncated at all stages of Bills going through the other place. They often arrive in your Lordships’ House with very little scrutiny, and with some clauses and parts of Bills not scrutinised at all.
We have an important job to do. When my right honourable friend Sir Oliver Letwin was moving one of his Motions yesterday in the other place, he freely admitted that the Bill—which we will move on to at some stage—needed to be “tightened” and that that would be done by the House of Lords. So the other place now expects this House to do the job of perfecting legislation. That has been the case for some considerable time, but we have to have procedures to do it.
Standing Order 46 sets out the bare bones of how we approach legislation. It states:
“No Bill shall be read twice the same day; no Committee of the Whole House shall proceed on any Bill the same day as the Bill has been read the Second time; no report shall be received from any Committee of the Whole House the same day such Committee goes through the Bill, when any amendments are made to such Bill; and no Bill shall be read the Third time the same day that the Bill is reported from the Committee, or the order of commitment is discharged”.
Does the noble Baroness accept that, forceful though her points no doubt are, we have now been discussing the same points for three hours and 46 minutes, in the context of a Bill that has been sent to us by the House of Commons on an urgent basis? Does she not accept that it really is time to move on? She has put her name down for Second Reading. All these points could be made in her Second Reading speech.
My Lords, is it not the case that the procedural issues which the noble Baroness is now speaking about have already been decided twice by the House in earlier votes?
I thank my noble friend for that. I had reached the end of reading through Standing Order 46, which is an important foundational part of our procedures. I remind noble Lords that it has been in existence since 1715. It has served us well for more than 200 years, so we should be very careful about tinkering with it. It is the case, in many instances, that those rules can be modified if noble Lords agree. It is usually done through the usual channels, in a way that achieves consensus. That has not been the case on this occasion. It is nearly always done so that there is a minimum of two days. I have been involved in a number of bits of legislation that have been done on an accelerated basis, but I have never seen one rammed through in one day like this.
I have never seen a Bill not leave the other place until just before midnight but be on the Order Paper here for all stages the following day. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, tabled her Motion—in effect, to take over the procedures of the House to do it in one day—only yesterday. Many noble Lords will not even have seen that until they got today’s papers. This is all highly irregular and is working against the ability of this House to scrutinise this legislation properly.
I was not allowed to respond to the debate in which I spoke about this subject. The noble Lords, Lord Empey and Lord Strathclyde, made a sensible and constructive point: instead of trying to push this through it should be remitted to the usual channels. As many noble Lords on all sides have said, we could do this in the normal way for accelerated Bills: a Second Reading now and Committee another day. Why will the Opposition Front Bench not agree to that?
My noble friend makes very good points. I hope that the Front Bench opposite is reflecting on them.
The House is being asked to handle this Bill on a one-day basis and, in effect, tear up the rules under which we normally consider legislation. This has led to a speakers’ list being closed before this business Motion is even finished. This Motion was not available to noble Lords until they came in this morning, so some will not have had the opportunity to put their names down to speak at Second Reading.
Is the noble Baroness not aware that we have had extensive conversations about this? Yesterday, the House of Commons managed to amend its procedures so that it could complete consideration of the Bill within four hours. They expect us to deal with the Bill with due expedition. The majority of the House of Commons voted for this Bill. We are now getting to the point where this House is being exposed to a filibustering set of manoeuvres by the Conservative Benches.
I remind the noble Lord that it was a majority of one in the other place. I do not think that the other place can be proud of the length of time it devoted to this legislation yesterday. Second Reading was 55 minutes; towards the end speakers were given two minutes; the Secretary of State had a very short time to wind up. That is not a proper way for any chamber to handle legislation. I would not hold it up as an example to this House, which should be doing things properly. We accept that we can have an accelerated procedure.
I have given way many times, so I am not giving way any further. I need to make some progress. I think we can agree that some acceleration is necessary; we have done that in the past and it can be agreed in the usual channels. As a number of noble Lords have said, separating Second Reading from Committee and the remaining stages does at least give us an opportunity to reflect on the points made at Second Reading and to determine sensibly which points should be taken forward to Committee and Report. We are not being given that opportunity: at best we might get a couple of hours between Second Reading and Committee under the proposals of the noble Baroness. So I believe it is unnecessary to apply these exceptional procedures. Indeed, I might even say that it is downright dangerous to do so. That is also why it is undesirable for this House to apply these exceptional procedures.
If we do not follow our procedures in a case such as this, which is not a time of national emergency, we will create precedents that we live to regret. We should approach all legislation in a considered way, but we are depriving the House of that opportunity. It is highly undesirable. I have already explained why it is undesirable in relation to the speakers’ list and to how amendments are handled. It is undesirable because it does not give noble Lords the chance to reflect on points made in discussion. I am not suggesting taking this over a number of days, with intervals of two weeks, as we do with most legislation, but some time is required to achieve this.
Lastly, it is unprecedented to use these exceptional procedures for a Bill such as this. There have been urgent reasons in other cases, as we know. We are not at war. There are no national security issues.
There are no national security issues. All the examples that have been given of expedited procedures have involved agreement between all parties. The fact that a lot of people in Westminster are very excited about a no-deal Brexit should not be confused with a national crisis. Recent poll evidence shows that the most popular way forward is actually a no-deal exit, and of course it is by no means clear that the Bill actually prevents an exit on WTO terms by tying the Government’s hands in a series of parliamentary procedures on how much time to ask for. It does not do that. The Bill is worthless in that regard and to that extent it does not deserve a place on the—
I am drawing to a close. Anybody can make a comment once I have moved my amendment. I remind the House that my amendment is there because the Prime Minister has already indicated her intention to ask for a delay. It is unnecessary, undesirable and unprecedented to apply exceptional procedures. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak very briefly. I really feel that we are not doing this House any great favours today. We have had an orchestrated series of speeches from the ERG and its friends. That does not represent the view of the entire Conservative Party on these Benches, although I am bound to say that, as I listened to some of the speeches, I felt enormous sympathy for my honourable friend Nick Boles. We are at a critical juncture in our nation’s history. It is deeply regrettable that we have this Bill before us. It is not a perfect Bill, but at the time when it was thought up and brought forward the Prime Minister had not made her recent welcome move. I sincerely hope that she will be successful. I know many honourable and noble friends in my party take a counter view, but I think it is desperately important that we hold the interests of our country first, second, third and last.
It is terribly important that we do not carry on with this procedural nonsense, because that is what it is. We have a Bill and at this rate we are not going to get to Second Reading.
No, I will not give way—I will in a minute. My noble friend has the next amendment and doubtless he too will speak at some length: I hope it will not be the half-hour or 20 minutes we have just had, because that is far too long. It is really important that we get on to the Bill. We have four more amendments, I think, after this one; then we have a Statement; and then we have my noble friend Lord Forsyth’s important debate—although it is not as urgent as the business that will then be before your Lordships’ House. I wish we could approach this in a consensual, adult manner and do two things. First, I hope my noble friend Lord Forsyth will be willing to have his reports debated next week. There will be plenty of time. The first week of our Recess has been cancelled—I make no complaints about it. Therefore, he has plenty of time and it would be a very good idea.
Secondly, I think that we should have Second Reading today—here, I agree with my noble friend Lady Noakes—and move on, not on Monday but tomorrow. The House has met on Fridays before. The other place is not meeting tomorrow, so there would be no delay whatever in the parliamentary process if we took Report tomorrow. I really think we have to be sensible and I ask noble friends in all parts of the House who were there to remember that April day almost exactly 37 years ago when the House met on a Saturday. That was the most dire of emergencies and both Houses met on the Saturday after the Falklands invasion. So there is nothing sacrosanct about any day other than Sunday as far as your Lordships’ House is concerned. In the war I believe there was one Sitting on a Sunday, but that is beside the point. I urge both Front Benches to talk seriously about this. It does nobody’s cause any service, whether they are a supporter or an opponent of the Bill, to be going bleary-eyed through the Lobbies at 2 am, 3 am, 4 am, 5 am or 6 am. It does no service to anyone.
I have two hopes, and I shall not say any more during the debate today. That may please my noble friends but at least I do not blether on as long as some of them do. I hope that we can heal the bitterness to which my noble friend Lord Empey referred a few hours ago. I hope also that we can make genuine progress on this Bill. I beg my noble friends who have amendments to come to withdraw them, to hold their fire and to make their speeches in the main debate, which I hope we will get on to very soon, and I hope that we can finish the Bill tomorrow. That would make abundant sense, both here and outside.
My Lords, I wish I thought that the Members sitting around the noble Lord who has just spoken would take any notice of his message but, having listened for more than four hours to a set of procedural issues that have nothing to do with the Bill we are supposed to be discussing today, I suggest to the House that we put the question.