Moved by Lord Robathan
Leave out from “Commons,” to the end and insert “notes that more than one day is required for this House to have sufficient time to scrutinise the European Union (Withdrawal) (No.5) Bill received from the House of Commons that has had less than one day of consideration in that House, and had not been received by this House by the end of business on
The first point to make is that this is not about Brexit. It will not have escaped many of your Lordships’ attentions that I believe we should leave the European Union, and I voted so to do. However, I do not wish to mention Brexit again, because this is a procedural Motion and we need to concentrate on the procedure, which is extraordinarily important. Other noble friends have made that point well.
We are legislating in unseemly haste, nearly three years since the referendum and two years since Article 50 was triggered. The noble Lord, Lord Myners, who I do not think is here, said it is a crisis. Of course it is a crisis, but we have had two years, arguably three, to sort it out. I find it worrying that we are now rushing through something that does not need to be rushed.
I quote from the chairman of the Procedure Committee, Mr Charles Walker, who said:
“The House of Commons is about to pass a major piece of legislation without a Report stage or a substantive Third Reading. If the Government did this, the House would rightly be deeply irritated with them, so the House should find no virtue in its actions this evening”.—[Official Report, Commons, 3/4/19; col. 1211.]
I implore Members opposite and on the Cross Benches: if we make this a precedent, the Government—it could conceivably be the Government I support, or a different Government—might push forward such a procedure. I say to all noble Lords that this is not sensible. Another MP said yesterday that:
“I know how their Lordships feel about ill-considered and briskly prepared legislation”.—[Official Report, Commons, 3/4/19; col. 1217.]
This is ill-considered and briskly prepared legislation, so we should not rush it through as people are trying to.
My final quote from yesterday’s House of Commons Hansard is from the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. We are talking about really serious legislation. We have talked about crises, and people have said how important it is to get this through, yet the Secretary of State in charge of this says:
“It is being passed in haste, and the fact that we have a time limit of two minutes for a number of speeches this evening is an indication of the fact that the Bill is being passed in haste. It is constitutionally irregular and, frankly, it fails to understand the decision-making process by which any discussion of an extension or agreement of an extension at the European Council will be reached”.
He goes on:
“The Bill also calls into question the royal prerogative. It has been a long-standing practice that Heads of Government can enter into international agreements without preconditions set by the House that would constrain their ability to negotiate in the national interest”.—[Official Report, Commons, 3/4/19; col. 1145.]
That is powerful stuff, and the reason is that this is not about—I will not mention the B-word—a particular Government or political hue; it is about the way Parliament functions.
Yesterday, this particular Motion was passed by one vote. I regret that it was passed. Previously, a similar Motion was defeated in the House of Commons, so there is a certain lack of consensus there. Without mentioning the B-word, those who want a second referendum say it passed by only 1.25 million extra votes. This was one vote, so we need to consider it.
Is it contentious? It is extraordinarily contentious. Parliament and the people are divided. With this Bill, we are looking at constitutional change and precedent. If we accept this, it will come back and bite us all, not just the Conservative Government, which we can fairly say is in disarray, but any Government and, I fear, any relationship between Parliament and the country.
My noble friend Lord Howard said that we act as a “constitutional check”. My noble friend Lord True asked: “Why are we here”? I heard a rather unseemly cry from the Benches opposite in answer to that, but I will tell noble Lords why we are here. I have been here for three years now. I talk a bit; too much perhaps.
Thank you; I accept that. First, we are here to revise legislation. Although we do not get it perfectly right, we do it quite well—much better than the other place, in which I sat for 23 years. That is to the credit of the House of Lords. The second reason we are here is to act as a check—it can only be a minor one—on the tyranny of the elected House. We should be very concerned about this being pushed through the way it is. We legislate in haste; we will repent at leisure.
Other noble Lords—I am looking at two or three on the Benches opposite—were here for the Dangerous Dogs Act. After it was passed, in haste, everybody said that it was a terrible mistake because it was not properly thought through, or examined by Parliament, Select Committees, or by the clerks. It was not properly examined at all, and what we are doing here is the same. I am not even talking specifically about the Bill that will come up later. I am talking about the whole process by which we pass legislation. The way this procedure has been brought forward is an abuse of Parliament.
The debate has been closed down by one Liberal Democrat, one Labour Peer and at least two Cross-Benchers. Be careful what you wish for because, guess what, if this is to be accepted practice, it will be used against every party, every person on their feet, and every person who wants to raise an issue, by the Government, by the Opposition and by whomsoever. I appeal to noble Lords: of course we all have strong feelings about this but let us remember that the procedures of this House are here for a purpose. They are not perfect, and here I take issue with my noble friend Lord Ridley who said that he did not accept that they were arcane. Actually, some of them are, but, without a dictionary, I do not know if “arcane” is necessarily that appalling.
My Lords, the noble Lord has talked a lot about the procedures of this House. However, going back over many years, the House does know when a filibuster is going on and takes action to stop it. The noble Lord talks about the tyranny of the other place. It is usually tyranny of Governments that we talk about. The reason the Commons has had to do this is that, as he said, we have a shambolic Government that has completely lost control of the most important issue that this nation has faced for many decades. The Commons has had to take control. We should surely at least respect that by giving the Bill an opportunity to have a Second Reading. The noble Lord talks about the role of this House. The role of this House is not to filibuster.
I am grateful to the noble Lord. I agree: it should not be about filibustering. However, I and a great many other people believe we are acting as a check on the wrong procedure down the other end. The noble Lord was here in January 2011. I wonder whether he took part in the filibuster I looked up, which tried to stop the referendum on parliamentary voting. Did he not? Perhaps he was on the Government Benches at the time? No, he would not have been. The noble Lord, Lord Prescott, formerly Deputy Prime Minister, who is not in his place, was apparently very active in it. So I am afraid that filibusters—as the noble Lord suggests this might be—are not unique to any particular party. We should go by constitutional precedent, proper convention—
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord. I remind him that I have been here for over 12 years. I cannot remember when this House has asked, time after time, to put something forward like this. We normally take the time that is required. The threat was, “Be careful what you wish for”, but this has not happened in 12 years because we have not needed it. Today, we have spent more than five years on five amendments. The whole country is watching us make a complete disgrace of ourselves. The noble Lord is bringing shame to this House: it is pure filibustering and should not be allowed.
The point being lost here is that which I based my remarks on, which is simple. Noble Lords opposite should be asked when the last precedent was for this abuse of our procedures. That is the fundamental point. I have heard 30, 40 or 50 speeches from the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, on this subject. I have made about five in the period, so I think we are entitled to have our say in this House.
I think that is right, and I am still not going to talk about the B-word. Furthermore, I intended to be brief, so I shall sit down very shortly—unless I get any more helpful interventions from the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, or somebody else.
There is no precedent, as the noble Lord said, for five closure Motions, or whatever we have had today. But then there is no precedent for the Business of the House Motion that we have in front of us. I genuinely think, not just because I take a different view on leaving the European Union from many in this House, that if we start tinkering with our procedures, we will all rue the day. When closing down the debate on this Business of the House Motion, I say to noble Peers opposite and elsewhere in the House: be careful what you wish for.
My Lords, pace the noble Lord, Lord Warner, not in his place, the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, and now my noble friend Lord Bilimoria, and recognising that I shall not be making myself popular by this, I start by strongly regretting today’s succession of guillotine Motions. I believe that this dramatic expedient for halting all further debate is a radical and exceptional device, as the speaker each time seeks to remind us, suitable for, but only for, obvious filibustering contributions when no cogent position is being advanced or defended, not for an afternoon such as this, where truly serious questions underlie the debate. It is one thing to have deployed it, as recently by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, on the Grocott Bill about by-elections for hereditaries. There, it was purely for killing amendments with, I certainly accepted, no substance. To do it here, I suggest, is really not, I hope, a precedent for the future.
I turn very briefly to the Motion, with one or two sentences only, although the Bill passed late last night after a much abbreviated debate by a single vote, we, as an unelected House, obviously have to be wary of being thought to thwart the will of the elected Chamber. That said, surely we would have to be very certain indeed of the critical need for the Bill, which is essentially promoted as an insurance policy against the risk that the Prime Minister may somehow dramatically let us down and breach her promise to us. We would have to be sure too of the urgent need for the Bill to be passed today, rather than on Monday, to justify so dramatic a curtailment of this House’s ordinary, vital scrutiny functions.
I cannot resist the beginning—alas, I can never remember more than two lines—of a spoof letter to the Times from some 70 or 80 years ago, perhaps by AP Herbert: “Sir, I crave a tiny portion of your valuable space, To record my stupefaction at the follies of our race”—if anybody could finish it, I would be enormously obliged and readily buy them a drink. I today feel stupefied that we have reached a point which begins to look ever less necessary, and would echo the suggestion made an hour or two ago by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for a double consensual approach to try to inject some time into this process. I simply repeat: postpone Committee and Report until Monday, and extend the time left today for the Second Reading speeches through the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, graciously foregoing—as I understand he has already agreed to do—his two debates which otherwise were to be heard before this Bill proceeds. If that were arranged, we could bring this whole matter to an end and start the Second Reading debate. In 20 minutes, everybody could get tea, agree to that and then proceed to Second Reading.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, and I agree entirely with his remarks—particularly his final recommendation. The one thing of which he cannot be accused is being a member of the ERG, which is very refreshing. I shall be brief, because, as always in these debates, much has been said. However, I claim the right to say what I think on important occasions such as this.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, started off by saying that unconventional times require unconventional measures. I could not disagree more. In unconventional times, you need conventional measures to keep your bearings and know where you are. Otherwise, if you are not careful, you descend into chaos. Not many days ago we had a debate in this Chamber revolving around statutory instruments, dealt with by my noble friend Lord True. I will repeat the point he made again and again: we must always draw huge difference between the great issues which we want to discuss—the things that divide us and about which we get very worked up—and the framework within which we discuss them. Today we are destroying the framework. If we do that, there is a danger of descending into chaos. Some outside this Chamber may say—the people of this country are starting to say—that it is chaos that we between us have created.
This is a momentous decision, and it needs time. It seems to be generally accepted in the country that we will rubber-stamp it; that the Bill will take a little while today, but then go through. The media treat it that way. But we cannot be seen as a pushover, a rubber stamp or a mere formality. Otherwise, as has been said by many, we have no justification to continue to exist.
In days gone by—quite a while ago, I remember, when I was a Member of the House of Commons—time used to be the Opposition’s main and legitimate weapon. Yes, it meant that things were sometimes strung out, but it also ensured scrutiny without time limit. That meant proper scrutiny in real depth; you did not make the same degree of mistakes. To cut the debate short in those days, which was rare, there was such a thing as a guillotine. Over the years, the guillotine became “programming”, which is the modern word for it. The House of Commons now guillotines things routinely, with the result that, like a sausage machine, we get half-thought-through legislation from down the Corridor, which we have to deal with by the bucketload. This is just part of the same thing. Surely we must maintain our right to correct if need be or to look carefully at what they do, and, if need be, to ask them to think again.
The Bill itself is an abuse of the parliamentary system. To ram it through in one day like this would be to compound that abuse. The truth is that it is all part of the plot to stop us leaving the European Union—I am not afraid to mention that. The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, just intervened on somebody in the debate; he now spends night and day working to stop us leaving the EU. I find it hard to take remarks from people in this Chamber when I know what their motives are. There has been a huge amount of dishonesty over the last two and a half years, not least from the gentleman who is burbling from the Opposition Back Benches.
Not at all; on the contrary, I accuse him of honesty. He is honest all the time: he wants to stop us leaving the EU and is working night and day to stop it happening. That is what I said, and if he can deny that, I will give way to him again. I do not want to impugn; it is dangerous to get into this, as it gets very emotive, and I know that we do not want to—
I listened to my noble friend and thought to myself, “But isn’t your objective that we should have no-deal Brexit, and you are pretending that it is about the constitution?” That seems like an extraordinary accusation to make, when my noble friend knows that very well.
I will be perfectly honest: if I had my way, we would have a no-deal Brexit and would be out in a few days’ time. We would have the certainty the country is crying out for, and businesses and companies would be able to get on with the job they have been told will need to be done. We would save ourselves £39 billion. It would be refreshing—we would be on our way. There is no doubt about that at all. But how we get there is a different matter, and today we are talking about the difference between what I want and how you achieve it through the structures of politics.
Yes, we are. If the noble Lord does not understand that—he has been here longer than me—he understands nothing at all.
In truth, as I said, it is all part of the same thing. The House did not like it last time I warned it of the damage we will do to ourselves if we are not careful. Some people think that by taking time to look at this today, we are somehow damaging our reputation. People out there know what is going on. Most people either voted leave or now want to leave or want us to get on with it. They do not want any more protracted negotiations and discussions. They know today which side they are on in this House. I contend that there is a grave danger of too many Members in this House not understanding what the people really want, and in the long term that is a danger not just with regard to this issue but for the House itself.
I want to press on. I will be accused of filibustering again in a minute, and that is the last thing I want.
A relatively small number in this House—those of us who think like I do about how we deal with our constitutional affairs and such issues, and I link that to the whole EU debate—speak for the people outside this House. I believe that, and that is why many of us feel we have to do what we are doing.
We should remind ourselves that the Commons passed the Bill by a majority of one. Half the Commons did not want to do it. Surely we must look at it extremely carefully. It is our duty to do that. I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Owen, earlier today, when he said that if we use our structures and machinery to block what the people have voted for, shame on us. I believe that it will be a shame on us and will have serious repercussions for the future of your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, for two minutes, I should like to offer the Opposition Front Bench the advice I have given to various Leaders of the Opposition when they were in my party: never take a power or create a precedent which you would not want to be used against you when you are in office yourself. Everything else that I would want to impress on the House was said by my noble friends Lord Lawson and Lord Howard. The wisest advice we have had was from the noble Lord, Lord Empey. I am not filibustering; I am giving your Lordships advice.
My Lords, we have had two speakers in favour of the amendment. I repeat two things I have said before. One is that the best advice is that we should all have a cup of tea. I second that one. The other is that, as I said at the beginning, if Members are against the Motion I tabled that we should hear the Bill today, the correct course is to vote against my Motion. Tabling a series of amendments where every speech has been against my Motion, rather than in favour of the different amendments, just shows that if this is not a filibuster, it is a technique to spin this out. I have great respect for the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, who said that it was incorrect of certain people to move the closure Motion. That is partly because the device of having umpteen different amendments was a way of arguing against my Motion rather than the amendments being correct and useful for the sake of the House.
Various people may have moved the closure Motions, but I remind the House—the House does not need reminding because Members were all here—that every one passed by the will of your Lordships’ House, not by that of those who moved the amendments. If noble Lords did not want the closure, they would have voted against it. In fact, the Motions were all passed by 2:1.
On the previous amendment, we heard about the tyranny of the elected House and that we have a despotic majority, all because we want the Bill heard in this House in a timely manner. It is surely for best for this House that we do not continue with lots of speeches about all the amendments that are actually only about my Motion. It would be very nice if we could get to my Motion, so that those who really object to what we are trying to do, which is to get the Bill heard in this House, can vote against it. Let us see what is the will of your Lordships. For the moment, I suggest, without moving it formally, that we move to the vote on this amendment, and I urge the House to decline to agree it.
My Lords, I respectfully follow the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter. The simple truth is that almost everyone who has spoken, with the exception of her, has said that this is purely about constitutional aspects and not about Brexit. I agree with her that it is about both. I am a new boy, so I shall deal briefly with the constitutional aspects of this procedure. As a new boy, I knew one thing about this House: it has the power to make the other House think again. I have enormous respect for that power, and it is a power exercised only after due consideration.
As Secretary of State for Social Security for five years, I used to introduce a lot of legislation. Almost invariably, it would get through the lower House with very little amendment or change. It would come to this House and the next day, my officials would come to me to say, “Very sorry, Secretary of State, the Lords have gone and amended your legislation”. Initially, I tended to be shocked, horrified and angry, until I looked at the changes which this House had made. I cannot recall a single occasion when I did not, on inspecting those changes, accept them either in whole or in part, in spirit or in letter. This House does a good job in making that House think again, but it can do that only if it takes time to consider things and brings all the available expertise it can provide itself and acquire from outside.
It seems that the one reason we should not take this all in one day—the reason we have not taken Bills all in one day in the past—is that, by taking it over two or three days, we give time for outside experts to make representations to us. I know this House brings to bear enormous expertise, but it also has enormous contacts outside, which it draws on in that interlude between Second Reading and Committee and between Committee and Report. If we deny ourselves those interludes, we deny ourselves access to that expertise and the ability to make the high-quality changes, reforms and suggestions to the other House to make it think again, which I certainly found enormously valuable when I was down there. That is the central issue that I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, as acting Prime Minister for the day, will respond to in due course.
By way of exculpation, I will also explain why I endeavoured to raise a point of order with our Lord Speaker. I was referring to paragraph 29 of the Standing Orders of this House, which says:
“No speaking after Question put … When at the end of a debate the Question has been put, no Lord is to speak save on a point of order”.
I have since discussed it with the clerks and the Lord Speaker, and they are inclined to think that that needs rectifying, since elsewhere it says that no points of order are allowed. Perhaps in ancient times, when this was first written, “point of order” had a different meaning. I have not been here long enough—I was certainly not here in 1674, when this rule was first adumbrated—to know why. Of course, the whole rule that there should be no debate after a Question has been put was adumbrated back in 1674, so it may be that in rectifying this we will find that there can be a little debate, discussion or explanation as to why a noble Lord should want to truncate and prevent debate in this House, the whole purpose of which is debate. I put that forward to explain that I was not endeavouring to be out of order but to follow the rules of the House, as they had been drawn to my attention.
But this is not about just constitutional issues; it is about Brexit itself, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, pointed out. She said that the only justification for doing what we are doing—for not abiding by our normal procedures, allowing proper discussion or allowing expertise from outside to be drawn into it—was that prolonging it increases the risk that we leave in what she calls a no-deal Brexit: on WTO terms, with all the mini-deals that have been agreed between us and the EU. She considers that a disaster. I consider that a far greater disaster would be to set aside the will of the people, as solemnly requested in a referendum, with a promise repeated by all the leaders of all the parties and all our former Prime Ministers that, whatever the decision, they would implement it.
How many people who voted in that referendum are still alive? How many new people are on the register? What would the noble Lord say is the relationship between those who voted and those now on the register? How long does he believe we should continue—five years, 10 years? Should a referendum taken 10 years ago be binding on us for ever? It is absolute nonsense.
I entirely agree. It is quite reasonable to have a referendum every 45 years, which is the time we had to wait before this second referendum. People’s opinions change over time. Back in 1975, I campaigned for us to remain in the EU. I was young and inexperienced. I was recruited for the campaign to keep Britain in Europe by a particularly beautiful girl, who is now my wife, so I plead that one’s opinions can change—as hers and mine have—with experience. We all have more experience now than we had three years ago of the sort of organisation we are dealing with in the European Union. As the noble Lord, Lord King of Lothbury, the former Governor of the Bank of England, has said, that is what we should be thinking about far more than the niceties of a withdrawal agreement.
One thing is certain. During the referendum campaign no one asked, “Would you like to vote to ask permission to leave?” That is like a primary school child putting up their hand in the classroom and saying, “Please, miss, may I leave the European Union?” That is a nonsense. We voted to leave. The Prime Minister of the day said that if we left, we would leave on WTO terms. I want to argue that that is not too frightening. On the contrary, although it is not the best thing—
Is the noble Lord addressing himself to the words of the amendment?
I am—just as she did. Initially she said that she was addressing all the amendments with the argument that if we did not leave now, there would be a problem. I am arguing that if we—
I said that we should deal with this Bill in time for it to have effect. That was the point I made—that if we did not deal with the Bill before we ran out of time, there was no point in having it. I did not go into the issue of Brexit.
On the contrary, the noble Baroness is rather forgetful, because I noted down the five points she made about what would happen if we did leave with no deal. They were about citizens’ rights, tariffs and industry; I have forgotten the other two.
No, but when I have I certainly shall. I am trying to get on because I want to deal with the central argument that was put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter: namely, that it would be a disaster if we do not get this legislation through because of the amendments that we are now considering and if we leave with no deal on WTO terms. I maintain that it would not be a disaster. What would be a disaster would be denying democracy—
My Lords, I have to agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter. It is the convention that we address the words in the amendment and I am not entirely convinced that the noble Lord is doing that at the moment.
Let me therefore do so. The amendment,
“notes that more than day is required for this House to have sufficient time to scrutinise the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 5) Bill”.
I submit that several days are required and that it is worth taking those days, even if it means leaving on WTO terms—because they are quite acceptable. First, we would keep £39 billion. That was the opinion of this House. I trust the committee which concluded that and I would be quite happy to submit to international arbitration, because I certainly would not want to not meet any legal obligations that we have. So £39 billion is a positive.
Secondly, we would end uncertainty.
As I say, the second advantage is that it would truncate uncertainty. That will unleash the investment that has been held up. We all agree that uncertainty is bad for business. That is the one negative thing that this long process has had, but ending it means that people will start investing either to take advantage of the opportunities or to cope with the difficulties.
The third advantage is that it will force Ireland, the European Union and the British Government to implement—
I am sorry, if the House is reluctant to listen to the facts, as I have noticed that sometimes it is, that is a shame, because it is important that we take into account the advantages of what is before us. We should take note in particular of what the Irish Government have said. Leo Varadkar said that, in the event of no deal:
“I have made it very clear to my counterpart in the UK and also to all other EU prime ministers that under no circumstances will there be a border. Full stop”.
Mr Juncker gave an assurance to the Irish Parliament that if negotiations fail—
I am sorry: people want me to finish so I am getting on as rapidly as I can. He said that if negotiations fail with the Tory Government on the exit agreement, he would give a clear commitment that the European Union would not need to impose border customs posts or any other kind of infrastructure on the frontier in order to protect European borders. We have said that in no circumstances will the British Government do so. As we have seen recently, that will force the creation of an invisible border in Ireland which will resolve that problem. I think that those are big advantages.
I will happily go on if the House wishes me to do so.