European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 5) Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:14 pm on 4th April 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Anderson of Ipswich Lord Anderson of Ipswich Crossbench 8:14 pm, 4th April 2019

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Deech. I have great respect for her, not least because she was until recently chair of the Bar Standards Board. If we do not always agree on matters of constitutional law or indeed attitudes to Europe, and I am afraid we certainly do not, perhaps we should put that down to my not having been a member of the illustrious constitutional law class that she was referring to earlier today.

I welcome the Bill but we must acknowledge that its aims are modest. It allows the House of Commons to ensure that an extension is requested but it does not offer a guarantee against no deal. If it gets to the stage of the Bill being used then I am afraid that that matter remains within the unilateral control of the European Council, or indeed each of the 27 European Governments, who will retain a veto on a matter of extension. It is less powerful in that respect than the indicative Motion placed by Joanna Cherry in the House of Commons last week, though I immediately acknowledge that that Motion did not gain the support of that House, whereas this Bill did.

There is at least one fixable defect in the Bill. I say “at least one” because I am afraid I have not studied the report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee; it may well be that when I look at what it has to say about Clause 2 I will find myself in agreement with that. The fixable defect that I have in mind is that which was lucidly explained earlier on by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, relating to the procedure following a counterproposal from the European Council. That is alluded to briefly in this morning’s report by the Constitution Committee and covered in more detail by the legal adviser to that committee, Mark Elliott, whose name has been mentioned already today, who sets it out in his blog, Public Law for Everyone. He has done a very thorough job and I think we in Parliament should all be very grateful to him for the work that he has done.

The amendment by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, sounds promising to me. If it can be accommodated in time for this urgent Bill to be useful, I for one will be looking at it positively and with gratitude.