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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:40 pm on 4th April 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Noakes Baroness Noakes Conservative 8:40 pm, 4th April 2019

My Lords, I am not going to give the speech that I had planned to give at this late stage of the evening. I was nearly goaded into picking it up again by the typically hard-line speech of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, but I will leave my speech with my other papers down there, and just say that I would have said a lot more about the B-word. Instead, I will just associate myself with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Lympne, because I agreed with what he said about it.

I have stayed in the House to speak in this debate because, while I cared passionately about the issues that we debated during the day, and the constitutional issues raised by the way in which the Bill has been put through the House, I believe that there are aspects of the Bill that are worth debating. We should be very wary of restricting the scope of the Government to negotiate international treaties, and that is what this Bill does. It further restricts the royal prerogative. Of course, the royal prerogative has been restricted in many ways over many years, but this is a further restriction in the area of the Government having the effective power to negotiate internationally, which I believe is important. The royal prerogative is part of how our constitution works. It is important in enabling the Government to govern effectively.

So I regret that this Bill has come to us. It passed by one vote in the other place—but we have to accept that and move on. I was particularly interested in the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, who is no longer in his place, about the way in which the Bill is over-restrictive in this area. I hope that he will return on Monday, together with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, to explain further what he means in an amendment there.

I accept that this Bill will come. We just need to concentrate on improving it—from my point of view because encroaching on the royal prerogative is so serious. The most important thing that we should do is ensure that the powers that have been created for Parliament are time-limited. In any event, it should only be needed for next week—or perhaps slightly longer—but we should look at putting some restrictions in the Bill on how the powers that have been created could be used. Whether we do that by time-binding the powers that are created in Clause 1 or by way of a sunset clause is something that I shall reflect on and return to in Committee. I do not believe that this is a statute that should be left for ever and a day on the statute book. I do not think that it is a good precedent, but I accept that we need to send it forward in a workable way.

I was also interested in the speeches earlier today of two of my noble friends, Lord Hunt, as a member of the Constitution Committee, and Lord Blencathra, chairman of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. Both of them indicated that this Bill should be improved through the process of scrutiny in your Lordships’ House, which we will now be able to do on Monday. I join my noble friend Lord Cormack in rejoicing in the agreement that was reached through the usual channels today. Now we can tackle this Bill in the civilised way in which we normally conduct our work of scrutinising legislation. I thank the usual channels for coming to that arrangement, and, for my part, I look forward to resuming discussion on the Bill on Monday.