Amendment 4

European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 5) Bill - Committee – in the House of Lords at 3:13 pm on 8th April 2019.

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Baroness Neville-Rolfe:

Moved by Baroness Neville-Rolfe

4: Clause 1, page 1, line 10, after “date” insert “, which must not be later than the end of the 2019/20 financial year,”

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe Conservative

My Lords, Amendment 4 seeks to insert a restriction on the date referred to in line 10:

“which must not be later than the end of the 2019/20 financial year”.

This may in practice be a variation on the provision proposed by my noble friend Lady Noakes in her amendment, but, as I explained at Second Reading, it is born out of frustration at not being able to table specific amendments on financial impact.

I want to draw attention to the fact that this Bill—agreed by all to be a constitutional innovation—is not the subject of a money resolution, as the Speaker decided in the other place. Equally pertinently, it has no impact assessment, and yet it could bring about a delay in Brexit without end or resolution, which could be extremely costly to this country.

Whatever one’s views on Brexit, it must surely be common ground that altering the date of the event will have financial consequences. I accept that some of the costs will be negative and some will be positive, but the longer Brexit drags on, the more the cost of uncertainty for all economic players and the extra cost to the Treasury in payments to Brussels will weigh against the benefits of avoiding no deal.

Although we cannot persuade the Speaker of the House of Commons to change his mind on a money resolution, I believe that the promoters of the Bill should work up an impact assessment, which would cover some of the same ground. I also believe that adding a date gives the Government an incentive finally to resolve matters. Alternatively, if the promoters will not produce an assessment today, one should be required when the Government use the power to define the length of an extension in their statutory Motion.

Let us look at some of the costs of the new approach, as the costs of no deal, now threatened for 12 April, have been well articulated already and are well understood. As a businesswoman, I know that they are real worries and that they are especially acute in farming, the motor industry and industries such as food which depend on just-in-time supply chains and mutual recognition of labelling. But there is also a huge cost to uncertainty. There are literally billions of pounds which business is waiting to invest once, but only once, the Brexit uncertainty disappears. This could be a great driver of growth and productivity, because the combination of low capital investment and cheap, flexible labour from the EU is a key reason why productivity is flatlining, despite an increase in infrastructure, digital and R&D investment by this Government.

In other sectors such as financial services, which now represent a very large percentage of GDP, the critical thing is to turn the political declaration into a free trade agreement with the EU 27. Unfortunately, the Bill as drafted could allow the EU 27 to delay negotiations to the point where the resulting uncertainty has allowed it to steal more and more of our market. The beauty parade to attract investment which would have taken place in the UK to go to Paris or Milan is very energetic. We heard in the EU Financial Affairs Sub-Committee last week how jobs and work are moving, never to return, to Frankfurt, Dublin, Amsterdam, Brussels and elsewhere, even if we stay in the EU.

I feel that the Brexit process has lacked transparency from day one. If there was a fuller and more honest discussion of the complexities of what is planned when and of the likely implications, more dynamic analysis, objective pros and cons, both economic and political, and less of Project Fear, the country would be less divided and perhaps less critical of what we in Parliament have achieved.

There is another reason why a system of financial assessment and timetable constraints is desirable. We will have let the genie out of the bottle if this rushed, defective and uncosted Bill is passed. I fear very much that it will act as a precedent for future Private Members’ Bills even more financially damaging, such as on the regulation of utilities or whatever. This is a constitutional revolution and, as I said last week, there will be no way to hold Back-Bench sponsors to account if the mechanism in such a Bill causes damage.

As my noble friend the Leader of the House just said, it is important not to set a precedent. The Bill is about stopping a premature no deal, for which I have some sympathy, but for the reasons I have stated the Bill needs amendment. I would be glad to hear from someone among the opposition promoters—although I am not sure who; perhaps the Deputy Leader of the Opposition the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, who has always supported impact assessments, or another of her colleagues—on how we might meet some of these concerns about proper assessment. My noble friend the Brexit Minister may also be able to think of a way to do so.

Given our often tedious scrutiny role—I am afraid that this is a technical point, and some may feel it is tedious—it was cheering to hear the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union express the expectation that this House would correct the flaws in the Bill. That is what we need to do today. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Pannick Lord Pannick Crossbench

My Lords, I oppose the amendment. It would frustrate the very purpose of the Bill, which is to leave it to the House of Commons to identify what it thinks is the appropriate date.

Photo of Baroness Noakes Baroness Noakes Conservative

My Lords, I support my noble friend’s amendment for two reasons. First, this remains a wretched Bill, taking power away from the Government and their ability to use the royal prerogative. Therefore, I would support any restriction on that measure being put into the Bill. Secondly, I support the points made by my noble friend in respect of the financial impact of different variants of a delay in leaving the EU. The fact that the Bill was not treated as a money Bill in the other place is beyond my comprehension, as is the fact that my noble friend was unable to table an amendment explicitly calling for an impact assessment or something else—but the ways of the Public Bill Office are strange on occasion. I support my noble friend.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Newnham Baroness Smith of Newnham Liberal Democrat

My Lords, there may be some flaws in the Bill—hence the support from these Benches for some of the other amendments. However, we agree with the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, that this amendment is unnecessary and that it should be for the other place to set a date.

Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Chair, Economic Affairs Committee, Chair, Finance Bill Sub-Committee

My Lords, noble Lords are saying that it is for the other place to set a date. My understanding is that it will have one hour to consider our amendments and every aspect of the Bill. It is apparent from the speech made by my noble friend that there is an issue here. As I raised on Thursday, I do not understand why the Bill did not have a money resolution. It is perfectly possible that, in return for agreeing a date, the European Union could demand even more than the £39 billion already offered by the Prime Minister, and that the financial consequences could be considerable. This amendment seeks some kind of time limit on the process, which is sensible.

Photo of Lord Howarth of Newport Lord Howarth of Newport Labour

My Lords, we should be grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, for her amendment and for inviting us to consider the issues she identified. Any damage our economy is experiencing at the moment is on account not of the people’s decision in the 2016 referendum but of the highly protracted process and continuing uncertainty that is paralysing economic decision-making, particularly in investment and consumer decisions. The noble Baroness is absolutely right: we need the best objective assessment available as to the damage that the continuation of this uncertainty would cause. The proponents of a long extension of Article 50 must address the question of their responsibility for the continuing economic damage that would result.

Photo of Lord Robathan Lord Robathan Conservative

My Lords, in rising to support my noble friend, I am somewhat confused because this is a Private Member’s Bill that was absolutely pushed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, who is not here today, from the Labour Front Bench only on Thursday. It was then taken forward by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who is not here today, and now it is being taken forward by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson. I am sure that that is all normal, but this is a huge constitutional step which seems to have, as my noble friend Lord Forsyth said, no parents. This is a very important step and we seem to be drifting into it without any considered thought at all.

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Labour

My Lords, what has just been demonstrated is that the Bill has many parents and very wide support across the House. The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, is completely conclusive. It is for the House of Commons to decide what the date should be. The Commons have invited us to give them this power, and I think that we should get on with it.

Photo of Viscount Trenchard Viscount Trenchard Conservative

My Lords, I apologise for having failed to speak in the debate on Second Reading. I had to leave London early on Friday to attend a memorial service the following day. I was pleased to see that the normal operation of the usual channels was restored on Thursday, although I deplore the fact that the closure Motion procedure was excessively and improperly used. Indeed, I would guess that it was used more times than in the previous decade or more—I would like to know. The result was that I was unable to speak either in the debate on the amendment to the business Motion moved by my noble friend Lord Forsyth or in the debate on that tabled by my noble friend Lord True. Of rather more significance than my ability to speak, however, is the fact that the use of the closure procedure denied both my noble friends the right to reply to the debates on the amendments that they had moved.

As my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe illustrated so well at Second Reading, the nature of business in the UK Parliament and the UK Government seems to be increasingly last minute. It is simply unacceptable to try to rush through a Bill of such huge importance without proper time to consider its implications. It makes a mockery of our parliamentary democracy. The Bill received a Second Reading in the other place by the narrowest of majorities: just one vote. It is deplorable that many noble Lords thought it was nevertheless appropriate to suspend the normal procedural rules of this House—

Photo of Lord Pannick Lord Pannick Crossbench

My Lords, may I respectfully remind the noble Viscount that we are debating Amendment 4?

Photo of Viscount Trenchard Viscount Trenchard Conservative

I am well aware, and I thank the noble Lord for his advice.

However, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Blencathra on the report from his committee and on the fact that he so quickly responded.

The amendment moved by my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe is much needed. In her speech at Second Reading and again today, she has made the very good point that the Bill has profound financial implications. My noble friend Lord Cathcart also made this point most clearly in his powerful speech. It is reasonable to say that the terms of withdrawal should require the UK to honour its commitments during the current EU spending round, provided of course that the UK is not disadvantaged by its decision to leave the EU in terms of the amounts that UK projects and companies would otherwise have received from EU programmes.

Besides that, any extension beyond 22 May would require us to participate in the European Parliament elections, and that requirement would of course have financial implications. It is therefore strange that the Speaker has ruled that this is not a money Bill, but it is not surprising given his increasing willingness to allow his own political views and prejudices—

Photo of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Crossbench

My Lords, like the noble Viscount, I was not able to be here for the debate on Second Reading. I am therefore sure that he will agree with me that neither of us should intervene.

Photo of Viscount Trenchard Viscount Trenchard Conservative

I hear that the noble Lord thinks that, but I regret that I take a different opinion. I have apologised for not having been present at the debate on Second Reading for the reason I have given, but this morning I took the trouble to read virtually the whole of the debate.

Photo of Viscount Trenchard Viscount Trenchard Conservative

No, I would like to finish so I will not give way to the noble Lord again. It is therefore strange—

Photo of Lord Lisvane Lord Lisvane Crossbench

My Lords, I rise purely in a spirit of helpfulness. Perhaps the noble Viscount could keep in mind the difference between a money Bill and a Bill that requires a money resolution. It is quite a profound difference.

Photo of Viscount Trenchard Viscount Trenchard Conservative

I thank the noble Lord for his helpful advice. Nevertheless, I find it strange that the Speaker made the ruling he did, as the—

Photo of Lord Taylor of Holbeach Lord Taylor of Holbeach Captain of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen-at-Arms (HM Household) (Chief Whip, House of Lords), Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

I must remind my noble friend that, under paragraph 4.45, it is incorrect for Members of this House to criticise proceedings in another place or rulings of the Speaker. I make this point only to help the debate to move on.

Photo of Viscount Trenchard Viscount Trenchard Conservative

I thank my noble friend for his correction.

Photo of Lord Goldsmith Lord Goldsmith Labour 3:30 pm, 8th April 2019

My Lords, I take the place of my noble friend Lady Hayter today. She, like my noble friend Lord Rooker, is not able to be here.

To those, including the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, who have said we have to ensure there is not a precedent, I say that of course this is not a precedent, because the circumstances are exceptional. They are exceptional because, unless something is done, we risk leaving the European Union without a deal on Friday. It is in these circumstances that the other place took the decision that this Bill should be presented to us; we have been dealing with it. As I said at the conclusion of Second Reading, I very much hope we will be able to conclude it in time today.

As this is the first time I have spoken, I add my thanks to the Chief Whip for the work he did on Thursday to enable us to get to this stage. I remind noble Lords that we need to get to the end of this Bill, as he has said.

Photo of Lord Hamilton of Epsom Lord Hamilton of Epsom Conservative

If the circumstances are exceptional, why does that mean it has not created a precedent?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith Lord Goldsmith Labour

I think it speaks for itself. We have not found ourselves in this sort of situation before. Others in the House can deal with this, if they would like, through the Procedure Committee later.

So far as the amendment itself is concerned—

Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Chair, Economic Affairs Committee, Chair, Finance Bill Sub-Committee

Could the noble Lord help us understand what the word “exceptional” means? On Thursday we had five closure Motions, where the Lord Speaker had to read out a text that says this should be used only in the most exceptional circumstances.

Photo of Lord Goldsmith Lord Goldsmith Labour

That was the view the House took on each of those closure Motions.

To deal with the substance, we oppose the amendment, essentially for the reason put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick—that we should not send this Bill back with constraints on the other place. What will then happen is for the Prime Minister and the other House to determine, but I urge the noble Baroness not to press her amendment.

Photo of Lord Howard of Lympne Lord Howard of Lympne Conservative

The noble Lord says we should not put constraints on the other place when we consider these amendments. Has not the argument been put forward many times from the Benches on which he sits that we should take into account the extent of the majority in the other place for any legislation we are considering? I cannot recall a narrower majority than the one by which this Bill was passed in the other place.

Photo of Lord Goldsmith Lord Goldsmith Labour

I will not attempt definitions of words; I am a lawyer, not a grammarian.

Photo of Lord Patten of Barnes Lord Patten of Barnes Conservative

The Government distinguished by the leadership of Lady Thatcher came into office on the basis of one vote, as I remember. All of us, including my noble friend—and he is a friend—benefited from that.

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe Conservative

I am grateful for the support I have had for my amendment and for the echo that uncertainty in the Brexit process is a problem for business and for citizens of this country. We really need to resolve this.

Photo of Lord Framlingham Lord Framlingham Conservative

Given that my noble friend has put uncertainty at the heart of her remarks, does she not think that at least some credence should be given to the idea of coming out and leaving Europe this Friday, which would give the certainty that everyone craves? There may be difficulties, but given that certainty is one of the overriding factors, surely that should be considered.

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe Conservative

I will move on, rather than try to be Prime Minister for the afternoon. Clearly, I was concerned that it was not possible to look properly at the financial and business impacts in this Bill. I have heard it said that we would not take this as a precedent because of the special circumstances, which certainly gives me some comfort. I have to accept that the date is a matter that needs to be decided by a combination of the other place, the Prime Minister—and, of course, the EU, which I am afraid will also have a bearing on what date we eventually leave the EU.

In the circumstances and with thanks to those who have spoken, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 4 withdrawn.