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Moved by Lord Pannick
7: Clause 1, page 2, line 3, at end insert—“(8) Nothing in this section prevents a Minister of the Crown from seeking, or agreeing to, an extension of the period specified in Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union otherwise than in accordance with this section provided that the extension cannot end earlier than
Amendment 7 agreed.
Debate on whether Clause 1 should stand part of the Bill.
I will say a brief word in line with the comments I made on a matter that I flagged up at Second Reading. The main issue overshadowing today’s debate is the danger of us reaching midnight this Friday with no agreement and of the UK leaving the EU on a no-deal basis, despite the House of Commons having voted overwhelmingly against such an eventuality.
I tried to table an amendment to address this along the lines of that tabled by Joanna Cherry MP in the other place—proposed new Clause 20—which was successfully tabled and appeared on the Commons Order Paper for
The amendment sought to ensure that, if the UK Government failed to pass its meaningful vote or to secure an extension, and we therefore faced a no-deal scenario, the Government would be required to table a Motion indicating that the House of Commons agreed to leave the European Union without a withdrawal agreement—that is, on a no-deal basis—and if that Motion failed to pass, as might be expected, the Government would be compelled to revoke Article 50 in line with the ruling of the European Court of Justice in the Wightman case. The Labour Party at Westminster has failed to indicate that it would support an amendment to revoke Article 50 at this time; Sir Keir Starmer MP said on the Floor of the House that Labour would cross that bridge when it came to it. However, the First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, has indicated that he would support the revocation of Article 50 in the event of no deal.
This amendment was nothing more than a safety net or insurance policy to ensure that, in the event of a total breakdown of the Brexit process, we do not leave with a disastrous no-deal scenario, which would be a danger to jobs, wages and security, as identified by the Government’s own analysis. Delay and indecision have led us to the edge of a precipice. We are peering over that edge, we need a safety net just in case we slip, and this revocation amendment would have done exactly that. I do not oppose Clause 1 stand part but I believe that in passing it, we should be aware of the central deficiency in the Bill.
Clause 1 agreed.
Clause 2: Procedure for ensuring domestic legislation matches Article 50 extension
Debate on whether Clause 2 should stand part of the Bill.
My Lords, I speak as a member of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. The chairman of the committee, the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, is unable to be here today because is absent on parliamentary business. No doubt noble Lords have a copy of the 51st report of the Delegated Powers Committee. The argument set out by the committee is brief, concise and telling. I will not attempt to summarise it or indeed to read out the report, because paragraph 5 could hardly be summarised more briefly than it has been set out by the committee.
The committee acknowledges in paragraph 4:
“The principal justification for clause 2 of this Bill is that it might be necessary to legislate at speed next week”— in other words, this week—
“to change exit day. The affirmative procedure might cause delays, with the risk that exit day in domestic law might not be aligned with exit day agreed under EU law”.
The committee goes on to say that on the other hand, there are powerful and telling arguments in favour of the affirmative procedure. It notes that were Clause 2 to be removed from the Bill, we would simply return to, as it were, the default setting.
Because this will be a matter of business management, the most helpful thing for your Lordships might be to have some indication from the Minister as to whether there is a balance of advantage of using the negative or the affirmative procedure. On that basis, it may be for your Lordships to decide whether Clause 2 remains in the Bill.
My Lords, again, I am disadvantaged as being neither a member of the committee or a lawyer. I am surprised that the noble Lord has not drawn the attention of the House to the fact that, as I understand it, the committee report makes it clear that this House would no longer be able to be consulted on those matters. Is that not correct?
It is indeed; the noble Lord is correctly quoting from the final bullet point of paragraph 5. I did not want to delay your Lordships further, but that is a helpful, additional piece of information set out in the report.
Perhaps the noble Lord would also say a word about the effect of a petition against. The fact that the instrument is passed is not the end of the day, or at least not necessarily so. Could he elaborate a bit on the consequences if someone objects after the event?
I should be happy to do so. The Convenor of the Cross Benches, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, has helpfully drawn attention to the possible uncertainty that might arise were the negative procedure to be kept in place and were there to be a successful Motion for annulment of the instrument that was made under that provision. I suggest that that is an additional argument for returning to the affirmative procedure.
My Lords, this has been a difficult matter to determine, but the priority as I see it remains ensuring that this can be done in time. That is the concern. I do not want to be disagreeable at this point in the debate, but we all know that the Prime Minister knew last December that the deal that she had done would not pass, but we find ourselves at the very last stages having to deal with the possibilities of what happens if she cannot reach an agreement.
The affirmative procedure gives rise to the concern that the matter will have to return, perhaps on Friday: it depends what time the European Council meeting finishes. We have already destroyed the recess for many people, and that would destroy the weekend as well. Although we on these Benches are normally strongly in favour of affirmative resolutions, on this occasion we see the force of what is in the Bill.
I am not responsible for the Bill, but I offer a further argument in favour of retaining Clause 2. The practical reality is that, on Wednesday night, the Prime Minister will be offered a deal by the European Council. She will either accept it or not. The overwhelming probability is that she will come to some agreement with the European Council.
If the matter comes back on an affirmative resolution before the House of Commons and this House on Thursday or Friday, there will be only two choices: either we accept the date that has been agreed or we leave on Friday at 11 pm. The House of Commons has overwhelmingly voted that it does not wish to leave with no deal, and the view of this House is perfectly clear that it does not want to leave with no deal. Therefore, it seems to me that, in the extraordinary circumstances we now find ourselves, Clause 2 is entirely acceptable.
My Lords, uncharacteristically, I think the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, made a slight slip when he said that the Prime Minister would come back with a deal. She will not be coming back with a deal; she will be coming back with a date. The committee report states:
“The date of the UK’s exit from the EU remains a matter of the greatest political and legal significance. It is right that the matter be debated in Parliament before the current date of
When the Government changed the date from
I must say that in introducing the debate the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, was very brief in his description. The outside world may not realise what is proposed here, which is entirely to cut the House of Lords out of approving the date, which the report rightly says is of the greatest political significance. Judging from the amount of grief I had at the weekend from people who are very disillusioned by the performance of Parliament on this matter, it is something that concerns many millions of our fellow citizens. I am therefore very surprised that this should be treated as just a matter of convenience.
The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, which is held in the highest regard and afforded the highest respect, made clear recommendations. The point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, is important: if this is to be done through a negative resolution, we will be invited after the event to consider whether we agreed with it, thus creating uncertainty. Again, we had the same discussion on Thursday. This is not about what the House thinks on whether we should leave the European Union; it is about whether our procedures and processes should be respected. The idea that it might be inconvenient or difficult to meet the timetable, and that we should therefore ignore our processes, is not good.
In the penultimate bullet point, it is clear that if the negative procedure is adopted and a Motion against the date is successful, the exit date will be invalidated and we will have to start again.
I am grateful for my noble friend’s intervention. I am most obliged to him as a lawyer for backing up my case—and doing so for free. We should treat the amendment very seriously. I look forward to hearing what my noble friend the Minister has to say. We have not heard a squeak from the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, who is apparently the midwife responsible for the Bill.
My Lords, our position is similar to that of the Opposition, as outlined by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith. We on these Benches would of course normally want to uphold the affirmative procedure; after all, we fought hard for it in the EU withdrawal Act. However, we are in exceptional times and it would be absurd for us to get to the end of the week with procedure having got in the way of good legal order.
I was reflecting the position and view of my colleagues in the other place. As I said, in principle, we prefer the affirmative procedure. However, I would also prefer to avoid the catastrophe of no deal. Therefore, it would be ridiculous for us to get to the end of week and be prevented from amending exit day by the inhibitions of procedure. I take the point that negative procedure can be prayed against but that risk is relatively minimal.
It is true that Clause 2 is headed, “Procedure for ensuring domestic legislation matches Article 50 extension”. If the Article 50 extension has been agreed to, it is in EU law. I remember the Government being slightly coy two weeks ago in acknowledging that EU law trumps domestic law. Our amending exit day to accord with the date of an extension is an essential tidying-up exercise in domestic law; otherwise, discordance between the two dates leads to uncertainty. It is essential that exit day accords with the Article 50 extension.
The noble Baroness was rather dismissive a moment ago about the inhibitions of procedure. Is this whole Bill not designed to put such inhibitions in place? That is what we are discussing. That is what it is all about.
I have talked about the specific context. If we get to the end of this week, it would be absurd for us to be prevented from preventing no deal because of the need for an affirmative resolution. That is a very specific scenario which justifies the negative procedure in this case.
My Lords, a few days ago, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, while hurrying us along, said that she was prepared to sit right through the night and that breakfast would be provided. Our Easter Recess has been removed for the time being. I and, I am sure, all noble Lords are quite prepared to sit on Thursday, Friday, Saturday or whatever it takes.
It does not matter if some of us are not prepared to do so; some of us are.
Although I am not good at procedure, I hesitate to reject the report of the committee which contains Members who are luminaries in procedure and law. I cite my noble friend Lord Lisvane, the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and others. They must have met over the weekend and they have turned out this report. We cannot just dismiss it. What is our discomfort or the lack of a day or two’s break compared with the terrific constitutional and future issues at stake?
My Lords, I should like to add one point to what the noble Baroness has just said. Clause 2 is not concerned with the end of this week. The way it is worded, it will apply whenever the issue arises, and that is a matter of considerable concern. We might be moving forward to May. There will be ample time with ample warning, and yet the thing goes through under the negative procedure and is subject to the risk to which our attention has been drawn—of someone objecting, and in due course the date that was in the negative instrument would be declared invalid. That is a big risk to take and we should not be distracted from the fact that the end of this week has certain tensions about it because we are changing the law for all time. That is a very serious step to take.
My Lords, I hope that this is an unnecessary fear, but it ought to be clarified. My worry, which I am sorry to say has been intensified by what happened on Thursday, is that if an affirmative resolution is needed on Friday or Saturday, is there a risk that it could be filibustered and therefore not passed? We would then crash out because of that obstruction to the business of the House. As I say, that worries me very much, so for that reason I support the inclusion of Clause 2.
My Lords, I know nothing of these matters but perhaps the noble Lord could explain how you can filibuster a statutory instrument?
As the noble Lord will have discovered, we have a procedure which last Thursday was used on five occasions in order to bring the matter to a close.
My Lords, it is worth reminding the Committee that the first steps to dictatorship have, through the centuries, consistently been related to abandoning procedures and precedents which are put in place in order to ensure that legislation is properly considered. I am not saying that we are going as far as the Enabling Act, but this is a very dangerous path.
My Lords, this discussion has unearthed some serious issues. I hope therefore that there will be an opportunity to vote on this matter so that people’s votes can be recorded.
Let me reassure my noble friend Lord Forsyth that I am not responsible for this Bill either, although I have to say that I am quite enjoying watching the Opposition perform procedural somersaults and disavow everything that has been said previously on matters such as respecting the House of Commons, affirmative resolutions and everything else. Nevertheless, we return to the subject.
It is the position of the Government that Clause 2 should remain part of the Bill. I appreciate the concerns expressed on this issue and the sentiments behind them, and of course I recall vividly the lengthy debate we had on parliamentary scrutiny of the use of delegated powers more generally during the passage of the EU withdrawal Bill. I seem to recall the Liberals arguing for precisely the opposite position at that stage, but consistency has never been their strong point. As noble Lords are aware, the Government do not support the Bill or the conditions it is attempting to impose on government. However, as I said earlier, given the support commanded in the other place, the Government have decided that they must intervene to improve and limit its most damaging effects.
The Bill creates a new parliamentary process that the Government must adhere to in order to agree an extension of Article 50 with the European Union, if the European Council proposes an end date to the extension different to that proposed by the House of Commons. Given that the European Council is on Wednesday
Noble Lords will be well aware—indeed, I answered questions on this topic earlier today—that agreeing an extension is not a decision the UK can take alone. It must be agreed unanimously with all other 27 EU member states. Following this, we must also amend the date of exit in domestic law to ensure that the statute book accurately reflects what is set out in international law.
Under the draft affirmative procedure, both Houses are required to debate and approve the statutory instrument, which significantly increases the risk of this not being in force in time for 11 pm on
Furthermore, not only has Parliament repeatedly argued in favour of an extension to Article 50 and against leaving the EU without a deal, both Houses have already debated and approved one SI to defer exit day. There is clearly widespread approval to use this power in such a way. As I am sure noble Lords are all aware, while the power has a significant effect—ensuring a functioning statute book—its scope is limited to changing exit day to the date already agreed in international law by the Prime Minister, and the SI cannot be made until that point. It is for this reason that the Government tabled the new clause and that the elected Chamber voted with a large majority to support this. I hope this House will support the same sentiment and allow this clause to stand part of the Bill.
I answered a question from the noble Lord earlier today on that, and I am not sure there is much benefit in going back over those subjects. We are extensively prepared for no deal because that is the legal default, but we are now supporting this legislation—however flawed—that has been sent to us by the House of Commons.
Ayes 280, Noes 46.