My Lords, I shall not detain the House long. My amendment would ensure that this legislation ceases to have effect on exit day. It could be said that the amendment is there just for the avoidance of doubt because, clearly, there is nothing to be done with this Bill after exit day. However, I wanted to table the amendment because this is, by almost common consent, a pretty terrible Bill. One of the best things that has been said about it today is that it is a bit of a mess. During the brief passage through your Lordships’ House, it has been improved, which is what customarily happens when this House considers ill-thought-out Bills from the other place.
As I said at Second Reading, I have accepted that the will of the other place will prevail in the case of this Bill. Therefore, the powers that it creates to restrict the royal prerogative in this important area of international relations will come into force to the extent now drafted. I regret that, but I hope that we will return to the normal practice of leaving the royal prerogative for international relations and negotiations with the Government on an unfettered basis. I have tabled this amendment to make the point more forcefully that this should not be a permanent part of our statute book; we should write it out as soon as the purpose of those who have sought to make it the law of the land for this week comes to an end. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support my noble friend Lady Noakes on this amendment. As she explained so clearly on Thursday and in her speech today, the curtailment of prerogative powers envisaged in this Bill is significant. I agree with her that the powers available to the Government to negotiate international treaties are important and should not be curtailed.
My noble friend Lord Norton of Louth, who is acknowledged across your Lordships’ House as the most knowledgeable constitutional expert, explained that the changes sought by the Bill, and the practices by which it was passed in another place, are not small but highly significant. I consider it unfortunate that your Lordships’ House is likely to pass this Bill, but at least it would be better if its destructive elements could be made temporary. Surely even noble Lords who support the Bill would agree that, against the background of the views of the noble Lord, Lord Norton, on the matter, the restrictions on prerogative powers should be temporary. It would be unfortunate for the House to agree to a precedent created by such a rushed and controversial piece of legislation.
My Lords, if that is the case, there is no reason at all why we should not accept this amendment. The Prime Minister sent her letter asking for an extension on Friday, so I have spent most of the weekend trying to work out what the point of this Bill was in the first place. Given that we have amended it in respect of the prerogative powers, it is just a very bad piece of legislation. My noble friend Lady Noakes is offering the House the opportunity to get rid of a very embarrassing relative. The Bill and its genesis are not something of which this House or the other place can be particularly proud. It is a very bad Bill, conceived for all the wrong reasons. It has ridden roughshod over our procedures. Having a sunset clause, which is what this amendment offers, would be a very good thing indeed. I very much support my noble friend.
My Lords, I have been thinking hard over the past few weeks about the meaning of parliamentary sovereignty, which was one of the things that the leave campaign strongly campaigned to restore. Last week, I was struck to hear Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg in the other place defend the relationship between the Government and Parliament at the time of Henry VIII as the most appropriate relationship between monarch and Parliament. Oliver Letwin replied that we had fought a civil war a century later to establish a proper relationship between the Executive and the legislature.
Much of what we are doing in this Bill is not entirely ideal. We need not have had this Bill if the Government had been more united, if negotiations had been expedited and if Parliament had been more actively engaged at an earlier stage. We are now up against a tight deadline and we have to take some emergency measures. That is where we are and we need to recognise that.
I wonder if the noble Lord might add this to the conditions in which this Bill would have been unnecessary: if Parliament had been prepared to respect the result of the referendum.
My Lords, I understand the misgivings that many in this House have about this Bill, but I have to say to the noble Baroness that her amendment would not stop the Bill becoming an Act. It is going to become an Act, and that is the mischief, so she cannot stop through her amendment the mischief that she wishes to stop. As the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said, the Bill ceases to have an effect, so she need not worry about that either.
There is another reason why we should not pass this amendment: with the amendments we have passed so far, supported by the Government, they will be supported in the House of Commons, and so we will not have ping-pong. If we were to pass the noble Baroness’s amendment and the Government resisted it in the House of Commons, the Bill would have to come back here and there would be further delay. Therefore, I urge her not to press her amendment, because it is unnecessary and it will cause unnecessary prolongation of the procedures.
Before the noble Lord sits down, why does he think the Government would resist this?
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, is right, though I understand where the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, is coming from. The point has been made about the Bill itself, but this does not take the Bill away—it will have served its purpose, or not, and therefore we could not support this amendment. I imagine the Government would not either, but I wait to hear.
Momentarily, of course, because that silence has been purely motivated by my loyalty to the Government Chief Whip and his assurance last Thursday about the speed with which this legislation would be put through. Like the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, I am not a lawyer, I am simply—like him—a politician. I heard one of the Bishops this morning on “Thought for the Day” quoting somebody as saying that politics is the art of the possible, and indeed it is. It is the possibility that we leave on Friday of this week—my birthday, as it happens—crashing out without any withdrawal agreement, which should frighten us all. Anybody who is in any doubt about that might read the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Stern, at Second Reading last week—a chilling and brief speech about the consensus view of economists.
A lot of lawyers have spoken in this debate and, indeed, last week as well. The House has a range of opinions from which it can choose, as is usually the case when you commission lawyers. In my case, I choose the view of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. I simply point to the fact that I have said not a word during these proceedings on the Bill, but people will notice that the size of the majority in the last Division probably achieved record proportions. Maybe some other people should take a lesson from silence.
My Lords, it does not surprise me that I have been supported by some of my noble friends and opposed by people on other Benches. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, that the Bill does not stop us leaving this Friday. If the EU decides not to agree an extension, we will leave on Friday. I am not frightened about that. I believe that the Government have made many significant preparations towards it, as have many on the continent. A lot of scaremongering has been going on. But that is not the point of my amendment, which was to draw attention to the fact that this unfortunate piece of legislation has been brought before this House and the way in which it has been processed in both Houses. I will not delay the Bill further by seeking to call another Division, much though I am sorely tempted to do so. I beg leave to withdraw.
Amendment 8 withdrawn.
Clause 3 agreed.
Bill reported with amendments.