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My Lords, Clause 3 already provides for the publication of regular reports on progress towards the formation of an Executive in Northern Ireland, and for those reports to be laid before Parliament—one by
However, let there be no doubt about the main purpose of the amendments. They are defensive fortifications against the possibility—unlikely, no doubt, but pointedly not disavowed by the leading candidate—that the next Prime Minister will advise Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament for the express purpose of achieving a no-deal Brexit to which Parliament is opposed. I am no enthusiast for procedural gambits—today of all days, we should be wary of anything that is not cricket—but to my mind these amendments are abundantly justified by the extraordinary gravity of what is apparently being contemplated.
This would not be a standard prorogation of Parliament. The purpose of the prorogation extending beyond
I accept of course that prorogation has attracted controversy in the past. A technical use of it was made in 1948 to fulfil the requirement in the Parliament Act 1911 that a Parliament Bill be approved by the Commons in three successive Sessions. In that case, though, a clear majority of MPs desired the legislation to pass and were in favour of prorogation for that purpose. That episode pales into insignificance when compared to what it seems is now so casually contemplated: a direct assault on the sovereignty of Parliament itself, aimed at circumventing its will irrevocably on one of the central questions of our time.
My Lords, is the noble Lord right to describe what happened in 1948 as a technical matter? It was moved by a Labour Government to impose their nationalisation of British steel, which was opposed by this House, and to remove the ability of this House to delay the legislation. How can that be described as a technical matter?
What happened in 1948 was a prorogation to give effect to the provision of the Parliament Act 1911 that approval of the Commons was needed in three successive Sessions. The key distinction between that situation and what is proposed now is that it was a course that the House of Commons desired and was prepared to see go through.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord for the point he makes. However, getting hung up on an entirely different precedent from 1948 and suggesting that it might be in some way determinative of the position which we are now asked to contemplate is, I would suggest, too ludicrous to bear.
The noble Baroness makes another very good point. I refer to 1948 simply to say, first, that prorogation has been controversial in the past, and, secondly, that it pales into insignificance compared with what we are now asked to contemplate.
Those who contemplate prorogation not only are heedless of the sovereignty of Parliament but risk plunging the monarchy into the heart of an intense political dispute. We saw how this could happen in Canada in 2008, when the Governor General, as the representative of the Crown, was required to adjudicate on a request for prorogation that was widely seen to be politically motivated, and only granted it subject to an undertaking given by the Prime Minister. I appreciated the dry understatement of Catherine Haddon of the Institute for Government when she said last week:
“A constitutional showdown between Parliament and the executive of the order of the Civil War is definitely something that the palace would prefer not to be dragged into”— but she made a serious point.
If agreed, these amendments will serve two purposes: the sending of a political message and the sharpening of a legal challenge such as that already mooted by Sir John Major, should it be needed as a last resort. My noble friend Lord Pannick made a powerful case in the Times last month for the proposition that the courts, if invited, would come to the rescue of parliamentary sovereignty, as they did on the basis of the noble Lord’s submissions in the Miller case. Over 30 years, I have learned to bet against the noble Lord only rarely and I would not do so on this occasion. One who has done so is the legal academic Robert Craig, who recently suggested that the courts would decline to intervene because,
“there is no particular statutory provision that would be frustrated by prorogation”.
To the extent that there may be merit in that view—and I accept that absolute certainty in this area is difficult to achieve—that is all the more reason for supporting these amendments.
I regret that it has been necessary to table them in the context of this Bill, but they will put beyond doubt the resistance of Parliament to an undemocratic and profoundly discreditable device. I beg to move.
My Lords, if I may, I tabled an amendment to this amendment, which I believe under procedure should be taken at the earliest opportunity.
I am very grateful to the noble Countess, Lady Mar, for her intervention. Perhaps I might revert to where I started.
I rise very briefly to support the amendment to which I was very happy to put my name, which was so clearly advocated by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. As he said, its only purpose is to make it more difficult—impossible, I would like to think—for a Prime Minister to prorogue Parliament for an improper purpose: namely, to prevent the House of Commons from challenging, and perhaps overriding, the decisions of Ministers with regard to Brexit. The fact that in a parliamentary democracy we have to contemplate such a possibility is truly lamentable, especially when the party in office is the Conservative Party, which I have supported in and out of Parliament for 40 years, and my family has for much longer. But that is where Brexit and the personality of Mr Johnson have brought us.
Most Members of this House, not least those of us who have served in the House of Commons, know that such an action would subvert the foundations of parliamentary government. As the noble Lord reminded us, it would also involve the Monarchy in an intensely partisan controversy. We must take every proper and available step to frustrate that possibility. This amendment addresses that purpose, and it is in that spirit, and for that reason, that I commend it to your Lordships’ Committee.
I thank the noble Lord. I think it would be helpful for the House to hear the other side of the river speak, as it were—the minority that we are. I was not minded to take part in this Bill, though I am troubled by the high-handed intervention in Ulster affairs and other parts of the Bill by MPs in another place, and will be listening carefully to what my noble friends say later.
I tabled my amendment because I am concerned by the attempt to hijack a Northern Ireland Bill to—let us be blunt—stop the UK leaving the EU on
This amendment does not touch the call for progress reports, but it prevents exaggerated machinery being added for repeated debates, which some have admitted is to stop Brexit on
The motive for all this is clear, whatever the pretence. One of the two men likely, though not certain, to become our next Prime Minister has said that he would honour the verdict of the referendum and take Britain out of the European Union on
The noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, who spoke eloquently, states on his website that he is an EU law nerd and veteran of more than 150 cases before the ECJ. He argued that, even if Brexit were delayed, the British people did not need to be given the chance to vote in EU elections—“Do not let the people speak”. The noble Lord described as moving my noble friend Lord Hailsham’s words, which were that Brexit was an act of national self-harm that moved him to anger, shame and distress. We may safely conclude that the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, is not an enthusiast for Brexit.
My noble friend Lord Hailsham has always been open. From the outset, he declared his wish to frustrate Brexit, as did the noble Lord, Lord Newby. I do not know about other noble Lords, but I have never seen the name of the noble Lord, Lord Newby, on an amendment to do with the EU and concluded that it might be about advancing our exit. This amendment is designed to do one thing: to make it harder to leave the EU on
The smokescreen of this amendment, as we have heard, is all about stopping Parliament being prorogued, so Parliament can have a say. Make no mistake that my right honourable friend Boris Johnson—as has been made clear by my noble friend Lord Hailsham—is the target of this, as he is the target of a relentless campaign of personal vilification. Mr Johnson, it is said, wants to prorogue Parliament to “force” Britain out of the EU. Mr Johnson, of course, has said no such thing, but we have since had the spectacle of a former Prime Minister, himself responsible for the longest political Prorogation in modern times, threatening legal action against one of his successors to prevent him giving considered advice to the sovereign. Is it not extraordinary for a former Prime Minister to argue that the duty to advise the Crown should be taken away from the elected Prime Minister and given to unelected judges?
We are now told that, seven days before seeing the sovereign, a Prime Minister must send a letter to Mishcon de Reya, which I gather is a law firm. I count myself fortunate to have had no dealings with it and, after this, I intend none. Who elected it? We were told that what a Prime Minister advises a sovereign must be subject to judicial review. What next? Will the Supreme Court require and subpoena transcripts of the weekly Audience to find out the purport of the advice the Prime Minister is giving? Will the Prime Minister’s advice have to be accompanied by an explanatory note from the noble Lord, Lord Pannick?
I will come to Prorogation latter. It is reasonable to deploy an argument; it is also reasonable not to accept an imputed wish. Who can impute the purpose of a Prime Minister in advising on a Prorogation? I ask: will the Prime Minister’s advice have to be accompanied by an explanatory note from the noble Lord, Lord Pannick—who we understand has been retained in this matter—telling Her Majesty what she may lawfully hear and what is subject to JR by Mishcon de Reya?
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, said she is all for this procedure. Has she, or the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith—who will be speaking on the matter from the Front Bench—told her leader that? Can you imagine the hail of judicial reviews that would rain down on the Government, led by Mr Corbyn, and the advice he might tender Her Majesty about the use of the prerogative? “Ma’am, you must invite comrade President Maduro on a state visit, grant an honorary knighthood to Raúl Castro or appoint an ambassador to Hamas”. Will Mishcon de Reya ask for a letter about that advice?
As—I feel I should state—the husband of a former partner in Mishcon de Reya, can I ask the noble Lord, with his distinguished record of parliamentary and public service, how he would like to limit the ambit of judicial review, which is the way in which citizens challenge administrative action that has been called into doubt?
Whether judicial review should be limited will be a matter for whichever judge the case is put before. My submission is that this is an inappropriate use. The irony when it comes to judicial review is that most JRs of Jeremy Corbyn would come from the Labour Party itself.
Amendment 7 is not a question of allowing Parliament to decide on Brexit. Parliament asked the people to decide the question; the people decided. Parliament voted to invoke Article 50. This Parliament, in this very Session, voted by overwhelming majorities to leave the EU. Parliament has set the law of the land that we should leave on
I am trying to follow my noble friend’s thoughts. Is he arguing in favour of an elected judiciary, or does he uphold the rule of law that we currently enjoy in this country? Does he not accept that, while a majority voted to leave the European Union, we have yet to decide by a majority the process by which we do so?
My Lords, I construe the statute law that lies before us and have expounded it to the Committee just now.
Amendment 7 is a final clutching at straws by hard-line remainers to obstruct, delay and prevent this country doing on
On Prorogation, which Sir Oliver Letwin—and, it now seems, others—want to prevent, we have already endured in this pestilential, shameful Session, which has so damaged the image of Parliament and trust in politics, the longest parliamentary Session since the 1640s. What judge will now dictate when or why a Prime Minister may be permitted to advise Her Majesty to bring this wearisome Session to an end? I looked at the record. Until the change of the parliamentary year in 2010, and leaving out election years, Parliament was prorogued in October or November in 24 out of 24 years since 1979. There is nothing unusual about an autumn Prorogation; what is unusual is not having an autumn Prorogation. The prerogative power to end the Session was left untouched by the Prorogation Act 1867 and the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011. Parliament could have limited or removed the power; it did not do so. It did not do so, because, until this desperate ploy by hard-line remainers, an October Prorogation was a normal part of parliamentary life. Allowing a new Government to have a new Session with a new gracious Speech and new legislation necessary for the times was a normal and healthy part of parliamentary life. Everyone, wherever they stand on Brexit, is surely agreed that, when it comes, there will have to be new legislation and time to consider it, which means a full and fresh parliamentary Session.
It would be a serious mistake for your Lordships’ House to be a party to continuing games in the House of Commons. Seven days’ notice to Mishcon de Reya before any advice is tendered to the sovereign so that lawyers may wrangle over it is not a wise form of government to implement in the 21st century; nor is trying to prevent the calling of a new parliamentary Session. I submit that this farrago should not be tacked on to a Northern Ireland Bill. The other place rejected it and this House should reject it, too.
My Lords, I very much look forward to serving with the noble Lord, Lord True, on your Lordships’ Constitution Committee, to which he has recently been appointed. He will bring, I think it is fair to say, a fresh perspective to our deliberations.
I am very sorry that the noble Lord does not appear to understand the constitutional impropriety of a Prime Minister advising Her Majesty that Parliament should be prorogued for the express purpose of preventing Parliament expressing its views and taking action to prevent a no-deal Brexit. It is the motive for which such advice would be given that distinguishes such advice, and such Prorogation, from the examples he gave. The point is a very simple one.
I also much regret that the noble Lord sees fit to deprecate citizens of this country taking legal action to challenge the legality of conduct of the Prime Minister—
Can I just finish the sentence? The noble Lord referred as a matter of criticism, as he sees it, to unelected judges deciding matters. Judges are deciding the law of the land: that is their job and their responsibility. I think it is shameful, if I may say so, that a Member of this House should deprecate that process and the rule of law on which we pride ourselves.
My Lords, I will deal with the noble Lord’s condescending condemnations later. I ask him to withdraw the statement that I deprecated the act of any citizen. I ask him what citizen I attacked in any part of my speech.
I am not referring to particular citizens; I am referring to the very clearly expressed statement, which I heard and I think other noble Lords heard, that it is inappropriate and wrong for “unelected judges”—those were his words—to decide on the law of the land. That is their job. We pride ourselves on the rule of law in this country, and that is a fundamental element of the rule of law. I say that not just because I have an interest in this matter: my noble friend Lord Anderson of Ipswich referred to the fact that I have given advice to one particular citizen, Mrs Gina Miller, and I have given the legal advice that for a Prime Minister to advise Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament for the express purpose of preventing Parliament performing its constitutional responsibilities would be unlawful.
However, we are not here today to debate the law; we are here to address, as my noble friend Lord Anderson rightly said, what would be a constitutional outrage. I strongly support the amendment in the name of my noble friend, which is a means by which this House can prevent such an appalling eventuality.
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord True, for taking up my invitation to speak before I did. Apart from enlivening proceedings, it has given me the chance to respond to some of the things he said. I congratulate him on having a very acute and astute understanding of the policies of the Liberal Democrats when it comes to Brexit. These are not exactly secret, but he got them to a T.
One thing, however, that I think the noble Lord was wrong about was the suggestion that because we want the people to decide on Brexit, and we would prefer it if they decided they did not want Brexit, we are saying—far from it—that there should be no vote in September in the Commons about a no-deal Brexit. I would welcome such a vote. This amendment, this procedural gambit, is necessary only because we believe it is reasonable to take precautions against the new Prime Minister preventing the Commons having a vote. The only reason for it is that everybody in your Lordships’ House knows that, if the Commons votes on a no-deal Brexit, it will vote it down. The only way you get that outcome is by some kind of chicanery: the chicanery of proroguing Parliament purely for that political purpose. We believe, as does the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and the other signatories to the amendment, that that would be an improper use of Prorogation.
The noble Lord, Lord True, said that this Session has gone on far too long. Perhaps it has. I should be delighted to have Prorogation on
It is extraordinary that your Lordships’ House is having to resort to a procedural gambit in order to try to prevent a Prime Minister subverting the constitution. That sort of thing happens in tinpot dictatorships. We go around the world saying, “Of course, it does not happen here because we are so much more grounded in constitutional principle. No, it could not happen here”. The truth is that the incoming Prime Minister has not ruled out such a thing. It would have been very easy for him to have said, “Of course, I would never contemplate such a step because I know that it would be a constitutional impropriety and shameful for our democracy”, but he has refused to say that. What are we expected to do? Just sit on our hands and trust in the good sense of the incoming Prime Minister? There may be some people in the Conservative Party prepared to do that, but it does not extend much beyond that.
That is why we have an amendment which is a procedural gambit in a Bill about Northern Ireland: because it is all we have. We have seen no other way to put something on the statute book to prevent the constitutional principles of this country being ripped up. It is of course unsatisfactory to do that, but it is because we are in an extremely unsatisfactory position. That is why we strongly support the amendment.
My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord True in his amendment and congratulate those noble Lords who have spoken against it and in support of Amendment 7—I note that quite a few of them are lawyers—on their honesty in admitting that this is some kind of trick or gambit to frustrate the will of the British people, who voted overwhelmingly for us to leave the European Union, and to frustrate the law and the decision taken by both Houses of Parliament. I know that there is a difficulty in the House of Commons in so far as three times as many Members of Parliament voted to remain as voted to leave, but the fact is that Parliament passed the legislation to require people to take that decision and the Government of the day gave an undertaking that that decision would be respected. I am happy to give way to the noble Lord.
My Lords, the Government had a date to do that:
We have just heard speeches from the other side of the House against the amendment of my noble friend Lord Cormack, which sought to extend the deadline in respect of the Bill, that it would be foolish to do so because it would take off the pressure and would mean that we were kicking the can down the road. At the same time, it is perfectly clear that the mover of the amendment is passionately determined to prevent us leaving the European Union. That is what this amendment is about.
I wish to make a more general point about the Bill as a whole. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, welcomed the fact that my noble friend is to join the Constitution Committee, whose report on the Bill is extremely damning. I have never seen a bigger Christmas tree than this Bill—all sorts of things have been added. The Bill has been fast-tracked, which means that there is no opportunity to consider many of the important matters in detail. I do not blame the Government for that. The House of Commons has chosen to add a range of issues and the whole thing is going to be fast-tracked through this House. To my mind, when added to a device to try to frustrate the elected Government implementing what the people voted for in the referendum, that is deeply worrying.
I accept the result of the referendum, as my noble friend knows only too well, but the people did not vote to leave without a deal. The amendment would make sure that if the country leaves without a deal, it leaves without one but with parliamentary approval. That is the substance of the amendment.
I turn to the use of the phrase, “leaving without a deal”. Deals have already been made on citizenship, flying planes and access to ports. There is no deal. If my noble friend is saying that we must defend parliamentary democracy by voting for a deal in the form of the withdrawal agreement, which was overwhelmingly rejected, I think that he has got himself into something of a tangle. It is totally inappropriate for this amendment to be added to a fast-track Bill about Northern Ireland. The amendment would pursue some will-o’-the wisp notion that Parliament will somehow need to be prorogued so that we can leave the European Union on
I give way to my noble friend. We have all the usual suspects in this debate.
The point that my noble friend is skirting around is that Parliament—both this House and the other place—has voted against leaving the EU without an agreed deal. That is why we are so disturbed that one of the potential leaders of the Conservative Party and the future Prime Minister has refused to rule out using what would be a parliamentary gambit to prorogue Parliament with the express purpose of frustrating the votes in both Houses which say that we should not leave without a deal, as that has been shown to be damaging to the economy in all the official publications.
Does my noble friend agree that there was an overwhelming majority to pass a law which states that we would move Article 50 and leave the European Union? Parliament may have voted on Motions on one thing or another, and it may vote on Motions between now and
Does the noble Lord recognise that if we leave without a deal at the end of October, we will leave with no legal basis whatever on which to operate? We do not have a legal agreement. In order for no deal to be agreed, Parliament should have the right to vote for no deal.
I do not recognise that but I can understand why, as a member of the Liberal Party, the noble Lord continues to make that kind of argument, just as he and his party have sought to create unwarranted scare stories throughout the whole debate because they do not want us to leave the European Union. I am simply making the argument that a majority—17.3 million people—voted to leave the European Union and Parliament voted overwhelmingly to pass a law which moved Article 50 which means that we will be leaving on
All this stuff about prorogation is yet another example of people kicking up dust, wasting the time of this House and Parliament and diverting the Government from what they should be and are doing: making the necessary preparations so that we have in place a series of arrangements that will enable us to leave the European Union and to continue to build a prosperous nation, in line with what the British people voted for.
I do not know what has happened to it, but in the Royal Gallery there used to be a display cabinet containing a copy of Charles I’s death warrant. On it were the names of all the people who thought they were putting their names to the execution of Charles I. In fact, they were signing their own death warrants, because after the restoration every one of them was hunted down and executed. Sometimes the behaviour of your Lordships’ House, in seeking to frustrate the democratic wishes of the people, has a similarity. People in this country are tired of people who—
I am so sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but he may know that I voted to leave the EU—and, if asked again, I would do the same thing—but I did not vote to leave with no deal. There are thousands and thousands of people like me, so it is only right that Parliament gets another say on this. A no-deal option is not what a lot of us voted for.
I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for the support she has given to what the majority of people in this country wanted to see happen, but I point her to the opinion polls, which show that hers is a minority view. Most people in our country now want this matter finished, so that we can get on with attending to the biggest issues we face—whether social care, education, taxation or anything else—and that is what we should be getting on with.
I make one last point, which arises from what the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said when he wrongly implied that my noble friend was attacking a particular individual; he mentioned Gina Miller. I pay tribute to Gina Miller; she has done a brilliant job. Had it not been for Gina Miller, we would not have been forced into passing the legislation that, by law, requires us to leave on
My Lords, before the noble Lord resumes his seat—I see he already has—could he just explain why, if the matter is as straightforward as he puts it to us, it has been so difficult for his right honourable friend Mr Boris Johnson to make it clear that it does not require prorogation to achieve the outcome he is looking for—that we leave the European Union on
Yes. I voted for Mr Johnson —I look forward to him becoming Prime Minister—because he seems to understand that the first rule of negotiation is not to make any concessions in advance of carrying out the negotiation. It is a foolish person who asks, “Will you make this or that concession?” and agrees to it along the way.
The very fact that this amendment is before us indicates that he is up against a Parliament in which some three to one in the House of Commons wish to reverse—or certainly voted against—the decision of the British people. I believe he will go into these negotiations from a position of strength, whereas I regret to say that his predecessor went in offering money before there was anything in return. The withdrawal agreement is an agreement to have a further negotiation about a whole range of things, including fishing, trade and other matters. We will be in good hands with Mr Johnson if he becomes leader of the Conservative Party. His approach to negotiations is entirely correct.
My Lords, with great respect to the noble Lord, I do not think he has answered my question. In the light of what he has just said, does he believe that the use of Prorogation to bring this matter to a close is part of the incoming Prime Minister’s armoury and should therefore be retained in that position? If he believes that, does he think the use of Prorogation in such circumstances appropriate?
I recall hearing complaints not so long ago from the Front Bench of the noble Baroness that this Parliament should have been prorogued earlier because not enough opposition days were being provided and it had gone on too long. When Parliament should be prorogued is a matter for the Executive of the day. This amendment and debate are a distraction from the main issue we should be concerned about; in the case of this Bill, Northern Ireland and our Brexit negotiations, putting in place the necessary preparations—
We should be dealing with the series of arrangements that will need to be made when we leave the European Union on
I do not think for a moment that he is, and I do not think that the House of Commons is able to challenge our leaving on
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, who is one of the most persuasive debaters in this House, as he was in the other place. However, I am concerned by what he said a moment or two ago. He seems to have forgotten that we do not have an executive form of government in this country. If it is Mr Johnson who becomes Prime Minister, that is what he becomes—Prime Minister, not president of the United Kingdom. The role of the Prime Minister is surely to face Parliament, the House of Commons in particular, persuade it if he can and serve it if he retains its confidence. If he loses its confidence, it becomes his duty to resign, which could happen more quickly than some, particularly Mr Johnson, think.
If I may respond to that point, what the noble Lord says is absolutely right, but the Prime Minister also has a duty to obey the law. The law is that we are leaving on
The noble Lord chided the number of lawyers taking part in this debate. I have certainly practised law, but, if I may say so, and with great respect, what he has just said shows how little he understands the law of which he has complained.
To turn back to the thread of what I was going to say, I have spent 34 of the past 36 years of my life as a Member of one and then the other of these two Houses of Parliament. I listened to the eloquence of my noble friend Lord Anderson with great attention. I must tell him that I am extremely reluctant to vote for his amendment because, as a parliamentarian of 34 years, I do not like to see the rules of the two Houses of one of the most distinguished Parliaments in the world used as part of a parlour game—as devices.
But then I listened to the noble Lord, Lord True, and, with great respect to him, I realised that the true democrats in this debate are the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, the noble Lords, Lord Anderson and Lord Newby, and the noble Viscount Lord Hailsham, who tabled this amendment. My reluctance is overcome by my wishing, as they do, to sustain the law and sustain—I use that word advisedly because I am not ashamed of using it—the traditions and democratic role of this Parliament, including the role played by your Lordships’ House.
I fear that what is being advised to the Committee by the noble Lord, Lord True, and what appears to be in the mind of Boris Johnson, is to drive a carthorse through parliamentary procedure and simply leaves the debris as an acceptable part of what occurs. It shows that they do not understand the fundamental constitutional nature of the referendum and the process that followed it. It was not the duty of this Parliament simply to leave the European Union just like that. It was the responsibility of this Parliament, having been advised by the population in the referendum to attempt to leave the European Union in a way that did not destroy the economy or the political structure of this country. In my view, that requires the attention of Parliament to the very end, not the frustration of the law.
If I have to, I will reluctantly vote for the amendment, but it could all be resolved so simply. All Mr Johnson has to do is to pick up the telephone—with a witness or maybe several witnesses present, I hasten to add—and say to the noble Lord on the Front Bench, “I have been very badly misunderstood. I give a clear undertaking that I will not prorogue Parliament so as to frustrate the very purpose for which it exists”. Then I would not have to vote reluctantly for something that I do not really like.
My Lords, the critical issue, which the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, would not answer in my noble friend’s question, is whether he actually favours Prorogation. It is important that we get to the substance of the issue, which is very clear. Is it a responsible or legal act, in the view of the two Houses of Parliament, to ban Parliament from meeting to discuss the affairs of the nation in September and October? That has never happened before. The noble Lord, Lord True, said that there have been Prorogations in October. But there is a long-established convention to this effect. Prorogations are for a few days before the new Session of Parliament. The Library has produced a note that lists them all. They are of five days, six days or three days. In one case, it overlapped with the Whitsun Recess and was for 20 days. They have been of 12 days, seven days and three days—always for the purpose of preparing for a new Session of Parliament.
The noble Lord referred to the supposed controversy of 1948. There was no controversy in 1948. The two Prorogations to create the additional Session required by the Parliament Act 1911 lasted one day each. There was no controversy about the Prorogation. Of course, as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said, there was controversy about the nationalisation of iron and steel. That was because the Conservatives did not want it and Labour did. It had been in the Labour manifesto and Labour sought to implement it. But there was no controversy about the terms of the Parliament Act 1911.
The motive was to pass a new Parliament Act amending the Parliament Act 1911 under its own provisions. An absolutely legal procedure was followed. It was pursued on the instruction, no less, of a huge majority in the House of Commons because it followed the 1945 election.
All these points are entirely spurious. The issue that the Committee needs to address is whether it is acceptable for Parliament to be banned by the Government from meeting in October when there are urgent affairs of state to be debated; namely, Britain’s membership of the European Union and what policies will be pursued in that regard. I am absolutely amazed that any parliamentarians think it appropriate to ban Parliament from meeting as a way of overriding what might be the will of Parliament if it does meet.
The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, a very skilled debater, refused repeatedly to answer my noble friend’s question because he did not want to be on the record as saying that he favours banning Parliament from meeting. He then said that there was a danger that, if we were allowed to meet, we might seek to override decisions that Parliament had taken in the past. We might, for example, seek to change the law so that it is not possible to leave with no deal on
The arguments being put forward are entirely spurious. I do not think the noble Lord himself agrees with the suspension of Parliament in October. He has an opportunity to rise and say that he does. He is very noticeably not rising to say that. Let me put words into his mouth: I do not think he agrees with his own proposition. Let us be clear. He does not agree that Parliament should be banned from meeting in October. He is too much of a parliamentarian himself, having been a Member of both Houses, to subscribe to that part of the Charles I proposition.
The noble Lord is talking nonsense. I do not believe that Prorogation is an issue. He is quite right when he says that Parliament can change the law, but I do not believe there is either a majority or the time to change the law before
That is a very silly debating point if I may say so. The key issue is that he said that he did not think Parliament meeting in September and October was a concern. In that case, what on earth are we arguing about anyway? The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, is seeking to establish in law that Parliament must meet in September and October. If the noble Lord agrees with that, why on earth are we having this argument in the first place?
The only other point that needs to be made—Boris Johnson is clearly considering this, otherwise these stories would not be running and we would not be in this situation—is that it would be a grave constitutional crisis if a Government were to ban Parliament from meeting for two months, for the whole of September and October. That is what would be involved. There is no modern precedent for that happening and no precedent in the past century for Parliament not meeting in October.
I think my noble friend is referring to 1974. I have looked that up. Parliament met at the end of October 1974, having had the election. There is no precedent for Parliament not meeting in October. There is no precedent in Britain for a controversial use—a use that would not be generally accepted by most parliamentarians—of the prerogative of Prorogation since 1831, when William IV prorogued Parliament at the request of Earl Grey to prevent the frustration of a Dissolution, which was so radically different a case from the one we have today that it is not comparable. The only case that I can see in any of the Dominions that corresponds to the situation we face now is from Canada in 2008. The then Canadian Prime Minister advised the Governor General to prorogue Parliament. All I can say, having looked at the circumstances of that case, is that it was bitterly controversial. The Governor General thought long and hard about whether to accede to the advice of the Prime Minister. It was immediately after a general election, when the circumstances were very different. If Boris Johnson is thinking of dragging Her Majesty into a controversy as deep as would be involved in banning Parliament from meeting in October, he will be doing a massive disservice not only to Parliament but to all our institutions of state. I hope he does not go there.
My Lords, I think it is fair to say that this has been a robust debate. Obviously, I support the amendment to which my name has been added and oppose Amendment 7A, proposed by the noble Lords, Lord True and Lord Forsyth, which would wreck that amendment.
I will deal with the arguments that have been raised against this amendment. I shall start with the first of them, which is that it is inappropriate in the context of Northern Ireland. I would have thought that the question of what parliamentary oversight and intervention are possible in relation to Northern Ireland is of the greatest importance. The Bill as it stands proposes, rightly, that reports will be published about the progress towards the formation of an Executive in Northern Ireland. Should Parliament not be there to receive those reports, to debate them, to consider them and to make recommendations on them, that would be the consequence of stopping Parliament sitting during that period.
“We have lacked that ministerial voice in Whitehall that has championed the cause of Northern Ireland”.
So to find that Parliament was not sitting just at the time when the issues with which this Bill is concerned were coming up would be a great tragedy. So it is very much an issue which Northern Ireland should be concerned about.
But of course it is broader than that. The debate has made that very clear. The argument that the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, started with must be right. If what we are talking about is the possibility that Parliament will be banned from meeting and expressing views during the critical period when we are leaving the European Union—I accept of course that the Bill says what the date is, but it is open to Parliament to do something else if it chooses to do so—to say that Parliament should not be there at that stage is a constitutional impropriety and would be a great assault on our current constitution.
It is said, and it is argued by the opponents of this amendment, that it is there to frustrate the will of the people in relation to leaving. Well, it cannot do that. Nobody suggests that it can do that. As one of those who signed the amendment, I do not suggest that it does that. What it would do is make sure that Parliament was there at the time that decisions were being made so that we did not have a situation where at the time of one of the greatest decisions this country has made in recent times there was simply an Executive and no Parliament to oversee or control them. That would be the greatest assault on the constitutional traditions of which I am so proud, as are so many Members of this House.
As the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, knows, I admire his debating skills and his opinions, but he has not responded to the question put by my noble friend. I hope that when the Minister gets to his feet he may be able to give a clear answer on whether in fact this can all be brought to an end by a statement that there is no risk and that there will be no Prorogation. Unfortunately I expect that that is outside his power—and I see he is nodding. I suspected that was the case, and we all know why that is so. That would be an end to this debate. As it is, with that uncertainty as to whether Parliament will be allowed to sit during that critical period, we have to do something to allow an opinion to be expressed about that. The gambit would not be doing this; the gambit would be making sure that Parliament was not there at a time of crucial national emergency. That would be the constitutional gambit.
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord True, on a speech that succeeded in insulting everybody in this House: the Liberal Democrats for not being the party that supported leaving, obviously my Front Bench and me—I fully expected that—his former leader, Sir John Major, for what he said, and others as well, including his current leader, as I have just been reminded. But be that as it may; he is entitled to do that and to take those views. But what he said in attacking the judiciary and the rule of law was completely off target. I fully agree with the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, on this. The judiciary is indeed unelected. I remember losing an important case in the House of Lords—I think that the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, may have been on the other side; he is nodding both enthusiastically and with a smile on his face, so I would guess that he enjoyed the victory—precisely because the House of Lords said in answer to my arguments, “No, we are not unelected. We are there to carry into effect the law, even though that is something that the Government do not want to happen at this particular time”.
Having had the privilege of serving in that role, I know what the rule of law means. You have to defend things in front of an independent and sometimes critical judiciary. Sometimes you persuade the judges and sometimes you do not. However, it is absolutely critical to our democracy that they remain and are not attacked in any way.
Where does that leave us? I was struck by the remark by the noble Lord, Lord True, that the judiciary were not elected, so should not have a say. Of course, the people who are elected are in the other place. We are talking about making sure that those in the elected place are there to express the views that their constituents—the people of this country—believe are right. That is what should happen. This debate can be put to an end by whoever becomes the leader of the Conservative Party in the coming days making it clear that that will not happen—but until then, I respectfully say that this Committee should take the step of following the House of Commons by saying, “We should pass this amendment to make sure that Parliament is there and doing its job when Brexit comes around”.
My Lords, I expect that in years to come constitutional scholars will study this debate and explore many of the arguments. I suppose that it is my purpose to return us to what I hope is the principal purpose of the Bill to which this particular amendment has been appended. This Bill aims to ensure that we can restore an Executive in Northern Ireland in good time. This is a noble aim, with which I think we all agree.
We ought to start by recognising that Members in the other place have already debated and voted on these issues. Of course, the Government agree that Parliament must be kept apprised of progress towards restoring an Executive in Northern Ireland. The Government has already responded to the concerns here by agreeing to bring forward to
In many respects, the key issue here—which a number of noble Lords raised, for perfectly understandable reasons—is the need to keep focused on what we are trying to achieve through the reports we are discussing today. That is to ensure that Parliament is kept abreast of the ongoing aspects of the talks in Northern Ireland. However, I have stood here on many occasions and said that it would be inappropriate for me or my right honourable friend in the other place to give a running commentary. That is for one simple reason: we must give a clear and safe space in which those negotiations and talks can unfold. It is perhaps not enough for us to simply say, “Nothing to see here, move on”. We need to recognise that.
The votes were close in the other place, so some noble Lords might argue that we should give Members there an opportunity to think again. However, it is important to point out that the closest vote of all was on the addition of fortnightly reporting requirements, which the Government lost—although noble Lords are not proposing that the other place should be asked to think again on that one.
These amendments tabled by noble Lords are broadly very similar to those already rejected by the other place. They would require the initial progress report, as well as fortnightly ones thereafter, to be considered by Parliament and be subject to an approval Motion. However—again—in many respects, each element of this has nothing to do with the situation in Northern Ireland, which has necessitated the Bill in the first place.
As we speak to one another and the people of Northern Ireland, it is important that we recognise that this Bill serves a principal and singular purpose, which is to ensure that we give an Executive the appropriate space to reform.
The noble Baroness raised those points before. I say once again that the question of scope is not for this House; it was a question determined by the other place. On that point, it was not the Government or Opposition who won or lost; it was the will of the other place taken in a vote of conscience. There was no government Whip whatever in the other place. Those majorities were singular and significant; we as a Government heard them and must respond.
On the issues that we are discussing here, the majorities were not significant or singular; indeed, they were remarkably anything but. I stress, as I say these things now, that we need to recognise that which is germane to the issues in Northern Ireland and that which is a vehicle for another purpose—perhaps a Brexit purpose, divorced and distant from the thing we are here to discuss. I do not doubt that noble Lords will seek to find by other means a way to ensure that the future leader of this country, whoever that individual may be, is held to account by both the other place and this place. That is right and proper, but there are other means by which it can be done; this is not the right vehicle by which to do it.
I thank the Minister for giving way. I am intrigued by his argument that there are other ways in which this could be done. Will he expand and tell us what they are?
The noble Baroness almost got me on that one, but she will not be surprised to know that I, too, will not be drawn on those matters. It is important, as we circle back to where we began—
It would be easy to answer that in a simple way, but I suspect that tucked inside the question is a matter for greater constitutional scholars than I. I stand before noble Lords not, I am afraid, as a lawyer but as a humble geologist. I therefore feel ill-equipped to answer a question of that august nature.
In returning to the point before us, I say that this is not the right way to achieve these ends. The other place has spoken on these matters. It has spoken in a voice which we have heard on other issues and should hear today. I would ask that these amendments should not be pressed. I do not believe that they give comfort to the ongoing talks in Northern Ireland, and nor do they progress the important aspects for which those talks have been set up.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister and noble Lords, and for the support that these amendments attracted. I hope it is now clear that it is not the purpose of this amendment to prevent the United Kingdom from leaving the European Union on or before
I listened carefully to everything that was said and it still seems inescapable that, if there are any fetters at all on the absolute power of the Government in this matter, those fetters must be in the courts, in Parliament or, as a last resort, in the person of the monarch. I did not detect any enthusiasm from those who spoke against the amendments for any of those options. I found myself wondering what checks or balances on the authority of the Executive they were minded to acknowledge —but there we are. In short, I am undeterred by what I have heard. It may be—it is very likely—that I will come back to this on Wednesday. But, for the time being, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 6 withdrawn.
Amendment 7 not moved.