Amendment 6

Part of Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill - Committee – in the House of Lords at 4:00 pm on 15th July 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Newby Lord Newby Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords 4:00 pm, 15th July 2019

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 1 November, but Prorogation requires a Prime Minister with a plan and a Queen’s Speech with some substance. If the incoming Prime Minister has such a plan and such a speech by 1 November, the entire country will be delighted. We fear that there is nothing but vacuity where there should be a programme and that Prorogation will continue far beyond 31 October or 1 November because the Government do not know what to put in a Queen’s Speech.

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.