Amendment 2

Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill - Report – in the House of Lords at 3:56 pm on 17th July 2019.

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Lord Anderson of Ipswich:

Moved by Lord Anderson of Ipswich

2: Clause 3, page 2, line 19, at end insert “, which shall be considered by each House of Parliament in accordance with subsection (2A).”

Photo of Lord Anderson of Ipswich Lord Anderson of Ipswich Crossbench

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 2 and 3 but I do not intend to press Amendment 2, which on reflection adds nothing of substance to Amendment 3. These amendments, which are identical to those moved with cross-party support in Committee, provide that Parliament is to sit at specified intervals between September and, at the latest, December to consider the progress reports already provided for by Clause 3.

Amendment 3 serves a useful purpose in the context of this important Bill. As pressure is exerted to reconvene the Executive, there is every reason for both Houses of this Parliament to review and interrogate such progress as is made. The strong interest of this House in the content of those reports is demonstrated by the amendments agreed on Monday and by those which are yet to be considered today. But the greater significance of Amendment 3 lies less in the subject matter of the debates for which it provides than in the more fundamental fact that Parliament must be in session for such debates to take place.

If enacted, these amendments will express Parliament’s expectation of being consulted on not just these reports but an even more pressing political issue: the future of our relationship with the European Union. If Parliament were to endorse a no-deal Brexit, as it has not done to date, then from my point of view there could be no democratic argument against it. But for that decision to be left to our next Prime Minister, elevated to that office by members of his own party and freed of any requirement to obtain the consent of Parliament, would be another matter altogether. Before the beginning of the current leadership campaign, the notion that Prorogation might be used for the express purpose of silencing Parliament on Brexit could safely have been dismissed as fantasy but, extraordinary though it may seem, that prospect has not been disavowed by the leading candidate and, if reports are to be believed, cannot even now be ruled out.

The situation is uniquely grave because if we are driven over the cliff on 31 October, there is no way back up. An event that occurs while Parliament is prorogued cannot simply be reversed once Parliament is sitting again. So even a short Prorogation, if suitably timed, would permanently deprive Parliament of its voice on this most significant of political issues. Advice to Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament in such circumstances would subvert the principle that the Government are accountable to Parliament and present the monarchy with a highly unwelcome dilemma: no one could safely predict the possible consequences. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Attorney-General is reported to have told Cabinet last month that Prorogation would be unconstitutional and improper. My noble friend Lord Pannick, who cannot be in his place today, described it on Monday as “unlawful” and “a constitutional outrage”.

The legal effects of Amendment 3 will no doubt depend on the circumstances. It would be a matter for any court that may be called on to consider the matter. Others of your Lordships are better placed to judge their political force, but that too would surely be substantial. The Minister helpfully accepted on Monday that it was right and proper for this House to find a means to hold the future leader of this country to account, but when challenged on his statement that,

“there are other means by which it can be done”,—[Official Report, 15/7/19; col. 38.] explanation came there none. That put me in mind of Iris Murdoch, who wrote, in a rather different context, that we can pass,

“in a second from the time when it was too early to struggle to the time when it was too late to struggle”.

Your Lordships now have an opportunity to assert the necessary role of Parliament in these strange and alarming times. I invite your Lordships to do so by supporting Amendment 3.

Photo of Viscount Hailsham Viscount Hailsham Conservative

I shall speak very briefly to Amendment 3A in this group, which is in my name. It might be for the convenience of the House if I say that it is not my intention to move this amendment, largely because it does not add substantially to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord who just spoke with great eloquence. Suffice it to say that I very much support his amendment and if he is minded to test the opinion of the House, I shall vote in favour of it.

Photo of Lord Newby Lord Newby Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

My Lords, I think everybody agrees that this is a very curious device and in many ways a very curious amendment. I am sure that the House of Commons and your Lordships’ House will look forward to receiving regular reports about the situation in respect of Northern Ireland; it might help move things forward very marginally. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, said, that is not why this amendment is being proposed. The amendment is considered necessary by him and me only because we face the constitutional outrage of a potential Prime Minister refusing to rule out proroguing Parliament to get through the most major public policy decision of our lifetimes without debate, because he knows he cannot win a vote in a debate. This is the activity of a banana republic, not the mother of parliaments; we should do whatever we can, however strange, to stop it. This is a clever, ingenious device with that in mind, and it has our full support.

Photo of Lord Wigley Lord Wigley Plaid Cymru

My Lords, I too support this amendment, in the context of the European dimension, which has been mentioned. It would indeed be outrageous if Parliament were not sitting when the clock is running down to 31 October. Whichever side of the referendum debate we were on, we well remember the arguments about bringing power back to this place. If this device of not allowing Parliament to sit at a crucial time is used, it would fly in the face of the assurances and pleas made at that time. We face an extremely difficult time: surely, we should be sorting this issue out within Parliament and not leaving it to others to seek remedy in the courts.

Photo of Baroness Butler-Sloss Baroness Butler-Sloss Crossbench

My Lords, it seems to me that it does not matter whether one supports leaving the European Union permanently or remaining in the European Union. That is not the issue before the House. The issue is whether Parliament should be allowed a say on whether we leave by crashing out, leave with a deal or do not leave. It does not, in a sense, matter which of those three situations it is. What matters is that Parliament has a voice. For that reason, I support this amendment.

Photo of Baroness Deech Baroness Deech Crossbench

My Lords, they say that Brexit drives people crazy and I think there is something in this. It certainly makes people cerebral. May I put forward a few general points? First, it has been said that Her Majesty might be embarrassed by such a request. Her Majesty has been on the Throne for 70 years or so and faced many a constitutional crisis. I think she would survive.

Secondly, be careful what you wish for. Suppose we pass this amendment requiring Parliament to meet in October. It is not for the benefit of Northern Ireland. I feel rather sorry for the people of Northern Ireland, who are being used as a sort of wedge in a door—not for their benefit. Suppose there is a general election in the meantime. Suppose there is a vote of no confidence in the Commons. Is it seriously considered that requiring Parliament to meet in October would take precedence over these other events, which may very well occur in the next few weeks? If there is a general election before October, what will happen to the will of some that Parliament should meet in the run-up to the possible leaving of the European Union? If there is a vote of no confidence, the same thing might well happen.

It seems to me that the constitution is not clear on what motives have to lie behind the call for a general election, the call for a vote of no confidence or the Prorogation of Parliament. It is a somewhat ambiguous area. The speculation about this has led people to believe that it is better placed in the hands of the judges than of politicians. That may well be. I am not disputing for a moment that the rule of law is upheld by judicial review and allowing judges to decide. However, where an issue is as ambiguous as this, noble Lords should realise what they are doing in putting these decisions in the hands of judges, who might very well be summoned to meet in a great hurry; the issue would then be rushed all the way through the courts. We would be leaving it to judicial wisdom.

A great deal may happen between now and the end of October. It worries me that we should be using parliamentary procedure in this way. It would be an unfortunate precedent. As I said, think about Motions of no confidence; think about a general election and the assumption, so readily made, that the notion of Prorogation would be a terrible breach with everything that has ever happened in the 1,000-year constitution of this country.

Moreover, the action of judicial review, which is already being talked about in this House—somewhat prematurely—will depend on one wealthy individual bringing that action. Suppose there is a vote of no confidence and by some method the Queen is advised that Mr Corbyn should be summoned to form a Government. Unfortunately, I cannot afford the services of my noble friend Lord Pannick, but I am sure there are those among us and in the country who would say that the possibility of a Prime Minister widely regarded as an anti-Semite was a constitutional outrage and must be judicially reviewed.

I beg noble Lords to consider what sort of precedent might be set by using the people of Northern Ireland, speculating on what might happen with judicial review and not allowing the normal course of events to continue. To support this amendment will have repercussions way beyond what we might expect this afternoon.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, reads far too much into this simple amendment, which is unambiguous and makes the point that power should rest not with the Executive but with Parliament. It would require Ministers to report on a Bill’s progress where progress is essential, such as with this Bill. Of course, most importantly, we should not give the Prime Minister of a minority Government, whoever he may be—let us all, particularly those of us on this side of the House, recognise that we are talking about the Prime Minister of a minority Government—the opportunity to suspend our constitutional proprieties.

I should like to make another point. I deplore the fact that the rules of my party have allowed this decision to be protracted over almost five weeks and to be taken by 0.3% of the electorate, a number of whom are 15 years of age; they are entirely eligible to vote, as I established earlier today. Many people do not realise that; I did not realise it myself until two or three days ago. The party in the country has had great power—way beyond what any party should have, particularly when it represents such a tiny percentage of the electorate. I believe that the real constitutional impropriety that the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, seeks to deal with is that of conferring on the Prime Minister of a minority Government—I repeat: a minority Government—the powers to dispense with the services of Parliament and to absolve himself of being answerable to it. As I said on Monday, the Government are answerable to Parliament, which must never be the creature or subject of government. This is a safeguard. We should support it.

Photo of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Crossbench

My noble friend Lady Deech would have made a marvellous Permanent Secretary. We heard about a dangerous precedent, unripe time and the risk of judicial review. I cannot see that risk; the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, seems designed to reduce the risk of a situation that might go to judicial review arising.

I support the noble Lord’s amendment. As he said, it is strange and alarming that we should find ourselves in this situation, having to resort to a device to prevent a constitutional outrage—which it would be if Parliament were sent away so that the Prime Minister of the day could follow a course that both Houses of Parliament have consistently and regularly rejected.

To add one more point, I hope that the noble Baroness the Leader—I am sorry she is not in her place—is pursuing with the other place the proposal that we in this House put forward a fortnight ago for a Joint Committee to examine the costs and implications of a no-deal crash-out. In this House, the Leader represents not just the Government but all of us. We put forward the proposal but, to my knowledge, the other place has not yet done us the courtesy of even considering it. I hope that the noble Baroness is advancing our proposal and urging the other place to respond positively to it. I support the amendment.

Photo of Lord True Lord True Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee 4:15 pm, 17th July 2019

My Lords, I spoke against these amendments in Committee, and will not repeat all my arguments. But there are four strands in why I believe that these amendments are unwise and unwanted. Before proceeding, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Anderson —who, again, introduced his amendment with great courtesy, charm and skill—that, on a point of fact, 16 out of 23 Prime Ministers of this country have first come to office without a general election, as a result of actions within their own party and within Parliament, including, I say for the benefit of the Liberals, David Lloyd George.

The idea, therefore, that the next Prime Minister would somehow be constitutionally dubious—a proposition that has been advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack—is, frankly, absurd.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

I did not suggest that it would be improper. I was merely stating a fact. The next Prime Minister will be a Prime Minister of a minority Government—as the present Prime Minister is.

Photo of Lord True Lord True Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee

The noble Lord also said other things, which the Hansard writers will record, including his saying that somehow a power was being conferred on Mr Johnson to do something that Mr Johnson has never said he would do, which is to advise the monarch to prorogue. That has been an inherent right of the Prime Minister and of the Crown for generations. It is an absurd statement, I am afraid, by my noble friend.

The first reason that these amendments should be resisted is, of course, one that I share but most of your Lordships will not: they are clearly designed to frustrate one route to Brexit on 31 October. That is freely admitted by all concerned. I can see that that is not a clinching argument with many of your Lordships, and, if we have learned anything in this House, it is that there is a dialogue of the deaf in this place between the remainer majority who wish to stop at nothing to prevent Brexit and those of us in the minority who believe that the vote of the public should be respected.

I fear that your Lordships’ House is getting itself into a worse and worse place in resisting Brexit. The very future of your Lordships’ House is now in play. That was made clear, not by me, but in the recent campaign for the European elections. I think these amendments take us to the outer fringe of where an unelected House should go.

The second strand of why I think they should be rejected is this canard of “constitutional outrage”, et cetera. This is an Aunt Sally. Mr Johnson—its target—has never said that he would use Prorogation to secure Brexit on 31 October. This danger, this threat, this crisis, this calamity, this catastrophe, this outrage—it is all got up by the remainers.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

What the noble Lord says is clearly true, and I do not dispute it. However, Mr Johnson has been invited on a number of occasions to say specifically, in terms, that he would not use that device, and he has declined to do so. Would the noble Lord agree that that is the case?

Photo of Lord True Lord True Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee

I think in life it is never good to answer the question, “Have you stopped beating your wife?”. The incoming Prime Minister—I will come to this point later.

Noble Lords:

Oh! Outrageous!

Photo of Lord True Lord True Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee

Outrageous? Let us be grown-up here. Everybody understands the purport of the remark. Mr Johnson does not wish to prorogue Parliament. He has not said so, and he does not need to, because, following the Gina Miller case, there has been an Act of Parliament, passed by this Parliament, in this Session, requiring the UK by statute to leave the EU, as requested by the British people, on 31 October. It is simply rubbish to say that there might be an attempt stop Parliament legislating on Brexit. Parliament has already legislated, and talk about a so-called unlawful shutdown of Parliament or hyperbole about a ban on Parliament sitting reflects nothing Mr Johnson has ever said. It is so much chaff thrown up by the ditchers among the more extreme referendum deniers.

If Parliament wishes to stop Brexit, the route is open: a vote of no confidence in the Government, and the installation of a new Government. That new Government can turn to the British people and say, as I often hear people say in this House, “Sorry, 17.4 million, you are stupid, you did not know what you were voting for, you do not understand the facts as we clever people do, so, sorry, Brexit is off”. If you want to change the policy and say that and do that to the British people, change the Government. That is the proper way to proceed.

It is indicative of the state of the Labour Party—the consistent deliverer, as I said the other day, of 220 votes in Division after Division in the other place—that instead of taking that open and honest course, challenging the Government in a vote of no confidence, it footles around in the small print of a Northern Ireland Bill, shuffling courageously sideways under the genial cloak provided by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and into the arms of the Liberal Democrats, who, given half a chance, would snuff Labour out.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

I would like to make two points. First, I voted for Brexit, not for a no-deal Brexit, and that must be true for a lot of other people. Can the noble Lord please stop dividing us into these two camps? Secondly—I am sure that this is unparliamentary—I cannot see the point of what the noble Lord is saying. He is ranging so far across this debate that he is losing sight of the very simple amendment before us, and he is not taking the House with him. I can think only that he is doing this for the newspapers or for—I do not know; do we have constituents?

Photo of Lord True Lord True Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee

My Lords, I admitted at the outset that I am unlikely to take this House with me. However, there are certain things that someone who has the privilege, right and duty to be in Parliament and come to this place has the right and duty to say. While I may be saying things that are not congenial to many in this House, they are not disagreed with by some people in this country.

It is germane to point out certain facts about the Labour Party—a party that will campaign to remain in any election or referendum provoked by a Conservative Government, but which will campaign to leave in the unlikely event that it ever forms a Government. Brexit on Monday, remain on Tuesday, Brexit on Wednesday, will not say on Thursday, does not have a clue on Friday—that is the official policy of that apology of an Opposition on this great question of our times.

The third strand of my argument against this amendment is that by floating claims that only use of the royal prerogative could secure Brexit and that Mr Johnson wants to do that, it is not him but the peddlers of that canard who risk dragging the monarchy into political controversy. Prorogation is perfectly normal after a Session so long, a new gracious Speech is normal, with the formation of a new ministry, and, heaven knows, we can surely do better than the ragbag of legislation and off home before dinner that has been the staple of both Houses lately. At some point, a new Prime Minister must be able to seek a Prorogation and a gracious Speech. That is the right and proper routine of our parliamentary life, and why should Mr Johnson be asked to deny himself that right? It does no service to that incontestable fact to besmirch the act of Prorogation as if it was some kind of shabby and little-known political manoeuvre. All of us, on every side of the argument, have a duty to show restraint in relation to the role of the Crown. As I said in Committee, I cannot conceive how the courts could, or wisely should, construe the motive for the advice given by a Prime Minister to a Sovereign in a private audience. I would rather we did not go there. We have the right to do many things in life, but we have the duty to ask ourselves sometimes, “Is it wise?”.

Here is the fourth and final strand of why I object to these amendments—the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, put his finger on it on Monday. What on earth are we doing here, discussing all this on a Bill that relates narrowly to the future of the Northern Ireland Executive? Only last week Your Lordships’ Constitution Committee, to which I have the honour to belong, restated our concern—we all assented to the report, including the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, who is not in his place—about the persistent fast-tracking of legislation on Northern Ireland. Yet here we are, not only fast-tracking a Northern Ireland Bill but trying to festoon it like a Christmas tree with barely related measures which have never properly been considered. That is a bad way to treat Parliament—

Photo of Baroness Altmann Baroness Altmann Conservative

May I put to my noble friend some alternatives to his four points? This amendment is not about stopping Brexit but about preventing the use of Parliament to force through a means of Brexit which has been expressly rejected by this House and which has no democratic mandate. If our future leaders have refused to rule out doing that, this is something which we in this House are faced with having to do, reluctantly. Prorogation is normal in Parliament, but will my noble friend recognise the difference between Prorogation in order to force through something that has been expressly rejected by Parliament rather than the normal means?

Photo of Lord True Lord True Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee

I did not count how many words there were in her conditional thing about “expressly used to force through something that has been rejected by Parliament, blah blah blah”, if I may say so, with respect. That is a construct that was created, and we have heard it from the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. It is not possible to construe what the motive of a Prime Minister in a private audience might be for seeking a Prorogation. I do not think we should ask the courts to do that, although we have the right to do so. On her other point, we have statute. This is not about stopping Parliament legislating. I tried to make this point earlier: after the Gina Miller case, Parliament legislated. We are leaving the European Union, and in law we are leaving on 31 October. I am afraid her arguments do not stand up.

I want to finish, and that will please noble Lords. I believe it is a bad way to treat Parliament to festoon a fast-tracked Bill with extraneous matters such as this. In my submission, it is a particularly insulting way, in this case, to treat the good people of Northern Ireland. They deserve far better than having their future provision made the plaything of others with other axes to grind. This is a Bill about the formation of a Northern Ireland Executive, which we all very much wish to see. We should return to that.

Amendments such as those before us were rejected in the House of Commons. Elected Members have had their say on this matter. Are your Lordships really going to reopen all this and slug it out on this Bill—this Northern Ireland Bill—day after day on a fast track in an undignified ping-pong to provide a battlefield for hardline remainers and devoted respecters of the people’s choice? Surely we can do better than that. Let us dispense with this parliamentary chicanery, reject these amendments and deal with the important business relating to Northern Ireland. The Commons rejected the amendments. Let us do the same and move on to the business in the Long Title of the Bill.

Photo of Lord Goldsmith Lord Goldsmith Labour

My Lords, as I said on Monday, I reject the idea that this amendment does not have an important impact on Northern Ireland too, not only because it ensures that the supervision and reporting provisions that are now in the Bill can be considered constructively by Parliament, but because—and who has forgotten this?—Northern Ireland has been at the centre of all the debates that we have had in this House about Brexit. The possibility that we should be forced to leave without a deal, I would have thought we would all agree, is one that deeply affects the people of Northern Ireland.

I had thought that on this issue we were approaching something like unanimity that it would be constitutionally improper and wrong in principle to suspend Parliament in order to push through the final stages of the Brexit arrangements without Parliament being in a position to oversee, comment on or effectively have any role in that. Those who have said that this would be wrong are not only Cross-Benchers—the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, made it very clear, in an extremely good speech, why that was so—but others on this side of the House, such as the Liberal Democrats, as well as many distinguished Members of the Conservative Party. We all know about Sir John Major’s statement that he would judicially review an attempt to push through Brexit without a deal, and the noble Lord, Lord Howard, has been reported as saying that it would be wrong and a “very bad idea” to suspend Parliament, and I respectfully and fully agree with him.

As I said in the debate on Monday, none of this means that the amendment would stop Brexit taking place. There is, as others continually remind us, existing legislation. What is more, we cannot unilaterally stop our departure on 31 October because, as a matter of international law, unless that is extended by agreement between the EU and ourselves we will leave on that date. But that does not mean that Parliament should not have a role in what takes place. It can change its mind. It can do many things, including change the law. It would be grossly wrong—a perversion of our constitutional traditions—and irresponsible, in my view, to prevent Parliament being able to present, comment, oversee, supervise and, if it so chooses, take other action. That, and nothing else, is what this amendment is about.

Of course, the incoming Prime Minister—let us assume it is Mr Johnson—may wish to proceed without further inconvenience from Parliament. Let him persuade Parliament of that. Let him persuade Parliament that the route he has chosen will succeed. That is what parliamentarians should do and what we should do in a democracy. He cannot and should not adopt a royalist approach, as King Charles did. That is what we are trying to prevent, and so many Members of this House are concerned about that. It is Parliament that safeguards our freedoms and ensures that we remain a free land; that is how we do our democracy. To allow that to be set aside would be wrong.

It is said that Mr Johnson has not said he wants to do this, but he was given a clear invitation from this House on Monday to say clearly that he would not. He was invited to telephone the Minister. I look forward to hearing in his speech, which he will make in a few moments, whether he received such a phone call. I suspect he did not—otherwise we would not still be debating this amendment—but that is the way to deal with that; it could be done. Obviously, I hope Mr Johnson does not intend to suspend Parliament. He has many other ways of making clear to the EU what our future should be, but let us not lock the mother of parliaments out of debate by a procedural device.

I have listened carefully to those who have spoken against this. The noble Lord, Lord True, spoke at length on Monday; I have not heard anything new in his arguments. I listened intently to the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, whom I respect, but I did not hear any argument there that carried the day, as far as I was concerned. Ultimately, she was concerned that there would be an abuse by passing this amendment. I respectfully say to her that the abuse would be if we allowed a situation in which Prorogation could be used for a wrong purpose simply to push through something that Parliament is opposed to.

I therefore hope that noble Lords will support the amendment if the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, decides to divide the House. I hope he will, and if he does we will follow him.

Photo of Lord Duncan of Springbank Lord Duncan of Springbank Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Northern Ireland Office), The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland 4:30 pm, 17th July 2019

My Lords, we have begun a debate today on the extension of Executive formation opportunities in Northern Ireland. I take the opportunity to return our focus to Northern Ireland for a brief moment. I do so recognising that precious few of the noble Lords who have thus far spoken chose to focus on Northern Ireland today. There have recently become a remarkable number of experts on Northern Ireland, but it appears they are not here during this part of the discussion.

It is no surprise that this is a challenging time for Northern Ireland. It had been our hope that by the coming August we would have secured a resolution and brought the parties together in such a way that an Executive could have been formed. I believe we are moving in the right direction; I now genuinely believe that there are real prospects of doing so.

This Bill has a very simple purpose. As it began its journey, it was simple and in very few paragraphs. We need a little more time, and the ambition is to extend that to 21 October, with a possible extension thereafter into January to allow for that Executive to re-form.

The request for updates on the talks in Northern Ireland is important; I do not doubt that for a moment. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, rightly says that Northern Ireland has been at the centre of so much of Brexit, but I must draw a distinction between Northern Ireland at the centre of Brexit as the border question has played through and the talks themselves. They need to be recognised as being in two different categories, and it is important to do so.

A number of noble Lords—not least the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, who opened the debate—said that this is really not just about the reports. The debate that followed expressly shows that it is not just about those reports. He quoted Iris Murdoch. I am a big fan of Iris Murdoch. I was reading her book not long ago. Thinking about these reports coming in in small doses, there is a quote from The Sea, The Sea:

“One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats”.

Whether these reports will be continuous small treats remains to be seen. My fear is that those reports will not show a great deal because the discussions within that room are not particularly useful for wider debate at this time. But I dearly hope that we do not need this extension and that we will return to normal government in Northern Ireland. But I fear right now that it would be remiss of us as a Government if we did not seek to extend.

The amendments touch on much deeper issues than I am normally called on to talk about. It will not come as a surprise to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, that I have not received a call from Mr Johnson. Who knows? I might receive one next week. Who knows what is going on at this particular moment.

The important thing for me to stress today—and I do not think it is labouring the point—is that we need to be sure that when we speak of Northern Ireland we are clear in the message that we are sending to the people of that Province. The message that we send today with this particular suite of amendments is a simple one, which is that we can use Northern Ireland for different purposes when we choose to do so. I know that the rest of the debate will focus very significantly on the serious issues of Northern Ireland, but we have not started that part yet. This part is about a constitutional question and, as a number of noble Lords have said, it is about Brexit. So be it. I cannot change the motion in which we have moved in this particular direction. But a number of noble Lords have expressed their views on different sides. For me, the key thing is to keep us focused on the important aspect, which is the delivery of an Executive in Northern Ireland. That must be our principal aim. On that basis, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Goldsmith Lord Goldsmith Labour

We all hope that the Minister receives a call next week, whether from Mr Johnson or Mr Hunt. We want to see him back in that place. But does he not agree that for the people of Northern Ireland, whom I know—although maybe not as much as the Minister—because I was Attorney-General for Northern Ireland for six years, the consequences of a no-deal Brexit, which have been widely described as so damaging, would be just as bad for them as for the rest of the United Kingdom?

Photo of Lord Duncan of Springbank Lord Duncan of Springbank Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Northern Ireland Office), The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland

The aspect of a no-deal Brexit that has been discussed here is an important one and has been discussed on a number of occasions in your Lordships’ House and in the other place. It is important to Northern Ireland: I do not doubt that because I have seen it myself. I recognise and have said on more than one occasion how important it is and how different it would have been had an Executive been in place during this period, when those voices could have been part of a wider debate. There is not a single person who does not regret the fact that those voices have been silent for far too long when we could have had them contributing, not least on the question of the Irish border. But we are talking today about a simple and focused aspect, which is extending the window during which there shall be no elections in order to secure a newly formed Executive. That is the key to the discussions today and should be the focus. I am also very happy to get a call from Mr Hunt.

The important thing to stress now is that at this point, I do not believe that the amendment takes us in the right direction. On that basis, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Ipswich Lord Anderson of Ipswich Crossbench

I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken and in particular to the Minister for his courteous response, I do not think that we should prolong things by hearing any more from me. The issues are clear. I do not propose to press Amendment 2, but I want to test the opinion of the House on Amendment 3.

Amendment 2 withdrawn.