My Lords, at the request of my noble friend Lord True, I will speak to Amendment 2B. The amendment we considered before the adjournment was described by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, as “ironic” and by my noble friend Lord Dobbs as a “bit of honesty”. I should like to continue in that vein with an amendment that, we believe, would contribute more honesty to the Motion that the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, has put before the House.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness. We had an exchange earlier about irony and the value of having ironic insertions into this Motion. I am assuming that, on the basis that this is another example of the ironic wit of the noble Lord, Lord True, which she is now channelling on his behalf, this will be an extremely brief introduction, because we have already done the irony bit, and we can then move on.
My Lords, I apologise to the House, but there is a great deal of noise as Peers leave the Chamber and I ask them to be quiet.
I thank my noble friend the Deputy Chief Whip for that, though I did not really mind talking over noble Lords leaving the Chamber.
The Motion in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, refers to the
Taking no deal off the table, as this current exercise aims to do, simply weakens the Government’s hand in negotiating with the EU. There is no doubt about that. Ask anyone in the business world. Donald Trump, who might not be admired by all as a President, nevertheless had a highly successful business career, for which he is entitled to respect. He has been clear that no deal is an essential part of the negotiating armoury: nobody in business goes into negotiations with their hands tied behind their back or having given away their negotiating cards.
It is very clear that most, though not all, noble Lords who proclaim their opposition to no deal are in fact disputing the result of the referendum and are against Brexit in its entirety. I believe that they cynically use the difficulties of achieving a satisfactory deal with the EU—it certainly is difficult—as cover for their real aim, which is to defeat Brexit. The Liberal Democrats have been admirably honest about their intentions. While they have railed against exiting without a deal at regular intervals, we should be under no illusion that their real aim is to reverse the outcome of the 2016 referendum. Their EU Parliament election campaign earlier this year was explicit on this. Indeed, their MEPs proudly, if that is the correct term, wear those vulgar T-shirts with “Bollocks to Brexit” printed on them as a badge of honour—not an attractive advertisement for the UK at the opening of the European Parliament.
The position of the Labour Party is much less clear. It is not a united party on this issue, but its true colours have been emerging as another champion of remain. Whether they call it a confirmatory referendum or some other euphemism, they want to remain and are talking about campaigning for remain. There may well be a few honourable souls left in the Labour Party who respect the clear message from the referendum, particularly those in Labour seats where the leave vote was strong; they are likely to be the minority. I shall say nothing today about my noble friends on these Benches who share the views held on the Benches opposite. I regret that if they continue to hold their views, they will not support this Government in seeking a deal on the best possible terms. I hope that, despite their reservations on Brexit, they will see that the Motion before us puts the Government in an impossible position, and I hope to see them voting in our Lobbies again. I hope that they are not simply trying to undermine the results of the referendum. I will similarly say nothing about those on the Cross Benches who have been in similar opposition to the Government in their attempts to get the best possible deal on Brexit, because I hope that they too will see, if for no other reason, that this business Motion is no way for us to work as a successful revising Chamber.
Rejecting no deal is about first putting off the day of our exit again and then again. We have done it twice so far. How many more times? Of course, the ultimate objective for those who reject the referendum result is to end up eventually revoking Article 50. That has been the explicit aim of some who align themselves with this and some of those shadowy organisations outside Parliament—
I say respectfully to the noble Baroness that the speech she has made is one that should be made on the Bill itself when it comes here. We can all have a good go at what people’s views are on leaving the EU, but today we are supposed to be debating a process Motion about how we deal with that piece of legislation, not its merits, demerits and history. I would be grateful if the noble Baroness would bring her conclusions to a rapid end so that we can take a decision on it.
If I could help my noble friend against a most absurd attack, if I may say so, we have just had a great disquisition from the Front Bench opposite—from the Leader of the Opposition, no less. The whole thing we have been trying to say is that it is about procedure in this House—I have, anyway—but she has said it is all about Brexit, all about the people on this side wanting to stop Brexit, et cetera. It is perfectly reasonable for my noble friend to follow the course charted by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon.
I thank my noble friend for that. I say to the noble Lord that this amendment is about the Motion before us and about describing the Motion correctly. It is not debating the Bill. I look forward to debating the Bill as and when it arrives in this House if we have time, but this is about correctly describing the Motion and being honest about what it is really about.
One of the very worst bits about the Bill that this is designed to enable, as the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition has made clear, is that it would hand the timing of our exit entirely to the EU. I agree that we are not debating the Bill today.
I am most grateful to my noble friend for giving way. It really seems that this is an attempt to make us unable to carry out our duty, which is to scrutinise and, if necessary, revise or pass legislation passed in the other place and that it wishes us to carry through. Is my noble friend saying that she does not wish this legislation to be taken by this House, because obviously we are facing the Prorogation timetable? If my noble friend wishes the Bill to come to us and be debated, this Motion offers the opportunity for that to happen.
I am well aware of where my noble friend is coming from. I just say that we have no objection to the Bill coming here, as we never have to Bills that come from the other place, provided that they come in the ordinary course. We are objecting to the Motion in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon.
I have to tell my noble friend that we normally have prorogations every year. We are long overdue a prorogation. Prorogations are a normal part of parliamentary life, as I am sure he is aware from his long career in Parliament. At this point, noble Lords do not like this particular juncture of prorogation—I understand why—but prorogation is a perfectly normal, healthy activity for Parliament to engage in.
My noble friend is very kind to refer to the longevity of my career, but it has not been long enough to go back to the last time we had a prorogation of anything like the length of this one—in the middle of a real matter of concern for the national interest. We know what the reason for this prorogation is, and there is a certain impertinence in pretending that we are all fools.
Perhaps I may help my noble friend. Why are we pretending that these are normal times? These are not normal times. Parliament has shown itself to be incompetent in dealing with the instruction that it was given three years ago and, down the other end, they cannot make up their minds. These are not normal times; we must find new ways to address them.
Yes, I cannot accept a Motion that the Question be now put if the Motion itself has not been moved. If the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, will move the Motion, we can move to the second one.
I will move the amendment when I have finished what I have to say on it.
I return to the issue of prorogation. I thank my noble friend Lord Dobbs for assisting me on that, but I think the people who are getting excited about prorogation are just looking for excuses to get excited about what they do not like, which is that we are leaving the EU. It is no more than a substitute, a smokescreen, for something that, deep down, they do not really like and do not want to get on with.
Does my noble friend not agree that, until quite recently, it was normal for us not to sit in September at all, for us to come back only after party conference and for us to add that to the period of recess? The only indication we have is that those people who are trying to frustrate the wishes of the British people were planning to extend the recess to undermine the decision taken by the British people. There is this idea that this is an abnormally long prorogation. Does she further recall that on several occasions, Members opposite, including the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, have been complaining about the length of this Session because the number of days available to the Opposition for debates was being limited? Do we not see a certain amount of hypocrisy here?
I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, and I remember an occasion on which we agreed about something.
I cannot accept what the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, just said. There is nothing abnormal about prorogation, but a prorogation to permit or require a five-week suspension at this particular time—which, as the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, rightly said, is not a normal time—is a scandal; it is abnormal.
I say to the noble Baroness, who earlier in her remarks attributed some motives and concerns to the Cross Bench—I cannot speak for the Cross Bench; we do not have a collective view—that a common view among those on the Cross Bench to whom I have spoken tonight that it is quite extraordinary, and against all the traditions of this House, that we have a Bill that has passed the House of Commons, and we have 84 amendments, a planned filibuster and people planning to argue that it is more important to debate bat habitat preservation than the Bill which the House of Commons has passed today.
My Lords, we have never actually said that we should not debate the Bill. We have said that we are very happy to debate the Bill in the ordinary way. Our objection, and all the amendments to which the noble Lord referred, are about the business Motion before us, because of its seriously deleterious nature compared with the way in which this House does its normal business. The Motion is designed only to accomplish that Bill.
I thank my noble friend for giving way, but the Leader of the Opposition, who moved the Motion, has already said that if the Government are willing to take the Bill in the normal way, she will abandon her Motion. This seems to me to be some kind of government filibuster to prevent us debating the Bill.
My Lords, I am not part of the Government; like my noble friend, I am a mere Back-Bencher. This is not a government Motion at all. Unless and until there is an agreement between the Front Benches, the existing rules will apply. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, is trying to overrule the normal rules with her Motion, which is why we oppose it. We do not oppose the Bill; we oppose the Motion and, therefore, the way in which the procedures of our House are being subverted—not just in this instance, although we know that the motive for moving such a Motion is to achieve this particular Bill, but because it could do this House long-term harm. That is what I care about and what I know many of my colleagues care about.
This is not a government-inspired matter. I am not grand enough to aspire to writing my memoirs but if I were ever to do so, history would show that the Government had very little to do with these proceedings, which result from the genuine anger on all sides of the House at the device being put forward. We hear all this stuff about how we must rush through this and that but is it not the case that this Parliament voted, and it is the law of the land, that we should leave the European Union and do so on
Let me say something to the noble Lord and to some of the other noble Lords who have spoken in defence of the noble Baroness moving this Motion. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, gave the game away. He is now trying to pose as a defender of the people, as we heard from the remarks he just made. The truth of the matter is that, whether we like it or not, the House of Commons has passed a piece of legislation that its Members, as the elected Members of this Parliament, think is in the best interests of their constituents. It is our job to get on and look at that piece of legislation, rather than spending nearly a whole day discussing in a rather nitwitty way the set of processes by which we do so.
We must remember that we are debating how the Bill is being handled, not the fact that it has been approved by a majority in the other place. Of course, when Bills come here with a majority from the other place, we do what we normally do: receive and scrutinise them. The purpose of the Motion before us is to limit the way in which we normally receive and scrutinise Bills from the other place, so we should be careful to ensure that we are comfortable with that. In particular, the Motion in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, would introduce a guillotine Motion, which was discussed during the debate on an earlier Motion.
Does my noble friend not find all this a little shameful? Bearing in mind that the Motion is just paving the way for getting the Bill quickly through the House, it is completely stifling debate and introducing a guillotine for the first time ever in this House. These matters are very serious. It is only 9 pm. Already, there is huge pressure here. Only a handful of us in this House are standing up for the 17.4 million people out there. We are hugely outnumbered; we know that. We are being sneered and sniggered at and pressurised, as we have been for the past three years. I am totally with my noble friend: the way that things are being handled tonight is shocking and I hope that she will finish her remarks in her own time.
I thank my noble friend for his remarks. The guillotine is, of course, the thing we find most difficult. Earlier this afternoon, the House decided without debate not to go into Committee to discuss, in effect, the use of the guillotine. I think that was an error by the House, because that is how we should have discussed that really important change in our procedures. The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, thoughtfully introduced her amendment in relation to the guillotine. Again, noble Lords opposite closed that down without any debate whatever. This is really important for the future way in which this House operates, and noble Lords here should be in no doubt that they are perpetrating a form of constitutional vandalism by insisting on a guillotine Motion. That is what we are fighting against and will continue to fight against.
I very much echo what my noble friend says. It is a disgrace that the closure Motion is constantly moved, and on one occasion—after the brilliant speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Deech—before anybody else had any chance of commenting. The Liberal Benches did it; they have not apologised and they should. Then, to make it all worse, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, took it upon himself to tell me what I should and should not say in my speech.
Noble Lords should have got the understanding that we are not trying to debate the Bill but the Motion, and therefore the mechanism of achieving the Bill. We do not believe that it is right and proper to use the guillotine Motion. We believe that the House should look at that extremely carefully before ever contemplating it. To come back to my amendment—I am sure noble Lords opposite would like me to return to my amendment, although I am happy to take any other interventions—
The noble Lord, Lord Warner, mentioned me by name and made the assertion that we were somehow preventing the consideration of the Bill from the House of Commons. Should we not take account of the fact that this Bill has been taken through the House of Commons by abandoning the normal procedures and subverting our constitution? Notwithstanding that, and given that it will come to this House, if the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, the Leader of the Opposition, would care to withdraw this outrageous guillotine Motion, there is nothing whatever to stop the House getting on with considering the Bill from the House of Commons now.
Yes, I am. And they did so with the aid of the Speaker, who has acted in a way that is, to say the least, somewhat novel. It is an important point, because those Standing Orders in this House and the other place are our constitution, and if they are to be torn up or changed by people who do not accept the result of what the people and Parliament—both Houses by a big majority—voted for, that is a crisis, and it is a far bigger crisis than anything that arises from having a longer period of Prorogation.
My Lords, we really need to have a Question before us, otherwise we are having a debate at this stage. The noble Baroness has now been on her feet, or around her feet, for about 23 minutes. It is the custom to use this not for debate but to put a Question.
I say to the Lord Speaker that I have not been encouraging the debate but trying to introduce and speak to my amendment. Of course, other noble Lords have wished to raise a number of other matters, and obviously I feel it necessary to let noble Lords have an opportunity to have their say on those things.
It is worth noting that this is the first time that I can recall where the Chair has intervened in a matter such as this.
Perhaps we can leave that to consider on another day. Let me go back to what I said at the outset. My amendment is about being honest about why the Motion is before us. It is not just about not achieving no deal; it is really about having no Brexit. My amendment does not affect the substance of the Motion from the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, but merely makes plain the actual motivations of those who seek to promote this extraordinary parliamentary device and to partake in the constitutional vandalism to which I referred a few moments ago. Put simply, they are designed to prevent the UK’s departure from the EU. There is no more to it than that. That is what my amendment is trying to do. I believe in calling a spade a spade. I beg to move.