Moved by Lord Framlingham
After first “Commons” to insert “, and in recognition of the fact that promises made in election manifestoes in 2017 to ensure the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union are not binding”.
My Lords, I will speak to this amendment on behalf of my noble friend Lord True. It is to do with how binding or otherwise manifestos are. Before I begin, I will respond to the noble Lord who asked whether we were—or someone was—suggesting that ex-Cabinet Ministers could be trying to harm the Government’s programme. I respectfully remind your Lordships that the Member of Parliament who was the Chancellor of the Exchequer just a few weeks ago is now the principal saboteur of the Government’s programme. I think that speaks for itself.
I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way. I cannot quite believe that I heard him refer to the former Chancellor of the Exchequer as a saboteur. Would he like to withdraw that slight against somebody who worked extremely hard as Chancellor of the Exchequer and restored the finances of this country?
I understand that debates such as this do raise emotions. I feel particularly strongly about it. Perhaps “saboteur” is an ill-chosen word, but I am talking about somebody who for three years pretended to be working towards a sensible Brexit while—we now know—all the time doing exactly the opposite.
That is absolutely untrue. There is no evidence for that at all. Again I ask: will my noble friend withdraw his remark? As far as I am aware, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was working very hard to secure a deal. He is now working to ensure that this country does not leave the EU with a very damaging no-deal Brexit.
Does my noble friend really think he is assisting to enhance the reputation of this House by trashing the reputation of someone who has given decades of service to our country and our party?
My Lords, I think it is time for a little honesty. I have watched over the last three years—day in, day out—people pretending to do one thing and doing another, while the 17.4 million people who voted to leave Europe have been very badly served. I am not prepared to put up with it any longer.
I respectfully draw the noble Lord’s attention to paragraph 4.43 of the Companion, which says that:
“No Member of the House of Commons should be mentioned by name, or otherwise identified, for the purpose of criticism of a personal, rather than a political, nature”.
I am sorry; I had not read that. However, I will not withdraw it, because the House can tell how strongly I feel. If I am not careful, I will make it worse. I will consult the Companion and, if I have erred greatly, I will make sure I do not do it again.
The proposition that promises made in manifestos are not binding strikes at the very heart of our system of government. Manifestos are long and detailed. Few people will read and understand every single detail, but they are the only way that the electorate can know what any party or candidate proposes to do and bring them to account after the election. They are also crucial as a point of reference when controversial issues arise in government and are frequently referred to and quoted. Minor issues may perhaps be overlooked, or not carried out quite as they ought to be, but for something as vital as leaving the European Union, there could be no room for doubt or misunderstanding.
In its 2017 election manifesto, the Labour Party did not say that it would leave the EU only on terms agreed by a second referendum. At that stage in our proceedings, it was understood that both parties were prepared to leave the European Union. The truth is that all these shenanigans are designed simply to hide the fact that the Labour Party does not know which way to turn. It is still prepared to inflict significant damage on our House and our constitution, and prevent the Government doing what the vast majority of the people now want. To this end, it is still prepared to deny its manifesto commitments.
In my judgment, my noble friend’s point is entirely correct. As he noticed, and as I have pointed out to the House before, in both Houses, in Division after Division on measure after measure to advance Brexit, the Labour Party has consistently delivered more than 200 votes in the Division Lobbies to frustrate the Brexit process. Does he not believe that the Labour Party has dishonoured its manifesto and that the British people need to know that, without the Labour Party’s obstruction, Brexit would have been delivered?
I think the British people are now totally confused and utterly fed up with politicians and Parliament, and they simply want Brexit done, in the way the Prime Minister proposes. We should get on with it.
This guillotine Motion is outrageous, but it is only another blow, in a long line of such actions, to the workings and stature of the House. The opposition parties will use any device, existing or created by them, to frustrate normal government. Their treatment of the Northern Ireland Bill is a very sad case in point.
Could I draw the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Framlingham, to paragraph 4.23 of the Companion? I appreciate he will not have it with him, but it says that:
“Debate must be relevant to the Question before the House”.
While his remarks about Northern Ireland are very interesting, they are not relevant to the item before the House.
I assure the noble Lord that I will take a copy of the Companion with me when I go home. I am talking about the guillotine Motion and all that relates to it. The guillotine is what we are talking about now. We are about to introduce an extraordinary measure; I do not know why the House is so relaxed about it. We will come on to the essence of guillotines later, but I am talking about manifestos at the moment. The idea that the House of Lords should introduce a guillotine is quite ridiculous.
I was making the point that the Northern Ireland Bill was used to bend normal rules. To try to force the Government to report to the House of Commons in the period leading up to
I will briefly read a quote relating to that from a Member of the other Place responsible for it. I will not name him in case I am in error again. He said, as they were trying to do this:
“Would my right hon. and learned Friend first agree that the reason that Mr Speaker quite rightly did not select new clause 14 is that it would not have been within the scope of the Bill as unamended, but that, if amended by my right hon. and learned Friend’s amendments, new clause 14 would probably be brought into scope? Secondly, does he agree that their lordships in the other place take a rather wider view of scope than is typically taken here, and therefore there is ample reason to suppose that, given the majorities we know to exist in the House of Lords, new clause 14 in some form is actually likely to be added to the package and therefore to be operative?”.
His colleague said:
“Yes, I do agree. That is certainly one of the reasons this should go to the other place”.—[Official Report, Commons, 9/7/19; cols. 243-44.]
There you are: that is how we are used and abused when it is appropriate.
The noble Lord referred to a crafty way of subverting the processes of the House. Would he agree that the sort of filibustering we are watching this evening seems a very crafty way to subvert the Bill we wish to get to?
If the House does not like what I am saying, I apologise, but I am hardly filibustering. Sadly, those opposed to us leaving the European Union will stop at nothing and manifesto commitments clearly can be dispensed with. The result will be that the public will lose even more of their trust in politics and politicians when they go to the country. The implication for our political system is frightening. We must return to the tried and trusted ways of running our affairs and seek to win back the trust of the people. I urge Members opposite who are supporting these measures, and who I feel sure care about our Parliament and our constitution, to look into their hearts and draw back from these dangerous and draconian measures.
I will end with a brief manifesto from myself. I believe this should be our vision for the United Kingdom. As a nation, with all we have to offer the world, we should show self-belief without arrogance, conviction without pomposity, determination without aggression, competition without rancour, and leadership without conceit. We must champion our deep-rooted belief in the value and integrity of the nation state and our distrust of blocs that attempt to harmonise and formalise unnatural groupings. Europe should be a flexible jigsaw of independent nation states, working closely together but each one able to flex separately in response to its individual needs. Cementing nations together in blocs or unions produces a stultifying rigidity, tension, friction and ultimately cracking and break-up, which is now beginning to happen in the EU. We are not tearing ourselves out of the heart of a thriving organisation, but sensibly detaching ourselves from an ailing bloc that has within it the increasingly obvious seeds of its own destruction. We will provide more help and support to the EU in the long term as a strong and independent ally, not as a permanently disgruntled partner. We must have the courage of our convictions, faith in our country and determination to honour the decision we took in the referendum. There might be short-term problems, but most of them are hugely exaggerated and a bright and stable future awaits us.