This is about the 15th time that the noble Lord has made this point. Could he remind the House that the decisions being taken are being made by the whole House on a vote? It is not something which is just the product of the Labour Party or the Liberal Democrats. It is a decision of the House, and that is how it should be.
The noble Lord can put his interpretation on it as he wishes; the Division lists will demonstrate who is closer to the truth. There will be a balance of opinion on the Cross Benches. I find it entirely extraordinary that the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats, having forced through legislation in the House of Commons for perfectly good reasons of their own, now wish, before the Bill had even been presented—it has now been presented, we saw it arrive—to force a guillotine on this House. It is, again, the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party, with some noble Lords in other parties; the bulk of the votes are there. Our proceedings are being broadcast, if anybody is watching. Those sitting opposite are on the Labour Benches; next to them are the Lib Dem Benches.
I think I have grasped that point on one or two occasions before from my noble friend. I do not deny that other people share that view, but the reality is that a power play is going on here, with the use of an instrument to control Parliament, to control this House, which has never been seen in this House before—the guillotine.
I am honoured to be a member of your Lordships’ Constitution Committee, which is one of the most important committees of the House—thank goodness that your Lordships’ House has such a committee. That committee is currently considering some of the issues that arise from fixed-term parliament legislation, and I hope that when its report is issued, it will be helpful to all of us in this House. But today, we are seeing constitutional issues on the make in front of us. We have an unprecedented, far-reaching Motion proposed which would, if it became part of the practice of this House, as it has become part of the practice of the other House, change the nature of parliamentary government in this country. That is absolutely the case.
Having heard an identical speech many times in the course of this evening, I wonder whether the noble Lord could speak to his amendment so that we may hear the substance? It seems to me that we are being driven towards losing time by the prevarication of those who are speaking at great length and so often.
This is entirely germane to the constitution. This amendment is about the need for the Constitution Committee of this House to consider the implications of such a dramatic change to the normal procedures of this Chamber. Surely we pride ourselves on the quality of our committees: that is one of the reasons why we are respected, in so far as we are still respected in this nation.
I am surprised by the concern about and hostility towards the idea of the Constitution Committee being involved to consider these matters. I think that it would be profoundly helpful. Is there some fear that the Constitution Committee might think that this is not a particularly helpful way to proceed in this House?
I am most grateful to my noble friend for giving way. Does he recall, as I do, Members of this House, particularly from the Opposition Benches, asking on many occasions for things to be referred to the Constitution Committee because they wanted to check whether something was constitutional? It seems to me that there is a surprising degree of hypocrisy here.
I have listened to repeated references to hypocrisy, but the greatest hypocrisy of all is taking place before our eyes. I have listened to the noble Lord all afternoon: you have repeated over and again the same matters. You are filibustering. You are preventing us reaching a Bill of importance to this country, and you are doing it because you want to waste time. You do not want us to reach that Bill, which is about preventing no deal. That is the shocking thing. You are not interested in following through on what the elected House has done. The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, gave it away in a moment when someone asked, “Why are you making a Second Reading speech; you can make that on the Bill when it comes”, and she said, “If we reach it, I will make it”. She, you and many others are trying to prevent us reaching that Bill. That is disgraceful. It is a real disgrace, and you should be ashamed. I am ashamed watching this. This House has the respect of the country. You are bringing it into disrepute.
There is nothing that I am doing, have done or have said nothing at any stage of these proceedings which is other than trying to defend—
That is absolutely correct. I am sorry, but from the start the noble Baroness has not been in her place throughout these debates. She may shake her head, but I have been here. My point is that this is about a guillotine, not the Bill. If the noble Baroness had been here earlier, she would have heard some exchanges across the Floor in which I made it very clear, for example through withdrawing an earlier amendment, that there is a route to accommodation here, that there is no need to go on with this procedure and that the guillotine Motion could be dropped. We on this side would certainly not risk considering in those circumstances, as I said earlier, to continue to press amendments. There should be a sensible usual channels deal; that deal is available and is being discussed at the moment, as I understand it. But no one, presented with a pistol put to their heads, as is the nature of this guillotine, would say, “Okay, all right, I trust you never to pull the trigger when you have bust into my house and changed the way that I have lived and worked in this place for 700 years”. We would not say, “Oh yes, I trust you”.
The noble Lord accused noble Lords on these Benches of hypocrisy. In reply, I want to say that the greatest act of guillotine to take place was the introduction of a Prorogation to avoid debate. That was a fundamental guillotine that flew in the face of our democracy. That is why people up and down the country feel affronted by it. I regret to say so, but the noble Lord is carrying on that affront with what is happening in this House tonight. The continuation of this nonsense is an affront to our democracy.
May I try to lower the temperature a little and smooth these choppy waters? I came into the House during the time of the coalition Government. I saw everything that I needed to know about filibustering from the Labour Benches when they tried to oppose so much of the then coalition Government’s constitutional programme. From an outside perspective, it appears that the general public look at us as Tweedledum and Tweedledumber. Can we back away from the idea that all fault lies on one side or the other and listen to my noble friend’s wise words?
I thank my noble friend for that. I was not expecting such a vigorous attack. I said that I am not used to the courts or the law, but perhaps that is the way in which business is conducted in the courts of law; I would rather that it were not so in Parliament.
I am not sure that my noble friend Lord Dobbs was defending my noble friend Lord True. I think he was saying that the Labour Party has filibustered in the past, so its Members cannot grumble tonight about my noble friend filibustering; that is what he seemed to be saying. My noble friend has a very good degree from Cambridge—not everyone is perfect—so perhaps he can explain this to us: if this is not a filibuster, what is?
Perhaps the House will allow my noble friend to make remarks later.
My noble friend is very polite about my degree. I have tried to sustain an interest in what I learned in those days and what I learned from him when I was younger. He gave me my first job, so he is to blame. He needs to be extremely careful. There is the guilty man to whom the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, should direct her criticism. I would never have got involved in politics in the first place if the noble Lord had not given me a job.
On the question he asked, we have a guillotine hanging over us in this House. We are asked to put our head on the block for the blade to fall and for the nature of business in this House to be changed for ever. If I had been in the French Revolution, I would not have been one of those who marched readily and easily to have my head cut off in the guillotine. I would have wriggled and fought to make sure that we did not have the guillotine chop our necks off—or, in this case, chop our powers.
I am sorry that the Opposition—the people actually controlling the business in this House—cannot see that to use their power in this way is undesirable and deeply disappointing. I fought battles alongside the Liberal Democrats under the Labour Government, often in defence of coercive proposals put forward by the Blair and Brown Governments on things such as detention without trial; I was working here. We always fought for the liberties of the parliamentary system and the liberties of this country. That is what we are doing and what I am seeking to do in this place. Surely, let us have an independent judgment. Maybe the noble Baroness, with all her vigour, and—
If the noble Lord looks around this House, he will see that there are almost as many people on the Cross Benches as on the Liberal Democrat Benches who I seem to have seen in the same Lobbies that I have been voting in for the last few hours. If I may say so, we represent an independent view on many of these amendments, and I thought the noble Lord had rather understated the role we have played in trying to progress so that we can get to the Bill itself. Perhaps the noble Lord would like to pursue that path.
I acknowledge that the noble Lord moved from the Labour Benches to the Cross Benches after a long period. Having been invited to comment—I said something about the right reverend Prelates earlier that I perhaps should not have—I say that when I first had an acquaintance with this House, the Cross-Benchers in this House were the absolute guardians of the way in which this House should conduct itself. When things were put forward that were unusual, out of the ordinary, procedurally questionable or whatever, you knew that the Cross-Benchers would find that difficult and hard to accept. I cannot conceive that in 1999 the Cross-Benchers would have voted for a guillotine Motion of this kind. If history shows that things are changing, that is depressing and we will have to accept it.
I will conclude my remarks, which I was trying to do before I was interrupted by the former Labour Peer, the noble Lord, Lord Warner—
Before my noble friend concludes his remarks, can he reflect on the fact that the only remotely plausible argument against the case he has been making is a shortage of time, but some 900 days ago Parliament initiated the Article 50 process, which meant that from that point onwards it was the law of the land that we left the European Union with or without a withdrawal agreement? We have had some 900 days for Parliament, if it objected to the second option, to legislate in the way it is now trying to do at the last minute to prevent that option. For them to claim after 900 days that there is a shortage of time is implausible at best.
My noble friend is entirely right. I had started to say that there is a difference of opinion across the House, but surely that means that there should be an independent judgment on the propriety of this procedure. We in this House all accept the wisdom of our cross-party committees. Why should it not be put to the Constitution Committee whether this kind of procedure is conducive to the good operation of our constitution and parliamentary government?
I remember that when the European withdrawal Bill was going through, not so very long ago, my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach, who was then the Chief Whip of our party, was constantly put under pressure by some people on our side—I was not one of them because I detest the idea of a guillotine—to constrain proceedings. No one would say that certain Peers in this House were short of words during proceedings on that Act. However, my noble friend did not do that. He had the power but did not use it to constrain the House. Unfortunately, today we are seeing that the other side have a different view.
All my amendment asks is that an independent verdict be sought from the Constitution Committee on whether it is a good thing—
My Lords, with regard to a referral to the Constitution Committee, of which my noble friend is a member, what would be the likely timing for how quickly the committee could meet, could take the evidence it requires and could produce a report? Timing clearly is one of the issues that is of significant concern to the House.
On the broader point, I urge the House to think very carefully before agreeing the precedent of introducing a guillotine. It is a major move. I have held my counsel during these debates but have been drawn to my feet by this issue and by the importance of the reference to the Constitution Committee. We should not nod this through, despite the lateness of the hour and despite the intensity of the political situation that is going on both here and in another place. I think the House would like to know how quickly the noble Lord, as a member of the Constitution Committee, believes that this could be done.
My Lords, the reality is that possibly we are not going to that point. If, as I hope, there is an agreement through the usual channels and we can get the guillotine Motion withdrawn, it would be perfectly possible later this month for the Constitution Committee to consider this issue and report back.
My Lords, I add my concern to the concern just expressed about the guillotine Motion. When we all received our Letters Patent from the Queen, there was a phrase:
“I give you a seat, a place and a voice in the House”.
For me, being given a voice to speak in the House was one of the greatest gifts that one could possibly be given. In my maiden speech, I committed myself to using the voice I have to speak up for those who could not speak for themselves. There are many people whose voices cannot be heard in this House and we have a responsibility here not to give away our voice but to ensure that we express it in this House. The guillotine Motion curtails that responsibility that we have been given. I would like my noble friend to comment.
Is it not extraordinary that when a noble Baroness stands up and makes a heartfelt and serious contribution, we get guffaws from the tieless mob on the Back Benches?
I do not mind being called a mob, if that is what the noble Lord wants to call me, but we have rules for debate in this House, one of which is that speeches should be kept to 15 minutes, as at paragraph 4.36 in the Companion, if the noble Lord would like to consider it. He has now been speaking for 23 minutes, according to the annunciator. Does he think it is time to move on?
The Companion actually says that anybody who is introducing an amendment is entitled to speak for 20 minutes. I was not proposing to speak for as long as that but I have taken a whole series of interventions which has consumed far more time than that. I therefore do not accept the criticism from the noble Lord. I have to say that, when I first came into the House, I did not find that he had the reputation of being one of the least loquacious Members of your Lordships’ House.
Happily, having heard the point made by my noble friend, one could consider removing the words “and should that Committee recommend its use”, if it is not possible to have that. But the principle that we should have a report from the Constitution Committee is so important that I hope we can least agree that we have a report later this month or next month on the matter. I beg to move.