European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 6) Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:42 am on 5th September 2019.

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Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Labour 11:42 am, 5th September 2019

My Lords, I move this Motion on behalf of the elected House. I am not here to debate leave, remain or Brexit. The Bill is about how Brexit is carried through so that the UK does not leave without a deal and that, once a deal is there to be voted on, we will leave, if the House of Commons agrees, via its meaningful vote.

Of course, this House does not have a meaningful vote. The Bill has come from the elected Commons but this is not a normal situation. The timetable has been forced on Parliament by the Prime Minister. Our role is not necessarily to rubber-stamp the elected Commons but, given the Prime Minister’s Prorogation timetable, the House has no real time to amend the Bill without jettisoning it as a whole—it is too risky. This is not the preferred way to scrutinise. It has been forced on the House. In this respect, I much regret that the Leader of the Lords saw fit to be part of the Privy Council’s forcing an early close-down of Parliament. Knowing the sensitivity of being the Leader of the House, she should, I believe, have declined that invitation. There are plenty of privy counsellors around to choose for the task.

It is not the case that it must be certain privy counsellors. In 2005, for the Prorogation Privy Council, there were three privy counsellors present at Windsor. None of them was from the House of Commons; two were Ministers from the Lords, of which I was one, and another was a member of neither the Government nor the House of Commons. There are plenty of privy counsellors. The Leader of the House did not have to accept that invitation; it has dragged this House into the issue of closing down Parliament early when it was not necessary. We need to consider what is sent to the Lords and the context in which it is sent. There is a clear breakdown of trust in the Commons, which is under extreme pressure. It has now decided, as it did earlier in the year, to try to take some responsibility for and control of the decision on a no-deal Brexit. To coin a phrase, the Commons has acted to stop a no-deal Brexit by any means necessary. We have gone past the stage where many of the public thought that no deal meant not leaving—the Operation Yellowhammer papers have made that clear to everyone concerned.

I always preface my presentations for the Peers in Schools programme by saying that we have two Houses of Parliament, but they are not equal. The role of the Lords is to scrutinise and sometimes to ask the Commons to think again, but knowing that the Commons always has the last word. But we are not in normal times. As I said earlier, the Prime Minister’s timetable means that we are in no real position, whatever the business arrangements for Monday, to ask the Commons to think again on this Bill. It almost amounts to a national emergency in legislative terms. We need to treat the Commons with respect as it tries to achieve the objective. It alone has the legal and political responsibility for the meaningful vote. It is as divided as the nation, but it has sent us a Bill.

We should now, as far as the Prorogation timetable allows, operate the conventions to give the Commons the last word. The conventions are in play as never before —we saw that yesterday. Indeed, the conventions are being changed. A convention breached requires what we might see as an unconventional approach, hence the business Motion and hence effectively timetabling consideration of this Bill.

When I was young and out of order, my mother used to call me Jeffrey, rather than Jeff, and often told me, “two wrongs don’t make a right”. Today I have to ask: if the wrongs are not two but more, many more—eight, nine, or a dozen at least—what do we do? We have the early closing down of Parliament, misleading on the negotiation, ignoring purdah rules, spending without the OBR, attempting to leave come what may, refusing to publish the consequences of leaving for the poor, failing to table amendments to the withdrawal agreement, attacking Dublin, running the clock down, leaving UK citizens high and dry in the EU and EU citizens in the UK in limbo, and putting the union in peril. That, to me, is a massive breach of the conventions that we should be operating under, which has caused this reality with this Bill. It is an unconventional response to the breaching of the conventions. I commend it to the House.