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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:12 pm on 5th September 2019.

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Photo of Lord Hayward Lord Hayward Conservative 3:12 pm, 5th September 2019

My Lords, it is somewhat difficult speaking after some four hours of debates, because I want to pick up on comments made and I do not want to duplicate comments made earlier. This is actually the first time I have ever participated in a debate on the referendum, on withdrawal or the like: I do not face the problem my noble friend Lord Patten referred to of repeating myself from other speeches, because it is the first time I have made these comments.

I voted remain, but I am absolutely committed to finding a way to leave. That is where I disagree very strongly with some of the earlier speeches from, for example, my noble friend Lord Balfe and the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, who referred to the disadvantages associated with leaving. I recognise those but, as far as I am concerned, the referendum delivered a decision and I very strongly disagree with those who argue for a second referendum: just by dragging something out, one does not necessarily negate the original decision. I disagree with the position of the Liberal Democrats and of some other noble Lords who have spoken today.

I have found myself in strong disagreement on a number of occasions with the EU negotiators. I found them to be at times arrogant and dismissive, and I still hope that we will find a solution to the backstop, because that is the nub of the problem. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, has identified some solutions. They may not work but I believe that we should try to find one, even at this late hour.

I have made comments about the EU and the Liberal Democrats. My observation about the Labour Party’s negotiations is that I have been unclear throughout as to where it actually stood. I am referring not to those in this House but to the general Labour Party position. It has lacked clarity and assistance, and therefore has not helped in moving towards a leave solution.

I speak today as a Conservative Peer, so it behoves me to look at the position in relation to the Conservative Party. We are essentially discussing a Bill that says, “We do not trust the Government in their current position”. That is the essence of what this Bill is saying. Unfortunately—it hurts me to say it as a member of the Conservative Party— I am moving to that same position in relation to the current Government. Why have I come to that conclusion? I understand all the disagreements with this Bill from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, and others, but we are in a position in which the Prime Minister tells us he wants a deal but at the same time announces that we are going to prorogue Parliament.

On Monday the Prime Minister is due to be in Dublin meeting the Taoiseach. What is the point of saying to the Taoiseach, “By the way, I don’t have a plan or anything on the table”—as I indicated earlier in my intervention on the noble Lord, Lord Hain—“but I am coming over to negotiate and, at the same time, I am going to call a general election that will take up six weeks of the negotiating period through to 31 October”? If I were the Taoiseach, I would pick up the phone to No. 10 and say, “Don’t bother to turn up”, but of course the phone call is likely to go through to the gentleman referred to on a number of occasions during this debate. If it does, we can imagine the courtesy with which that call will be received—the same courtesy that Mr Clark received when he made a phone call only a few days ago.

I find it utterly unacceptable that the chief of staff at No. 10 Downing Street, who advises on these matters, whether negotiations or the timing of the general election, was found in contempt of the Commons. It is one of the reasons we lack trust, not only in this Chamber but in the other Chamber and, growingly, in the nation at large. Is it really acceptable? I disagree with the noble Lords, Lord Balfe and Lord Bridges; I would say to the Labour Party, “Don’t have the general election until after 31 October”, because I do not actually believe what is going on in the negotiations. I have here the report of the Committee for Privileges, which received the documentation from a Select Committee chaired by a Conservative Member of Parliament. The Committee for Privileges is chaired by a member of the Labour Party, and its conclusions are absolutely clear and damning. That report was then put to the Commons some five days after it was received, and on 2 April Dominic Cummings was found in contempt of the House and the committee without a vote—in other words, it was accepted by the whole House of Commons. I find it unacceptable that somebody who so recently was found to be in contempt of our practices and of Members of Parliament should be advising the Prime Minister on how to handle parliamentary procedure.

I have difficulty with this Bill and the problems associated with it, but I understand what it is saying. I say to No. 10: understand what is being said by the formation of this Bill and change your behaviour immediately, because that trust must be restored in both Houses.