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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:48 pm on 5th September 2019.

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Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 4:48 pm, 5th September 2019

I am sorry. I have not read many of the noble Lord’s novels. I am sure that they do not stress that personality is important in politics. It seems to me that it is rather difficult to disentangle personality from politics. Let us discuss this further off the Floor. I even promise to buy the noble Lord a drink.

I was talking about conventions of the British constitution. I have been recalling the answer that the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, gave last year when the question was raised about the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments’ sharp letter to the Foreign Secretary when he resigned about the way in which Boris Johnson broke the Ministerial Code in three places within three days of resigning. The noble Lord extremely carefully stressed that the Ministerial Code is an honour code and depends upon the honour of the men who sign it, leaving the question of whether Boris Johnson is a man of honour hanging in the air.

That is part of the issue of trust which the noble Lords, Lord Kerr and Lord Hayward, and many others across the House have raised today. The matter of whether the Government would consider ignoring a law passed through Parliament if they did not like it, quoted in the Times today, increases the degree of mistrust. When the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, said that he cannot believe that the Prime Minister is negotiating in good faith, he speaks for a large number of people, which is worrying. He also says that we have to remember that the Prime Minister’s chief of staff is in contempt of Parliament and has written a blog showing many examples of his contempt, not only for Parliament but for most politicians in all parties. The problem, therefore, is that we cannot trust this Government, so Parliament is justified in tying their hands, which is the purpose of this Bill.

There is then the question of the role of evidence in policy-making, and of Civil Service advice and impartiality. The relationship between the Civil Service and the Government is based on the principle that civil servants advise on the basis of the best evidence they can find, and Ministers decide. What we have seen throughout this long argument about our membership of the European Community is Ministers and politicians disregarding advice and putting aside the evidence. I recall during my time in government, long before we reached the referendum, when, with David Lidington and Greg Clark, I chaired a Committee which at Conservative insistence looked at the balance of competences between the European Union and the United Kingdom. The Conservatives had insisted on it in the 2010 agreement because they were convinced that the evidence would demonstrate that business and other stakeholders would want to claw substantial powers back from the European Union to the UK. One of the most conscientious suppliers of evidence to the 32 reports that were provided was the director of the Scotch Whisky Association, Mr David Frost. He had been engaged in this for some time and he clearly knew what he was talking about and where the evidence lay. When those reports concluded that the balance of competences as currently established suited British business and other stakeholders well, the Prime Minister’s office did its best to supress further debate.

I hope that I misheard the noble Lord, Lord Howell, when he suggested that David Frost was perhaps not pressing the Prime Minister’s case on the Irish backstop as hard as he might in Brussels—