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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:02 pm on 5th September 2019.

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Photo of Lord Goldsmith Lord Goldsmith Labour 5:02 pm, 5th September 2019

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, who said that it is a privilege to be a Member of your Lordships’ House and to participate in debates such as this. I would make the point that I have said that before, but I am worried about being accused of dementia by the noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes, for repeating my previous speeches. To listen to this debate today and the contributions from such distinguished former civil servants—we have heard from the noble Lords, Lord Wilson, Lord O’Donnell and Lord Butler of Brockwell—has been extraordinary. The quality of contributions has been inordinately high, as has the thoughtfulness of the debate. We have been debating this now for six hours. Over 40 speakers, without any form of compulsion or even a speakers’ list, have been able to make contributions. That is a very adequate way to allow this House to consider the Second Reading of the Bill. In light of what was said yesterday, that is important to note.

The Bill is simple but necessary. It essentially stops no deal, but not altogether. I want to make that clear. I can see the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, shaking his head enthusiastically at this prospect, because it allows no deal if the House of Commons can be persuaded to pass a Motion in support of that. Let me come back to that. The Minister will obviously add what he wants to on it. It is necessary, because there is a real concern, referred to by a number of your Lordships, over a lack of trust in the Government and that, unless they are constrained, the Government will allow us to crash out never having approved a final deal or it not having the approval of the House of Commons.

A number of your Lordships referred to the dangers of crashing out without a deal, and we have talked about this on a number of previous occasions in this House. On the whole, this House has clearly indicated its view that leaving without a deal would be detrimental. Today we heard the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, and the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, on the risk to the economy. On security and the union, we heard powerful and compelling speeches on Northern Ireland from my noble friends Lord Mandelson and Lord Hain and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, and on important aspects from the noble Lord, Lord Empey, and others. On Wales, we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and others. As to the risk to young people and disadvantaged persons, we heard from the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bull.

These are the risks that we want to see avoided. The criticisms of the Bill from the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Lympne, in particular, are that it distorts our normal process of the separation of powers. I think he has a rosier view of the separation than I do, but let us be clear; this does not prevent the House of Commons, which is the legislature, giving its approval or non-approval to an event, but says that that is necessary before we could leave without a deal—or that an agreement has been reached.

It is also to be noted, given what has been said about hampering the Prime Minister in his negotiations, that the Bill is clear that not until after the European Council meeting on 17 October does the moment come when, if he has not reached a deal or obtained the consent of the House of Commons, he has to ask for an extension. Clause 1(3) does not trigger the need to ask for an extension until 19 October. In those circumstances, that particular element of concern is met.

I return to a point made by a number of noble Lords: the lack of trust in the Government, which has resulted in a Bill which is more constraining than one might have hoped to see. I must say, as many other noble Lords have, that what has happened on Prorogation is deeply concerning. It was deeply concerning when it was said that Prorogation had nothing to do with Brexit when it was plain to all of us that it had everything to with it. We did not need to see the documents that have been revealed in the Scottish case to know that. Now that we have seen them, however, we know that completely.

What is more, we know that the decision was made in the middle of August, at a time when it was not revealed to the House of Commons, this House or the public—or, apparently, to the Cabinet. Maybe I am wrong to see a sinister approach in that, but that sort of concern means that this House is entirely justified. The other place, whose Bill we are following, wants in the light of that lack of trust to make sure that this does not happen without either an agreement or the other House giving its approval.

It has been said that this will not solve the problem a number of noble Lords have raised. That may well be right, but it solves an immediate problem: the risk that we will find ourselves with a clock tick-tocking down to 31 October, not actually having a deal or even seeing any negotiations for a deal going on. That worries a lot of us as well. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, who first raised the point in an intervention that the Prime Minister had said that he needed, or was happy to have, 30 days to come up with alternative arrangements. The clock tick-tocked, and we did not see what those arrangements were. We still have not seen what they are. In those circumstances, to say that Parliament is right to insist on a clear set of rules for what will take place seems absolutely what we should do.

One of my few regrets about the debate concerns what happened yesterday, partly because we spent a lot of time with bitterness and rancour, which we do not want to see in this House. However, particularly due to the efforts of my noble friend Lady Smith and the Government Chief Whip, we came to an agreement that we can all be happy with. That is important.

I was a little saddened because, at the beginning of that debate, there was confusion between me and my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton. Normally, it is extremely flattering to be confused with him—I make that clear—but statements were made in the context of complaining that I had previously said things that I now appear to be disagreeing with by having made strong statements against the kind of Motion that was being put forward. I was cut by that—but not quite as cut as I was by a young French waitress recently when I was on holiday with my family, my children and their friends. They wanted to know, because there was a casino attached, what the age limit for the casino was and the young woman said to me, “There’s no maximum age limit”. Your Lordships may be relieved to know that that reassured me and I can provide the address of this excellent establishment, if noble Lords would like, afterwards.

The fundamental point is that we support the Bill. We are grateful to the other House for having sent it to us and to my noble friend Lord Rooker for putting it forward. We will have Committee, Report and the remaining stages of the Bill tomorrow. It would be good if the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, when he winds up for the Government, could repeat the assurances he gave during the debate that the Government will accept the Bill and make sure that it is in a position to get Royal Assent. As I suggested in an intervention, I hope they will advise Her Majesty to give Royal Assent. I accept that they cannot promise what Her Majesty will do, but they can give advice. We all know that the convention is that if advice is given, the monarch will follow it. I also hope that, as one noble Lord suggested, they will follow the spirit. We do not want to see any tricks, any shifting, any dodging about—whether that comes from Mr Dominic Cummings or anyone else—to get around this. If this House and the other House have said, “This is what should happen; this should be the Bill”, I hope that will be enforced and respected in the letter and in the spirit.

Given the length of the debate—I apologise that I have not referred to the excellent contributions of a number of other noble Lords—I urge my noble friend Lord Rooker to ask the House to give this Bill a Second Reading, and we will support that.