My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 2 as my name is on it. Second Reading yesterday was a fascinating debate with much history covered, as is appropriate at Second Reading. There were some wide discussions of well-rehearsed arguments, often most eloquently expressed. Like many noble Lords here today I had the—I should not quite say—pleasure of listening to the debate on the business Motion the preceding day, which went on until 1.30 in the morning. I can only admire and respect those Members of this House who, having left at the same time as me, at 1.30 am, came back to the House the same morning with such powerful and well-written speeches on a Bill which itself arrived only a few hours earlier.
The speeches at Second Reading were political, of course, but in Committee we come to the business part. This is the time this House should come into its own, looking at the detail of the legislation and offering suggestions to the wording which might have been missed out in the other place. Although the Second Reading debate contained some excellent and thoughtful points, today is when we as a House might take a cold and calm look, away from the politics, and add some value to the Bill.
I recall that yesterday the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, specifically said that the Bill is “rather skilfully drafted”. It may be. I am sure it was done by those with vast experience in such matters, but it was prepared in a huge rush and I understand that one amendment from Stephen Kinnock was included by accident. As I have suggested, there was an almost indecent hurry between the Bill arriving here and Second Reading, so it is more than understandable that noble Lords did not have the full opportunity to reflect on the actual wording and meaning of the Bill line by line, as the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, has said.
There were of course exceptions; I would like to highlight the remarks of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern—and not only his wonderful sentence which from here on in I will try to remember every time I am in a debate:
“I wanted to speak near the end so that I would hear the wisdom of others rather than my own”.—[Official Report, 5/9/19; col. 1212.]
I want to pick up on his observation that Clause 1 seems to identify the reason for the extension. I quote from the Bill:
“The Prime Minister must seek to obtain from the European Council an extension … in order to debate and pass a Bill to implement the agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union, including provisions reflecting the outcome of inter-party talks”.
I should declare my interests. Although I voted leave, I publicly supported the agreement to which this refers, both in debates in this House and in print in a national newspaper. I am not sure in retrospect that I was right, but I did. Even if people like me were happy that the agreement to the extension was one that we still wanted, what happens if it is not the one we are offered by the EU because of the terms attached, as said by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech? The reason this amendment has been suggested is that it is entirely possible that the EU will only grant an extension which contains new conditions not in that agreement or not currently on the table. As I understand it, the Prime Minister would have to agree these new conditions, and this was not the intention of the Bill as it appears to be drafted.
Some of these new terms might be acceptable and attractive. I put on record to the House that I went to Brussels to meet Monsieur Barnier as part of the all-party parliamentary emergency task force led by Alberto Costa MP to try to persuade him to give citizens of the UK rights in the EU, and citizens in the EU rights in the UK, immediately. We had a friendly meeting for over an hour and he clearly understood the points made by the representatives of both Houses and indeed those of the citizens concerned, but he refused to budge an inch. The EU can dig in when it wants to, as indeed can we. For the record, he has agreed to meet us again in October. If he acquiesces to our requests then that will be extremely helpful, but there may be other requirements that the EU would make, particularly perhaps financial, that none of us would find acceptable. We have to reserve the right for Parliament to review those in the usual way. Accordingly it seems only fair and right that such changes should rather be approved by Parliament under this Bill, and that is the purpose of the Bill. Of course the Bill has to go through the House, but it is entirely appropriate that it carries amendments that your Lordships feel are appropriate.