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Motion A

Part of European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill - Commons Amendments – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 22nd January 2020.

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Photo of Lord Howarth of Newport Lord Howarth of Newport Labour 6:00 pm, 22nd January 2020

My Lords, I would like to express my personal appreciation for the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, has handled his responsibilities at the Dispatch Box. Although I am somewhat anomalous on this side of the House in being—if the noble Lord Cormack, will allow me to say—in favour of leaving the European Union, none the less, I am sure that many of my colleagues have also respected the hard work and the gracious spirit in which the Minister has presented the case on behalf of the Government.

However, I cannot agree with his commendation of these so-called Commons reasons. It is disappointing for this House that the Commons has dismissed the amendments that your Lordships’ House sent to them, with no serious consideration whatever. That represents a failure to recognise and respect the proper constitutional role of this House. In the proceedings on this Bill, this House has not sought to obstruct the Government’s purpose in passing the withdrawal legislation. Everybody in this House accepts that the Government have a mandate to do so, and everybody understands the time constraints. None the less, this House sought to improve the legislation in important respects.

My noble friend Lord Dubs, and the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, have made the case very well indeed in respect of the issue raised in the Dubs amendment, but there were also important constitutional issues that arose from the Bill, and they are not negligible. They concern, for example, the formal processes and the spirit in which the Government seek to relate to the devolved institutions as we withdraw from the European Union and develop the new relationship. They concern the excessive Henry VIII powers that the Government have chosen to take in this Bill—one of them, very importantly, providing for the Government to take powers, by regulation, to intervene in the realm of the judges in determining how they should handle European retained law.

There are other areas, including Clause 41, which has provided a very large, very extravagant opportunity for the Government, by regulations, to abolish or amend, in substantial respects, primary legislation. It is not just legitimate but our duty to have considered these matters, and it is disappointing that in the other place, the Government, Ministers and Members of Parliament have not thought it worthwhile to give any significant consideration to these issues. Taking back control of our laws should represent a full restoration of parliamentary government, and a full restoration of parliamentary government should mean a proper working relationship between your Lordships’ House and the other place. It should not mean a new excrescence of, to use that memorable term coined by a very distinguished Conservative, Lord Hailsham, the “elective dictatorship.”