My Lords, I follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds in hoping that the Government will listen.
Earlier today, we had a good example of how your Lordships’ House works at its best. The Agriculture Bill has now gone through all its parliamentary stages with significant amendment—much of its achieved through debate and persuasion in your Lordships’ House. Although there are aspects of that Bill that many of us still question, nevertheless we can claim that the Government have listened and that something will get on to the statute book improved by your Lordships’ House and worthy of our parliamentary process.
We could not be further away from that with the Bill now before us. I listened with admiration and agreement to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, and to other noble Lords, but Part 5 cannot be improved. Part 5 has to go. In seeing it off—which I believe it is our duty to do—we are honouring and not abrogating the Salisbury/Addison convention, as I said on Second Reading. This was part of a manifesto commitment. It is not a law passed by some previous Government of another party. This is a law campaigned for by the Government, who won a sweeping victory in the general election last December. The early stages went through this Parliament, pre-Covid, and now we are told that the Government want to abrogate.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, in a magisterial speech, pointed out what a blemish on our national reputation this would be—and it would. We would rightly be accused of losing our moral compass as a nation. How can we talk to others about honouring the rule of law if we ourselves are pushing through Parliament an Act that abrogates a treaty willingly entered into, commended to Parliament and endorsed by it less than a year ago? As we have debated, the Bill has many imperfections—it is a real threat to devolution—but what is fundamentally wrong with it is that we are abrogating that treaty, and putting ourselves on the level of countries for which the rule of law is not of much consequence.
For goodness’ sake, we are looking across the Atlantic at the moment and seeing how crucial it is that the leader of the free world and the greatest country in the world believes in the rule of law, and not just when it is convenient. I deplore that we are in this position, and devoutly wish that we were not, but I could never support this part of the Bill. I do not like much of the rest of it, but I certainly could never support this part. We have not only a unique opportunity, but also a unique duty, to ensure that this does not pass.
We have certain powers in your Lordships’ House. We are always very wary of how we exercise those powers, and that is right, because the ultimate authority lies with the elected House, but this is something forced through the elected House by our Government, which, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, said in that splendid speech, puts into the hands of any Minister the opportunity, by secondary legislation, to repudiate law.
Tom Bingham has been cited in evidence before in your Lordships’ House and has been mentioned again tonight. I implore my noble friend on the Front Bench to read carefully that marvellous little book, The Rule of Law. It will not take him long. What would Tom Bingham be saying tonight? How fortunate we are that another former Lord Chief Justice, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, has been able to give the lead with forensic skill, devastating logic and impeccable argument. We must not allow this to go through, and the only way of ensuring that it does not is to vote against every one of the clauses in Part 5 standing part. I propose to do so, and if necessary, will do it again and again.