Consideration of Lords message
Before Clause 9
Parliamentary approval of the outcome of negotiations with the EU
I beg to move,
That this House agrees with Lords amendments 19C to 19E, 19G to 19L and 19P, and proposes Government amendments to Lords amendment 19P.
With this, it will be convenient to consider the following:
Manuscript amendment (b) and amendment (a) to the motion.
Lords amendments 4B to 4E.
Lords amendment 24C
Lords amendments 110B to 110J.
I inform the House that I have selected manuscript amendment (b), in the name of Mr Dominic Grieve, and amendment (a), in the name of Mr Tom Brake. I add, for the convenience of the House, that copies of manuscript amendment (b) are available in the Vote Office.
I will turn in a moment to the issue at the forefront of many hon. Members’ minds—Parliament’s role at the conclusion of the negotiations with the European Union—but first I want to set out the other issues before the House for approval today. These are all issues where the Lords agreed with the Government on Monday: enhanced protection for certain areas of EU law, family reunification for refugee children and extending sifting arrangements for statutory instruments to the Lords. The Government set out common-sense approaches to those three issues in the Lords, who backed the Government, and the issues now return to this House for final approval.
The fourth issue is, as I have said, Parliament’s role at the conclusion of our negotiations with the EU. Before we turn to the detail, let us take a step back for a moment and consider the long democratic process we have been on to get here. It began with the EU Referendum Act 2015, passed by a majority of 263 in this House, at which point the Government were clear they would respect the outcome of the referendum. This was followed by the referendum itself, which saw a turnout of over 33 million people and 17.4 million people vote in favour of leaving the EU.
We then had the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017, which empowered the Government to trigger article 50. Despite the attempts of some in the other place to impugn the validity of this notification, the Act passed through both Houses, with a majority of 372 in this place on Third Reading. This was followed by a general election where both major parties, attracting over 80% of the vote, stood on manifestos that committed to respecting the result of the referendum: 27.5 million votes for parties that said they would respect the referendum—no ifs, no buts. We are now in the process of passing this essential Bill to get our statute book ready for the day we leave. It will ensure that we respect the referendum result but exit the European Union in as smooth and orderly a manner as possible.
We have already set out in law that this process will be followed by a motion to approve the final deal we agree with the EU in negotiations. If this is supported by Parliament, as I hope and expect it will be, the Government will introduce the withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill, which Parliament will have time to debate, vote on and amend if they so wish. Finally, as with any international treaty, the withdrawal agreement will be subject to the approval and ratification procedures under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. And this is all before we even consider the other pieces of legislation we have passed and will pass as part of this process.
Anyone who questions the democratic credentials of this Government or this process should consider the steps we have taken to get to this stage and those which we have already laid out in front of us. I believe they are greater than any steps taken for any international negotiations ever in the history of this country. Furthermore, contrary to what was said in the other place on Monday, the Bill gives Parliament significantly more rights than we see on the EU side. The European Parliament simply has to consent to the withdrawal agreement—a yes or no vote—and the EU member states will simply have a vote in the Council on the withdrawal agreement. We have considerably more powers than them, too.
I turn now to the detail of the amendment at hand. We start with a simple purpose: how do we guarantee Parliament’s role in scrutinising the Government in the unlikely event that the preferred scenario does not come to pass? Our intention is straightforward: to conclude negotiations in October and put before both Houses a deal that is worthy of support. In approaching our discussions on this matter, the Government set out three reasonable tests: that we do not undermine the negotiations, that we do not alter the constitutional role of Parliament in relation to international negotiations, and that we respect the result of the referendum.
It is on that basis that we have tabled our amendments. This is a fair and serious proposal that demonstrates the significant flexibility that the Government have already shown in addressing the concerns of the House. Our original amendment provided that, if Parliament rejected the final deal, the Government must make a statement setting out their next steps in relation to negotiations within 28 days of that rejection. Our new amendments provide for a statement and a motion, ensuring that there is a guaranteed opportunity for both Houses to express their views on the Government’s proposed next steps. Not only that, but we have expanded the set of circumstances in which that opportunity would arise, to cover the three situations conceived of in the amendment tabled by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) last week. First, if Parliament rejects the deal, a statement must now be made within 21 days and a motion must be tabled in both Houses within seven sitting days of that statement. Alternatively, if the Prime Minister announces before 21 January 2019 that no deal can be agreed with the European Union, a statement must be made within 14 days, and a motion must be tabled in both Houses within seven days of that statement. Finally, if no agreement has been reached by the end of 21 January 2019, a statement must be made within five days, and a motion must be tabled in both Houses within five sitting days. That would happen whatever the state of the negotiations at that stage.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
I will give way to the Chairman of the Exiting the European Union Committee.
When the right hon. Gentleman appeared before the Committee recently, he confirmed that the motion asking the House to approve the withdrawal agreement would be amendable. Can he therefore explain to the House why the Government are now proposing amendments to Lords amendment 19P to include the reference to “neutral terms”? He will be well aware that Standing Order 24B says that, if a motion is considered by Mr Speaker to be in neutral terms, it cannot be amended. Why are the Government prepared to allow an amendable motion in one case, but not in the dire circumstances that the right hon. Gentleman is now describing?
The right hon. Gentleman has prefaced perfectly the rest of my speech, because that is precisely what I shall spend the next 10 minutes explaining to him.
I think that the additional provisions speak for themselves. Our proposed amendment creates a formal structure, set out in law, for Parliament to express its views in all the various scenarios that might come to pass in our exit from the European Union, but it also passes the three tests that were set out by me and by the Prime Minister.
I am glad to see that the amendment sent back to us by the other place accepts the vast majority of these provisions. The core of the disagreement now focuses on the exact nature of the motion offered to the House if any of the unfortunate circumstances that I have previously mentioned come to pass. Our amendment offers those motions in neutral terms. Questions have focused, understandably, on whether that means that they would not be amendable. Members will, of course, be aware that it is not within the competence of Governments to judge whether amendments can be tabled to motions, but for the sake of clarity, let me quote from Standing Order No. 24B:
“Where, in the opinion of the Speaker or the Chair, a motion, That this House… has considered the matter, is expressed in neutral terms, no amendments to it may be tabled.”
I have written to the Chairman of the Procedure Committee setting out how the Government understand that this process will operate in practice and have laid a copy of that letter in the Libraries of both Houses.
I am enormously grateful to the Secretary of State for allowing me to intervene so early in his important speech.
I am most unhappy about the repetition by the Prime Minister, and by others in the Government, of the mantra “no deal is better than a bad deal”. I should like the Secretary of State to give a guarantee to the people of Northern Ireland that the Government whom he represents here today will not be gambling with the constitutional status of Northern Ireland as an integral part of the United Kingdom. No deal would lead to a hard border, which would inevitably be exploited by Sinn Féin and by new IRA dissenters. I need that guarantee.
The hon. Lady can be sure that we will not be gambling with the status of the border. I shall come back to the issue of no deal in a moment, because it is central to much of the issue of the amendability of motions.
Is not the importance of the position that the Government are taking that, if a “no deal” option is ruled out, that will guarantee a worse deal in any negotiation? Anyone who has been party to a negotiation will understand that.
My hon. Friend is right, and I shall come back to that point in a second.
The satisfactory amendment that left the House of Lords would oblige the Government to table a substantive motion if their agreement were being rejected. No doubt they would draft that with a view to commanding the majority of the House, but other people could table a substantive amendment with alternative proposals for how to proceed. My right hon. Friend rejects that, and is trying to replace it with a situation in which the Government do not have to put anything in their second amendment, except that they take note. Then, if anyone tries to table a substantive motion as an amendment, I will give you a pound to a penny, Mr Speaker, that the argument will be “If you pass this, it will mean no deal, because the Government are not going to negotiate this, and it will bring the thing to an end.”
I cannot for the life of me see why the Government are hesitating about the Lords amendment, except, of course, that they have come under tremendous pressure from hard-line Brexiteers in the Government, who caused them to reject the perfectly satisfactory understanding that had been reached with Conservative Members who had doubts last week.
I am afraid that I do not agree with my right hon. and learned Friend, as he will be unsurprised to hear. I will not try to follow him down the path of what might happen and in what circumstances. I shall explain in a moment the reasoning behind the restriction of amendment, which is precisely accurate in this area.
Let me say this to my right hon. and learned Friend. He has been in the House even longer than I have, and he knows full well that very often, when matters are particularly important, the procedural mechanism of a motion does not actually determine its power or its effect. That goes all the way back to the Norway debate, which arose from an Adjournment motion tabled by the Chief Whip of the day, and which changed the course of the war. So I do not take my right hon. and learned Friend’s point at all.
The amendment sent to us by the other place does not offer those motions in neutral terms. It is therefore possible—indeed, I would predict, likely—that wide-ranging amendments will be tabled which would seek to instruct the Government how to proceed in relation to our European Union withdrawal. This may seem to be a minor point of procedure, but it is integral to the nature of the motions, and to whether they pass the three tests that I set out last week.
The debates and amendments of the last week have revolved around what would happen in the event of no deal. Let me explain to the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) the distinction between the amendments and the motion that we promised the House—indeed, I think that I first promised it to him as long ago as the article 50 debate. The provisions of the motion will come about if the House rejects the circumstances of a deal, but the amendments apply principally to the issue of no deal, which is really rather different. Let me also make it clear to the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) that I have never argued in favour of no deal. I do not favour no deal, and I will do what I can to avoid no deal. It is not an outcome that we are seeking, and, as things stand, I am confident that we will achieve a deal that Parliament can support. However, you cannot enter a negotiation without the right to walk away; if you do, it rapidly ceases to be a negotiation.
The Lords amendment undermines the strength of the United Kingdom in negotiations. There are plenty of voices on the European side of the negotiations who seek to punish us and do us harm—who wish to present us with an unambiguously bad deal. Some would do so to dissuade others from following us, and others would do so with the intention of reversing the referendum, and making us lose our nerve and rejoin the European Union. If it undermines the UK’s ability to walk away, the amendment makes that outcome more likely. That is the paradox. Trying to head off no deal—and this, too, is important to the hon. Lady—is actually making no deal more likely, and that is what we are trying to avoid.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that we must ensure that Opposition Members whose constituents, like mine, voted strongly to leave vote with us, and vote to stop these amendments?
I take my hon. Friend’s point, but, at the Dispatch Box and elsewhere, I have always insisted that people vote with their consciences, and their consciences should encompass how they represent the wishes of their constituents.
If the European Union expects Parliament to direct the Government to reconsider its policies, to extend article 50 or even to revoke it, it will have an incentive to delay and give us the worst possible deal just to try to bring about such an outcome.
I am not giving way for the moment. I hope the hon. Lady will take that on board.
This is already clear from the European Union’s approach so far in some areas of negotiations. We have seen an inflexibility in its approach to Galileo. We have even seen it yesterday in its inflexible approach to internal security generally. Furthermore, my team and I have seen it at first hand: whenever something happens in the Commons or the Lords that increases uncertainty, negotiations slow down. When they believe we might be forced to change our position to suit them, they stall. We cannot allow such an approach to become commonplace across all negotiations.
While I am glad that we have moved away from the proposition that Parliament can give unilateral, wide-ranging, legally binding instructions to the Government in international matters, an amendable motion nevertheless countenances a situation in which Parliament can direct the Government on how they should proceed. There is a clear difference between Government taking Parliament’s view into account as expressed through a debate and Parliament instructing the Government how to act. That difference is reflected in the two amendments on offer today.
Finally, the amendment by the other place could be used to undermine the result of the referendum. Lord Hailsham willingly admits he believes the decision of the British people in 2016 was, in his words, a “national calamity.” Lord Bilimoria spoke in similar terms previously when he described it as a no-Brexit amendment. This amendment is consistent with our belief: it sets out in law a clear path to follow for those who wish to frustrate the withdrawal from the EU.
Will my right hon. Friend give way?
In a moment.
Our amendment on the other hand is consistent with the notion that it is right for Parliament to express its view but not to instruct the Government on how to conduct themselves in an international negotiation.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
As I have said, it passes the three tests set out by myself and the Prime Minister.
I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies).
Order. Before we come to the intervention, there is a point of order; I hope it is not a point of frustration.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am reading here in the media for the first time a ministerial statement from the Secretary of State purporting to explain how “neutral terms” would operate in practice, and I assume that you have seen the statement, Mr Speaker. It says:
“Under the Standing Orders of the House of Commons it will be for the Speaker to determine whether a motion when it is introduced by the Government under the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is or is not in fact cast in neutral terms and hence whether the motion is or is not amendable.”
Therefore, Mr Speaker, my question to you is this: what discretion does that leave you in practice if such a motion is cast in time-honoured neutral terms in the first place?
The discretion that I have always had in such circumstances is the short answer to the hon. Gentleman. This matter may or may not be treated of further at a later point in our proceedings, but I do not want to detract from the time available for the debate.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, and I think the Secretary of State had given way to his hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies).
I am very grateful.
Will my right hon. Friend commend our hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee), who on the radio today, with his characteristic openness, said that he hoped that, if the amendment of our right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) were passed today, the House would use that in order to suspend the triggering of article 50, which let the cat out of the bag as to what the motive is, which is to delay, frustrate or even stop entirely the UK leaving the European Union?
As I have said throughout, it is for people to go with their consciences on this matter and I do not attack anybody for doing that.
May I pick up on the point of order raised with you, Mr Speaker? I would not want the House to think that in any way it had not been told about this. In my earlier speech, I outlined the issue of “Erskine May” on this matter and Standing Order 24B and your rights in this, and made it plain that that is what we are relying upon. So I would not want the House to be misled in any way, or to believe it has been misled.
The debates on this issue have been in the finest traditions of this House. Hon. Members have stood on issues of principle and argued their cases with the utmost integrity. That has shifted the Government’s approach to a position where our Parliament will rightly and unquestionably have its say and express its view. For in this, the greatest democracy of all, we debate, we argue, we make our cases with passion, but we do it to a purpose and that is to deliver for our people, not just to please ourselves. They decided that we will leave the European Union and, whatever the EU thinks about that, we will do it, and we will do it in the best way we can. And in that spirit I commend this motion to the House.
I rise to speak in favour of the amendment tabled by the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) to preserve Lords amendment 19P, which would ensure that Parliament has a meaningful vote in the Brexit process.
We need to be clear about what this amendment is and what it is not. It is not about frustrating or blocking Brexit, it is not about tying the hands of the UK negotiators, and it would not empower Parliament to direct the Government in the ongoing negotiations. It is simply about this House playing a meaningful role in the terms of the final Brexit deal. It is about making sure that on the most important peacetime issue this House has faced for a generation, this House is not silenced.
This amendment addresses two issues: what happens if Parliament rejects the Prime Minister’s proposed article 50 deal in the autumn; and what happens if by 21 January next year there is no article 50 deal or no prospect of an article 50 deal. The Prime Minister has consistently said, “Tough luck; if you don’t like my proposed deal you can have something much worse.” That is not meaningful. The Brexit Secretary, once a great guardian of the role of this House, now wants to sideline Parliament when its voice is most needed. He says that in the event that the Prime Minister’s proposed article 50 deal is rejected by Parliament or there is no article 50 deal, a Minister will make a statement. Well, I should think so—after two years of negotiation, the Government bring back a deal which is rejected and a Minister will make a statement. And he says that will happen not in 28 days, but in 21 days—that is democracy; that is giving Parliament a real voice. And then a further safeguard: there will be a neutral motion. There is an example of a neutral motion on today’s Order Paper. There is to be a debate about NATO and what will be decided is this:
“That this House has considered NATO.”
That is the additional safeguard—“That this House has considered the article 50 deal.” And that is it; that will be the role of this House on the most important decision that we will make in this Parliament.
No one who values parliamentary sovereignty should accept either approach, and that is why the amendment is crucial. It would require the Government to back up any statement made by a Minister with a motion that can be voted on. It would permit Parliament to have a meaningful say, but only after negotiations are complete.
Of course the very idea of Parliament actually having a say prompts the usual cries, and I have no doubt that many of the interventions will be along these lines, so let me deal with them. The usual cries are these: “It’s an attempt to frustrate Brexit,” “It will weaken the Prime Minister’s negotiating hand,” “Parliament cannot micromanage negotiations.” So let me meet those objections.
First, we have heard it all before. In August 2016 we challenged the Government to produce a plan. What did they say? It would frustrate Brexit, it would tie our hands and it would play into the hands of the EU. Then they had to accept a motion to produce a plan, and the sky did not fall in. In the autumn of 2016 we challenged the Government to give Members of this House a vote on the proposed article 50 deal, and got the same response from the same people in this House—it would frustrate the process, it would tie the Prime Minister’s hands and it would play into the hands of the EU. Then we had the Lancaster House speech in January 2017; the Prime Minister agreed to give MPs a vote, and the sky did not fall in.
In December 2017, we challenged the Government to put the article 50 vote into legislation. That was contested through amendment 7, for the usual reasons. We received the usual response: it would frustrate Brexit, it would play into the hands of the EU and it would tie the Prime Minister’s hands. Amendment 7 was voted on, and the vote went against the Government. The sky did not fall in. In February this year, we challenged the Government to publish the impact assessments. We got the usual response: it would frustrate Brexit, it would tie the Prime Minister’s hands and it would play into the hands of the EU. Then the impact assessments were published, and the sky did not fall in. This amendment is not about frustrating the process; it is about making sure that there is a process.
Secondly, we have to confront the fact that the biggest threat to an orderly Brexit, and the biggest threat of having no deal, is and always has been division at the heart of the Government. They cannot agree the fundamentals. The customs arrangements were hardly an unexpected issue. No one should be under any illusion that the EU cannot see the fundamental weakness of the Government’s position.
Will the shadow Secretary of State confirm that the Labour party is not trying to frustrate Brexit, and that the policy of our party and our Front Bench is that we will be leaving the European Union in March 2019?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. I know how important this is for her constituency, and I can confirm that that has always been our position.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for giving way. At least he has allowed someone from this side to make an intervention, which the Secretary of State did not have the decency to do. Will he explain what on earth a meaningful vote would mean if there was a Hobson’s choice Brexit—a choice between the deal we have done or no deal at all? Is not avoiding a Hobson’s choice Brexit what this entire debate is now about?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, because it goes to the heart of the issue: If Parliament is given a vote on article 50, and if we do not like what the Prime Minister has brought back, we can have something much worse. Even a child could see that that is not an acceptable choice.
Perhaps those on the Opposition Benches are missing the central point. In any negotiation, ruling out the possibility of no deal will guarantee the worst outcome. Anyone who has conducted a negotiation in business understands that. If those on the Opposition Benches do not understand it, they are missing the central point.
I am grateful for that intervention. I have always been curious about this tactic. What will happen at the end of the negotiations if there is no deal is that we will be pushed over a cliff. Volunteering to jump first has never appeared to me to be a great tactic.
I will not give way, because I want to complete this answer.
No deal was never a credible threat, and as each day goes past, it becomes less credible. There is no immigration law that can come into force in March 2019, and there are no staff to administer it. There are no customs arrangements. There is no infrastructure. If we do not have a deal, we will not have any arrangements for law and security. It is not a credible threat, and this notion that we have to pretend we are going to do something that is incredible has no bargaining impact.
The third argument against our position is that it somehow passes an advantage to the EU, and it is based on the proposition that, but for this amendment, the Prime Minister would proceed undisturbed on her course to take us out of the EU without a deal—that she would calmly, and with the full support of this House, head for the cliff of no deal. That seems extremely unlikely. This amendment is about what will happen at the end of the negotiations, not at the beginning. It would allow Parliament to have a meaningful role once the negotiations are over, and it would not tie the Government’s hands during the negotiations. What it would mean, however, is that the course that the Government would take, in the event that article 50 was voted down or that there was no deal, would have to be supported by a majority in this House. Standing back, that looks like common sense.
It is unthinkable that any Prime Minister would seek to force through a course of action that would have significant consequences for many years which the majority in this House did not approve of. That is unthinkable, and the idea that that is how we would achieve an orderly Brexit is for the birds. The amendment would provide order where there would otherwise be utter chaos and, for those reasons, I urge hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the House to support the amendment tabled by the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield, to preserve Lords amendment 19P.
I beg to move manuscript amendment (b), to leave out from first “19P” to end.
I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for having enabled this amendment to be considered this afternoon by accepting my manuscript. It is a very odd and, I have to say, unsatisfactory aspect of the way in which our Parliament does its business that we frequently end up on ping-pong debating amendments that are irrelevant to what the House is really troubled about. I have to tell the House that, in order to get to this point, it has been necessary also to twist the rules of procedure in the other place, and I am immensely grateful to those peers who facilitated the manuscript amendment that was tabled there and that has enabled us to consider for the first time this afternoon the issue of the meaningful vote in relation to the Government’s view of what it should be and to the suggestion that has come from their lordships’ House. I should like to say here and now how deeply I object to the way in which their lordships are vilified for doing the job that we have asked them to do, which is to act as a revising Chamber and to send back to this House proposals for our consideration.
The issue, which has been highlighted by earlier speakers, is about the form that a meaningful vote should take. There are two options in front of the House. The House will recall that, when this matter first arose last week, the amendment that had come from the Lords included a mandatory element. That is constitutionally rather unusual. Indeed, I do not think that it has happened since the civil war in the 17th century, and I do not think that that ended very well. I seem to recall that it ended with Oliver Cromwell saying:
“Take away that fool’s bauble, the mace.”
Because of this, I considered it to be excessive. I apologise to the House that, in trying to produce something else very late at night last week, I probably did not draft it quite as well as I might have done. However, it led to a sensible discussion, prompted by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who had a number of us in her room and said she would do her best to meet the concerns we were expressing on there not being a meaningful vote on no deal.
Last Thursday, it looked as though we were going to reach an agreement based on exactly the terms of the Lords amendment that has come back to us, but at a very late stage, it was indicated to me that the Government did not feel able to proceed with that. I should like to emphasise that I make absolutely no criticism of those with whom I negotiated, who have behaved impeccably in this matter. Indeed, at the end of the day I have to accept that negotiations may sometimes founder at the last minute. However, this was unfortunate, from my point of view, and I will come back to that point in a moment.
Be that as it may, the Government’s tabled amendment was the one that we are being asked to accept today—the one that simply asks us to note and does not give us the opportunity of amending. Two arguments were put to me to justify that change when it occurred and in the negotiations that followed. The first was that there was concern about the justiciability of the amendment. The Standing Orders of the House cannot be impugned in any court outside of this high court of Parliament, but it is right to say that if one puts a reference to the Standing Orders into a statute, that can raise some interesting, if somewhat arcane, legal issues about the extent to which a challenge can be brought. My view is that I do not believe that the amendment, which is currently the Lords amendment that has come to us, is credibly open to challenge. For that matter, I happen to think that the Government amendment is also not credibly open to challenge either, although it is worth pointing out that it is as likely to be challenged or capable of being challenged as the other. I do not accept a differentiation between them.
The second argument was of a very different kind. It was said to me—this was picked up by the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman—that the Government had real concerns that this issue, which is one of detail, had acquired such a status with those with whom we were negotiating that it could undermine the Government’s negotiating position in trying to get the United Kingdom the best possible deal for leaving the EU. Now, I must say that I found that difficult to accept based on my own range of contacts and on how I thought that the EU is likely to work. However, it is not an issue that I, as a supporter of the Government, can entirely ignore.
I am very troubled about Brexit. It is well known in this House that I believe that we have made an historic mistake in voting to leave, but I am open minded as to what the best course of action should be and respectful of the decision of the electorate in the referendum result. I dislike very much the extent to which we can be fettered or pushed into frameworks of what we have or have not to accept in that negotiation but that is, if I may so, a reason why I should also give as much latitude to the concerns of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister as she indicates to me that she might have.
No, I wish to conclude.
In those circumstances, there is an issue that I cannot ignore. As the House will have noticed this afternoon, a statement was sent by the Secretary of State that will become a written ministerial statement tomorrow. The first part of it deals with the position of the Speaker and, if I may put it like this, the piquancy of this is that having on the one hand said that an unamendable motion to note is an unamendable motion to note in a statute, the fact is that it really has absolutely no force at all. The reality is that it is part of the Standing Orders of this House, and it is not open to any interpretation in any court and, ultimately, it will be entirely your responsibility, Mr Speaker, to decide what can or should not be treated as a neutral terms motion. Actually, the statement highlights the fact that, although this debate has been about trying to provide assurance—not just in this House, but to many members of the public outside who are worried about the end of this process and what might happen—the truth is that the assurance does not lie in the words of the statute, except in so far as the statute is the word of the Government. The assurance lies in the hands of this House and, in the first part of the statement, in the power of the Speaker.
I then insisted that a second piece be put into the statement, which I will read out. If I may say so, this ought to be blindingly obvious, but it says:
“The Government recognises that it is open for Ministers and members of the House of Commons to table motions on and debate matters of concern and that, as is the convention, parliamentary time will be provided for this.”
If this House chooses to debate matters, including matters on which it may wish to have multiple motions, the reality is that if we wish to exert our power to do that, we can. In the circumstances that might follow a “no deal”, which would undoubtedly be one of the biggest political crises in modern British history, if the House wishes to speak with one voice, or indeed with multiple voices, the House has the power to do so.
The bit I do not understand is that many motions have been carried by this House in the past few years—motions tabled by the Backbench Business Committee, by the Opposition and by ordinary Members—but the Government have just let them go through and then completely ignored them. The only thing that has legislative effect is legislation. That is why we must have a meaningful vote, not a pretend one.
Yes, the hon. Gentleman is right, but if the Government were to concede to the amendment, as drafted in the Lords, for an amendable motion, the House must understand that the Government could ignore it. I can assure the House that it would not be enforceable in any court of law—[Interruption.] No, that really must be understood. It could not be enforceable in any court of law, because that would entirely undermine the rights and privileges of this place. It would be for us to enforce it. Of course, the ultimate sanction that this House has is a motion of no confidence but, short of that, there are other means by which the House can in fact bring its clear view to bear on the Government.
No, I will not.
In view of that acknowledgement, I must say that I weigh that and the clear words of this statement against what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has told me about her anxieties. My judgment—it is purely personal—is that if that is the issue, having finally obtained, with a little more difficulty than I would have wished, the obvious acknowledgement of the sovereignty of this place over the Executive in black and white language, I am prepared to accept the Government’s difficulty, support them and, in the circumstances, to accept the form of amendment that they want. I shall formally move my amendment at the end, because I do not want to deprive the House of the right to vote if it wishes. Members have the absolute right to disagree, but it seems to me that, with the acknowledgement having been properly made, I am content to go down that route.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?
No, I want to end.
We are facing some real difficulties at the moment. It is rightly said that those whom the gods want to destroy, they first render mad. There is enough madness around at the moment to make one start to question whether collective sanity in this country has disappeared. Every time someone tries to present a sensible reasoned argument in this House vilification and abuse follow, including death threats to right hon. and hon. Friends. There is a hysteria that completely loses sight of the issues that we really have to consider. There is an atmosphere of bullying that has the directly opposite consequence in that people are put into a position where they feel unable to compromise, because by doing so they will be immediately described as having “lost”—as if these were arguments to be lost or won. The issue must be that we get things right.
Right at the other end of the spectrum, we get some other ridiculous things. I have had Daily Mail journalists crawling over the garden of my house in France. I do not quite know, but I think they were looking for silos from which missiles might be aimed at the mansion of my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg). The area where I have a holiday home has a history of monsters and witches chucking megaliths backwards and forwards across the channel. Such is the state of our discourse, and that is the very thing we must avoid. We are going to have differences and, if there is no deal, those differences may extend to my taking a different view, as a Member of Parliament, from what the Government might wish. This House has a right to act if there is no deal in order to protect the interests of the British people, and the responsibility in those circumstances lies as much with us as it does with the Government.
I very gently point out that we have less than 45 minutes, and I do want to accommodate other Back-Bench Members.
I am grateful for the chance to take part in this debate.
Once again, we will be hearing the siren voices of the hard-line no deal Brexiteers, of whom there are some in this place, claiming that they, and they alone, have a monopoly on respect for democracy, on respect for Parliament and on a patriotic love for their chosen country.
They will demonstrate their regard for democracy by unilaterally and retrospectively changing the question that was asked in the 2016 referendum while assuming that the answer will stay the same. They demonstrate their respect for Parliament by doing their damnedest to keep Parliament out of playing any meaningful role in the most important events any of us is likely to live through. And they demonstrate their patriotic love for their country by pushing an agenda that threatens to fundamentally damage the social and economic foundations on which their country, and indeed all of our respective countries, was built.
There should be no doubt about what the hard-liners are seeking to achieve here. They tell us that the Lords amendments are about attempting to stop Brexit but, in their private briefings to each other, they tell themselves they are worried that these amendments might stop a cliff-edge no deal Brexit—that is precisely what I want these amendments to stop.
The hard-liners are seeking to create a situation where if, as seems increasingly likely by the day, a severely weakened Prime Minister—possibly in the last days of her prime ministership—comes back from Brussels with a miserable deal that nobody could welcome, the only option is to crash out of the European Union with no agreement on anything.
Although I hear the Secretary of State’s words of warning that a person should not go into a negotiation if they cannot afford to walk away, I remind him that the Government started to walk away on the day they sent their article 50 letter. From that date they had no deal, and the negotiation is about trying to salvage something from the wreckage of that disastrous mistake.
The far-right European Research Group would have us believe that its opposition to amendment 19P is just about preventing Parliament from being allowed to tell the Government what to do. I am no expert in English history, but I thought the civil war was about whether Parliament has the right to tell the monarch and the Government what to do.
Does my hon. Friend agree that this Parliament finds itself in a very strange position? This Parliament actually does not want to have a vote. In fact, I think it voted not to have a vote. Even if it does not want to have a vote, it is still legitimate to have a vote. Not to have a vote is a bizarre dereliction of responsibility by this Parliament, which is why we need Scottish independence and not the mess and the carnage we see before us.
My hon. Friend makes a valid point. The reason why some in this House are determined not to give Parliament a meaningful vote is that they are worried an overwhelming majority of parliamentarians on both sides of the House might vote against the cliff-edge scenario they have already plotted for us.
But the real reason why some Government Members, and even one or two Opposition Members, are acting now to block the chance of this so-called sovereign Parliament to have any powers on this whatsoever is that they know that if they put their true agenda before the House, in all probability it would be greeted by a majority that is numbered in the hundreds, rather than in the tens or the dozens.
They say the Government have to be protected at all costs from Parliament, because Parliament might do something the Government do not like. Is that not what Parliaments are for, especially a Parliament in which the Government have lost their democratic mandate to form a majority Government by their cynical calling of an unnecessary and disruptive election?
The Prime Minister has asked us not to accept the Lords amendments because she does not want to have her hands tied. It is none of my business whether the Prime Minister likes having her hands, her feet or anything else tied, but surely the whole point of having a Parliament is so there is somebody with democratic credibility and democratic accountability to keep the Government in check when it is clear to everyone that they are going in the wrong direction. If plunging over a cliff edge is not the wrong direction, I do not know what is.
Although the hon. Gentleman says it is none of his business whether the Prime Minister has her hands, her feet or anything else tied, does he accept it is in the interest of the country for the Prime Minister to have the freedom to go and negotiate the best deal for the country? Parliament cannot negotiate the detail of that deal. Only the Prime Minister can do that.
These amendments contain no desire for Parliament to be involved in the negotiations, but we are being asked to believe there is no possibility that the negotiations will fail. That is what we are being asked to believe, except some of those who give us that promise are hoping the negotiations will fail, because some of them have already decided that they want to push for a no deal Brexit, despite the calamitous consequences outlined by the Secretary of State.
Does my hon. Friend agree this appears to have more to do with trying to hold the Tory party together—Tory Members are negotiating among themselves as we speak—rather than for the benefit of the whole United Kingdom?
My hon. Friend and constituency neighbour makes a valid point. In fact, it is worth remembering that the only reason we had a referendum was to bring the Tory party together. That worked out well, didn’t it?
The reason why some Government Members get so hot under the collar about the danger of giving Parliament a meaningful vote is that, if the House approves something, rather than simply considering it, they claim it could subsequently be used as the basis for a legal challenge. I will not gainsay the words of the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) but, interestingly, both of the cases the Government quote in their document to prove that a meaningful vote could lead to a legal challenge resulted in rulings that actions of the House, whether they are a resolution, a Committee decision or an order of Parliament, do not have the status of an Act of Parliament. Interestingly, one of the cases was about a pornography publisher who sued Hansard for damaging his reputation as a publisher.
The ERG briefing contains a dark, dark warning about what could happen if the Government lose a vote at the end of the negotiating process. The briefing says it could undermine the Government’s authority and position. In fact, in the briefing’s exact words;
“This could produce an unstable zombie Government.”
The briefing gives no indication as to how any of us would be able to tell the difference. The real giveaway is the third of the three “practical problems” the briefing sees with amendment 19P:
“It effectively seeks to take no deal off the table.”
That is the real agenda here. I want no deal off the table, and the Secretary of State does not want no deal, so why is it still on the table? The intention is that under no circumstances will Parliament have the right to pull us back from the cliff edge. It is not just about keeping no deal on the table; it is about making sure that, by the time we come to make the decision, there is nothing on the table other than no deal.
In my younger days, which I can vaguely remember, I used to be a keen amateur mountaineer, and I loved reading books about mountaineering and hill walking. One book I read was an account of the first ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865. Unlike some cliff edges, the Matterhorn didnae have safety barriers. Edward Whymper and his six companions got to the summit, but during the descent four of the party fell over a cliff to their deaths after the rope holding the group together broke. There were suggestions of foul play and murder most foul, but the rope just had not been strong enough. If it had not broken, it is likely that all seven would have been killed. There are hard-line Brexiteers in this House who are determined to drag us over the cliff edge. I want Parliament to be allowed to erect a safety barrier, not to stop those who want to get to the bottom of the cliff reaching their destination, but to make sure that anybody who gets there is in one piece. As I have made clear before, I have no intention of usurping the democratic right of the people of England to take good or bad decisions for themselves, but no one has the right to usurp the democratic decisions of the people of Scotland. Let me remind the Government, once again, that if they seek to drag their people over the cliff edge, our people are not going to follow. The Government will find that there is not a rope in existence strong enough to hold Scotland to their country if their country seeks to take us over that cliff edge.
With immediate effect, a four-minute limit on Back-Benches speeches will apply.
First, let me say that I very much agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) about the nature of political debate in this country. He is absolutely right to point that out and I agree with him wholeheartedly.
The second point I wish to make is that many people in this House seem to forget that there have been two meaningful votes. The first was when this House decided to give a referendum to the British people. The second was the referendum itself, in which the people voted to leave the EU. They were meaningful votes.
I am not going to give way, because time is limited. Since then, some people who did not like the result of that referendum and perhaps did not even expect it have had a new-found enthusiasm for the rights of this Parliament to decide all sorts of things. They were quite happy for all of these powers to be given over to the EU willy-nilly, but they now have this new-found enthusiasm that this House should decide everything.
I am not going to give way. As I was saying, if only that had been the case before. I excuse from this my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), because he did not vote to have a referendum and so there is absolutely no reason why he should feel in any way bound by its result. I perfectly respect that; his position has been entirely consistent. What I have no time for—
To make it clear, this totally irrelevant argument that we are trying to reverse the referendum is as irrelevant to me as it is to any other of my right hon. and hon. Friends. This House voted, by an enormous majority, to invoke article 50. We are now trying to debate, and have parliamentary influence over, what we are going to do when we have left and what the form of our new arrangements with Europe and the rest of the world will be. So will my hon. Friend stop, yet again, introducing—this is not just him, but he is the ultimate Member to do it—this totally irrelevant argument and try to say what is wrong with the process set out in the Lords amendment? What is the excessive power that it apparently gives this House to have a say when the negotiations are finished?
I am afraid that the public are not fooled by the motives of people who clearly want to delay, frustrate or overturn the result of the referendum. It is a shame some of them cannot admit it. The shadow Secretary of State said that people had said over a long period of time that if we did this or that, Brexit will be frustrated. May I just suggest to him that he gets out of London, because people around the country feel that Brexit is being frustrated? It is already being frustrated a great deal by this House. So he has this idea that Brexit has not been frustrated, but he needs to get—
My right hon. Friend, who has taken a vow of independence since he lost his job as a Minister—he had never shown this before—asks how. I would invite him to get out—[Interruption.] He is welcome to come up to Yorkshire—
I go there frequently.
He should speak to people then. I am perfectly content for this House to vote on whether it wants to accept the deal negotiated by the Government that they come back with. It is absolutely right that this House votes on whether or not to accept that deal, and the Government should accept the vote of this House. What it cannot do, having decided to give the people a vote in a referendum, is find some strange parliamentary mechanism in order to frustrate and overturn the result—
Will my hon. Friend give way?
My right hon. and learned Friend did not give way, and I am not going to give way either because time is limited. Parliament cannot vote to reverse the decision of the referendum. People outside this House need to know very clearly today that—
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I am not going to give way, as there is no time. I want people outside this House to know that those who are voting for this “meaningful vote” today mean that if the Government decide that no deal is better than a bad deal—[Interruption.] Does it not show how out of touch this place is that “no deal is better than a bad deal” is even a contentious statement? It is a statement of the blindingly obvious, but amazingly some people find contentious.
I am not giving way, because I want to let other people have time to speak. Members should bear that in mind. I have given way to the Father of the House. [Interruption.] I appreciate that my right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) does not like hearing arguments with which she disagrees, but I am going to plough on regardless, despite her chuntering from a sedentary position. The fact that no deal is better than a bad deal is blindingly obvious to anyone with even a modicum of common sense. People in this House are being invited to accept that if the Government decide that no deal is better than a bad deal, this House should somehow be able to say to them, “You’ve got to continue being a member of the European Union while you go back and renegotiate this and renegotiate that.” I cannot stand aside and allow that to happen, and I do not think the British people will thank anybody in this House who votes that way. Let nobody be in any doubt: the constituents of anybody who votes for this meaningful vote today should know that they are voting to try to keep us in the European Union, against their will.
May I say to the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) that the argument he has just advanced is not true? I believe a very small number of Members of the House would cheerfully jump over the edge of a no-deal cliff, which is why we are having this argument this afternoon.
The right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), for whom I have enormous respect, is right when he says that this is a very fraught, difficult and tense debate, where passions are running high. Given that the referendum split the country right down the middle, that is not entirely surprising. I gently say to him that, given the experience he went through last week, when he thought he had an assurance and then discovered that he did not, if I were him, I would be very, very cautious about accepting further assurances. However, I respect the decision that he makes.
I would be cautious for the reason I put my question to the Secretary of State, who is no longer in his place. I listened carefully to what he said and I heard no explanation, no justification and no argument for why the Government are prepared for the House to debate an amendable motion to approve the withdrawal agreement—that is what he indicated when he came before the Select Committee—yet, when it comes to deciding what takes place in the event that the nation is facing the prospect of no deal, they are insisting on having a motion in “neutral terms”. That may or may not allow the Speaker to come to the rescue of the House by allowing the motion to be declared amendable. However, as I read Standing Order 24B, as long as the Government do their job in drafting the motion, the Speaker will have no choice but to declare it a motion in “neutral terms” and it will therefore not be amendable.
Does not this compromise give enormous power to you, Mr Speaker? That is all very well, because you are a Speaker who has stood up for the rights of this House and of Back Benchers, and for the majority in this House to be able to have meaningful votes, but were you to fall under a bus in the next few months, what guarantee would there be that a future Speaker would stand up for the rights of this House in the same way that you have done?
I will do my best to observe the road safety code.
It is not for me to advise you, Mr Speaker, but please do not cross any roads between now and the end of this process.
It seems to me that the Government’s intention throughout has been to seek to neuter this House when we come to the end of the process. We are talking about the possibility of facing no deal at all. In his speech from our Front Bench, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) set the position out very clearly: first, not only would we be facing economic difficulty of the most serious kind—with impacts on trade, on our services industry and on broadcasting—but there would be impacts on the security of our nation, because with no deal in place, how would the exchange of information continue? These are not minor matters; they go to the heart of the Government’s responsibility to make sure that we are safe, that industry works, that taxes are raised and that public services are paid for. That is why people are getting exercised about this. It is not just some amendment to one Bill; it is the most important decision that the country has faced for generations.
As my right hon. and learned Friend pointed out, we are not ready to cope with the consequences. Members should contemplate this, for a moment: if, because the House cannot do anything about it, we fall off the edge of the cliff, and future generations look at us and say, “What did you do at that moment? What did you do? Didn’t you say anything?”, are we, as the House of Commons, really going to allow our hands to be bound and say, “Well, at least I took note of what was happening”? Our responsibility is not to take note; it is to take charge, to take responsibility and to do our job.
I assure the right hon. Gentleman that, if he looks at the Standing Orders, he will see that, if the House wants to take charge at that point, it will be able to do so. If necessary, I will join with him in doing just that.
I absolutely bow to the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s expertise, but I am afraid that, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras pointed out earlier, under this Government, we have sat on these Benches on too many occasions, time and time and time again, on which the House has used the Standing Orders to debate a matter and pass a motion but the Government have sat there and said, “We’re not taking any notice of you whatsoever.” That is why the opportunity to ensure that we have the right to amend a motion is, in the next few minutes, in the hands of this House. There will be no further opportunity to take back control, so I hope the House will do so by voting in favour of the amendment of the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield.
Order. I urge Members to help each other.
I am grateful, again, to the other place for sending us the amendment. I have been concerned about this issue since the referendum, and have been open in my views about the need for a meaningful vote and parliamentary sovereignty. This is about our country’s future and ensuring that we enhance, not reduce, our democracy. When I was re-elected last year, my constituents were under no illusions about how important I thought a meaningful vote was, as I had already made my concerns public and, indeed, voted for such a vote during the article 50 process.
Views may differ regarding the desirability of no deal. In my view, it would be utterly catastrophic for my constituents and the industries in which they work, but surely all sides should welcome the certainty that the amendment would bring to the process. We are often accused of wanting to tie the Government’s hands, but nothing could be further from the truth. How can the amendment tie the Government’s hands during negotiations when it concerns the steps that should be taken when negotiations have broken down? In other words, it concentrates on events after the negotiations.
I will not give way.
I support the Government’s negotiation and strongly believe that the Prime Minister will succeed in her negotiation. However, it would be irresponsible not to have a process in place for what will happen should negotiations collapse. What is more, the amendment would ensure that, when the Prime Minister sits down to negotiate, our European partners know that she does so with the full backing of Parliament. Far from binding the Prime Minister, it would strengthen her hand. I encourage all my colleagues to recognise that the amendment would empower both Parliament and our negotiators. It lays out a contingency should disaster strike, and it delivers on the commitment to take back control to Parliament.
Order. A three-minute limit will now apply.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for selecting amendment (a); my pleasure at being able to speak to it is enhanced by the fact that this opportunity came completely out of the blue, and I welcome that.
The principal purpose of my amendment is to provide clarity such that in all eventualities there will be the opportunity for people to have a final say on any deal that the Government strike, and such that Parliament will not be left stranded with no deal, with which would come the closure of our ports, food shortages, medicine shortages and general chaos. [Interruption.] If Government Members do not believe that, I advise them to talk to the people at the port authority at Dover to hear what they think no deal would mean. I make no apology for the fact that I do want to stop Brexit, which I do not think will come as a surprise to many people in the Chamber. I do not, though, believe that the amendment tabled by the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), or, indeed, my own amendment, would achieve that aim.
Brexit is a calamity. We are going to be poorer, more insecure and less influential, with fewer friends in the world and more enemies as a result of it, and that is happening already. Some Government Members know that and say it; some know it and keep quiet; and some know it and claim the opposite, although I am not going to embarrass those who shared platforms with me during the EU referendum campaign and said then that it would cause calamity, but now claim the opposite. Some Government Members deny it. Their life’s ambition has been to achieve Brexit and they could not possibly accept that it is now doing us harm.
The right hon. Gentleman is making a fine speech. To put some numbers on this calamity, a no-deal Brexit would cause an 8% damage-event to GDP. For context, the 2008 crash was a 2% damage-event to GDP. The over-the-cliff Brexiteers are looking to damage the UK economy four times as much as the 2008 crash did. Well done, guys!
Absolutely. We understand the calamity that would be no deal. I think that nobody here or in the European Union believes that the Government would actually settle for that, because of the consequences that it would have for our economy.
I will just make a bit more progress in the minute and a half that is left.
There would be, if time allowed, a chorus of the “will of the people” from the Government Benches, but let me make two points about that. Two years on from 23 June 2016, who is clear about what the will of the people now is? The whole purpose of providing a final say on the deal is to test whether the will of the people is the same now as it was two years ago.
As Members of Parliament, are we delegates or representatives? We are elected to use our judgment, from the Prime Minister downwards, who campaigned to remain because she used her judgment and thought that Brexit would cause us damage and would damage our communities up and down the country. Many Conservative Members used their judgment then. I am afraid that their judgment now seems to have left them. The Government’s own assessment confirms that the impact of Brexit will be wholly negative.
Therefore, the delegates in this House will push on with a policy that is detrimental to British families. The representatives in this House will recognise that a way out of this ideological nightmare into which we have got ourselves has to be found. Today, we will be able to decide and to demonstrate which of those two things we are—delegates or representatives.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) got it absolutely right in his response to the Chairman of the Brexit Committee that the constitutional power of this House to determine who is in Government is entirely unaffected by these amendments or the written ministerial statement that will be laid tomorrow. The powers, the authority and the rights of this House remain intact, and that is not dependent on whether a meaningful vote is amendable or unamendable.
Mr Speaker, as an historian of this House and its powers, you know perfectly well that the Norway debate was held on the Adjournment of the House—whether or not it should adjourn for the Whitsun recess. That great issue of the time—whether we should have a few days off at Whitsun—led to a fundamental change in the Government and the whole history of our nation that flowed from it.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I do apologise to the hon. Lady, but I will not give way, because other people want to speak, and time is very short.
Therefore, the rights of this House are intact. The legislation will ensure that the Government can pursue their objectives, which is very important. The Chief Whip is in his place. I commend him for the tactful way that he has discussed these issues with so many people over the past week to ensure that we could come to something that every Conservative Member is able to agree to and put their name to that maintains the privileges of this House, ensures that the Government can negotiate properly, and sends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State to the negotiating table with a united House of Commons behind them.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak today. I will make just a couple of remarks.
I want to reiterate the comments that have been made that this is not about reversing Brexit or about tying the hands of the Government. This is about what happens and the role of Parliament if things go wrong. It is about clarity, about what will happen in this Parliament and to the interests of our country in the event of no deal, or no deal being agreed by this House.
It is incredibly disappointing to have reached this position. It could have been so different. A week after the referendum, I wrote to the then Prime Minister. I then wrote to the current Prime Minister. I made the argument that it was in the interests of our country that this House came together, that we had ways of working across parties, across this House and the House of Lords, and that we came to a solution together and worked through the issues together. But, step by step, we have seen a Government who have run and a Government who have hidden—a Government who have not even wanted to bring forward their own impact assessments so that we can take part in an evidence-based debate on the impact of Brexit on our country and get the answer right. A process by which this country comes together is essential if, in the autumn, we reach a situation in which what was unthinkable becomes thinkable. To have a way in which we handle that is our responsibility.
Every large Government project has a risk register and a response to those risks. This is a critical risk for our country and it is vital that, in advance of such a situation, we all know what is going to happen and that we have a say, on behalf of our constituents, about what could be an incredibly catastrophic situation for our economy, our country and our society.
Order. I would like to accommodate further speakers.
I shall make the shortest speech here that I have made for very many years—[Hon. Members: “Ever!”]—and I shall take no interventions. [Interruption.] Well, the Government are restricting debate on this European issue as ferociously as they are trying to restrict votes and powers. I voted against both the previous timetable motions. With no explanation, we have been told that we have an hour and a half for this extremely important issue today. Presumably, it is to allow time for the interesting debate that follows, taking note on the subject of NATO, which could be tabled at any time over the next fortnight and has no urgency whatever. None of us are allowed to say very much about this matter.
The Government have been trying to minimise the parliamentary role throughout the process. That is only too obvious. I will try to avoid repeating anything that others have said, but the fact is that it started with an attempt to deny the House any vote on the invocation of article 50, and litigation was required to change that. A meaningful vote has been resisted since it was first proposed. The Government suffered a defeat in this House during the earlier stages of our proceedings before they would contemplate it, and then they assured us that they would not try to reverse that; there would be a meaningful vote. But actually, because that amendment needs amplification and the Bill needs to be made clearer, we now have this vital last stage of Lords amendments and the final attempt to spell out what meaningful votes and parliamentary influence are supposed to mean, and it is being resisted to the very last moment.
Last week, I thought that the Government would be defeated because of their resistance. I was not invited to the negotiations. I do not blame the Chief Whip for that in the slightest. I have not fallen out with him personally, but I think that he knew that I would take a rather firm line as I saw nothing wrong with Lord Hailsham’s amendment if nothing else were available. My right hon. and hon. Friends, including my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), actually believed that they had undertakings from the Prime Minister, and I believe that the Prime Minister gave those undertakings in good faith.
My right hon. and learned Friend for Beaconsfield negotiated with a very distinguished member of the Government acting on the Prime Minister’s behalf, and they reached a firm agreement. That agreement is substantially reflected in Lords amendment 19P and my right hon. and hon. Friends expected that it would be tabled by the Government. It was not. And now the Government are resisting the very issue upon which last week a very distinguished member of the Government reached a settlement—to use the legal terms—because the Government are not able to live up to their agreement. We are being asked to substitute, for a perfectly reasonable Lords amendment, a convoluted thing that would mean arguments about the Speaker’s powers if it ever had to be invoked.
There are only two issues that come out of this debate. The first is about honour. The right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) tried to ensure that he got a deal from the Prime Minister. He went with other Members to negotiate with her and she made a promise to him about an amendment, but that promise was not necessarily fulfilled in the interpretation of the Members who heard her say it, so the House of Lords had to send this issue back to us today. This issue is definitely about honour. Other hon. Members have said that they believe that the House can pass resolutions and motions, and that they will be honoured, even if they are not necessarily binding. I believe that the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield is an honourable man, and he is again taking the Government at their word.
That brings me to the second issue, which is that this is also about Parliament. If the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield has achieved anything, it is that he has moved the Government from where the Prime Minister was on “The Andrew Marr Show” on Sunday, when she said that Parliament cannot tie the hands of Government. The right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield has managed to extract a statement from the Government, who are now saying that it is open for Members to table motions, that parliamentary time will be provided, and that it is open for this House, through Mr Speaker, to ensure that motions and decisions can be made. The right hon. and learned Gentleman believes that that is worth having and it is indeed true that it is a step forward. The difference that I have with him is that he believes that the Prime Minister and the Government should be given the benefit of the doubt yet again; I would suggest that he should not and could not necessarily trust their word. That is where we differ.
The time limit is now two minutes.
There is just one fundamental point that I would like to make about this debate, which is that the decision that was taken in the European Union Referendum Act 2015—by six to one in the primacy of this House of Commons and in the House of Lords, which endorsed it—was to accept that the people of this country, not 650 Members of Parliament, would make the decision in the referendum. I need say only one word about this: our constitutional arrangements in this country operate under a system of parliamentary government, not government by Parliament.
When I was training to be a priest in the Church of England, my professor of systematic theology was called John Macquarrie. He would say that he was often asked by parishioners, “What is the meaning of God?”, but that actually the far more important question is, “What is the meaning of meaning?” To be honest, it feels as though that is what this afternoon’s debate and last week’s debate have been about: what is a meaningful vote?
The first point is that a meaningful vote is surely not one that is meaningless. We had a meaningless vote on Monday afternoon after the SO24 debate. It was meaningless because we were voting on whether this House had considered the matter of the Sewel convention, and even if every single Member of the House had voted against that, we would none the less have considered the matter. This is exactly what we do with statutory instruments as well: we vote on whether we have considered the matter. The Government’s motion will require the Government—not allow them but require them—to table a neutral motion.
I disagree with the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg), who said that the vote in 1940 was on the Adjournment. It was not—it was on whether this House should adjourn for a successive number of days, and it was an amendable motion that would have had effect—
I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman if he does not mind. [Interruption.] Oh, all right.
I said that the vote was on the Whitsun recess, so I think that I covered that point.
But the hon. Gentleman managed to elide the fact that it was an amendable motion that had effect.
The point is that if the Government do what their motion says they should do—namely, table a neutral motion—the written ministerial statement gives the Speaker no power whatever to decide that it is not neutral. Indeed, if a Speaker were to decide that a neutral motion was suddenly, somehow or other, not neutral and could be amended, we should remove him from the Chair because he would not be abiding by the Standing Orders of this House. So let us make it absolutely clear: if it is a neutral motion, it will be a motion that has no meaning whatever.
I am concerned that the editor of the Daily Mail has made a small doll that looks like me and is sticking pins in its throat, as every time I want to speak, I get this wretched infection. However, I want to make some very important points.
I completely agree with all the arguments advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach). History will recall what a remarkably brave woman she has been throughout all of this. I, too, will vote for the amendment, because I agree with much of what has been said: this needs to be in statute. I pay real tribute to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), who has yet again shown outstanding leadership and courage, as indeed have many Members of the House of Lords. It is in tribute to them, if nothing else, that I shall vote for this amendment. But primarily I shall vote for it because it is in the interests of all my constituents. I was elected to come here to represent all of them, including the 53% who did not vote for me, and the 48% who voted to remain, who have been sidelined and abused. The big mistake that we have made, from the outset of all that has followed from the referendum result, is that we have not included them.
Finally, I say gently to my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) that he has to remember that some hon. Members will vote with the Government today as an act of faith and trust in the Prime Minister that the sort of comment he made will no longer exist in this party, and that we will be more united. It is her role, if I may say so, to make sure that we have more temperate speeches.
Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), I hold the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) in very high regard for his integrity and fluency. I do, however, say gently that he is in danger of turning into a modern-day grand old Duke of York. There are only so many times you can march the troops up the hill and down again without losing integrity completely. In the little time remaining, I want to talk about neutral motions, which are at the centre of this dispute—
One and a half hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on the Lords message, the debate was interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
The Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Standing Order No. 83G), That manuscript amendment (b) be made.
The Speaker then put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83G).
Main Question put and agreed to.
Lords amendments 19C to 19E, and 19G to 19L agreed to.
Government amendments made to Lords amendment 19P.
Lords amendment 19P, as amended, agreed to.
Lords amendments 4B to 4E, 24C, and 110B to 110J agreed to.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. What means do I have to correct the record given that at Prime Minister’s questions today, my neighbour, the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy), may have inadvertently cited my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Transport as being responsible for a timetabling issue that affects my constituency? The emails that she referenced were three years old, from a time when neither of my right hon. Friends were in their current roles. The timetabling issue and the current disruption are separate issues. I will continue to work with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to ensure that the best service for my constituents is met. I felt that it was important to bring this point to the House.
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his courtesy in giving me advance notice of his intention to raise this attempted point of order, upon which the sagacious advice of the senior procedural adviser of the House is, forgive me, that it was not much of a point of order. Nevertheless, the hon. Gentleman is not in a small minority in that regard. If it is any comfort to him, I can assure him that in my 21 years’ experience in the House, the vast majority of points of order are bogus.
You used to do it!
The hon. Gentleman suggests that I used to do it. I do not remember that, but if I did, all I would say to him is that that was then, and this is now.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sure that the hon. Member for Southport (Damien Moore) was as shocked as I was to read the content of many of the emails that were released both to him and to me under the Freedom of Information Act. Their content has had such serious implications for my constituents and his. Given that the Department has not released emails during the current Secretary of State for Transport’s tenure and has stopped at the point at which the current Secretary of State was appointed, I wonder whether I could seek your guidance as to whether it might be in order to direct the Secretary of State to release those emails and come clean about what he knew, and when.
I do not think it is open to me to issue any direction of the kind that the hon. Lady suggests, but the hon. Member for Southport (Damien Moore) made his point in all sincerity and it is on the record. Now the hon. Lady, who is at least equally dextrous, has made her own point in her own way and it is on the record—I rather imagine that each of them will rely on those words, as doubtless they co-operate in future on this important matter.
Well, the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) now basks in the glory of approval from a Member who is in his 40th year of consecutive service in the House, the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman).