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Brexit: Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010

Volume 777: debated on Tuesday 13 December 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government at what stage, or stages, of the negotiations to leave the European Union they expect to meet the requirements of Part 2 of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010.

My Lords, the precise terms on which we leave the EU will be determined by the negotiations that follow the triggering of Article 50. These negotiations have yet to begin. It is therefore premature to speculate about timetables. However, the Government take seriously, and will comply with, all the constitutional and legal obligations that apply to the deal that we negotiate with the EU.

My Lords, this is an Act of this Parliament—nothing to do with Europe or Brussels but good British law. I would have expected by now, six months since the referendum, that the Government would be setting out in detail how they expect Parliament to respond to the initiatives on treaties. It is our statutory responsibility to scrutinise and ratify treaties. Can the Minister give us a little more detail? He is being incredibly coy. It is as if he and his colleagues were frightened of what Parliament might do. Could he at least indicate that this could be part of the subject of the White Paper that I hope he and his colleagues are going to produce?

I am sorry that I am being coy, my Lords. We have set out where Parliament will indeed be playing a very crucial role in the repeal of the European Communities Act, and Parliament—and this House—has been doing a tremendous amount of very useful scrutiny and work in the EU Select Committee and elsewhere. We will indeed look at what steps will be taken through the process, but I am not able to go further at this stage.

Is not the essence of the European Union the single market? If you leave one, you leave the other and, for that matter, if you leave the other, you leave the one.

My Lords, the Government have set out very clearly what they intend to do in terms of the principles as regards leaving the EU, and we have made it clear that we will publish, as we intended, a plan in due course.

My Lords, the report that has come out today from one of our committees, Brexit: The Options for Trade, says that a clear game plan is needed on trade and that it is unlikely that a bespoke EU trade agreement can be agreed within the two-year period, so a transitional deal will be vital. Could the Minister confirm that the transitional deal, as well as the final one, will be put before both Houses?

My Lords, I am sorry to say that it is slightly premature for me to start commenting on all these points as regards the negotiations, which have yet to begin. As for transition, I have said at this Dispatch Box, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has said, the Prime Minister has said and the Chancellor of the Exchequer said yesterday that we wish to have a smooth and orderly exit from the EU. That is in this country’s interests and in the interests of many right across Europe—and, indeed, that is what I have been hearing up and down the length and breadth of the country. As for our plan, it will be revealed in due course.

My Lords, does the Minister recognise that this week there is a string of six reports coming out from the European Select Committee, of which, I hasten to add, I am not a member? They are filled with wisdom, if the two that I have read so far are anything to go by. I am sure he will take them away for Christmas and read them. The normal practice is that the Government respond to such reports within two months. That is rather awkward timing, given the commitment to produce a plan and the possible need to produce legislation. Can the Minister guarantee that the Government’s response to those six reports will be available to the House before we debate either the legislation or the plan, so that we know how they are reacting to them?

First, I repeat what I said a moment ago: I thank the European Select Committees for their work. Christmas is indeed coming early for my department: there are large numbers of very useful contributions to the debate coming out. I am assured by my noble friend the Chief Whip that there are likely to be opportunities for debates on these reports in the near future. I will reflect on the other points which the noble Lord made.

My Lords, the Minister made reference to the good reports coming from committees of this House, which I am sure would include the EU Select Committee and the Constitution Committee. In the light of that, will he share with us the fundamental reason why the Government refused to act sensibly and in good faith after 23 June? By making Parliament their partner in the Article 50 process and treating it as an equal, they would have obviated the litigation which involves so much delay—and angels on a pinhead—and acted in political and constitutional good faith.

My Lords, I dispute the premise of the noble Baroness’s question. The Government are treating Parliament with a great deal of respect. Regarding the legal case, the Government’s position has been clear all along. It is now a matter for the Supreme Court, whose judgment we await with great interest.

My Lords, the noble Lord asks a very interesting question. I will repeat my point that the Government intend the exit to be smooth and orderly. I am not going to go beyond that.

My Lords, will the Government consider listing all the specific, individual areas that they intend to negotiate in this process?

I am terribly sorry to say that the noble Viscount is going to have to wait for the plan on that point.

I am certainly not frit: I am here to answer questions and I will remain here to answer questions from the noble Lord and others.

My Lords, are there not great dangers in setting out specifically what we want from these negotiations when many European countries are holding elections and will go to great lengths to tell us that we cannot have anything we are asking for?

My Lords, my noble friend is right that we obviously need to strike a balance in the plan between providing your Lordships, the other place and the public as a whole with our overall broad strategic direction and ensuring that the Government still have a negotiating position that preserves the national interest in the negotiations.

My Lords, there has been reference to good faith. Is it worth reflecting that, in good faith, this House passed the referendum Bill, allowing the people to make a decision? In good faith, the people decided that the United Kingdom should leave the European Union. Is it not now a matter of good faith that, properly, the House should implement the decision of the British public?

I entirely agree with the noble Lord. That is our duty. He hits the nail absolutely on the head. We need to do all those things. We will present our plan to this House in good faith.

My Lords, the Prime Minister has said several times that we are leaving the European Union, not leaving Europe. Will the Minister explain how we make sure that, in leaving Europe, we maintain the close relations with the other members of the EU which will be necessary after we have left?

The noble Lord makes a good point about our wish to retain the ability to co-operate where there are matters of mutual self-interest and national interest, as we have said all along. I am sure that this will be set out in the weeks and months ahead.