Clause 1: Power to notify withdrawal from the EU
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 10, at end insert—
“( ) No agreement with the European Union consequent on the use of the power under subsection (1) may be ratified unless it has been approved by a national referendum.”
My Lords, it may be downhill all the way from this point.
This is a very straightforward amendment, which would require any Brexit deal to be put to the people to approve or to reject. It is based on the principle that, having asked the people whether they wish to initiate the Brexit process, only the people should take the final decision.
In asking the people to do this, we are not sidelining Parliament. Clearly, Parliament should debate and vote on all the options at the end of the negotiating process, as we will discuss later, but Parliament was completely at odds with the views of the people in advance of the referendum. If Parliament took a decision that went against the majority popular view, having given the people the initial decision-making role in the process, we would be faced with widespread and justifiable anger that would be corrosive to our national life for many years to come.
I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, for his drafting advice, which he so generously gave me in Committee. I hope that he feels that, even if he cannot agree with the amendment before us, it at least avoids some of the shortcomings he saw in its predecessor.
I am grateful for that generous tribute. Will the noble Lord advise us as to whether the referendum he proposes would be an advisory or a mandatory one?
My Lords, we have already seen the referendum being taken as decisive. Parliament did not decide that it should look at it as merely advisory. I think that any referendum has to be seen as decisive, to the extent that it requires Parliament to act on the basis of it.
I wonder whether the noble Lord can answer my question in relation to the conduct of the referendum. I was unhappy about the previous referendum because 16 and 17 year-olds were not allowed to vote, EU citizens were not allowed to vote and there was no threshold. In his referendum, which of those three would be included, if any? I would have serious doubts about having a referendum without those three points being taken account of.
My Lords, the noble Lord will recall the attitude that we took when we discussed the previous referendum. We strongly believe that 16 and 17 year-olds should get the vote, not just in referendums but more generally.
My Lords, would the noble Lord kindly address the House rather than the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, because we on this side cannot hear what he is saying?
I apologise. I was saying that, when we discussed this matter previously in respect of the referendum that we have just had, we argued strongly that 16 and 17 year-olds should get the vote, but the details of any future referendum would have to be discussed in the context of a new referendum Bill, which Parliament would have to pass. Perhaps I may make a little progress.
Since Committee, I have had the chance to read the speeches of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble Lord, Lord Bridges. The noble Baroness’s view was that referenda are best avoided and that the deal at the end of the Brexit process would be far too detailed and complicated to leave to the people to decide. However, she went on that,
“if, as time and negotiations progress, there is genuine evidence of a widespread public demand for a second referendum, that should be listened to”.
I suppose that I should be grateful for that willingness to keep an open mind, but I simply do not think that it goes far enough.
The Minister said that a confirmatory referendum should not be contemplated because trust in politicians was so low, and that,
“There is a sense that Parliament is divorced from day-to-day life”.
Well, we know what the Government’s response to that has been: to try to cut Parliament out of the decision-making process altogether and just to take the decisions themselves. Furthermore, the Government have assiduously argued that asking the people to take the final decision on the most important issue facing the country in generations and on which they have already had a say is anti-democratic. That argument simply defies logic.
The Minister then said, quoting the White Paper, that,
“people are coming together to make a success”,—[Official Report, 27/2/17; cols. 638-39.]
of Brexit. It is certainly the case that business is taking decisions based on the assumption of Brexit. That helps to explain why banks are moving thousands of staff outside the UK, why Ford is downsizing its plant at Newport and why Herriot-Watt is cutting staff. But this is not exactly “coming together”.
Nor are divisions within the country reducing. As I said at Second Reading, the anger of those who wish to leave the EU, which was evident before the referendum, is now being increasingly matched by the anger of those who wish to remain—particularly young people, who see their life chances being jeopardised. I am afraid that there is simply no happy consensus emerging about the alleged sunny uplands of being outside the EU—quite the opposite.
The noble Lord was talking about logic. Could he tell us exactly—perhaps he will come on to this—what would happen were the vote to go his way on a second referendum? If it went one way each, would there then be a third referendum, with the best of three?
My Lords, I am afraid that argument does not do the noble Lord justice. I shall be coming on to the question of the nature of the vote in a moment.
In Committee, the Minister said that a further referendum would jeopardise the “need for certainty” and prayed in aid his concerns for EU citizens living in the UK and UK citizens living in the EU. This really is a desperate argument. The Government have it in their hands to deal with the fears of EU nationals living in the UK now. As we heard in last week’s debate, by doing so it would make it more likely that UK nationals living in the EU receive reciprocal treatment.
The Minister finally talked of a referendum being years ahead on a question we do not know. We are not talking about some point in the far future. A short referendum campaign, no longer than a general election campaign, would hardly impinge on the timetable at all. The Government claim to be confident of getting the negotiations completed within the two-year period, so we know what kind of timeframe we are talking about. As to the issue of what the question will be about—
I agree with those final comments, but does the noble Lord not agree that, bearing in mind that we had the Second World War without a referendum, we joined NATO without a referendum, we had the atom bomb without a referendum and we joined the United Nations without a referendum—we had all those things with no referenda—it is the primordial duty of parliamentarians to restore the true deep sovereignty of the British Parliament, mainly in the House of Commons?
My Lords, on this issue, Parliament sold that pass when it gave the people the decision about whether or not we stay in the EU. Parliament, having given that decision to the people, should accept in logic that the people should retain that decision-making at the end of the process as well as at the start of it. That is the nub of the argument I am making today.
The noble Lord, Lord Robathan, asked what the question would be about. It would be very straightforward: do you prefer the deal done by the Government or to remain within the EU? I found the Minister’s arguments in Committee unconvincing.
The noble Lord, Lord Robathan, did not ask the question the noble Lord has just said he asked; he asked whether there might be a third referendum. If the noble Lord cannot give an answer to that, why will there not be a fourth referendum to decide which of the previous three referendums was the real thing?
I would have thought that that is fairly clear. People voted to start the process and we get to the point where there is a deal. At that point, the people should decide, finally, on whether the deal is acceptable. There would be no need, no point, and no issue for having a third referendum after that second decisive referendum.
Surely what we voted on was whether to leave or remain—nothing else.
My Lords, people voted on 57 varieties of the future of this country. The vast bulk of people, as all the polls show, did not vote to leave the single market; now they are being told they have got to. The idea that the referendum vote reflected the settled will of 52% of the people on what they wanted our future relationship with Europe to be is, in my view, extremely simplistic. It is not borne out by conversations with individuals or the polling evidence. I do not believe that that vote should be the last word.
Is it not at least equally simplistic to assume that, after long negotiations and if we have parted company, our European friends and neighbours would wish to have us back?
My Lords, that will be part of the consideration at the time. All the evidence to date is that our European friends and neighbours are shaking their heads with disbelief at what we are doing and saying, “For goodness’ sake, why are you doing this?”.
If all our European neighbours are shaking their heads and wondering why we are leaving, why then should they give us a good deal when they know that it might be overturned by a referendum and the UK might stay in the EU? Therefore, they would have no incentive to give us a good deal at all.
My Lords, I think that our European friends and neighbours will negotiate in good faith—
I must say that I find it deeply depressing, when we have been members of the European Union for these decades, that noble Lords on the other side should have such a difficult and unfriendly view of the people with whom we have been co-operating to solve common problems to the best of our abilities and against a background of hostilities in Europe which cost people, across Europe and in this country over the decades and centuries, millions of lives.
I was attempting to say that I found the noble Lord’s arguments unconvincing and the arguments for giving the people a final say compelling, and therefore I beg to move.
My Lords, I have added my name to this amendment and want to make three simple points.
First, the Government have consistently chosen to attribute to the referendum a wider mandate than the result justified. The majority by which people voted to leave the EU was a small one, and they gave no clues about how the withdrawal should be accomplished. The Government know nothing about the views on the withdrawal of the 28% of the electorate who did not vote. Two other groups—British citizens who live in the EU and 16 and 17 year-olds—were not given a chance to vote, and they are now expected just to accept what the Government negotiate. The latter group will be aged over 18 in 2019 when, on present plans, another cohort of 16 and 17 year-olds will have their views similarly ignored. In 2019, the Government will seek to impose, without any say, a withdrawal deal on a majority of the UK’s population who either voted to remain or who have given no consent to the terms of a deal that will have a huge impact on their futures.
Secondly, as the Government reveal more of their negotiating approach, the public is showing signs of not liking what it sees. This includes many who voted to leave the EU. Dissent is growing over the decision to rule out membership of the EEA and the customs union, despite the views of much expert opinion and promises given earlier by some politicians. The so-called “best deal for Britain” is looking decidedly second best because of the barriers, financial and administrative, to be erected where none exists at present. The refusal to grant those EU citizens working here a prompt right to stay, despite our economic dependence on them for several decades to come, looks to many like another own goal. The Government’s insistence that they can reduce net migration to tens of thousands does not seem to be believed even by the Brexit Secretary, let alone by much of the public. A level of public distrust is building before withdrawal negotiations have even started, and that distrust is being fuelled further by the Government’s reluctance to accept the constitutional need for Parliament to be fully involved in the decision-making process on withdrawal—something that I hope we can rectify with Amendment 3.
My third and final point is about whether the Government really want a deal. I have to say that I thought the cat was let out of the bag last week by the Brexit Secretary when he told Cabinet colleagues to prepare for a hard Brexit so that in 2019 the Prime Minister can walk away from the EU negotiations without any deal at all. This will mean diverting large amounts of public expenditure away from our public services to pay for things such as new IT systems for customs declarations, a new immigration system and new air transport agreements. If that is where we end up in 2019, it seems that the public are entitled to have a say in whether that is a future they want to sign up for, irrespective of any narrow referendum vote three years earlier. The Government simply do not know what the majority of people expect will happen and there is growing public concern over the Government’s negotiating approach. That concern could be much greater when we reach 2019. The British people may well want to change their minds when they realise how adversely they will be affected by leaving the EU. We should provide them with an opportunity to do so by giving them the final say, as Amendment 1 would.
My Lords, I agree with the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Warner. I have added my name to this all-party amendment and if a vote is called, I will vote for it. What struck me about the referendum campaign as I knocked on hundreds of doors in the south Wales valleys, which are all traditional working-class Labour strongholds, is that the people who were voting leave were voting against something. They were voting against the European Union, but they were not voting in favour of anything. In part that is because they were not told by the leave leadership what the alternative would be. In fact, the leave leaders were deliberately unclear and disagreed with each other as to what it would mean. Some argued that it would be a future like Albania while others argued that it would be in the single market, which was again denied by others. In that sense, the leave campaign left the alternative deliberately ambiguous and now we are in a position, or we will be in the coming months, where that alternative will become clearer.
In every other referendum, including the Welsh referendum in 1997, which as a Minister I helped to organise and lead on behalf of Welsh Labour, it was very clear that you were voting either to establish a Welsh Assembly or for the status quo. The same applied in Scotland in 1997, as it did to the electoral reform referendum in 2011—you were either voting for the alternative vote or to keep the status quo, the first past the post voting system. It was similar in the Scottish independence referendum held in 2014. Everyone knew that, whichever way they voted, it was absolutely crystal clear what they would get. What was different about the referendum held on 23 June last year is that that was not the case. It was unlike any other referendum we have experienced where the consequences of voting for or against were clear to voters; this was not, so we are in a very different position.
I am not disputing the outcome on 23 June. This is not about re-running that referendum. This is about making sure that the democratic process remains democratic and that voters have the final say on the eventual negotiated outcome. It seems to me that a process which is started by a referendum should be completed by a referendum and voters should have a final say on the deal that is negotiated, if indeed any deal is negotiated, although the Prime Minister has made it clear that perhaps none will be and we will move into an even more uncertain future.
Perhaps I may quote in support of my remarks from the last Labour Party conference. Composite 1, moved by the TSSA union and seconded by Newcastle upon Tyne Central Constituency Labour Party, stated this—by the way, it was passed unanimously. I speak from the Labour Benches and I intend to remain on these Benches in the future, unless anyone questions that. The composite says that it,
“recognises that many of those who voted to leave the EU were expressing dissatisfaction with EU or national policy and were voting for change, but believes that unless the final settlement proves to be acceptable then the option of retaining EU membership should be retained. The final settlement should therefore be subject to approval, through Parliament and potentially through a general election, or a referendum”.
That is Labour Party policy and I am speaking in favour of that policy.
I noticed and welcomed that, in her speech in Committee, the Leader of the Opposition, my noble friend Lady Smith of Basildon—I wish she was the Opposition leader, as opposed to our existing leader, but that is a different matter—said that she disagreed with pressing a referendum at this stage but left the question open. If there was a final demand come the final situation, following clarity on what Britain’s future would hold and the deal that had or had not been negotiated, then a referendum could be called at that stage. She left the door open. I welcome that and I understand the Front Bench’s position.
The truth is that the country was split down the middle on 23 June last year. Yes, leave won, there is no disputing that, and I am not seeking to dispute it, but the country was split down the middle. It is still split down the middle—perhaps even more so. This is the most divisive issue of my political generation. It will continue to be divisive. A referendum that will allow people to have the final say is a way of bringing the country together in deciding on that final say. A process started by a referendum should be completed by a referendum. That is why I support the amendment.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hain. I remind him of one or two aspects of the Welsh devolution referendum. I was the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats from 1992 to 1997 and strongly supported devolution to Wales, as he did. It has worked extremely well. However, I remind him that nobody—certainly no Liberal Democrat I knew in Wales—envisaged that, if we did not like the way devolution was set up, we would have a second referendum. We would have considered that view completely idiotic and unconstitutional.
I have been on this side of the House for only the last two or three months, so my memory of being a Liberal Democrat is reasonably fresh. It is clear in my mind that at the time of the European referendum last year the starting point for Liberal Democrats was as follows: there would be one referendum. It was not suggested for one moment that there would be two, three or even four referenda. I see the logic of what the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, said earlier and think he was rather wrongly put down by the noble Lord, Lord Newby, because he made a perfectly fair point. It was envisaged by Liberal Democrats that there would be one referendum and that it would be in accordance with the law. The law provides that referenda are advisory and subject to parliamentary procedure thereafter. If a referendum result, for good reason, is rejected by Parliament then the result is rejected by Parliament. That is what Liberal Democrats expected—namely, the normal process. We would have heard had it been otherwise.
I want to make two particular points, one tactical and the other constitutional.
As I remember, to my cost, the noble Lord’s recollection of what positions Liberal Democrats took in the past has not always been entirely accurate. On this issue surely the difference is this. When the Wales referendum was put, it was put on a specific proposition, fully backed up with policy and detail. On this occasion, the proposition put to the British people was to leave or not. They decided to leave. That mandate is clear and the Government are entitled to enact it. But, unless the noble Lord might like to suggest what the mandate is for the particular form of exit the Government choose, there is no mandate to leave the single market, nor to leave the common customs union. Therefore, if there is no mandate for that, why have the Government chosen to use it and follow the most hard-line Brexit possible? If the noble Lord believes that there is a mandate for that, will he describe what it is, given that the majority of the people in this country in opinion polls have made it clear that they do not support this and the Conservative—
I do not wish to stifle debate but the noble Lord should know that we are on Report, and the opportunity to interrupt a speaker is not an opportunity to make a speech.
My Lords, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, knows, I have enormous admiration for his skill and ability. He is at his best when he makes points with simplicity, but that point was not made with simplicity. I am totally confused by what he sought to say and I reject his argument completely. He knows perfectly well, as all the Liberal Democrats know, that what was put to the country was a referendum in the normal constitutional and legal form. No Liberal Democrat, least of all the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown—perhaps he was too busy eating his hat as a result of his comments on television during the general election—suggested for one moment that there was something different about the referendum that we faced last June. However, I am sure that noble Lords will want me to move on.
The truth of the matter is that we are facing this proposal for the second time—now rather better drafted, thanks to the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott—because unfortunately the Liberal Democrats do not like the result of last June’s referendum. Nor did I, but my advice to your Lordships’ House, for what it is worth, is: be careful what you wish for. The Liberal Democrats’ record on referenda ain’t so good. Noble Lords will recall the alternative vote referendum, as well as what happened in June. Indeed, I would say that Amendment 1 seeks to compress a huge quantity of extremely complicated issues into a simplistic binary question. It just will not work, and the Government do not need this kind of patronising advice in order to get on with the negotiations.
I now turn briefly to the constitutional issue. The noble Lord, Lord Newby, failed to answer the challenge from the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, as to whether it would be a binding or an advisory referendum. He sought to answer it by saying that he thought that, on balance, it would be a binding referendum. If that is the basis of this amendment, it is ridiculous, because there is no provision in the law for a binding referendum.
The whole debate we have been having in your Lordships’ House has been about how much respect we should pay to the referendum that took place last June. My answer is that we should pay a lot of respect to it. I do not want to leave the European Union, but I recognise that the referendum has taken us to Article 50, which we must get on with triggering as soon as possible. The Government know perfectly well what they have to do. They know that, if they produce a completely unsatisfactory result, they will face a Motion of no confidence in the other place and will fall. We can well do without messing around with the arrangements which should now be in action.
My Lords, I have no wish to get involved in Liberal Democrat internecine warfare but I put my name to this amendment and I support many of the speeches that have been made in support of it.
My noble friend the Minister has done a very skilful job in getting the Bill to this stage in this House, but in Committee he told us to be in no doubt that this country was leaving the EU—no ifs, no buts, and with no idea of the terms. I admire determination but not when it is blind to changing circumstances. I cannot see why any Government would be so adamant about a course of action with no knowledge of the circumstances in which they might take that course.
We do not know what the world will look like in two years’ time. Economically and politically it is at some of the most uncertain stages that I have ever seen in my lifetime. In two years’ time, the EU, the world and our economy could look very different—and, I suspect, not for the better. At that stage, we will be able to look at the deal that our Government have negotiated or, as others have pointed out, at the no deal that they have been handed. Although I am not an advocate of government by referenda, in this situation, having started the process with a referendum, as the noble Lord, Lord Hain, pointed out, it seems to me that the only sensible way to bring the process to an end is to put the terms to the public. I have listened to the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, and I do not dismiss the patronising advice that he gave the Liberal Democrats or those supporting this amendment, but I believe that the public need to see what is on offer.
During the course of this Bill, we have heard that, whatever people voted for on 23 June last year, it was not to get poorer. I cannot see that in the end the Government will be presenting them with a deal which does not mean that they get poorer. I believe that at that stage they should have a chance to vote on whether, having seen the future, it is the future that they really want.
My Lords, there was a previous referendum on Europe in 1975. On that occasion, it was not taken as holy writ and as something that it was almost obscene to vote against. On the contrary, in 1979 the Labour Party said that it would ignore and vote against the referendum result—there were no difficulties there—and so did a very large number of Conservatives, headed by Mr Enoch Powell. Therefore, I cannot see why the advisory referendum of 1975, where the majority was 33%, should somehow be treated so casually, whereas this referendum, with a majority of, I think, 3.8%, is somehow treated reverentially, with the view that we should all genuflect before the will of the people.
I link this amendment with Amendment 3, which I shall also support. Amendment 3 confirms the view so wisely put by the Supreme Court that sovereignty in this country resides in the two Houses of Parliament. That was the view taken and it is the view that will be proclaimed in Amendment 3. Referendums are always advisory—they are to help Parliament in reaching a view. It is best to have an informed referendum. The last one was not in the least informed; it was a process of serial lying and deception, which added nothing to public understanding. As the facts emerge, I think that public understanding will change substantially.
We need to ask the view of the people again to assist Parliament when the facts are known—when the car workers at Vauxhall, the steel workers at Port Talbot and the car workers at Sunderland will be forming a view on employment, trade and Britain’s economic relationships with a wider world. It would also be when we have had an opportunity to have the views of young people, deprived of voting this time and whose futures are imperilled by this ill-informed, almost non-informed, decision.
Another referendum will not be taken in a one-world universe; it will be taken when the views on Brexit of those other 27 countries, views which are quite important, are also known. As I believe was the Labour Party in 1979 and 1983 in respect of the previous referendum, as well as a growing number of Conservatives, I am in favour of regarding the referendum that we had in June last year as ill-informed, or almost uninformed, guidance. I would prefer informed guidance and that is why I shall vote for this amendment.
My Lords, I apologise to the House for not having been present at earlier stages of the Bill, for medical reasons beyond my control. The benefit for your Lordships is that I will not be on my feet for long.
I was disappointed to miss the excellent debates at early stages. What unites us in this House, across all Benches, is how seriously we take our role as scrutineers. On our best days, we approach each question not on the basis of tribe or loyalty, but on the strength of the argument and how it might work for the common good of the whole country. On these Benches, we are not a party, nor do we follow a Whip. Today will see a significant number of Bishops appearing, not because we hold ourselves out as constitutional experts but because we are deeply embedded in every local community in England. We may dress the same, but we have independent minds, as anyone observing church politics recently will be well aware. So I speak today not in a corporate but in a personal capacity.
The referendum campaign and its aftermath revealed deep divisions in our society, as the noble Lord, Lord Hain, rightly commented—like him, this feels like the most divided country that I have lived in in my lifetime. Whatever the outcome of the next two years, our nation’s future, particularly for the most vulnerable, will be profoundly damaged if we arrive in 2019 even more divided, without a common vision to confront the opportunities and challenges before us. To meet these opportunities and challenges in every aspect of policy and every level of society, we must find a level of national reconciliation. So how we conduct this process is as important as the outcome. It would be dangerous, unwise and wrong to reduce the substance of the terms on which we exit the European Union to the result of a binary yes/no choice taken last summer, and the Government should avoid any inclination to oversimplify the outcome of the most complex peacetime negotiations probably ever to have been undertaken.
But neither is the complexity of a further referendum a good way of dealing with the process at the end of negotiation. It will add to our divisions; it will deepen the bitterness. It is not democratic; it is unwise. Even if circumstances change, as the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, rightly said they were likely to do—even if they change drastically—a dangerous and overcomplicated process is the result of a referendum.
It is beyond doubt that those bringing this amendment and others before this House today, and last week in Committee, are moved by legitimate and deeply principled concerns for our country. To challenge that, as has been done in the press, is entirely wrong. Similarly, those who have argued against amending the Bill have done so not from a deficit of care but from a concern for process and a legitimate desire to reach the best outcome.
Division of our country is not a mere fact to be navigated around like a rock in a stream but something to be healed, to be challenged and to be changed. During many years in which I have worked in countries in the midst of deep division—sometimes armed, sometimes merely civil—I have seen two cardinal errors made in seeking to bring reconciliation and building common vision. The first is to complicate the process; the second is artificially to simplify complicated substance. On this amendment, I fear we risk making the process too complex and the substance too simple. Although I fully understand the good intentions of those who tabled the amendment, for these reasons I will be unable to support it.
My Lords, I support Amendment 1, but I believe we have Amendment 1 and Amendment 3 in the wrong order. If we pass Amendment 3, as I suspect may well happen, that would give Parliament the final say, which is certainly better than allowing the Government to walk roughshod over Parliament and decide for themselves. We cannot ignore the fact that the people, regrettably in my view, voted to leave the EU, although in doing so they did not have a clear view as to the alternative they were backing. If Parliament—or the Government for that matter—has the final say and the people who voted out last June do not like it, we could easily escalate the situation into an almighty crisis. That could be avoided by a confirmatory referendum.
Let us imagine over the next two years that negotiations get nowhere and the Government resort to the WTO basis with no preferential access to the single market. Car factories start closing, as the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, mentioned. Financial services move to Paris or Frankfurt. The EU insists on a €30 billion payment, or whatever, from the UK. EU nationals start quitting key posts in the NHS and expats find that they have to start paying for their healthcare in the countries they live in, or lose pension increments that arise from the UK. At that point, many who voted out will start bleating, “This isn’t what we voted for”. At that point, the only way for the Government to hold their line is to be able to tell them, “Okay, you will get the final say, so let’s see what happens with the final package”. It is therefore in the Government’s best interest to have a confirmatory referendum. I believe that is a very good reason for backing the amendment.
My Lords, I am unable to support the amendment. I say so with a heavy heart, but I am extremely conscious of the economic consequences, not least the ones the noble Lord just mentioned, of prolonged uncertainty. I will briefly sum up why. We have had uncertainty in this country from when the then Prime Minister made his Bloomberg speech, but more so since he started his negotiation. The negotiation took 14 months. We have had the referendum. That took four months to organise. So why are there noble Lords here who believe that it could be done in the space of an election campaign? The Electoral Commission’s role is such that it needs to take its time. We would probably run into a referendum around October 2019. If the result was that the country did not like what it got, there would have to be another negotiation, either to revoke Article 50 or to change the terms. That would bring us into the general election. If there is going to be a general election in 2020 anyway, there seems to me little value in having a referendum in early 2020 or late 2019.
That is just the chronology. To imagine that our EU partners would hang around from 2015 to 2020 without making provisional plans for a 12.5% hole in their budget, or for a potentially dramatic change in the relationship of 65 million people with the single market, is somehow not to understand even the EU’s position. I say that advisedly. We have seen HSBC move 1,000 jobs. We have heard Mario Draghi telling us that euro clearing would have to move. We have heard the Irish Government tell us that they are preparing for companies to move their office space. We know that 1.1 million people are dependent on the financial services sector, and their jobs are in line at the moment. The idea that business will hang around for a further four years was rebutted in the evidence we took for the report of the EU Financial Affairs Sub-committee on Brexit and its impact on financial services. We were told in terms that uncertainty was extremely damaging to the sector and that people therefore wished to have a transition period.
Let me conclude with one or two points that relate directly to some of the remarks made by speakers in this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Hain, said that a process which is started by a referendum should end with one. I accept the logic of that. The process started with a referendum in 1975. Until last year, the people of this country who are 60 years-old or under had not had a say in our future direction. I have to admit with a heavy heart that they did not go in the direction I wanted them to go in, which was to remain, but they made their choice. So the process did start with a referendum and it will end with one. I suspect that what the noble Lord is alluding to is a third and potentially a fourth referendum.
The noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, said that we do not know what the world will look like in a couple of years’ time, and I agree with her completely. That is why I look forward to debating the amendments to come about whether Parliament should make an assessment.
I am in a place where I think that referendums are a dangerous tool. Direct democracy, in my opinion, is dangerous. Referendums should be used with great care and clarity. We cannot explain a complicated negotiation result in a referendum, as Mr Cameron found out to his cost.
My Lords, I agree entirely with the noble Baroness that referendums are a bad idea, and I am surprised that everyone else in the Chamber does not agree, especially those on the Liberal Democrat Benches.
Nevertheless, we had a referendum and, as the most reverend Primate said, it was a binary choice: yes or no. People knew what they were voting for, and they voted to leave the EU. It is unbecoming and, if I may say so, patronising of people to attribute to the individuals of this nation the reasons for how they voted. Personally, in 1975 I voted to stay in and some 40 years later, with my experience of the EU, I voted to take back control of this country and put it in the hands of the British people. That is what I have done, and that is what I suspect that most people are expecting from us. It is patronising to suggest that people did not know what they were voting for.
The logic to which the noble Lord, Lord Newby, referred is this: what would happen if in a second referendum the people of this country rejected the Government’s negotiating position? No one has an answer to that, so I would say that there must be a third referendum, but I would not particularly want to get into that.
Finally, perhaps I may direct my friends on the Liberal Democrat Benches—I count them as friends and I hope that they count me as a friend from time to time—to an article published in the Times yesterday by a man called Edward Lucas, who outed himself as a Liberal Democrat—I did not realise he was until then—which suggested that this is part of reinvigorating the fortunes of the Liberal Democrats. I would say the contrary. The noble Lord, Lord Newby, suggested that there might be corrosive and justifiable anger, but the great British people have had their referendum and they do not want another one. So we should just ignore this amendment and carry on.
My Lords, I came into this Chamber genuinely unsure about which way to vote and whether to support the amendment. My noble friend Lord Grocott may laugh, but it is a genuine feeling. He and I have known each other for a long time and I hope he will accept that, in relation to this particular amendment, it is a genuine feeling. I support Amendment 3 very strongly indeed.
I am not sure that the debate has helped me, because we have heard eloquent speeches on both sides, by my noble friend Lord Morgan and by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury. I intervened on the noble Lord, Lord Newby, because of my reservations about the referendum itself: the fact that 16 and 17 year-olds were not allowed to vote; that EU citizens were not allowed to vote; that there was no threshold; and the uncertainty about whether it was advisory or mandatory. All of that created a huge problem.
It was an advisory referendum. There is no doubt about that.
I agree. I share that view. However, some people tried to sow confusion and indicated that it had to be accepted. I say to my noble friend Lord Grocott that this is why we need to look carefully at what happens at the end of this long and complicated process.
As I say, I was not sure how to vote, but I am now convinced. The noble Lord, Lord Newby, answered my question. The form of the referendum, its timing, the question, the franchise and all of the other matters will be dealt with in a Bill which will come before this Parliament.
I also support Amendment 3 about parliamentary approval of any deal that is agreed. I envisage—I do not know whether my colleagues agree—that Parliament would then put the proposal to the referendum. That would be the question. So at that time, in that referendum, we would know what we were voting for, unlike the previous referendum. That has convinced me that the way forward is to combine the parliamentary consideration of the deal that is reached and come to some conclusion, and then put it to the people because they will have considered it already. That is the first thing that has convinced me to support this amendment.
The second thing is that I have become increasingly concerned at the tribalism of the Tories on this issue. They are sitting there supporting some kind of concerted campaign to push through the kind of hard Brexit that they want at any cost—and I mean at any cost. The more they do that, and the more they sit there jeering at our partners in Europe, dismissing them as if they were irrelevant in relation to this, the more I will be convinced that we need to make sure that their kind of hard Brexit—
Does my noble friend agree, given what happened in Scotland, that every referendum is greeted with, “We will have to have another one because we do not like the result”? What happens if the second referendum is closer than the last one? Will there be a third referendum and a fourth referendum? It is an abrogation of responsibility.
No. As my noble friend Lord Hain rightly said, in Scotland and Wales what was put to the people was absolutely clear. It was a specific proposal—there was no doubt about it—to set up a Parliament for Scotland and a Parliament for Wales. What we put at the last referendum was not as clear. We did not know the way forward; we did not know the options before us.
Perhaps I may help. I think I am right in saying that all previous referenda have always been confirmatory. They agreed to what Parliament set before the nation. That was not the case, of course, in June of last year.
I find myself, unusually, agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Tyler. Having seen him on television recently, he has taken me by surprise. They have been confirmative and that is what we are talking about in this referendum. I think the noble Lord, Lord Newby, agrees that it will be a confirmatory referendum after Parliament has agreed or otherwise the proposal that comes from the Government in relation to Europe. On that basis I will back his amendment.
My Lords, there are two scenarios vis-à-vis the attitude of the EU towards our leaving it. One is that it will be absolutely delighted that we are going. A thorn will have come out of its side once the UK has departed and it will be able to proceed with the federal dream it has always had. Therefore, it will want to quickly get on with an agreement and say goodbye to us. The other scenario is that the EU will regard the UK leaving as a hole in the head. As the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, said, it will present it with an enormous budgetary problem. It will probably be contagious and will lead to other countries in the EU wanting to leave as well. The noble Lord, Lord Newby, says that we must trust them. Well, hold on. The people who run the EU are not renowned for being overtly democratic. Let us face it: they put the whole objective of the federal dream above all else. Therefore, they will say that we must go to any lengths that we possibly can to ensure that the United Kingdom stays in the EU.
How do you do that? You offer the most appalling deal known to man. Then, knowing that there is going to be a referendum, if this amendment is passed, you can confidently reckon that the British people will vote against that deal and the United Kingdom will stay in the EU. Does that not completely undermine the Government’s negotiating position once Article 50 has been triggered? This amendment should be opposed absolutely ruthlessly.
My Lords, there is one other important reason why the final decision on Brexit should be a national referendum, not the approval of Parliament: Parliament has changed. We have abandoned the main principle that we are a parliamentary democracy and that MPs are representatives, not delegates. Instead, we have adopted the doctrine that the will of the people must always prevail. That is the favourite doctrine of dictators and autocrats throughout history. At Second Reading I gave examples, which I will not repeat now. In that debate the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, pointed out that four-fifths of the MPs who voted to trigger Article 50 had voted to remain and believed that Brexit would be against the national interest. The exercise of their own judgment, based on weighing up the argument and evidence in debate, has given way to the new fashion for populist political correctness. The inescapable logic of this approach means that if MPs, at the end of negotiations, came to the conclusion that the result would be equivalent to falling over a cliff, they would still feel duty bound because of the referendum of 23 June to act like lemmings.
Burke has been ditched; Rousseau rules instead. I have always been a devotee of Burke. I once fought a by-election on his principles. In 1972, I was one of the 69 Labour Members of Parliament led by Roy Jenkins who voted for British entry into the European Community against a three-line Whip. Without our vote, Britain would not have joined. My local, left-wing Labour Party in Lincoln was passionately anti-Europe. It told me that if I voted with the Tories, against the party’s three-line Whip, it would deselect me. I did, and it did. So I resigned and fought a by-election in March 1973 as an independent social democrat. The real issue in that by-election was not Europe, but Burke. I explained my reasons at a mass meeting held in Lincoln. I said that I had always been pro-Europe and as an 18 year-old student—some 70 years ago—I joined a club called the Strasbourg club, which argued that Britain should share some of its sovereignty with other European countries to promote peace and prosperity, and that I was not going to change my views because my party told me to. I was supported at this mass meeting by a famous journalist at the time, Bernard Levin, who put the issue quite simply. He said that the choice in Lincoln was between Dick Taverne and a Dictaphone. I won with an overwhelming majority over Labour and the Conservatives, and it was Burke wot won it.
Burke is popular because people like those who stick to their guns. His championship of MPs as representatives, not delegates, has been a basic part of the strength of our parliamentary system. If referendums determined our laws, we would probably still have the death penalty and flogging in prisons. What would be the point of parliamentary debates if MPs had already pledged their vote irrespective of all arguments?
It may be asked why I support the Liberal Democrat amendment in favour of a new referendum. My noble friend Lord Newby gave a very good answer to that. A referendum is one way in which people would have a chance to change their mind. If the Government’s process is followed, there would be no real choice because the only one would be either to accept or reject the end of the negotiations, whatever their result.
I believe that the decision to leave the single market and the customs union makes a hard Brexit almost inevitable. We will not get a special deal for key industries or the right of our service companies to operate in their biggest market. Mr Trump will not abandon his claim for “America first” and we will face a more protectionist world, not a free trade bonanza. We are in real danger of returning to the nationalism and protectionism of the 1930s. If we leave Europe, we will find it increasingly necessary to rely on Mr Trump’s America: a future of Mrs May and Donald Trump walking hand in hand. We should not travel one miserable inch along that fearsome road.
My Lords, at Second Reading I set out an argument for a second referendum based on the principle of informed consent, a standard by which individuals are truly given and granted their opinion. I am not going to repeat that argument now, but it remains my primary reason for supporting this amendment.
Much of what I was going to say has been said, but I wish to make one brief point. We are being asked to have faith in the Government and their officers to secure this deal, but the reason given last week for not securing the fate of EU nationals was not that the Government were not willing, but that a small number of the remaining 27 would not play ball. Similarly, we have already been asked to accept that the Government cannot deliver the single market because the 27 have a red line on free movement. As the negotiation moves on from its visible red lines into the hundreds of thousands of details that will constitute this divorce settlement, the 27 will have a multitude of issues on which they do not wish to play ball. Yet by the Government’s own admission they have to accept, or are currently accepting, whatever is offered by the least interested of those 27 nations.
Meaningful parliamentary oversight and a mechanism by which the much-quoted “will of the people” can be tested are not automatic roadblocks to withdrawal; they are merely an insurance policy against a lousy deal.
My Lords, we will hear from the Conservative Benches and then from the Labour Benches, and then from the noble Lord, Lord Pearson.
My Lords, my simple point is this. Parliament will pronounce for or against the results of the Government’s negotiations to withdraw from the European Union in due course. It may possibly be that in 2019 or whenever the negotiations are completed, Parliament will feel that it would be wise to test the opinion of the country through another referendum, but that should be determined at that final stage and in those circumstances, not now. It would be wholly contrary to our constitution and traditions to make a binding provision for another referendum at this early point.
My Lords, the Government seem confident that they can get a good deal, or, that not being the case and they get a bad deal, that they can walk away and WTO trading arrangements will be good enough for us to operate effectively in the world. If that is the position held by the Government, why should they be in any doubt that a referendum would do anything other than give them an even greater majority in support of what they finally resolve?
I support the amendment for a number of reasons. The most pressing is that, like probably everyone in this House, I have some regret about our greater use of referendums. The strength of representative democracy is that it gives us the opportunity of greater, more nuanced understanding of issues, which is why we delegate to our representatives the matter of governing on our behalf. If at the end of all this the sense in Parliament was that the deal on offer was not good, that the WTO alternative was not good at all and that we wanted to look again at whether remaining might not be an option, it would be quite difficult for us to say that the people should not have their voice, given that they started the whole process. That is why I am persuaded that having a referendum is the only thing that one could do at the end. Again, it would be advisory and Parliament would say, “But we have to listen to what the people’s view is”.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, I take the view that a lot is going to happen in the next two years, not least that people will start seeing what the implications of this are. I want to remind us of the state of our National Health Service and the fact that we had people on the street, many of them working in the National Health Service, saying, “This can’t go on” and that the need for resource was essential. We have a complete crisis when it comes to the care of our elderly, which needs money, yet we will see huge tranches of money spent on trade negotiators, on seeking to reinstate immigration processes and on any number of things. I think that as people recognise that our public services will see ever greater depletion in the shadows of this great Brexit movement they will ask, “Is this really what we wanted?”
It goes back to that question: did people vote to become poorer? The other night, I sat with two very distinguished businessmen whose names will be on all of your Lordships’ lips. They said that, by 2025, the people of Great Britain—the middle classes as well as the working classes—will be 30% poorer. Let us just think about that. They will be 30% less well off. We are lying to people if we do not tell them the truth about it. But people will see and they have to be given the opportunity of seeing, and I will not have lectures from anybody whose business interests are all in South Africa and who are therefore not concerned about what happens here. I therefore press on this House—
The noble Baroness is drifting to a Second Reading speech. A specific proposal is before this House: the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Newby. I would be grateful if noble Lords could be brief—a lot of people want to speak—and address the substance of that amendment, not other aspects to which they may wish to draw the attention of the House.
I certainly will not continue to make a speech, but I want to say that the reason why people are asking that this matter eventually goes to the people is that we started with the people. Parliament has said, “We are bound by the fact that people have given us a direction of travel”. When it comes to the end of that journey, they have the right to be heard too.
My Lords, I regret that I did not speak at Second Reading or in Committee, owing to previous engagements. I want to speak briefly on this amendment, as it reveals what noble remainers really want: they want a second referendum on the result of the Article 50 negotiations in the hope that the people will change their mind.
I hope to spend a minute or two trying to persuade supporters of the amendment why are they are wrong to do so, and to do that one has to look at the bigger picture. What I cannot understand, and what beats me—
I am sorry. The noble Lord could have made a Second Reading speech at Second Reading. I would be grateful if he addressed the substance of the amendment.
My Lords, if the noble Lord wants me to deal with that, I thought I had advice that, as it was a two-day debate and I was not able to be here for the opening speeches on the first day, I could speak on the second. I make no complaint. Owing to a prior engagement, I could not get to the opening speeches and that is why I did not speak. That is really not important or relevant to this debate.
As I was saying, what beats me is why so many noble Lords still fervently believe that the European Union, which is the project of European integration, and its single market, are somehow good things—that is why they support this amendment—when clearly they are not. They have become bad things. As I have said many times in the House over the past 26 years, the project of European integration was honourable when it started: it was to get rid of war in Europe and all the rest of it. As Jean Monnet said in 1956—
The noble Lord is very courteous. He listens to what I say but chooses to ignore it. I would be grateful if he addressed the subject of the amendment and then let other noble Lords have a say.
My Lords, I am quite happy to sit down, but I am trying to persuade supporters of this amendment that they are wrong, because the whole project has gone wrong. Is that not something that noble Lords wish to hear?
Okay, I shall skip over why the single market is a bad thing, I shall skip over the strength of our hand—because they have so many more jobs selling things to us than we do to them—and I shall skip over the fact that noble remainers who support this amendment still think that somehow EU money exists, when it does not. After every penny that the European Union gives us, we are still left with £10 billion a year net, which is—I will give noble Lords a new statistic—the salary of 1,000 nurses every day, at £27,500 a year. Whatever happens, we will go on trading with our friends in Europe, because they need it more than we do.
I end with a word of advice for the Liberal Democrats. I fancy that they are considering supporting this amendment. Their very own policy from the election before last—I do not know what it is now because it is difficult to follow Liberal Democrat policy—was that membership of this House should grow to represent and reflect the votes in the previous general election. In the last election, the Liberal Democrats got 5% of the vote. That should give them 43 seats in this House. Instead, they have 102. I will pass over in silence the fact that we got 8% of the vote, which should give us 69 seats, and we have precisely three. More seriously, however, if the Liberal Democrats use this dishonest advantage—by their own standards and manifesto—to vote down the will of the British people and the House of Commons, they will reveal their contempt for democracy and do your Lordships’ House no good at all.
My Lords, I disagree with the amendment because I see two defects in it, one of which was highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, a moment ago. It purports to tie the hands of Parliament—which it should not do—unlike Amendment 3, which we will debate later today, which gives Parliament the certainty of having more options. The second defect is that the amendment does not address the increasing possibility that there will be no settlement, no agreement, and that we fall out.
What I do not like in this debate—I did not like it at Second Reading or in Committee—is the suggestion that in some way it would be illegitimate for the country to think again. There is a frog chorus behind the Minister. Every time he says, “It was decided”, the chorus behind him chants, “Koàx-koáx, decided, decided”. This is the lemming position. No matter how awful the deal turns out to be, no matter how unlike the promises of the leavers the eventual deal turns out to be, no matter how steep the cliff and stormy the sea, we must go over. There is no time to think again; there is no chance of turning back on any decision.
I find that strangely reminiscent of the Moscow I worked in in 1968, when Soviet foreign policy ran on the Brezhnev doctrine. The House will remember the Brezhnev doctrine, which said that once you have voted Communists in, you cannot vote Communists out. It was a very good doctrine for running central and eastern Europe. That seems to be the position of most of the government Back-Benches today.
I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, will consult his new right honourable friend Mr David Davis, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, and will come to the conclusion that Mr Davis was right when he said that if a democracy cannot think again, cannot change its mind, it is no longer a democracy. I rather agree.
My Lords, I do not think I am a frog or a lemming, but I was one of the Ministers at the Dispatch Box when we took the European Union Referendum Bill through this House and I think we should have regard to what we decided in Parliament in that Act. A number of amendments were tabled but, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, there was no amendment about thresholds, no amendment to nuance the simple question that was posed, no amendment to say that we would only leave if we stayed within the single market, and, in particular, no amendment saying that there would be a second referendum. Why not? Was it because the alternatives were too complicated? There were only two outcomes of the referendum: either we remained or we left. Was it political negligence by parliamentarians not to table these amendments, or were they content with the Bill and its binary question?
We are having this debate contrary to what was generally considered to be the law, which was that it was the right of the Government, exercising the royal prerogative—
These amendments were tabled in the previous Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, as a surrogate for the Government. If they were tabled and defeated or withdrawn on that occasion, some people may have felt that there was no point in raising them at a later stage.
I find that remarkably unpersuasive.
As a result of the decision of the people, most thought that there was a power for the Government to negotiate and do the best deal possible. We then had the Gina Miller case, but there is nothing in the Supreme Court judgment, in my view, which either expressly or impliedly endorses the amendment advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Newby.
This is opportunism motivated by the perfectly understandable view, which I share, that we should not have voted to leave the EU. However, if we vote for this amendment, we will be ignoring what we decided in the European Union Referendum Act, we will be ignoring the vote and we will be ignoring the House of Commons. It is time for a little constitutional modesty on our part.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, because he, like me, sat through most of the debate that resulted in this House, without opposition, deciding that we should have a referendum to determine whether to remain in or leave the European Union. I say that perhaps particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, who expressed his strong opposition to referendums. I respectfully say to him that, if that is the case, he should have opposed in this House the Bill that established the referendum mechanism to decide whether we should leave or remain.
I want to make an observation and will then specifically address the amendment. The observation is simply that there has been an awful lot of rerunning of the referendum argument in the discussion so far. I always want to urge this House, above all institutions that I have been able to be involved in, not to ascribe motives to people in elections and to assume that we understand precisely why they voted in the way they did, and then to challenge them somehow on the basis of whether they made what we consider to be the right or wrong decision. Perhaps I have a considerable qualification in this regard in that I have lost an awful lot of elections over the course of my career. Although the motive is always to say that your opponents lied or misled people, or that the people were not bright enough to make the decision, my advice, when they eventually elect you, is to acknowledge that they are a pretty shrewd electorate. That is how we all react to success and failure in elections.
Specifically on the amendment, we still have not had a reply on whether such a referendum would be advisory. I respectfully need to point out to the noble Lords who have spoken that one or two mistakes have been made in arguing this case. I think that it was my noble friend Lord Morgan who said that all referendums are advisory. That simply is not right. The referendum that we held on whether we should have AV or first past the post was based on legislation that this House had passed in the form of the Bill for the AV referendum. That laid out precisely the system that the electorate would put into place, should the referendum be passed.
I apologise for interrupting my noble friend. With regard to that referendum and all referendums, this is a constitution based on parliamentary sovereignty. Unlike France, it is not based on popular sovereignty.
My noble friend is absolutely right but in this case the Act of Parliament that this House passed to establish the referendum included precisely the mechanism for the alternative vote election that would come into place should that referendum be carried.
My Lords, I am in no doubt that the referendum of 23 June was technically advisory but the Government of the day and the leaders of the campaigns had made it absolutely clear that the Government would implement its findings without qualification. It also featured in the governing party’s manifesto in the last general election.
I do not disagree with that at all. The debate when the referendum campaign was under way was clearly on the basis that this was a once-in-a-lifetime decision, and we need to acknowledge that as well.
My main points are in respect of the validity of the decision and whether it should be replaced with a second referendum. As the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, said, at the time of the referendum it was never said that there would be a second referendum. I hate to disagree with my noble friend Lord Foulkes—particularly not on matters relating to Scotland; I have never done so in the long parliamentary careers that we have shared—but I think he said, and he will no doubt intervene and I will be happy to give way if I am wrong, that the choice in the Scottish referendum was absolutely clear. However, it did not come over like that in the way that it was reported in England. There appeared to be a great lack of clarity about things such as the currency that would be used and whether an independent Scotland could reapply, or would successfully be able to reapply, to join the European Union. There is a whole host of uncertainties around all referendums, and I have never heard of one where there were no uncertainties or difficulties to address.
That brings me to the only really substantial point that I think has not been made so far: that somehow or other—this, according to its proponents, is the whole basis of having a second referendum—circumstances will change in a very fundamental way, making it absolutely essential that we again test the opinion of the British people. I cannot avoid a trip down memory lane at this point because this is not the first referendum on whether we should be a member of the European Union; it is the second. The first one was held in 1975 and the overwhelming decision was to remain in the European Union.
A noble Lord
Can I say—
Please can I finish my point? A lot of people said thereafter that perhaps we should have another referendum, and of course we did. The only problem from the perspective of those who voted no in the first one in 1975 was that we had to wait 41 years to be given the choice. Several generations of 16, 17 and 18 year-olds had become pensioners, so on that occasion there was a long gap between the decision taken in the first referendum and the second one, whereas it is proposed that there should be two or perhaps three years in the gap between referendums on this occasion.
The point I want to make is this: no one voting in 1975 could possibly have anticipated the consequences of a yes vote in that referendum. It was not the European Union then because it has changed its name several times since. It was the Common Market that people voted for or against in 1975.
A noble Lord
It was the European Community.
I am sorry and I stand corrected. It was the Common Market, then the European Community, then the European Union and no doubt it will be something else in due course. The people who voted yes in the 1975 referendum did not know that it would triple in size over the ensuing 41 years, that qualified majority voting on all related matters would develop and that we would get a European foreign ministry, 150-odd offices of the European Union around the country, a European foreign affairs spokesman and so on. I am not necessarily criticising that, but I would say that no one who voted yes in 1975 could conceivably have thought that that would be the way in which the European Union would develop. Correct me if I am wrong, but do I recall anyone who voted yes in 1975 saying, “No, the circumstances have changed dramatically and we need to have another referendum to check whether the people agree with what they voted for”? The answer of course is no, that did not happen, and we waited 41 years between the first referendum and the second.
If we adopt the same principle in this respect, we shall have another referendum in 2057. I am a generous man looking for compromises and I think that would be an unreasonable gap between this referendum and any subsequent one. However, it is inevitable that after any decision, whether in a referendum or at a general election, some people will be dissatisfied with the result and will want to have it checked—correction, they will want to have it reversed. That is precisely the motive behind this proposal for a second referendum— unacknowledged in the Bill and unacknowledged during the referendum debate, and now being demanded as an entirely novel proposal. I hope that the House will agree with me that that is not acceptable.
My Lords, I think that it would be sensible to hear from the Front Benches now. Perhaps we may hear from the Labour Front Bench and then the Minister.
My Lords, this has been an interesting and long debate on a short amendment to a short Bill. While I appreciate that the amendment refers to a ratification referendum, in his opening comments the noble Lord, Lord Newby, referred to this being an issue about people being able to change their minds. However, there has been a much broader discussion than just the amendment.
As someone who campaigned strongly to remain, and remains bitterly disappointed at the result, I agree with many of the comments that have been made but I am not sure that they bring much to bear on whether a second referendum is appropriate. The demands for a second referendum started even before the ink was dry on the ballot papers of the first referendum. We know that it is rare for us to have a national referendum. In 1975, the incredible Labour Party leader and Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, held a referendum on whether we should remain in or leave the European Community. I think that I am in a minority in your Lordships’ House, but not alone, in that I was not able to vote in that referendum, being far too young, and the Minister probably could not vote in that referendum either. In 2011, the coalition Government held a referendum on whether to change the voting system where Parliament, via legislation, ceded sovereignty to the public, and in 2016, last year, we had the EU referendum.
There is clearly public interest in the EU because both referenda had high turnouts. It was a little lower in 1975, but no one really thought we were going leave and the margin of difference in favour of retaining EU membership, as the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, reminded us, was significant at 33%. However, last year the polls were so close that it probably encouraged the high turnout of 72%. Yet the referendum on changing the voting system motivated fewer than half of our fellow citizens, just 42%. There was never any real public demand for such a change and to most people it appeared politician led.
When we debated this amendment in Committee, I expressed my natural caution about politicians calling for a referendum on any issue. Usually it is called because we think it will endorse the result that we want. I accept that there have been exceptions today and that some noble Lords have made a case for direct or popular democracy, but the noble Lord, Lord Newby, has made clear what his reasons are for bringing forward this amendment. However, there is clearly a difference in the case of a public demand for a referendum, as we have seen, but politicians have to take care in how we respond to that public demand.
I listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Newby, and others, when he opened the debate and I have read his article in the The House Magazine on this issue, in which he was totally honest about his amendment proposing a further referendum. Despite comments from a number of your Lordships that this is merely about giving the public a say on the exit arrangements, he was very clear that he took the view that the public would change their mind. In The House Magazine he said that it would be “implausible” not to grant a second referendum if public opinion shifted in favour of the EU.
However, there is no significant public demand for a second referendum and, at this stage, there is no significant shift in public opinion. This is being seen by many as merely a campaign to challenge the result of the first referendum. That was reinforced last week when the noble Lord spoke about the purpose behind his amendment. That is exactly the point. A second referendum would not be on the deal or the arrangements but yet again on a principle—or, rather, a mood—of how people felt about the EU the last time.
Before the last referendum—indeed, before the last elections—the Liberal Democrats campaigned for what they called a real referendum, an in-out referendum, on principle. They criticised both my party, the Labour Party, and the Conservatives for not going far enough in agreeing with them. I have a copy of their leaflet with me today. It urges people to “Sign our petition today” and says:
“It’s time for a real referendum on Europe”.
However, nowhere in the leaflet calling for this “real referendum” does it say, “But if you do not agree with us we will try and have another one”.
My understanding from those who were there at the time is that the Liberal Democrats considered—this is absolutely crucial—that, although their policy was to have a referendum limited to the Lisbon treaty, their campaign literature should not say it because they felt that it would not be clearly understood and that any referendum would inevitably turn into “Do you like the EU or not?”. I think that is right, because it is what we saw last year. It is also why the noble Lord’s confidence in having a referendum to show that people have changed their minds is flawed, because after two years of what could be very difficult negotiations it could well become a referendum—in effect—on whether we like, or are happy with, our European neighbours.
The coming months of negotiations are going to be complex. We are pressing the Government to ensure that Parliament is kept fully engaged and informed throughout the process and has an opportunity for a final say and meaningful vote on the exit arrangements or the deal. Parliament will have to make a judgment on that. MPs—Members of the other place—are accountable to their constituents, which is why the final say, the responsibility and the authority must always remain with the House of Commons. That is what parliamentary sovereignty means: taking responsibility. It also means that the Government must keep Parliament involved and informed using the committees of Parliament, and particularly your Lordships’ House, for support and advice, ensuring that as we move closer to closing a deal a judgment can be made in an informed, factual way.
I find it hard, having gone through the first referendum, to see circumstances in which a second referendum—involving the press, politicians and campaigners on this issue—can deal with all that is required and all the information gathered over two years, and not just be a referendum on principle, in effect rerunning the first referendum.
The final judgment must be a very measured one that deals with the forensic detail, not an appeal to the emotions without hard accurate facts, with vehicles running around the country saying that you will get £350 million extra for the NHS if you vote to leave the EU. The first referendum was one on which different sides campaigned and lobbied around the principle of staying in or leaving. I am on record as saying that I was unimpressed with the campaigning. I have not yet been convinced that such an approach works. I made a plea, when we were dealing with this issue before the referendum, that it should have been for Parliament as a whole to provide factual, accurate information to the public and not left to campaigners to see who could shout loudest for the longest. I am not convinced that that approach works when dealing with the detail of negotiations that have taken place over the past two years, any more than it worked in the last referendum.
As we have heard today, it is clear that a second referendum is being pushed by some as a way to unite a country that is seriously divided on this issue. I have looked for evidence to support that idea. Why would a second referendum be different in tone, mood or argument from the first? I take comfort from the words of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury in a thoughtful and wise intervention in the debate. He made it clear that whether it is a first referendum, a second referendum, or any other, it will be down to a binary choice: yes or no. That never unites; it only ever divides.
I can hear the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, chuntering away; I ask her to bear with me. The noble Lord, Lord Newby, was asked a question by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, and I remain puzzled by his answer, which I thought was unclear. If this House chooses to recommend a second referendum to the other place, will it be advisory or binding? We have heard from others that unless Parliament specifically says so, all referendums should be advisory. The noble Lord’s party says that it respects the result. However, it voted against the Second Reading of the Bill in the other place. What happens if there is a second referendum and there are those in the noble Lord’s party who do not like the result? I am not sure that takes us any further forward.
To go into a second referendum without that clarity, and to look at it today without such clarity, would not be democratic. It does not seem to have been thought through. But as I have said before, I do not think that the Government can shut the door completely on this issue or on public opinion. Throughout the process, the Government have to take note of the public mood, and keep Parliament and the public informed. They must not allow rumour and misinformation to circulate, and they must be honest.
I do not disagree with many of the comments that have been made today. The previous campaign rarely got down to the details that Parliament has discussed both in your Lordships’ House and in the other place during the passage of this Bill. It does Parliament credit, particularly in our debate last week on EU nationals, that we were able to debate detail in this House that never got an airing during the referendum.
Our priority is Amendment 3, to ensure that Parliament has a meaningful vote and that we maintain parliamentary sovereignty, but also important are other amendments to show that Parliament must be fully engaged in this process and that, as usual, our Members of Parliament are accountable through their constituencies. I cannot support this amendment, and I ask my colleagues not to support it. We will not take part in this vote.
My Lords, this has been another good debate. I suspect that it confirms what many of us already know: that there are a number of your Lordships who passionately believe that the people have made a grave mistake by voting to leave the European Union and that there needs to be a referendum at the end of the negotiations. As I said before, I respect their views and I repeat my wish to bring together those on both sides of the argument—leave and remain—as we continue. But the Government are very clear that the amendment before us is misguided both in practice and in principle. Our reasons are very clear and they start with the democratic path that we have followed so far.
On 7 May 2015, the Conservative Government were elected by 11.3 million people, committed to a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union and committed to honouring the outcome. On 7 September 2015, 316 members of the other place voted in favour of holding a referendum by a majority of six to one. No condition or caveat was attached to the referendum, as my noble friend Lord Faulks pointed out. Parliament agreed on the question, which was simple: leave or remain? On 23 June 2016, 17.4 million people voted to leave the European Union. On 8 February this year, the other place passed this Bill unamended—a simple Bill to trigger the process of leaving the European Union —by a majority of 372. This is the democratic path that has been followed, a path that will lead this country to leaving the European Union.
Some argue that we need another referendum, on what I consider to be somewhat peculiar and weak arguments. I refer to the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Lee of Trafford, who said that,
“however it is dressed up, it will be seen as a second referendum. I cannot support that. Our people have already spoken”.—[Official Report, 20/2/17; col. 134.]
How right he is. Listen to Mr Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament for North Norfolk, who said that the second referendum would raise,
“the question as to whether we’d remain in the European Union”.
But it was made abundantly clear that the referendum in June was, to quote the leaflet sent to all households in the UK,
“a once in a generation decision”.
There was nothing on the ballot, and no suggestion from Parliament, that there would have to be another referendum if the UK were to vote to leave. During the campaign, the then Prime Minister said:
“I am absolutely clear a referendum is a referendum, it’s a once in a generation, once in a lifetime opportunity and the result determines the outcome ... You can’t have neverendums, you have referendums”.
The next bogus argument is that people did not know enough to make an informed decision. I do not see that approach and argument as particularly liberal or democratic; I see it as somewhat patronising. It is as if we are saying, “We trust the people, but not quite entirely”. That Government leaflet spelled out the consequences and on many occasions during the campaign those on both sides of the argument made it clear that a vote to leave meant leaving the single market. For example, Mr David Cameron said:
“The British public would be voting, if we Leave, to leave the EU and leave the Single Market”.
Mr George Osborne said:
“We’d be out of the single market, that’s the reality”.
Mr Michael Gove said that we should be, “outside the single market”. The noble Lord, Lord Darling, said:
“Those wanting to leave the EU want to pull Britain out of the single market”.
My noble friend Lord Hill of Oareford said:
“The Leave campaign has … been clear what Leave means: it means leaving the Single Market”.
These politicians were right to point this out, for if we were to remain in the single market it would mean complying with the EU’s rules and regulations without having a vote on what those rules and regulations are. It would mean accepting a role for the European Court of Justice that would still see it having direct legal authority in our country and it would mean not having control of our borders. It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all.
The next peculiar argument is that a second referendum is needed to bring the nation together. Here I agree entirely with what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith. If the argument is that the first referendum divided the nation, a second referendum is hardly likely to unite it—quite the reverse. Rather than bring people together, it would merely encourage divisions to fester.
Let me say a word about the need to come together. The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury made a thoughtful and powerful speech. He is right about the need to heal our divisions and to work together to tackle the challenges we face. I would like to put on the record once again my thanks to the Church of England for hosting round tables to do just that. Moreover, others agree that we need to come together by saying:
“If we have to be out then let’s make the best of it”.
Those are the words of the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, who on the question of a second referendum, said:
“Politicians should stay out of that”,
and the report of the event at which he said this—which I assume to be valid and not some form of fake news—continues as follows. Lord Ashdown,
“did not call for a second referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU saying it would be ‘foolish and wrong’ for Parliament to do that”.
My Lords, let me see if I can make a rather better hash of it this time than I did with the noble Lord, Lord Carlile. Is the Minister embarrassed by the fact that he keeps on answering the question by referring to an issue that is not addressed? We are not saying that there has to be a second referendum on European Union membership. That is done and we accept that the Government have their mandate. What we do not believe the Government have a mandate for is a brutal Brexit that will take us out of the single market. Can he explain why he believes that he does have that mandate, given that it was set out specifically in the Conservative Party manifesto that they would not do this?
My Lords, the Conservative Party manifesto made it absolutely clear that we would respect the outcome, a position that the noble Lord himself took on the night of the referendum. It is absolutely our intention that the Government will deliver on the results of the referendum. I know that the noble Lord is spending Lent eating his own words, but I am sorry to say that he is wrong on this point.
Then there are the consequences of such a referendum. Would it bring certainty? Will businesses clap their hands with glee at the thought of a referendum some years off, the basis on which it would be held unclear, but the consequences of which could be to throw the entire negotiated settlement up in the air? We know the answer. As I have said, the Institute of Directors have called for:
“A commitment across all major political parties … not to undertake a second referendum on either EU membership or the Brexit deal to reduce uncertainty”.
What would happen, even after all this, if the result of the second referendum is still to leave? As some noble Lords have pointed out, would we once again be subjected to people saying, “Actually, we don’t like this answer. Please try again”? Where does it end? Will we continue to hold the same referendum until we get the result that those who support this amendment prefer?
If, as the Prime Minister said in her Lancaster House speech, no deal would be better than a bad deal, is the Minister really telling us that in the circumstances of no deal he would absolutely rule out a referendum in the future?
Yes, my Lords. It is very clear: we are leaving the European Union. That is the pure and simple answer to the noble Lord.
No, I am sorry, my Lords; I am going to finish. I know that we will come back to this. Forgive me but I will not give way. I know that we will have a lot of debate after lunch about the meaningful vote that we will have, and I am sure that the noble Lord will have a chance then to have his say.
The noble Lord, Lord Newby, said on Wednesday that the rejection of a second referendum would be the antithesis of democracy. With respect to the noble Lord, I totally and utterly disagree. The referendum itself was democracy in action. We were also told that,
“a second referendum entails risks for which the price is too high”—[Official Report, 21/2/17; col. 160.]
“A further vote will prolong the uncertainty and cause uproar in the country, or worse”.—[Official Report, 20/2/17; col. 134.]
Those are the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, and the noble Lord, Lord Lee of Trafford, and I entirely agree with them. Calling a second referendum, as this amendment seeks to do, would undermine the will of the people as expressed in the EU referendum. The people have voted to leave the European Union and leave we will. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, which boils down to a single question: is it Parliament or the people that take the final decision on our future in Europe? The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, said that it should be Parliament but that if Parliament rejected the deal, there might be a confidence vote. There would then be a general election, but a general election is an extremely imperfect way to debate a single issue. I think all parties have found that, as did Mr Heath. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, says that the Liberal Democrats might have found that, but with the current leaderships of the two main political parties, does he genuinely believe that a general election would be solely or even mainly on the issue of Brexit? No, my Lords; the general election is a very imperfect tool for dealing with such a specific question.
I have the highest regard for the most reverend Primate, but I am afraid that when he says that a further referendum is not democratic, I simply cannot agree. I cannot see the logic of that and I am sorry to say that I really cannot follow that argument at all.
It has been argued that the people cannot take a decision in these circumstances because it would be a binary choice. It is quite unclear to me why it is perfectly reasonable for Parliament to take a binary choice but not the people. Finally, it has been argued by a number of noble Lords that it is all too complicated for the people to take a final decision on this matter. That is the antithesis of democracy.
I ended my Second Reading speech by quoting Gladstone and, indeed, the Brexit Secretary: “Trust the people”. That was our stance a fortnight ago and it is our stance today. I wish to test the opinion of the House.
7 March 2017
Division on Amendment 1
Amendment 1 disagreed.View Details
It may help noble Lords if I explain that we hope to complete this amendment before we adjourn the Report stage for Questions. I hope noble Lords will be able to have some refreshment before 2.30 pm.
2: Clause 1, page 1, line 10, at end insert—
“( ) Once a notification has been given under subsection (1), Ministers of the Crown must make a quarterly statement on the negotiations to each House of Parliament, with an accompanying report to be made available to relevant parliamentary committees.”
I have always thought the Government Chief Whip was a very nice man. I do not think he was offering us lunch today but he was offering us time for lunch.
This is a short and, I hope, sweet amendment. It is about the cement between Amendment 1 and Amendment 3. Amendment 1 has been defeated and therefore we are not talking about a referendum at the end of negotiations, but Amendment 3, which I trust will be carried, is about putting the decision at the end to Parliament. Amendment 2 basically states that, in order to make that as good a way of moving forward as possible, we will need to have from the Government—not as a running commentary, or even as a walking commentary, but as a dialogue with Parliament—some feedback about how the negotiations are going.
This is not only about what we are offering as a Government, as a country, but also about what is happening on the other side. We think we will be negotiating with just one bloc—the European Union—but there are 27 countries on that side and there will be ups and downs, elections, changes of personnel and all kinds of things happening within those 27 countries.
Charles Grant of the CER, who is usually correct, has said that in all of this, politics matters more than economics. Therefore feedback from the Government about how the other countries and the European Union are responding will help us to understand the negotiations. As I said in Committee, it would be terrible if we come to that final vote in this House and there are surprises because we do not know what has been happening and how discussions have been going and, even worse, because the Government have not taken the time to listen to our EU committees.
What would be the provision for an expression of opinion in both Houses on the later stages of those quarterly reports and negotiations? If people wanted to express an opinion, it might be legitimate for them to do so with a formal vote.
I will leave that to the usual channels, who will discuss it at the time. I deal with content not process. That is why I will be pleased when this Bill is over and we get into the real meat of the negotiations, with which I wish Ministers luck. The task of negotiating will be extremely hard and that is why they could benefit from discussions in the House.
It is important that we should hear back almost the mood music of what is going on. We should hear some detail so that it will not be any surprise. If people think this will all be done in secret then they will not have worked in Brussels for very long. It is as leaky as a sieve and we will be reading a lot about the negotiations. It will be more like a colander than a bucket about the things that are going on in there and taking stock will be important. We have already stressed the importance of the devolved Administrations also being involved and to check that they are. We can talk on this.
Therefore, with a nod to this afternoon’s debate and what I hope will be its outcome—that Parliament will get the final vote—if the final deal is to win the consent of Parliament there should be no surprises and a grown-up conversation should go on. I am sure that the Government will not veer off in ways that surprise us, because we do not want to vote down something because it is a surprise. We will want to have a proper vote at that time. To make the final vote a proper one, we ask for these reports to be quarterly, and if the Minister thinks that means only quarterly he needs to think again: there needs to be a minimum of quarterly reports, so that we can discuss how it is going. I beg to move.
My Lords, I rise briefly to support the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter. It is important to have a structured schedule and framework for reporting back to Parliament as part of the whole scheme that we are trying to set up, including a meaningful vote, which we will discuss this afternoon.
The European Parliament example has been much prayed in aid. Those of us, like myself, who were in the European Parliament, and others, will know that one of the incentives for making sure that the European Parliament was kept informed throughout the process of negotiating external agreements was that it had the power to reject them at the end. After the European Parliament had rejected several international agreements, the European Council, the Council of Ministers and the Commission finally came to their senses and realised that it was much better to front-load the system so that the European Parliament was kept informed along the way, instead of getting a nasty surprise at the end. In the jargon, that accounts for the “inter-institutional arrangements”, which include reports and the making available of documents throughout the process. It is a much better way of managing it and making sure that the Council’s negotiating objectives are delivered in a “smooth, orderly way”, which, I think, is the phrase often used by the Government about Brexit. There are, therefore, good practical reasons for having a very structured system of reporting back.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, talks about everything happening in a smooth, orderly way. I rather agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter. Everything will leak. The EU Commission is obliged to report to the European Parliament and the whole idea that the European Parliament will say, “This is all secret information, we should not let it out”, seems to me to be for the birds. Everything will leak and we will hear rumours about how far the negotiations have got, or what has happened. At that point, Parliament will demand a debate. The Government will get up, if this amendment is passed, and say, “No, you must wait for the quarterly review in two months’ time”. I do not think so. I think that the House of Commons will say, “Come on, get on with it, we want a response. Why have we heard these rumours? The Government must put us straight on all of this”.
This amendment, therefore, would achieve nothing. Everything will leak from the negotiations. When things of substance leak, Parliament, particularly the Commons, will demand a debate, and your Lordships’ House will no doubt do the same. This amendment is otiose.
My Lords, I made the point in Committee that if you want sovereignty of Parliament you should vote as quickly as possible for this Bill and subsequent Bills to get us out of the control of the European Union. I make the point now—it is rather similar to that of my noble friend—that it is highly unlikely that the Government will accept this amendment. If it prevails, we will potentially be into a constitutional issue.
Therefore, one has to ask what options are likely to occur in the event of this House passing this amendment and, as my noble friend has just suggested, the other House passing it back to us, with the Government standing firm. There are three options. First, the Government could do nothing and concede the situation, but I think that that is highly unlikely. To lose control of the Bill at this stage on this issue would be very questionable wisdom on the part of the Government. Secondly, they could create 100 Peers. That is unlikely as well and would be rather dramatic at this stage. Thirdly, they could call a general election. That option should be under strong consideration by the Government at the moment. Through a vote of confidence in the Commons or whatever, they could have it out in the well-known democratic way of doing things—through a general election. I want to put on the record that there should be one round of ping-pong and then we should call a general election.
My Lords, I wish to speak in support of the amendment. I tabled a similar amendment in Committee which was rather less demanding than this one, but the Government dispatched it extremely briskly.
I suggest that this amendment might be helpful to the Government. The idea that all the special interest groups affected by these negotiations—the different sectors, companies and pressure groups—will sit still, while stuff comes out of the EU about the possibility of doing damage to their particular interests and concerns, is fanciful. If the Minister and the Government do not have any structured way of reporting back to Parliament, we will find that many of those people will lobby your Lordships’ House and there will be a demand for a huge number of Parliamentary Questions, as well as demands for debates, to deal with the latest set of rumours about a particular sector, industry or agency which may be being transferred back to Europe. The EMA would be a good example and Euratom is another. Therefore, the Government might find that their life was made a bit easier if there was a structured way of reporting back to Parliament about the progress that was being made, especially if it was reasonably detailed and told some of these interest groups what was going on in the negotiations.
Does the noble Lord think that Parliament will be happy if they are given the response that, because the quarterly review is coming up and it is two months away, the question cannot be answered today; it will have to be answered in two months’ time when the clock next ticks round?
The noble Baroness’s amendment is very flexible. It refers to a period of at least three months. There is nothing in the amendment to stop the Government serving their own interests by being more forthcoming more frequently. I am sure that the noble Baroness would not mind having reports made on a more frequent basis.
My Lords, I am sure that the Government share the sentiments expressed from the Front Bench opposite—indeed, from both Front Benches opposite. The proposal would be entirely in the interests of the smooth development of policy in this difficult area, which I am sure we all understand is extremely difficult. The more help the Government can get, the better, and I think that they are sufficiently humble to know that.
If there were any slackness on the part of the Government, we would have plenty of means in this Parliament for getting them to respond, but I do not agree with putting that into an Act of Parliament, and the reason for that is simple. If something is put into a general Act of Parliament, the idea is that the courts are the enforcers, but one thing that the courts cannot do, in view of the Bill of Rights, is to interfere in proceedings in Parliament. Therefore, this is useless as a formal amendment, but the spirit of it is first-class. I feel almost certain that my noble and learned friend will be able to accept that, because the Minister in the Commons said just as much in a passage that I may refer to later.
My Lords, I am obliged for the contributions that have been made to the debate. This short Bill has already invoked many hours of debate, so I intend to keep my remarks very brief.
I endorse the observations of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, both as to the appropriateness of this amendment and as to the spirit in which it will be and is being received by the Government. As noble Lords will be aware, the Prime Minister gives a Statement to the other place following European Councils. We know that there will be a Council this month, and indeed quarterly thereafter. That means that a Statement will be made to Parliament at least once every quarter on European issues, and it will be repeated in this House. Of course, that is just the beginning of a much wider process over which this Parliament has control at the end of the day.
DExEU Ministers have responded to more than 600 parliamentary Written Questions, appeared at 13 Select Committees and given six Oral Statements to the House on developments regarding our exit. The Secretary of State has agreed to give evidence to the Exiting the EU Select Committee on 15 March, alongside the Permanent Secretary at DExEU, and will shortly afterwards give evidence to the Lords EU Committee on 22 March.
The Government are committed to parliamentary scrutiny, and Parliament will play a key role in scrutinising and shaping our withdrawal. As my noble friend Lord Bridges observed last week, we have had take-note debates, debates on Select Committee reports, debates in government time and Select Committee appearances. All this will continue in order that Parliament can scrutinise the development of negotiations in so far as is possible to put those in the public domain and in so far as they come into the public domain.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, referred to secrets, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, referred to nasty secrets. This may reflect a difference of approach, but at the end of the day there will not be any secrets. You cannot conduct such a process in secret, ultimately, and then expect Parliament to consider that it is being kept properly informed, as it should be, if you have what are termed secrets. We are committed to keeping Parliament at least as well informed as the European Parliament as negotiations progress.
A Bill to repeal the European Communities Act will follow. There will be primary legislation on issues such as immigration and customs, and a vote at the end with regard to the process on the final deal to exit.
With all that in mind, I will pose a few questions. Is the Prime Minister already bound to give a Statement to Parliament after every quarterly European Council? The answer is yes.
Have the Government been willing to give frequent Statements to Parliament? The answer is yes.
Have DExEU Ministers and other government Ministers appeared in front of Select Committees? The answer is yes.
Have the Government listened to Select Committee reports? The answer is yes; we published a White Paper in February this year.
Do the Government aim to respond to the Select Committee reports about Brexit within two months? The answer is yes.
Have the Government said they will give more information to Parliament, so long as it does not undermine our negotiating position? The answer is yes.
Then there is the core question: what is the present Bill about? The Bill is about giving the Prime Minister the authority to give notice of withdrawal from the European Union.
With great respect to the House and to all noble Lords, let us proceed and pass this Bill. It will not be improved by unnecessary decoration and, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, has already observed, it is not appropriate that this amendment should proceed. As I believe all Members of your Lordships’ House who have spoken would acknowledge, it is not necessary that this amendment should proceed in these circumstances. Therefore, I invite the noble Lords to withdraw the amendment.
I thank the Minister and other noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. The most helpful exchange—I mean no disrespect to the others—was to hear the noble and learned Lord Mackay support the spirit of the amendment and then the Minister say that he agreed. If I could just bottle that, that will do me nicely.
I want to make only two other points. Although there are of course report-backs after the European Council, the UK will not be there when the European Council discusses our departure. Therefore, it is the other meetings that we are interested in.
My other comment is in response to the noble Lord, Lord Spicer, who said that if we dared to suggest that Parliament rather than the Crown should take the final decision, Mrs May might call an election. I am much older than my noble friend who spoke earlier and not only did I vote in 1975 but I remember the February 1974 election very well. Edward Heath basically called an election on who governs Britain. Mrs May would not be well advised to go to the country on, “Do you want the Government or Parliament to govern Britain?”. However, that is beside the point. I thank the Minister for the tone of his response and, on that basis, beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 2 withdrawn.
Consideration on Report adjourned until after Oral Questions.