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Volume 796: debated on Thursday 14 March 2019

Motion to Adjourn

Moved by

My Lords, I rise to move that the House now adjourns before we proceed with the remaining business, which is almost exclusively no-deal Brexit regulations. The House has spent months now endlessly debating no-deal Brexit regulations, some of us devoting a huge amount of time to it. The argument that has been put to us by the Government is that we need to because it is still the will of Parliament to keep no deal on the table and that, for as long as no deal is on the table, we have a duty to continue to make legislative provision, even though that is hugely diverting of the whole government machine. It is in pursuit of a policy that the Prime Minister has repeatedly said she does not wish to pursue and it is costing £4.2 billion. My noble friend Lord Davies of Oldham has just said that there is agreement across the House on appropriations. There might well by agreement that we could spend that £4.2 billion a lot more wisely than on no-deal preparations including for ferry companies with no ferries and the whole gamut of preparations we have seen. They are a colossal waste of public money and profoundly against the public interest.

My noble friend the Leader of the Opposition, in her robust and timely intervention a few moments ago, asked the Government what they intend to do in response to the crisis we now face, with the resolution of the House of Commons last night against no deal but, robotically, the continuation of preparations for no deal. They continue imminently in this House with another string of no-deal regulations. On the Order Paper are nine no-deal regulations, which we are expected to pass in debates after this Motion, which will involve big further demands on the government machine, big further expense and further requirements. This is emphatically not just about us; it is about whole sectors of the economy, which will now have to spring into action and make preparations, at huge cost to them and inconvenience to the public, in response to these regulations being passed.

Last night at 7.45 pm, the House of Commons resolved,

“that this House rejects the United Kingdom leaving the European Union without a Withdrawal Agreement and a Framework for the Future Relationship”.

That was not a capricious Motion. It was the latest in a whole series of resolutions the House of Commons has passed in the same spirit. It was passed by 321 votes to 278, so it was a decisive majority and it is now the duty of the Government to give effect to that resolution.

The Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, whose contributions we look forward to because they constantly change and develop the argument on Brexit in such a sophisticated way each time he rises, has said that the issue now is the date of an extension. Of course, he is right in the technical, legal sense: having resolved that we do not wish to proceed with no deal we now need to decide what is the period of the extension we will seek in order to avoid no deal. That is correct, although I note that the European Union has already responded positively to last night’s vote. Noble Lords may not all be assiduous, like me, in their use of Twitter, but the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, tweeted an hour ago as follows:

“During my consultations ahead of #EUCO, I will appeal to the EU27 to be open to a long extension if the UK finds it necessary to rethink its #Brexit strategy”.

That is an extremely significant statement in terms of what will happen hereafter. It is abundantly clear from the resolution of the House of Commons last night that the United Kingdom does find it necessary to rethink its Brexit strategy. Any rethinking of our Brexit strategy will require two elements: first, no further contemplation of no deal, which was a ludicrous proposition to put before Parliament and the country and has finally been eliminated by the House of Commons; and secondly, an extension. The length of the extension needs to be agreed, but the principle of the extension is accepted now even by the Prime Minister, and the President of the European Council has already announced that the European Union will be open to debating and discussing that, which one assumes, therefore, will lead to agreement in the European Council next week.

I am not giving way. The noble Lord can speak after me and it is open to him to do so.

In this circumstance I cannot understand why it is in the public interest for noble Lords to proceed now to debate another string of no-deal Brexit regulations. Surely the right thing to do in the crisis situation in which we find ourselves, where the one certain fact is that we will not be proceeding with no deal, is not to proceed with these regulations, but to adjourn the House and for Her Majesty’s Government to come back in good order on Monday with actual proposals for the change of the law that is required to change the exit date. They should also come back with an apology to Parliament and to the public for the billions of pounds of public money that has been wasted on no-deal preparations. This should all have been devoted to dealing with the issues of real concern to the public—the NHS, the education system, the state of our public services—and not this complete and shameful waste of money in preparations for a no-deal Brexit, which virtually no one in the country supports.

My Lords, I shall ask the noble Lord to withdraw his Motion. We have seen the events of recent days in the House of Commons and it is likely that there will be further votes this evening and certainly during the course of next week. While the House of Commons continues its deliberations I think the best thing for this House to do is to continue with the thorough and measured scrutiny of the legislation before it. In fact, the House of Commons is continuing today with its scrutiny of the very same SIs that we are doing. These statutory instruments are not being forced through; they have been scrutinised by the JCSI—a Joint Committee of both Houses—and the SLSC and are being debated in the usual way. We have already discussed, in the Private Notice Question, the legal position on a default no deal. Until there is legal certainty in respect of the alternative course of action, the Government are behaving entirely responsibly by continuing to prepare for all eventualities.

Quite aside from that, the noble Lord has given no notice of his intention to adjourn the House today. Our procedures are open and they allow all noble Lords the flexibility to do all the sorts of things he is asking the House to do now, but that flexibility comes with attendant responsibility. It is the responsibility of us all. I hope the noble Lord will not seek to test the opinion of the House on his Motion to Adjourn. If he does, I trust that every responsible Member of this House will vote against it.

My Lords, this may come as some surprise to my noble friend: I think the basis on which he is approaching this has some merit, but with the threat still there it is essential that we carry on until things become clearer. In that respect, we are looking for more consultation and response from the Government about the mechanics of how they will handle things; they will get support for process and procedure. We are looking for a better response than that given by the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, and for more co-operation and understanding of the situation. However, to return to the main issue, it is too early—with due respect to my noble friend—to come forward with such a Motion. It will not have our support, but we hope that the Government will listen and try to make amends for the shambles in the House of Commons.

My Lords, I admire the energy and enthusiasm of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. I had a phone call from him at about 10.55 am on this matter. He needs to know that we have already started to raise this issue in the usual channels; I did so last week with the Chief Whip. Obviously, we will come to a point when debating these SIs for no deal, if the Commons is determined that we will not have one, is pointless. Therefore, I hope there will come a point next week when the situation becomes clear, such that the Government will be able to respond on these matters. It is difficult at this notice to delay matters today, particularly as there is one SI which does not involve Brexit, but I reiterate the Labour Chief Whip’s remarks: we expect a positive response from the Government next week clarifying the business. On that understanding, I would also argue that we should not have a vote now at this short notice. But these discussions will proceed next week; I anticipate there will also be other activity in the House to address this matter, and we should do that in due time.

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Adonis has put a Motion before the House. We have heard from three Chief Whips that it would not be a good idea for us to pass it. But the noble Lord made a very specific proposal: the Government, perhaps the Leader of the House or even the Chief Whip, should come to the House on Monday with a clear Statement about how this House will manage the business ahead of us in dealing with the decisions the House of Commons took yesterday and may take today. Can we have an assurance now that there will be a Statement to the House on how it will proceed to deal with these matters in the few days ahead of us?

My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord Harris. As well as being unnecessary and redundant, considering these Motions has other deleterious effects. Next Wednesday a major debate on the Spring Statement, which normally takes place on the Floor of the House with many Members participating from all sides, has been relegated to Grand Committee in the Moses Room. That is one additional deleterious effect. I hope we will get an assurance now that there will be a Statement on Monday about how business will be dealt with properly in light of the events happening elsewhere.

My Lords, as the House knows, I am deeply disturbed by the prospect that we might have even considered leaving the EU without a deal, but I urge the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, to be somewhat patient. I have every sympathy with his sentiments, but I do not think that now is the appropriate time to test the opinion of the House on these matters.

A number of suggestions have been made. The truth is that during the course of today, both this afternoon and this evening, it is likely that a number of decisions will be made in the House of Commons. To a certain extent, our business is always guided by what is happening in the House of Commons. If it helps noble Lords, I will consider in particular the Moses Room being the venue for the debate on the Spring Statement. If noble Lords wish, I will discuss that in the usual channels. The usual channels in this House are active and consensual; we do not always agree with everything suggested, but we generally try to do things by collective agreement and I shall continue in that vein. In a way, I regret that the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, raised this without proper notice. It is a subject worthy of discussion, we have had a discussion about it, I have taken note of what has been said, and we will do our best to make sure that this House is a credit to the parliamentary process.

My Lords, I make no apology whatever for raising this matter in the way I have this morning, nor do I think I owe any apology. We are in a crisis situation. The House of Commons did not resolve clearly until 8 pm last night what its view was on no deal. Our job is to be responsive and to rise to the level of events, not to delay constantly. It is two weeks until the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, so for the Government Chief Whip not even to be in a position to undertake to come to the House on Monday to tell us what course of action the Government intend to pursue is very far below the level of his public duties. Patience is not at all an issue—the country is impatient, and rightly so, because it expects the Government to have a strategy for dealing with the crisis in which we find ourselves, according to which we will be out of the European Union in two weeks unless the Government take emergency action. As a very patient person, I would be perfectly content to wait until Monday for a way forward if the noble Lord would undertake even to make a Statement on Monday, but he has not yet done so. Is he prepared to do so?

I think I hinted that I would consider the business of the debate on the Spring Statement, and I am certainly prepared to do so. I cannot make a Statement as to what will be considered in this House until such time as I have had a chance to talk to the usual channels about that, and I will not be able to do that until Monday.

My Lords, I take that to be a substantial move towards the opinion of the House, which I welcome. I think the noble Lord understands that there will be a significant argument in the House on Monday if we meet and the Government are not in a position to tell us how they intend to handle business, including not proceeding with these ludicrous and deeply damaging no-deal regulations, which are inflicting huge cost on the public purse and huge inconvenience to the public.

I know the noble Lord is a very intelligent person and a great viewer of political events and that, like me, he does not want a no-deal Brexit. I just wanted to check that he is 100% sure that there will not be a no-deal Brexit. Everything he has said assumes that he is, but I do not think a single person in this House is 100% sure of that. I certainly am not.

My Lords, it depends on whether the Government listen to Parliament and act accordingly. As long as the Prime Minister picks and chooses which parliamentary resolutions she is prepared to respond to, of course that is the case.

The noble Lord knows that it does not depend on that but on lots of things, such as whether the House of Commons can agree a deal. I am a fan of Twitter as well; the noble Lord will know that the shadow Foreign Secretary has said that she does not approve of an extension beyond three months, and that the European Union may offer us a deal longer than that but she will not want to accept it. For all these reasons, it does not just depend on the things that the noble Lord talks about. As he addresses the House he also knows that, so I cannot see how he can say with great confidence that we should not go on with preparatory work. Of course we should.

My Lords, I have very great confidence that if we had a Prime Minister worthy of the title, this country would not be proceeding with a no-deal Brexit and the changes I refer to would have been introduced in Parliament. We are in this situation because of a chronic lack of national leadership. It is our job in Parliament do our best to substitute for that. We can use only the procedures available to us, but one of those is not to proceed with this deeply damaging no-deal Brexit planning.

On the basis that it appears that we will have at least some Statement from the Government on Monday, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion withdrawn.