My Lords, I believe—because I have no experience—that it is conventional at the end of long legislation to thank all those who were involved in the process. This may be slightly more difficult for me this evening than it would be in normal circumstances but, as many noble Lords have said, this is an historic moment. We are on the verge of some very significant discussions and negotiations that may well determine the future of this country—and, indeed, that of generations to come. Therefore, this piece of legislation, whether perfect or imperfect, will play a part in that history.
Oliver Letwin and Yvette Cooper were the godparents of the Bill; I came to it late in the day as a sort of adoptive parent. Its progress has been remarkable, from Wednesday last week to this evening, after which it will go to the other place. I thank those involved in the debate, significant as it is. Many people behind the scenes play a part in any legislation, never mind one fast-tracked in this unprecedented way. It is right at this point, having said so little in the debate myself, to pay tribute to those who have contributed constructively —and sometimes less than constructively—along with those who have made sure that the Bill has been carried forward expeditiously.
I hope that I speak for noble Lords across the House when I say that we hope that by the end of this week —especially by 11 pm on my birthday, on Friday—we will be in a much more secure position and the country will be in safer hands than perhaps we think it is tonight. I beg to move.
My Lords, this is really all about kicking the can down the road. I would guess that it must be quite a dented can by now. We have to ask where the road is leading: leave or stay, there is no middle way. All the other issues are just distractions. We have seen various complicated deals such as backstops, second referendums, customs unions—and now we have the thoughts of Jeremy Corbyn. They all muddy the water and they all hide the basic issue: are we going to leave to stay? Are we going to honour our promise to the British people or not?
The issue of timing, which is what we have been discussing, has become a farce. We were guaranteed that we would leave on 29 March, which then became 12 April. It may be 22 May, 30 June—or perhaps it will be Flexit. No one has any faith left. Perhaps the sooner we get to the stage where people have to vote for no deal or to revoke Article 50, the better. People have to decide to pin their colours to the mast by voting and taking the consequences.
This Bill is telling our Prime Minister what to do, which is a classic case of the tail wagging the dog, and therefore constitutional chaos. The Prime Minister will go to the EU and ask on bended knee for a change of date, or perhaps of terms. The EU members will leave her sitting alone in a separate room while they discuss her fate and our nation’s future. Nothing could better demonstrate how powerful and unyielding the EU has become, how much we are under its thumb, and why we should leave on Friday with a clean break.
Fortunately, change is already happening. On 29 March the passports changed, which is really good news. We need a clean break and a managed departure, not the catastrophic situation that the fearmongering remainers constantly pretend is the way to go. True, there might be some initial difficulties but massive advantages too.
Noble Lords may snigger, as they have done for the past two and a half years, but they have to listen sometimes. It would remove the uncertainty and businesses could get on with their jobs. We can make trade deals with nations like the United States and save £39 billion. It is the constant fruitless, pointless debates and discussions that are so wearying and so debilitating. Once free from our EU entanglement, we will be able to move forward again in our own way. The noble Lord, Lord Robertson, said that politics is sometimes thought to be the art of the possible. I think that sometimes politics is the art of having the courage to do the obvious.
My Lords, may I be the first to wish the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, a very happy birthday on Friday? I think he and I both agree that we do not want to meet here on Friday if we can avoid it.
Notwithstanding the second proponent of this Bill in two sitting days, this remains a terrible Bill. That needs to be put on the record. Will we get Sir Oliver Letwin and Yvette Cooper perhaps to answer questions on it? I fear not, because they have no responsibility. This Bill was described by my noble friend Lord Lawson as “constitutional vandalism”, and it is something we should all be concerned about. We know that the Government are in complete disarray, we know that Parliament is in chaos, and I have to say that this is an unwise move by this House to support it.
Noble Lords will be happy to know that I do not intend to talk for the next hour and a half.
I can if noble Lords would like. I thought the House would probably think that I spoke quite enough on Thursday, so I decided not to speak at Second Reading. I was rather put out, in this House based on courtesy—my noble friend Lord Cormack is always telling us how courteous we should be—to hear the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who I see in his place, saying that I was behaving shamefully by not being in the House to listen to his speech. I have to tell him that they may have been pearls of wisdom, but not everybody wants to listen to his pearls of wisdom, which we have heard before. Anyway, he may consider that, if I were listening to them, they would be pearls cast before swine. I see a former Archbishop, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, sitting there. He will remember that that is from Matthew, chapter 7, verse 6.
It is important that we observe courtesies and conventions. This is not doing so, and it is extremely unwise of this Parliament to pass this Bill.
Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until Royal Assent can be signified in both Houses. The timing of the Bill in the House of Commons is still to be confirmed, so further timings for this House will be confirmed via the annunciator. However, we expect this to be after 10 pm.