Relevant documents: 51st Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 19th Report from the Constitution Committee
Clause 1: Duties in connection with Article 50 extension
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 2, leave out “after the day”
My Lords, along with Amendment 1, I shall also speak to Amendments 2 and 3. As the Leader of the House has outlined—more eloquently than I could—this is a technical amendment designed to ensure that the other place can debate the Bill tomorrow. It arises from a confusion between parliamentary days and calendar days. I therefore beg to move.
Amendment 1 agreed.
Amendments 2 and 3
2: Clause 1, page 1, line 2, after “Assent” insert “or on the day after that day”
3: Clause 1, page 1, line 2, leave out “the Prime Minister” and insert “a Minister of the Crown”
Amendments 2 and 3 agreed.
4: Clause 1, page 1, line 10, after “date” insert “, which must not be later than the end of the 2019/20 financial year,”
My Lords, Amendment 4 seeks to insert a restriction on the date referred to in line 10:
“which must not be later than the end of the 2019/20 financial year”.
This may in practice be a variation on the provision proposed by my noble friend Lady Noakes in her amendment, but, as I explained at Second Reading, it is born out of frustration at not being able to table specific amendments on financial impact.
I want to draw attention to the fact that this Bill—agreed by all to be a constitutional innovation—is not the subject of a money resolution, as the Speaker decided in the other place. Equally pertinently, it has no impact assessment, and yet it could bring about a delay in Brexit without end or resolution, which could be extremely costly to this country.
Whatever one’s views on Brexit, it must surely be common ground that altering the date of the event will have financial consequences. I accept that some of the costs will be negative and some will be positive, but the longer Brexit drags on, the more the cost of uncertainty for all economic players and the extra cost to the Treasury in payments to Brussels will weigh against the benefits of avoiding no deal.
Although we cannot persuade the Speaker of the House of Commons to change his mind on a money resolution, I believe that the promoters of the Bill should work up an impact assessment, which would cover some of the same ground. I also believe that adding a date gives the Government an incentive finally to resolve matters. Alternatively, if the promoters will not produce an assessment today, one should be required when the Government use the power to define the length of an extension in their statutory Motion.
Let us look at some of the costs of the new approach, as the costs of no deal, now threatened for 12 April, have been well articulated already and are well understood. As a businesswoman, I know that they are real worries and that they are especially acute in farming, the motor industry and industries such as food which depend on just-in-time supply chains and mutual recognition of labelling. But there is also a huge cost to uncertainty. There are literally billions of pounds which business is waiting to invest once, but only once, the Brexit uncertainty disappears. This could be a great driver of growth and productivity, because the combination of low capital investment and cheap, flexible labour from the EU is a key reason why productivity is flatlining, despite an increase in infrastructure, digital and R&D investment by this Government.
In other sectors such as financial services, which now represent a very large percentage of GDP, the critical thing is to turn the political declaration into a free trade agreement with the EU 27. Unfortunately, the Bill as drafted could allow the EU 27 to delay negotiations to the point where the resulting uncertainty has allowed it to steal more and more of our market. The beauty parade to attract investment which would have taken place in the UK to go to Paris or Milan is very energetic. We heard in the EU Financial Affairs Sub-Committee last week how jobs and work are moving, never to return, to Frankfurt, Dublin, Amsterdam, Brussels and elsewhere, even if we stay in the EU.
I feel that the Brexit process has lacked transparency from day one. If there was a fuller and more honest discussion of the complexities of what is planned when and of the likely implications, more dynamic analysis, objective pros and cons, both economic and political, and less of Project Fear, the country would be less divided and perhaps less critical of what we in Parliament have achieved.
There is another reason why a system of financial assessment and timetable constraints is desirable. We will have let the genie out of the bottle if this rushed, defective and uncosted Bill is passed. I fear very much that it will act as a precedent for future Private Members’ Bills even more financially damaging, such as on the regulation of utilities or whatever. This is a constitutional revolution and, as I said last week, there will be no way to hold Back-Bench sponsors to account if the mechanism in such a Bill causes damage.
As my noble friend the Leader of the House just said, it is important not to set a precedent. The Bill is about stopping a premature no deal, for which I have some sympathy, but for the reasons I have stated the Bill needs amendment. I would be glad to hear from someone among the opposition promoters—although I am not sure who; perhaps the Deputy Leader of the Opposition the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, who has always supported impact assessments, or another of her colleagues—on how we might meet some of these concerns about proper assessment. My noble friend the Brexit Minister may also be able to think of a way to do so.
Given our often tedious scrutiny role—I am afraid that this is a technical point, and some may feel it is tedious—it was cheering to hear the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union express the expectation that this House would correct the flaws in the Bill. That is what we need to do today. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support my noble friend’s amendment for two reasons. First, this remains a wretched Bill, taking power away from the Government and their ability to use the royal prerogative. Therefore, I would support any restriction on that measure being put into the Bill. Secondly, I support the points made by my noble friend in respect of the financial impact of different variants of a delay in leaving the EU. The fact that the Bill was not treated as a money Bill in the other place is beyond my comprehension, as is the fact that my noble friend was unable to table an amendment explicitly calling for an impact assessment or something else—but the ways of the Public Bill Office are strange on occasion. I support my noble friend.
My Lords, there may be some flaws in the Bill—hence the support from these Benches for some of the other amendments. However, we agree with the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, that this amendment is unnecessary and that it should be for the other place to set a date.
My Lords, noble Lords are saying that it is for the other place to set a date. My understanding is that it will have one hour to consider our amendments and every aspect of the Bill. It is apparent from the speech made by my noble friend that there is an issue here. As I raised on Thursday, I do not understand why the Bill did not have a money resolution. It is perfectly possible that, in return for agreeing a date, the European Union could demand even more than the £39 billion already offered by the Prime Minister, and that the financial consequences could be considerable. This amendment seeks some kind of time limit on the process, which is sensible.
My Lords, we should be grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, for her amendment and for inviting us to consider the issues she identified. Any damage our economy is experiencing at the moment is on account not of the people’s decision in the 2016 referendum but of the highly protracted process and continuing uncertainty that is paralysing economic decision-making, particularly in investment and consumer decisions. The noble Baroness is absolutely right: we need the best objective assessment available as to the damage that the continuation of this uncertainty would cause. The proponents of a long extension of Article 50 must address the question of their responsibility for the continuing economic damage that would result.
My Lords, in rising to support my noble friend, I am somewhat confused because this is a Private Member’s Bill that was absolutely pushed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, who is not here today, from the Labour Front Bench only on Thursday. It was then taken forward by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who is not here today, and now it is being taken forward by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson. I am sure that that is all normal, but this is a huge constitutional step which seems to have, as my noble friend Lord Forsyth said, no parents. This is a very important step and we seem to be drifting into it without any considered thought at all.
My Lords, what has just been demonstrated is that the Bill has many parents and very wide support across the House. The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, is completely conclusive. It is for the House of Commons to decide what the date should be. The Commons have invited us to give them this power, and I think that we should get on with it.
My Lords, I apologise for having failed to speak in the debate on Second Reading. I had to leave London early on Friday to attend a memorial service the following day. I was pleased to see that the normal operation of the usual channels was restored on Thursday, although I deplore the fact that the closure Motion procedure was excessively and improperly used. Indeed, I would guess that it was used more times than in the previous decade or more—I would like to know. The result was that I was unable to speak either in the debate on the amendment to the business Motion moved by my noble friend Lord Forsyth or in the debate on that tabled by my noble friend Lord True. Of rather more significance than my ability to speak, however, is the fact that the use of the closure procedure denied both my noble friends the right to reply to the debates on the amendments that they had moved.
As my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe illustrated so well at Second Reading, the nature of business in the UK Parliament and the UK Government seems to be increasingly last minute. It is simply unacceptable to try to rush through a Bill of such huge importance without proper time to consider its implications. It makes a mockery of our parliamentary democracy. The Bill received a Second Reading in the other place by the narrowest of majorities: just one vote. It is deplorable that many noble Lords thought it was nevertheless appropriate to suspend the normal procedural rules of this House—
I am well aware, and I thank the noble Lord for his advice.
However, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Blencathra on the report from his committee and on the fact that he so quickly responded.
The amendment moved by my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe is much needed. In her speech at Second Reading and again today, she has made the very good point that the Bill has profound financial implications. My noble friend Lord Cathcart also made this point most clearly in his powerful speech. It is reasonable to say that the terms of withdrawal should require the UK to honour its commitments during the current EU spending round, provided of course that the UK is not disadvantaged by its decision to leave the EU in terms of the amounts that UK projects and companies would otherwise have received from EU programmes.
Besides that, any extension beyond 22 May would require us to participate in the European Parliament elections, and that requirement would of course have financial implications. It is therefore strange that the Speaker has ruled that this is not a money Bill, but it is not surprising given his increasing willingness to allow his own political views and prejudices—
I hear that the noble Lord thinks that, but I regret that I take a different opinion. I have apologised for not having been present at the debate on Second Reading for the reason I have given, but this morning I took the trouble to read virtually the whole of the debate.
My Lords, I take the place of my noble friend Lady Hayter today. She, like my noble friend Lord Rooker, is not able to be here.
To those, including the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, who have said we have to ensure there is not a precedent, I say that of course this is not a precedent, because the circumstances are exceptional. They are exceptional because, unless something is done, we risk leaving the European Union without a deal on Friday. It is in these circumstances that the other place took the decision that this Bill should be presented to us; we have been dealing with it. As I said at the conclusion of Second Reading, I very much hope we will be able to conclude it in time today.
As this is the first time I have spoken, I add my thanks to the Chief Whip for the work he did on Thursday to enable us to get to this stage. I remind noble Lords that we need to get to the end of this Bill, as he has said.
That was the view the House took on each of those closure Motions.
To deal with the substance, we oppose the amendment, essentially for the reason put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick—that we should not send this Bill back with constraints on the other place. What will then happen is for the Prime Minister and the other House to determine, but I urge the noble Baroness not to press her amendment.
The noble Lord says we should not put constraints on the other place when we consider these amendments. Has not the argument been put forward many times from the Benches on which he sits that we should take into account the extent of the majority in the other place for any legislation we are considering? I cannot recall a narrower majority than the one by which this Bill was passed in the other place.
Given that my noble friend has put uncertainty at the heart of her remarks, does she not think that at least some credence should be given to the idea of coming out and leaving Europe this Friday, which would give the certainty that everyone craves? There may be difficulties, but given that certainty is one of the overriding factors, surely that should be considered.
I will move on, rather than try to be Prime Minister for the afternoon. Clearly, I was concerned that it was not possible to look properly at the financial and business impacts in this Bill. I have heard it said that we would not take this as a precedent because of the special circumstances, which certainly gives me some comfort. I have to accept that the date is a matter that needs to be decided by a combination of the other place, the Prime Minister—and, of course, the EU, which I am afraid will also have a bearing on what date we eventually leave the EU.
In the circumstances and with thanks to those who have spoken, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 4 withdrawn.
5: Clause 1, page 1, line 21, leave out subsections (6) and (7)
My Lords in moving this amendment, with the permission of the House I will also comment on Amendment 7 because the two are connected. I start with two realities. The first is that the most important purpose of this Bill is to ensure that we do not crash out or leave on Friday without a deal. It is critically important, therefore, that an extension is agreed before Friday. The second—
I will not give way because the noble Lord has not even heard what I am trying to say.
The second point is that it is very clear that we are running out of time—or running out of road, to go back to the Question in Oral Questions. If we can pass the Bill today, as I explained at the conclusion of Second Reading, it can return to the other place and be agreed and a Motion can then be passed to inform what the Prime Minister does on Wednesday.
When the Prime Minister puts forward a resolution, it may be agreed by the other place but other possibilities arise. One is that the request is put to the Council but the Council comes back with a counter proposal—a different date. I doubt from my experience of European negotiations that it will be quite as neat as that, because these things tend to happen in discussions and something will emerge. That will be important when I come to explain one issue about the Bill as it stands.
The point was also made powerfully at Second Reading that it is necessary to give the Prime Minister the flexibility to be able to agree to something put to her by the European Council if that emerges in the course of debate. Amendment 7 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, and myself is designed to deal with that possibility. There was strong support at Second Reading for being able to use the royal prerogative so that the Prime Minister would be able to make such an agreement. Amendment 7 would enable that to take place and avoid a situation where we might accidentally end up with no deal because there simply has not been time to go through all the processes.
So what does that have to do with this amendment? This amendment would remove subsections (6) and (7) of Clause 1, which would require a Motion being put to the other place in the event that the European Council comes up with a proposal. The reason for removing those subsections is twofold—for simplicity and to promote legal certainty. It promotes simplicity because it does not require there to be another stage of backwards and forwards in the very limited time before Friday. If the proposal had to go back to the other place and be agreed and then something was then put forward, we could find ourselves in a situation where we accidentally dropped out of the European Union without having reached the point that we wanted to.
It may be the only time I ask. The noble and learned Lord started his remarks by using the phrase “crashing out”. Everybody talks about crashing out. The BBC talks about crashing out. Sky News talks about crashing out. It has been part of the propaganda all along. Precisely what problems will be caused if we leave this coming Friday?
I respectfully invite the noble Lord to read fully the debate at Second Reading, where that was explained by a number of noble Lords.
Amendment 5 would take out subsections (5) and (6). The first reason to do that is to avoid the problem which could result in us running out of time; that is, the matter having to go to the other place and then come back. We have the safeguard that that amendment would require that the extension agreed by the Prime Minister could not end earlier than 22 May 2019. That is an important part of the amendment that is about to be proposed. We are safeguarding ourselves against leaving without a deal.
Legal certainty comes into it for several reasons. First, if noble Lords look at the Bill, they will see that subsection (6) refers to the condition in subsection (7) being operated because,
“the European Council proposes an extension of the period specified in Article 50(3)”.
There may be a question about whether there has in fact been a proposal.
So far as domestic law is concerned, in any event there will need to be a statutory instrument to change the exit day. I accept that in relation to domestic law, and we have had the debate about international law. A Motion will be put to the other place, which will have a full opportunity to express its views about the date, and in that way it is the subject of careful consideration. We accept that the Prime Minister needs the flexibility to be able to agree what is proposed by the European Council. The mood music we hear, if we read what is going on in the press, seems to be much more that we are likely to find that there is some meeting of minds—that there is some accommodation from the European Council—and I am less concerned about that. I am concerned about the risk of legal uncertainty, which I was just explaining.
Part of it is that we may find it difficult to be sure whether the condition in subsection (6) has been satisfied. It requires that the European Council has proposed an extension, but that may not be the way it works because in discussion and negotiation it may be questionable whether the proposal has come from the European Council or from the Prime Minister herself in the course of negotiations. Secondly, if the condition is triggered, under subsection (7) the Prime Minister must move a Motion in the House of Commons in the form set out in subsection (2) stating that that House agrees to the Prime Minister seeking an extension. How is this going to work in circumstances where as a result of a negotiation the Prime Minister has in effect reached an agreement with the European Council about what the extension should be? How does she then receive an instruction to agree a date that has already been agreed? It creates those difficulties of legal certainty.
The further reason, and the most important, is that if we insert into the Bill the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, and myself, we would then have one provision saying that nothing in the Act prevented the Minister of the Crown from seeking or agreeing to an extension, and other provisions that seemed to suggest that as a result of the Act there needed to be prior permission from the other place, although they do not perhaps say so explicitly. That is a recipe for legal uncertainty and for litigation. This process has already been subject to litigation. As one of those who get involved in these things, I do not doubt that that would result in more litigation. That is not helpful to certainty.
I am putting forward this amendment to promote the simplicity of the process, to enable us and the other place to get through by the time when otherwise our period would expire, and to avoid legal uncertainty.
I entirely agree with the noble and learned Lord that it is most important that there should be as much legal certainty as there can be, but also that the Prime Minister should have the proper role and authority to negotiate. However, does he agree that the royal prerogative exists to allow the Prime Minister to negotiate on our behalf in international and foreign relations unless Parliament actually restricts that authority? That of course was the subject of the Gina Miller case and the reason behind that decision. If we say nothing about the restrictions on the Prime Minister, she will be able to rely on the royal prerogative.
The noble Lord is quite right that that is a very important point. It was raised at Second Reading that the Government felt strongly, and I understand why, that the royal prerogative should not be subject to at least inadvertent erosion. Of course it has been eroded in certain respects over the years; we do not need to go into what they are but they include treaty making and waging war.
I take from the noble Lord’s point this observation: one great benefit of the amendment proposed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, is that it makes clear that the royal prerogative is being maintained. I want to avoid seeing that apparently contradicted by other provisions in the Bill.
I have one other observation to make. I said a few moments ago that there were certain things that could happen: the European Council might accept the proposal or it might come up with another one. However, there is a risk that there might be no agreement at all; that needs to be considered. We have had discussions with the Government. I look to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Callanan—I am sorry, the noble Lord. He should be noble and learned as he has had to deal with so much of this Bill already; we will see if we can arrange that. I anticipate that he will give an assurance that, in the event that there is no agreement, the matter will be brought to the other place as soon as possible. Indeed, we expect it to be brought there this week, otherwise it might simply be too late.
When the noble Lord comes to respond on this amendment, I look forward to hearing what he says about that, and I hope he will give us sufficient assurance that if there is in fact a failure to agree at the European Council meeting then the matter will come back to the other place, which will therefore be able to debate what should happen next. It should do so on an amendable Motion so that it can put forward and support its view on what should take place. I do not know whether it would be for the convenience of the House if the noble Lord could tell us now what he will be able to say but, if not, I look forward to hearing what he says when he comes to respond to the debate.
I would be the mover of Amendment 6. I originally proposed with the Public Bill Office precisely the amendment that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, tabled. I am sorry that we were not able to communicate about it. However, it shows how wise it was for this House to have had the weekend to think about things. Not only has the temperature cooled a bit but it has given us the chance to read two very important reports that were hastily brought out over the weekend. I congratulate the members of the two Select Committees—the Constitution Committee and the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee—and all those who worked to achieve this on getting the reports published. They raised an important issue and, to some extent, answered my question. My amendment would have been a probing amendment.
I tabled this amendment for clarification. After we have debated all the amendments, it will demonstrate even further just how toothless and pointless this Bill is. I was minded to put this amendment down for the following reason, which has also been suggested by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith. Let us suppose that the Prime Minister picks up the phone to Brussels, or goes there, and it says that it will give an extension for however many months, provided we pay more, or enter into discussions with Spain about Gibraltar, for example. I am glad to see the return of the royal prerogative because I assume that that will mean that she can simply say no and put the receiver down. As drafted, the Bill concerns only the date; it has nothing about conditions. The date may well be inextricably mixed up with conditions.
As things stand, there would be nothing to get either House involved, or to stop the Prime Minister rejecting or accepting such a condition. Moreover, if you look at the drafting—of course, you draft in haste and repent at leisure—Clause 1(2) requires her only to seek an extension, not to achieve or accept it, or anything like that. Going back to my phone call metaphor, if she seeks an extension, and picks up the phone to Monsieur Barnier and says whatever, and he says no or she does not like what he says, she puts the phone down—end of. I maintain that this Bill does not wholly achieve what it sets out to do, which is to stop no deal, but I am happy to see a return of the royal prerogative. I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, that those two final clauses should be removed because they simply confuse the issue.
How wise we were to wait for those reports. The one from the Constitution Committee explains exactly what I have said. Paragraph 5(c) says:
“The European Council might agree to the extension but subject to certain conditions (e.g. UK participation in elections to the European Parliament)”.
I add in brackets that our human rights will be broken if we are still members of the EU and cannot vote—there was a case on this a few years ago. The report continues:
“If such a situation were to arise, the Bill would have no further application—that is, it would not impose any further duties on the Prime Minister nor make any relevant further provision”.
I am glad to hear that. In other words, if Monsieur Barnier says we have to enter into talks with Spain about Gibraltar, the Prime Minister can put down the phone and say no. We will come to the other report later in this discussion.
In sum, no deal is not blocked by this Bill, but the House of Lords is relegated, as has happened quite often, I am afraid, in all our interesting and productive debates about withdrawal. We do not get reported in the media and we are completely sidelined from future decisions by this Bill. If the amendment from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, is accepted, then mine will of course be withdrawn, but I am glad to get this clarification on the record.
No, it is not for the Minister to answer them, as it is not a Government Bill. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, is going to deal with these points, because we have the Opposition criticising the Bill, and seeking to amend it as we go along in Committee. To my mind—I am blessed with not being a lawyer—the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, is riding two horses at once. On the one hand, he is saying that it is important that we retain the royal prerogative, because the Prime Minister has to be able to deal with the situation as it arises, and on the other hand, he says that we need this Bill in order to prevent the Prime Minister doing what she thinks is appropriate. If the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, is the sponsor of this Bill, perhaps he could enlighten us and deal with the important points which the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, has just made.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, accepted that Amendments 5 and 7 remove the concern that she otherwise had—that is what she told the House.
I support Amendment 5 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, and I also want to speak to Amendment 7, which has, as I understand it, now been grouped with Amendment 5.
It is not on the list, but as I understand it, there have been suggestions that it would be helpful to the House if it debated Amendment 7 together with Amendment 5; that was what we were told by the Table Office. In any event, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, has referred to Amendment 7, and it may be helpful if I make my remarks as the person who has tabled Amendment 7.
They are not grouped.
I thank the noble Lord. The papers for today were prepared when, at a rather late hour, someone arrived to suggest that these two amendments be taken together. I have no comment to make on that matter—it is for the House to decide. If the House decides that they should be taken together, they can be.
Take them together.
My Lords, I can sense the mood of the House, and I am grateful to all noble Lords, particularly the Chief Whip.
The noble and learned Lord has already mentioned Amendment 7, which goes with Amendment 5. It addresses a practical concern that may arise at the European Council meeting on Wednesday night. The problem is that Clause 1 envisages that, if the Prime Minister is mandated by the House of Commons to seek an extension to a specified date, and the European Council then makes a counteroffer of a different date, the Prime Minister would have no power under Clause 1 to agree to that counteroffer. She would have to say to our European partners that she is required to return to the House of Commons on Thursday to seek its approval. She would have to say that notwithstanding the fact that the European Council is not going to remain in session—they are all going to go home. There is therefore a risk that, contrary to the aims of the promoters of this Bill, the restrictions on the Prime Minister’s powers contained in this Bill may cause a no-deal exit on Friday at 11pm. Therefore, Amendment 7 makes it clear that nothing in this Bill prevents the Prime Minister seeking or agreeing on Wednesday night in Brussels an extension of the Article 50 period, provided it is not to a date earlier than 22 May.
This is a negotiation. It would be very odd to say that she can agree a date but she cannot seek one. There has to be give and take. I think that there is general agreement around the House that the Bill, whether noble Lords are in favour of it or not, ought not to constrain the Prime Minister’s powers when she is conducting an international negotiation.
The noble Lord, Lord Faulks, asked whether this was really necessary: unless an Act of Parliament expressly takes away the Prime Minister’s prerogative powers, surely they remain. My answer is that there is a danger that it might be said that the Bill, by necessary implication by reason of its contents, takes away the Prime Minister’s prerogative powers. I think we would all agree that the worst of all possible worlds would be if the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, on Thursday morning was to be instructed by a client to go to court to obtain a declaration that the Prime Minister has acted in breach of her powers, given the Bill’s contents.
I entirely accept that.
It is necessary to have legal certainty on the retention of the Prime Minister’s powers on such an important matter. That is why the noble and learned Lords, Lord Judge and Lord Goldsmith, the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, and I have all put our names to Amendment 7.
My Lords, I have listened with care to the speeches of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and the intervention from my noble friend Lord Hailsham. I do not have my noble friend Lord Forsyth’s advantage because I have the misfortune of having trained and practised as a lawyer, so I am in that difficult circumstance. I am confused by the exchanges that have taken place. I draw only one inference from them: this appalling piece of legislation is totally misconceived. It seeks on the one hand indubitably to constrain the exercise of the royal prerogative by the Prime Minister. That is its main purpose. Now we have amendment after amendment that seek to persuade us that it is only in some circumstances that the royal prerogative should be constrained and that in others it is absolutely necessary because, as the noble Lord just said, the Prime Minister must be able to make use of the royal prerogative when she is involved in negotiations of this kind. It is negotiations of this kind that the Bill is all about.
The fact is that the Prime Minister will be involved in negotiations about the date on which we exit the European Union, the conditions in which we do so and any terms that might be sought by the European Council to limit the extent to which we might be able to act in accordance with the result of the referendum. The Prime Minister will be engaged in negotiations of that kind. She ought to be able to exercise the royal prerogative when she engages in those negotiations, as the noble Lord said a moment ago. This ludicrous Bill, which seeks in part to restrain the royal prerogative and then to subtract from the extent to which it constrains it, is wholly misconceived and should never reach the statute book.
My Lords, perhaps I could assist the noble Lord, Lord Howard, to see this situation in a different light when it comes to the European Council on Wednesday: as a happy blend of parliamentary accountability and government flexibility. I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, that the combination of Amendments 5 and 7 supplies both legal and practical certainty. They perhaps take away the complication that might be in the minds of the Council on Wednesday night about what happens if the Prime Minister proposes or agrees to a different extension to what is being discussed in the other place.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, is also right that there could be some discussion about the difference in wording between Clause 1(7), about a proposal, and a scenario of agreement by the Prime Minister at the European Council. We need to remember that the specific context that is being addressed by Amendment 7 is envisaging what happens in those negotiations at the European Council. Like the noble and learned Lord, I look forward to the response from the Minister—
It is not the Minister.
Perhaps if noble Lords listened to the end of a sentence they would understand what the speaker was saying.
I look forward to the response about the wording which the Government have apparently discussed regarding an amendable Motion if there is no deal on Thursday, as well as to the response from the Bill’s sponsor, the noble Lord, Lord Robertson.
My Lords, I think we should remember that there is no precedent, no parallel, to the situation in which we have found ourselves in recent weeks. As we said at Second Reading last Thursday night, a group of very courageous Members from both sides of the House, and from minority parties, came together to fill a vacuum. After that, the Prime Minister made her welcome overture to other parties, something that should have been done after the general election when we lost our majority.
That changed the situation. Nevertheless, I believe that those who promoted this Bill were entirely justified in so doing. We have had this welcome development from the Prime Minister, so it is entirely sensible that the amendments moved by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, should be accepted by this House. They give the Prime Minister, in this, the ultimate hour—because that is what we are talking about—the freedom to be able to negotiate on Wednesday. It would be manifestly absurd if she did not have that freedom.
We should accept these amendments. I think they improve the Bill. I very much hope that those in another place accept them in the spirit in which they have been moved, and then, perhaps, we can all move on.
My Lords, I had not intended to speak. I do not think that this is a good Bill. There have been much better Bills, and the process that we have been through has not been the House at its best, because events have forced the situation on us. Therefore, I apologise to the House. I did not put my name down to speak at Second Reading—I had not intended to speak at all. I support this amendment, because I think it will make a bad Bill rather better.
May I diverge, however? We are setting a precedent. There is no point in pretending that we have not set a precedent by what has happened. If I may, I offer this comfort: sometimes precedents do not have to be followed. This allows a precedent. I suggest to whichever side of the House is in power for the next 20, 30, 40 or 50 years that we do not allow it to be followed again. At least we should communicate our view that this, whether precedent or not—and it was—is a one-off and goes no further.
The point of Amendment 7 is very simple: we want to make the Bill a little better than it is by removing the constraints that are otherwise imposed on the Prime Minister. That, I respectfully suggest to the House, is desirable. As I do not intend to speak or have my speaking taken as support for this—
Of course it will be used by others. Lawyers use bad precedents constantly, but it does not mean that it has to be followed.
I did not intend to speak, for the reason I have given. This amendment will improve the Bill. That is the point of it. Beyond that, I do not wish to say any more, because it may indicate somehow that I am backing off from my concern about the Bill. So in lawyerly fashion I simply say that you have all heard the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. I agree with him. I have nothing to add.
The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, have helpfully identified a problem with the Bill, in that a counterproposal by the EU could fall between the cracks and result in an accidental no deal, thus frustrating the will of Parliament, in so far as that will is ascertainable.
In the event of a counterproposal, which seems likely, the amendment suggests that the Prime Minister has the power to seek or agree an extension to a date not earlier than 22 May. At col. 337, the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, suggested that approval would still have to be sought for that new date.
I wholly understand the thinking behind the amendment, but the apparent need for it underlines the strange constitutional waters in which we are now swimming. My understanding of the Gina Miller case is that the Government argued that Article 50 could be triggered without parliamentary involvement, whereas the opposing argument, advanced by the noble Lord among others, was that Parliament had legislated in such a way that the royal prerogative was enough on its own and that Parliament need not be involved. By a majority this argument prevailed, although there were three dissenting speeches.
The prerogative, however, allows Ministers, and in this case the Prime Minister, to make or unmake treaties unless Parliament has legislated to restrict that power. It rarely does, hence the paucity of useful precedents in the Gina Miller case. It seems to me that the Prime Minister would be allowed to agree a counterproposal as a matter of law. Whether that would be politically sound is a different matter.
The response of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, is that it is or might be uncertain, but it seems to me that this amendment in fact fetters the royal prerogative. We have a dualist system of law in this country, which has worked well, and I wonder if it is wise to undermine the royal prerogative in this way. To make a constitutional change of this sort needs prolonged and serious thought. A Private Member’s Bill that went through all its stages in the House of Commons in four hours, that was not given pre-legislative scrutiny and that, for good reasons, is hurrying through this House, is surely not the context in which to make significant constitutional changes.
The amendment says, “nothing … prevents”, which I suppose could be said to be saying that the royal prerogative exists—so to that extent it is unnecessary—but it restricts what the Prime Minister can do in its final words. That is my answer to my noble and learned friend.
The wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, at Second Reading about the constitution are particularly relevant in this context. One of the repeated observations from the EU is that it wants to know what the UK wants. In the context of this Bill, it will ask the reasons for the extension. What answer is the Prime Minister supposed to give, acting as an agent for this disunited Parliament?
This amendment is a worthwhile attempt to clarify the mandate, which apparently the Prime Minister has by virtue of this Bill, but I doubt it is necessary, for the reasons I have given, and I suggest that the House thinks long and hard before making such an important change.
I do not want to misrepresent what the noble Lord said, but he suggested that there might be some legal uncertainty and that, theoretically at least, I or some other barrister might be instructed to argue something in court, and this is to avoid legal uncertainty. I am all for avoiding legal uncertainty, but the existence of the royal prerogative can surely not be in doubt, and this is, I suggest, an attempt to fetter that royal prerogative.
I finish with this observation. Lord Reed, Deputy President of the Supreme Court, said in the Gina Miller case of the royal prerogative that the,
“the value of unanimity, strength and dispatch in the conduct of foreign affairs are as evident in the 21st century as they were in the 18th”.
This Bill and this amendment substantially undermine that strength.
My Lords, I am yet another lawyer. I apologise for that. I will not detain the House for long.
I respectfully agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, that this came to the House as a bad Bill—I would say a very bad Bill. It sought to send the Prime Minister into the conference chamber not naked but wearing a straitjacket, and that was clearly inappropriate given the very delicate negotiations that are going to have to take place this week. As it stood, it was not proper legislation but, in the words of Nye Bevan, “an emotional spasm”.
I fully support the amendments proposed by the noble and noble and learned Lords. They are obviously necessary, bizarrely, to prevent the Bill having the inadvertent effect of increasing the risk of an accidental no-deal exit, so I fully support them. However, I am concerned that, if these amendments pass, the Bill will appear to be, and be, a bit of a mess. The Prime Minister has already, as I recall, made one request for an extension, which is outstanding; I doubt whether it will be accepted. After the Motion is passed in the House of Commons, a further date will be introduced and she will have to write another letter, I think, to the EU specifying another date. That will presumably displace application number one for an extension.
The amendments, which I support, would make it open to her to make a further, third, application for an extension, specifying a further date. That will displace, as I see it, the second application made pursuant to the Motion in the House of Commons. What is left of the Bill, as I see it, is nothing more than this: an edict from Parliament that the extension that the Prime Minister is able to seek cannot end earlier than 22 May 2019. If it had been restricted to that, we would have saved a lot of time.
My Lords, I should like to pick up on something the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, said about agreement on dates. As I understand it, the Prime Minister is asking to go to the end of June. Presumably she has Cabinet approval to do that.
I agree, nobody knows. Let us hypothesise that she cannot go beyond that date. She goes to Brussels and says: “I would like to extend until the end of June”. Suppose that Brussels says: “No, we are frightfully sorry but we have agreed two dates with you already. One is in the context of no agreement and the other is in the context of the agreement being agreed by Parliament. We are not prepared to move from that”. I presume that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, will be answering on these amendments —I suspect the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, does not feel that responsible for this Bill, having taken it over from somebody else. What happens if the EU does not move from the two dates that it has already agreed, therefore still leaving us in the position where the Prime Minister will come back on Thursday and say, “I can get no agreement from the EU to change the dates it has already given us”? How in those circumstances will we not come out with no deal on Friday?
My Lords, as I mentioned before, there is nothing in this Bill specifically to stop no deal. It requires the Prime Minister to seek and seek again. The root of the trouble is that for more than a hundred years we have observed the separation of powers in our constitution. The noble Lord, Lord Norton, is one of the greatest experts on this—I think he is not in his place, but if he were he would probably say that that separation is sometimes not exact. However, this Bill is a very good illustration of why it is not a good idea to mix up the powers of the Executive and the legislature. I would like to hear from whoever is the surrogate parent of this odd little embryo quite how it will prevent no deal. An abortion?
My Lords, I will make a brief intervention in the hope that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, will respond to it. I entirely understand that in negotiations—the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, described the situation in which the Prime Minister and the EU are negotiating—there has to be give and take. What disturbs me is this: the Prime Minister might decide in advance to move outside the dates previously agreed by Parliament and go with an entirely fresh date into a negotiation. That is different in kind from negotiating when they sat down to discussion. It would be a deliberate attempt to go outside what Parliament has previously agreed to. It seems to me that Amendment 7 would enable her to do that, and I am profoundly uneasy about that prospect.
My Lords, I will respond on my Amendment 5, which is the one that has been moved. A couple of points need to be emphasised.
As has been discussed already, we are in unusual circumstances, and they demand some unusual responses. This Bill does not take away or give back the entirety of the royal prerogative. It says—this is why I made an intervention earlier—that it is for the other place, on a Motion put forward by the Prime Minister, to say what date she should seek. It may be that the European Council will accept that date, in which case it is done so far as the negotiations are concerned. It may come back with a different date, and the questions we have been considering are for those circumstances. Does she have to seek approval during the next two to three days before she can respond to it, or is she able to respond by agreeing to it or by putting forward a slightly different proposal?
There are two different amendments—my amendment would remove the fetters requiring her to come back, and that of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, would enable her to reach an agreement without having had that prior approval. It seems to me that a balance is being struck between royal prerogative and necessary control by Parliament. It is absolutely the case—as the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, said—that of course the royal prerogative can be adjusted and amended by what Parliament says. On this occasion, the other place has said: “We believe that we should tell the Prime Minister what date she should seek. What happens after that will depend upon the circumstances but, whatever it is, it has to be done in this time”.
I invite the House to agree Amendment 5 and then we can move on to the other amendments.
As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, was kind enough to point out, I have not benefited from the disadvantages of a legal education, but I think I know flawed and badly drafted legislation when I see it. Nevertheless, it remains the reality that this has been approved by the House of Commons, and that is a principle that I believe should be respected. Noble Lords opposite can be assured that I will remind them of their newfound enthusiasm to respect the will of the House of Commons when we come to future legislation.
I will comment first on the amendments. As my noble friend the Leader of the House said, the Government support Amendment 5, moved by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith. This seeks to remove Clause 1(6) and (7) from the Bill. As currently drafted, should the European Council propose a different date to extend Article 50 from that agreed in Parliament by virtue of approval of the Motion as set out in the Bill, the Bill would require the Prime Minister to return to the House of Commons on 11 April and put the EU’s counterproposal to that House for approval through a further Motion. As the Government set out last week, we have very real concerns about how that would work in practice.
The Government hope that Amendment 7 will also be successful, which would allow us to reach agreement with the EU on Wednesday, so long as that extension ends no later than 22 May. The Government have been clear, as I said earlier, that we are seeking an extension to 30 June.
In response to the question posed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, scheduling of any further debates after the European Council on 10 April is a matter for the other place. I am sure it is paying close attention to our debates.
Amendment 5 agreed.
Amendment 6 not moved.
7: Clause 1, page 2, line 3, at end insert—
“(8) Nothing in this section prevents a Minister of the Crown from seeking, or agreeing to, an extension of the period specified in Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union otherwise than in accordance with this section provided that the extension cannot end earlier than 22 May 2019.(9) In deciding for the purposes of subsection (8) whether an extension cannot end earlier than 22 May 2019, the earlier ending of the extension as a result of the entry into force of the withdrawal agreement (as provided for in Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union) is to be ignored.”
Amendment 7 agreed.
Debate on whether Clause 1 should stand part of the Bill.
I will say a brief word in line with the comments I made on a matter that I flagged up at Second Reading. The main issue overshadowing today’s debate is the danger of us reaching midnight this Friday with no agreement and of the UK leaving the EU on a no-deal basis, despite the House of Commons having voted overwhelmingly against such an eventuality.
I tried to table an amendment to address this along the lines of that tabled by Joanna Cherry MP in the other place—proposed new Clause 20—which was successfully tabled and appeared on the Commons Order Paper for 3 April. My new clause was ruled out by the clerks as being outside the scope of the Bill. If Joanna Cherry’s amendment was in order, I fail to understand how mine could be out of order—a view shared by Jo Maugham QC, who helped me draft it.
The amendment sought to ensure that, if the UK Government failed to pass their meaningful vote or to secure an extension, and we therefore faced a no-deal scenario, the Government would be required to table a Motion indicating that the House of Commons agreed to leave the European Union without a withdrawal agreement—that is, on a no-deal basis—and if that Motion failed to pass, as might be expected, the Government would be compelled to revoke Article 50 in line with the ruling of the European Court of Justice in the Wightman case. The Labour Party at Westminster has failed to indicate that it would support an amendment to revoke Article 50 at this time; Sir Keir Starmer MP said on the Floor of the House that Labour would cross that bridge when it came to it. However, the First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, has indicated that he would support the revocation of Article 50 in the event of no deal.
This amendment was nothing more than a safety net or insurance policy to ensure that, in the event of a total breakdown of the Brexit process, we do not leave with a disastrous no-deal scenario, which would be a danger to jobs, wages and security, as identified by the Government’s own analysis. Delay and indecision have led us to the edge of a precipice. We are peering over that edge, we need a safety net just in case we slip, and this revocation amendment would have done exactly that. I do not oppose Clause 1 stand part but I believe that in passing it, we should be aware of the central deficiency in the Bill.
Clause 1 agreed.
Clause 2: Procedure for ensuring domestic legislation matches Article 50 extension
Debate on whether Clause 2 should stand part of the Bill.
My Lords, I speak as a member of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. The chairman of the committee, the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, is unable to be here today because he is absent on parliamentary business. No doubt noble Lords have a copy of the 51st report of the Delegated Powers Committee. The argument set out by the committee is brief, concise and telling. I will not attempt to summarise it or indeed to read out the report, because paragraph 5 could hardly be summarised more briefly than it has been set out by the committee.
The committee acknowledges in paragraph 4:
“The principal justification for clause 2 of this Bill is that it might be necessary to legislate at speed next week”—
in other words, this week—
“to change exit day. The affirmative procedure might cause delays, with the risk that exit day in domestic law might not be aligned with exit day agreed under EU law”.
The committee goes on to say that on the other hand, there are powerful and telling arguments in favour of the affirmative procedure. It notes that were Clause 2 to be removed from the Bill, we would simply return to, as it were, the default setting.
Because this will be a matter of business management, the most helpful thing for your Lordships might be to have some indication from the Minister as to whether there is a balance of advantage of using the negative or the affirmative procedure. On that basis, it may be for your Lordships to decide whether Clause 2 remains in the Bill.
My Lords, again, I am disadvantaged as being neither a member of the committee or a lawyer. I am surprised that the noble Lord has not drawn the attention of the House to the fact that, as I understand it, the committee report makes it clear that this House would no longer be able to be consulted on those matters. Is that not correct?
Perhaps the noble Lord would also say a word about the effect of a petition against. The fact that the instrument is passed is not the end of the day, or at least not necessarily so. Could he elaborate a bit on the consequences if someone objects after the event?
I should be happy to do so. The Convenor of the Cross Benches, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, has helpfully drawn attention to the possible uncertainty that might arise were the negative procedure to be kept in place and were there to be a successful Motion for annulment of the instrument that was made under that provision. I suggest that that is an additional argument for returning to the affirmative procedure.
My Lords, this has been a difficult matter to determine, but the priority as I see it remains ensuring that this can be done in time. That is the concern. I do not want to be disagreeable at this point in the debate, but we all know that the Prime Minister knew last December that the deal that she had done would not pass, but we find ourselves at the very last stages having to deal with the possibilities of what happens if she cannot reach an agreement.
The affirmative procedure gives rise to the concern that the matter will have to return, perhaps on Friday: it depends what time the European Council meeting finishes. We have already destroyed the recess for many people, and that would destroy the weekend as well. Although we on these Benches are normally strongly in favour of affirmative resolutions, on this occasion we see the force of what is in the Bill.
What confuses me is that the noble and learned Lord appears to be answering on the Bill, which is a Private Member’s Bill sponsored by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson. He appears to be answering for the Opposition, so is this an opposition Bill or a Private Member’s Bill?
I am not responsible for the Bill, but I offer a further argument in favour of retaining Clause 2. The practical reality is that, on Wednesday night, the Prime Minister will be offered a deal by the European Council. She will either accept it or not. The overwhelming probability is that she will come to some agreement with the European Council.
If the matter comes back on an affirmative resolution before the House of Commons and this House on Thursday or Friday, there will be only two choices: either we accept the date that has been agreed or we leave on Friday at 11 pm. The House of Commons has overwhelmingly voted that it does not wish to leave with no deal, and the view of this House is perfectly clear that it does not want to leave with no deal. Therefore, it seems to me that, in the extraordinary circumstances in which we now find ourselves, Clause 2 is entirely acceptable.
My Lords, uncharacteristically, I think the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, made a slight slip when he said that the Prime Minister would come back with a deal. She will not be coming back with a deal; she will be coming back with a date. The committee report states:
“The date of the UK’s exit from the EU remains a matter of the greatest political and legal significance. It is right that the matter be debated in Parliament before the current date of 12 April is changed in our domestic law”.
When the Government changed the date from 29 March to 12 April, they did so by statutory instrument placed before both Houses, and we were able to discuss and debate that matter. What is proposed, as the 51st report of the committee makes clear, is to remove that right from both Houses to approve a change.
I must say that in introducing the debate the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, was very brief in his description. The outside world may not realise what is proposed here, which is entirely to cut the House of Lords out of approving the date, which the report rightly says is of the greatest political significance. Judging from the amount of grief I had at the weekend from people who are very disillusioned by the performance of Parliament on this matter, it is something that concerns many millions of our fellow citizens. I am therefore very surprised that this should be treated as just a matter of convenience.
The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, which is held in the highest regard and afforded the highest respect, made clear recommendations. The point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, is important: if this is to be done through a negative resolution, we will be invited after the event to consider whether we agreed with it, thus creating uncertainty. Again, we had the same discussion on Thursday. This is not about what the House thinks on whether we should leave the European Union; it is about whether our procedures and processes should be respected. The idea that it might be inconvenient or difficult to meet the timetable, and that we should therefore ignore our processes, is not good.
I am grateful for my noble friend’s intervention. I am most obliged to him as a lawyer for backing up my case—and doing so for free. We should treat the amendment very seriously. I look forward to hearing what my noble friend the Minister has to say. We have not heard a squeak from the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, who is apparently the midwife responsible for the Bill.
My Lords, our position is similar to that of the Opposition, as outlined by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith. We on these Benches would of course normally want to uphold the affirmative procedure; after all, we fought hard for it in the EU withdrawal Act. However, we are in exceptional times and it would be absurd for us to get to the end of the week with procedure having got in the way of good legal order.
At Second Reading, the noble Baroness was inclined to agree with the removal of Clause 2. Indeed, she said so on the basis that the process could be done “expeditiously”, as was done when the date was changed from 29 March to 12 April. Has she changed her mind?
I was reflecting the position and view of my colleagues in the other place. As I said, in principle, we prefer the affirmative procedure. However, I would also prefer to avoid the catastrophe of no deal. Therefore, it would be ridiculous for us to get to the end of week and be prevented from amending exit day by the inhibitions of procedure. I take the point that negative procedure can be prayed against but that risk is relatively minimal.
It is true that Clause 2 is headed, “Procedure for ensuring domestic legislation matches Article 50 extension”. If the Article 50 extension has been agreed to, it is in EU law. I remember the Government being slightly coy two weeks ago in acknowledging that EU law trumps domestic law. Our amending exit day to accord with the date of an extension is an essential tidying-up exercise in domestic law; otherwise, discordance between the two dates leads to uncertainty. It is essential that exit day accords with the Article 50 extension.
I have talked about the specific context. If we get to the end of this week, it would be absurd for us to be prevented from preventing no deal because of the need for an affirmative resolution. That is a very specific scenario which justifies the negative procedure in this case.
My Lords, a few days ago, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, while hurrying us along, said that she was prepared to sit right through the night and that breakfast would be provided. Our Easter Recess has been removed for the time being. I and, I am sure, all noble Lords are quite prepared to sit on Thursday, Friday, Saturday or whatever it takes.
I am not.
It does not matter if some of us are not prepared to do so; some of us are.
Although I am not good at procedure, I hesitate to reject the report of the committee which contains Members who are luminaries in procedure and law. I cite my noble friend Lord Lisvane, the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and others. They must have met over the weekend and they have turned out this report. We cannot just dismiss it. What is our discomfort or the lack of a day or two’s break compared with the terrific constitutional and future issues at stake?
My Lords, I should like to add one point to what the noble Baroness has just said. Clause 2 is not concerned with the end of this week. The way it is worded, it will apply whenever the issue arises, and that is a matter of considerable concern. We might be moving forward to May. There will be ample time with ample warning, and yet the thing goes through under the negative procedure and is subject to the risk to which our attention has been drawn—of someone objecting—and in due course the date that was in the negative instrument would be declared invalid. That is a big risk to take and we should not be distracted from the fact that the end of this week has certain tensions about it because we are changing the law for all time. That is a very serious step to take.
My Lords, I hope that this is an unnecessary fear, but it ought to be clarified. My worry, which I am sorry to say has been intensified by what happened on Thursday, is that if an affirmative resolution is needed on Friday or Saturday, is there a risk that it could be filibustered and therefore not passed? We would then crash out because of that obstruction to the business of the House. As I say, that worries me very much, so for that reason I support the inclusion of Clause 2.
My Lords, it is worth reminding the Committee that the first steps to dictatorship have, through the centuries, consistently been related to abandoning procedures and precedents which are put in place in order to ensure that legislation is properly considered. I am not saying that we are going as far as the Enabling Act, but this is a very dangerous path.
Let me reassure my noble friend Lord Forsyth that I am not responsible for this Bill either, although I have to say that I am quite enjoying watching the Opposition perform procedural somersaults and disavow everything that has been said previously on matters such as respecting the House of Commons, affirmative resolutions and everything else. Nevertheless, we return to the subject.
It is the position of the Government that Clause 2 should remain part of the Bill. I appreciate the concerns expressed on this issue and the sentiments behind them, and of course I recall vividly the lengthy debate we had on parliamentary scrutiny of the use of delegated powers more generally during the passage of the EU withdrawal Bill. I seem to recall the Liberals arguing for precisely the opposite position at that stage, but consistency has never been their strong point. As noble Lords are aware, the Government do not support the Bill or the conditions it is attempting to impose on government. However, as I said earlier, given the support commanded in the other place, the Government have decided that they must intervene to improve and limit its most damaging effects.
The Bill creates a new parliamentary process that the Government must adhere to in order to agree an extension of Article 50 with the European Union, if the European Council proposes an end date to the extension different to that proposed by the House of Commons. Given that the European Council is on Wednesday 10 April and exit day is just two days later, there is a real risk that we will be timed out of agreeing an extension and therefore accidentally leave the EU without a deal. It would be extremely ironic, and it is clear the supporters of this Bill are opposed to that outcome.
Noble Lords will be well aware—indeed, I answered questions on this topic earlier today—that agreeing an extension is not a decision the UK can take alone. It must be agreed unanimously with all other 27 EU member states. Following this, we must also amend the date of exit in domestic law to ensure that the statute book accurately reflects what is set out in international law.
Under the draft affirmative procedure, both Houses are required to debate and approve the statutory instrument, which significantly increases the risk of this not being in force in time for 11 pm on 12 April. At that point all other EU exit SIs will come into force, regardless of the agreed extension date, causing considerable uncertainty and confusion for many. It is for that reason that the Government tabled this amendment—now Clause 2 of the Bill—in the other place, changing the procedure applying to the power in the 2018 Act from the draft affirmative to the negative procedure, and it is for this reason that the elected Chamber supported that approach. Nobody wants to take that risk.
Furthermore, not only has Parliament repeatedly argued in favour of an extension to Article 50 and against leaving the EU without a deal, both Houses have already debated and approved one SI to defer exit day. There is clearly widespread approval to use this power in such a way. As I am sure noble Lords are all aware, while the power has a significant effect—ensuring a functioning statute book—its scope is limited to changing exit day to the date already agreed in international law by the Prime Minister, and the SI cannot be made until that point. It is for this reason that the Government tabled the new clause and that the elected Chamber voted with a large majority to support this. I hope this House will support the same sentiment and allow this clause to stand part of the Bill.
In among what is obviously an increasing shambles, can the Minister confirm that we leave the European Union this Friday by an existing Act of Parliament, and that the Government have conceded that—although this is not their chosen course of action—it could be quite successfully managed?
I answered a question from the noble Lord earlier today on that, and I am not sure there is much benefit in going back over those subjects. We are extensively prepared for no deal because that is the legal default, but we are now supporting this legislation—however flawed—that has been sent to us by the House of Commons.
Clause 3: Interpretation, commencement, extent and short title
8: Clause 3, page 2, line 12, at end insert—
“( ) This Act ceases to have effect on exit day.”
My Lords, I shall not detain the House long. My amendment would ensure that this legislation ceases to have effect on exit day. It could be said that the amendment is there just for the avoidance of doubt because, clearly, there is nothing to be done with this Bill after exit day. However, I wanted to table the amendment because this is, by almost common consent, a pretty terrible Bill. One of the best things that has been said about it today is that it is a bit of a mess. During the brief passage through your Lordships’ House, it has been improved, which is what customarily happens when this House considers ill-thought-out Bills from the other place.
As I said at Second Reading, I have accepted that the will of the other place will prevail in the case of this Bill. Therefore, the powers that it creates to restrict the royal prerogative in this important area of international relations will come into force to the extent now drafted. I regret that, but I hope that we will return to the normal practice of leaving the royal prerogative for international relations and negotiations with the Government on an unfettered basis. I have tabled this amendment to make the point more forcefully that this should not be a permanent part of our statute book; we should write it out as soon as the purpose of those who have sought to make it the law of the land for this week comes to an end. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support my noble friend Lady Noakes on this amendment. As she explained so clearly on Thursday and in her speech today, the curtailment of prerogative powers envisaged in this Bill is significant. I agree with her that the powers available to the Government to negotiate international treaties are important and should not be curtailed.
My noble friend Lord Norton of Louth, who is acknowledged across your Lordships’ House as the most knowledgeable constitutional expert, explained that the changes sought by the Bill, and the practices by which it was passed in another place, are not small but highly significant. I consider it unfortunate that your Lordships’ House is likely to pass this Bill, but at least it would be better if its destructive elements could be made temporary. Surely even noble Lords who support the Bill would agree that, against the background of the views of the noble Lord, Lord Norton, on the matter, the restrictions on prerogative powers should be temporary. It would be unfortunate for the House to agree to a precedent created by such a rushed and controversial piece of legislation.
My Lords, this amendment is not needed to ensure that the provisions in the Bill are temporary. They are temporary in any event because the Bill is concerned with only the period for negotiations for withdrawing. Once we withdraw, the Bill has no effect whatever.
My Lords, if that is the case, there is no reason at all why we should not accept this amendment. The Prime Minister sent her letter asking for an extension on Friday, so I have spent most of the weekend trying to work out what the point of this Bill was in the first place. Given that we have amended it in respect of the prerogative powers, it is just a very bad piece of legislation. My noble friend Lady Noakes is offering the House the opportunity to get rid of a very embarrassing relative. The Bill and its genesis are not something of which this House or the other place can be particularly proud. It is a very bad Bill, conceived for all the wrong reasons. It has ridden roughshod over our procedures. Having a sunset clause, which is what this amendment offers, would be a very good thing indeed. I very much support my noble friend.
My Lords, I have been thinking hard over the past few weeks about the meaning of parliamentary sovereignty, which was one of the things that the leave campaign strongly campaigned to restore. Last week, I was struck to hear Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg in the other place defend the relationship between the Government and Parliament at the time of Henry VIII as the most appropriate relationship between monarch and Parliament. Oliver Letwin replied that we had fought a civil war a century later to establish a proper relationship between the Executive and the legislature.
Much of what we are doing in this Bill is not entirely ideal. We need not have had this Bill if the Government had been more united, if negotiations had been expedited and if Parliament had been more actively engaged at an earlier stage. We are now up against a tight deadline and we have to take some emergency measures. That is where we are and we need to recognise that.
My Lords, I understand the misgivings that many in this House have about this Bill, but I have to say to the noble Baroness that her amendment would not stop the Bill becoming an Act. It is going to become an Act, and that is the mischief, so she cannot stop through her amendment the mischief that she wishes to stop. As the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said, the Bill ceases to have an effect, so she need not worry about that either.
There is another reason why we should not pass this amendment: with the amendments we have passed so far, supported by the Government, they will be supported in the House of Commons, and so we will not have ping-pong. If we were to pass the noble Baroness’s amendment and the Government resisted it in the House of Commons, the Bill would have to come back here and there would be further delay. Therefore, I urge her not to press her amendment, because it is unnecessary and it will cause unnecessary prolongation of the procedures.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, is right, though I understand where the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, is coming from. The point has been made about the Bill itself, but this does not take the Bill away—it will have served its purpose, or not, and therefore we could not support this amendment. I imagine the Government would not either, but I wait to hear.
Momentarily, of course, because that silence has been purely motivated by my loyalty to the Government Chief Whip and his assurance last Thursday about the speed with which this legislation would be put through. Like the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, I am not a lawyer, I am simply—like him—a politician. I heard one of the Bishops this morning on “Thought for the Day” quoting somebody as saying that politics is the art of the possible, and indeed it is. It is the possibility that we leave on Friday of this week—my birthday, as it happens—crashing out without any withdrawal agreement, which should frighten us all. Anybody who is in any doubt about that might read the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Stern, at Second Reading last week—a chilling and brief speech about the consensus view of economists.
A lot of lawyers have spoken in this debate and, indeed, last week as well. The House has a range of opinions from which it can choose, as is usually the case when you commission lawyers. In my case, I choose the view of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. I simply point to the fact that I have said not a word during these proceedings on the Bill, but people will notice that the size of the majority in the last Division probably achieved record proportions. Maybe some other people should take a lesson from silence.
My Lords, it does not surprise me that I have been supported by some of my noble friends and opposed by people on other Benches. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, that the Bill does not stop us leaving this Friday. If the EU decides not to agree an extension, we will leave on Friday. I am not frightened about that. I believe that the Government have made many significant preparations towards it, as have many on the continent. A lot of scaremongering has been going on. But that is not the point of my amendment, which was to draw attention to the fact that this unfortunate piece of legislation has been brought before this House and the way in which it has been processed in both Houses. I will not delay the Bill further by seeking to call another Division, much though I am sorely tempted to do so. I beg leave to withdraw.
Amendment 8 withdrawn.
Clause 3 agreed.
Bill reported with amendments.