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European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill

Volume 801: debated on Tuesday 21 January 2020

Third Reading

My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interests, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.


Moved by

My Lords, in moving this Motion, I hope that the House will forgive me if I say a few words. I am delighted to say that we are now in the final stretch of our withdrawal from the European Union. Over the past days and weeks, your Lordships have debated the merits of the Bill and I thank the vast majority who have engaged so constructively in this process. It is a testament to the importance of what we do and the experience and expertise that noble Lords have to offer.

I particularly thank my colleagues on the Front Bench—in particular, the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip for their unstinting support, generally—and I thank all my ministerial colleagues. Perhaps I may be impolite and single out two in particular who have done a sterling job: my noble and learned friend Lord Keen and my noble friend Lady Williams, whose support, guidance and efforts in this House have been unstinting. Many other colleagues have helped as well.

I also pay tribute to my opposition counterparts, the two formidable noble Baronesses, Lady Ludford and Lady Hayter. They have worked so hard and kept us on our toes throughout the Bill’s progress.

I also note in particular the valuable work of the Select Committees of this House, so ably chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor. As I noted during my Second Reading speech, their scrutiny and insight are most valuable, and their ability to report on the Bill so quickly in order to aid debate is to be commended.

Finally, I pay tribute to those working in my private office—to Bianca Russo and Joe Moore, who have generally exceeded all their hours, even in excess of what the working time directive would permit them to do. I pay tribute, too, to officials across government who have worked tirelessly on the Bill for many months and years, particularly the Bill managers, Oliver Ilott and Hugo Gillibrand. Personally, I particularly thank the government lawyers who have patiently briefed me on everything from glossing, which apparently has nothing to do with paint, to consequential amendments and all the legal technicalities in between.

I would like to take a moment to note that we are disappointed that the devolved legislatures have not consented to those parts of the Bill for which we sought their consent. I want to be clear that the Government recognise the significance of proceeding with the Bill without the consent of those legislatures. Nevertheless, we find ourselves in exceptional circumstances. The Bill must proceed so that we can deliver on the referendum result and leave the EU at the end of the month with a deal in place. However, I want to make it clear that we will continue to uphold and abide by the spirit of the Sewel convention. As I made clear earlier today, I look forward to continuing to work with the devolved Administrations and the legislatures on future legislation.

Tomorrow the other place will consider the amendments made in our House. It is, of course, your Lordships’ right and duty to rigorously scrutinise legislation, to hold the Government to account and, if necessary, to ask the other place to think again when noble Lords believe that is appropriate. However, I take this opportunity to remind noble Lords that we received a clear message from the elected House on 9 January. We have had important debates, noble Lords have made their views known and we must now see what the elected House thinks of those amendments. All noble Lords must bear this in mind that, as we prepare to leave the EU on 31 January, and deliver the Brexit that the people voted for. I beg to move.

My Lords, this is a time for both thanks and regrets. Both are heartfelt and serious. We have a lot for which to thank the Ministers—all five of them, I think—as well as their Whips. They have kept to their script, given us no surprises and worked with courtesy and information to enable the process to proceed smoothly.

The Bill team has performed above and beyond normal expectations. Second Reading and three days in Committee in one week, and two consecutive days on Report, is not what they are taught when they go to the “managing a Bill” lecture. We thank them.

On our side, the team has been stellar. It includes my noble friends Lord Tunnicliffe—near silent but businesslike—Lord McNicol, Lord Murphy, Lord Bassam, Lady Smith, Lady Thornton and Lady Jones and my noble and learned friend Lord Goldsmith, with, as ever, Dan Stevens and Ben Coffman behind the scenes. They are a magnificent troop.

However, our regrets are also sincere. Despite the arguments set out across the House, not simply on these Benches, the Government have turned a deaf ear to improvements to the processes in the Bill; to safeguarding the independence of the courts; to pleas for reassurance from EU citizens; to requests from the devolved authorities—we have heard the results of not listening there; and, indeed, to the needs of refugee children. And now we hear that the Government will use their majority to overturn all four of our reasonable, and reasoned, amendments.

We do not lay that on the Ministers in this House but on their masters—or perhaps even their servant—elsewhere. For the moment, as Ed Murrow would say, “Good night, and good luck.”

My Lords, I too thank everyone involved in the Bill: Ministers, the Opposition, the Cross-Benches, the Bill team and other officials, the clerks and other staff of the House and, as the Minister mentioned, the committees of the House, which provided us with such useful and timely reports. Of course, I also thank the many colleagues on my own Liberal Democrat Benches—too numerous to mention—who have taken part in the Bill’s proceedings, as well as my leader and noble friend Lord Newby, my Chief Whip and noble friend Lord Stoneham, and our adviser Elizabeth Plummer who is, quite frankly, indispensable to us.

Clearly, we would have preferred not to have had this Bill. We on these Benches continue to think that Brexit is a bad mistake and that the UK will, sooner or later, re-join the EU. We feel that this Bill has been improved by the detailed scrutiny and votes in this House that I believe we were entirely right to deliver. We have improved the Bill in two major areas: first, respect for people—the rights of EU citizens and child refugees—and, secondly, respect for the law and the constitution regarding the courts, judicial independence and the devolution settlement. We hope that the other place will consider those carefully, but I am bearing in mind what the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, has just said. I strongly believe that we have given value for the many days of work we have done on the Bill. I just wish that the Government had been in listening mode.

My Lords, I shall not delay the House long—I know that we all want to go home—but I had a conversation with a distinguished noble friend of mine a few hours ago, and he said, “Of course, the Government will give way on a few small amendments on this to satisfy your Lordships’ House,” and I strongly disagreed with him. Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, has confirmed that the Government will use their majority to turn down all these amendments.

There could only be two reasons why the Government might not want to do that. One would be if there were a tremendous fault in the legislation, and some drafting were completely inconsistent and needed to be adjusted. There seems to be none of that: there have been no compelling arguments as to why the Bill should be adjusted in any way. The other reason would be to create good will in your Lordships’ House. But I have to say that there is no good will towards your Lordships’ House in the other place. We have lost all our friends, who ensured that we continued as an appointed House. Jesse Norman, who was key to all that, is a Minister, and we roughed up everybody else.

The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, described the Government as suffering from euphoria as a result of their majority. I think “euphoria” is a bit strong, but the Government do now have a great feeling of relief because they have a majority that will enable them to ensure that the people’s wish in the referendum of 2016 is fulfilled. The Government, and the other people I talk to in the other place, feel that there has been a conspiracy of remainers, both in this House and in the House of Commons, to ensure that we stayed in the EU.

The debate I have listened to here on this Bill gives me the impression that this House is now resigned to the fact that we are going to leave the EU, but will make those negotiations as difficult as possible for the Government, so that we will get a very bad deal and people can be justified in their view that we should never have left. The storm clouds are gathering, and there is constant speculation in the press on what will happen to this House—but we seem to be completely oblivious to it. We should be very careful about where we go over the coming months.

My Lords, I apologise for starting to speak from the Bishops’ Bench, and I hope I shall be forgiven. I just wanted to put it on record that the speech we have just heard is the most ill-judged I have heard for many long years. This House has behaved entirely properly. I think that it is a great pity that there were votes against this Bill, and I made that plain on Second Reading. The will of the people must, of course, prevail. But to pretend that this House has behaved improperly is wrong. We have a place in our constitution that we must honour, and my noble friend is entirely inaccurate in suggesting that what has happened in this place over the last two days has done great damage. I wish it had not proceeded as it did, but I believe behaviour has been right. The only thing that could jeopardise this place would be to return any amendments back to the other place—and that, I trust, we will not do.

Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.

House adjourned at 8.44 pm.