Lord Butler of Brockwell (CB)
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, on her maiden speech, which I heard with great pleasure from the Strangers’ Gallery.
In the limited time available, I will not dwell on the anxiety and shame I feel about Part 5 of this Bill, which others have expressed so eloquently. I hope and believe that your Lordships will assent to the amendment in the name of my noble and learned friend Lord Judge. I also hope that, in the next few weeks, agreements will be reached with the EU which enable the Government to assent to removing these clauses from the Bill. In passing, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, and others, that the amendment passed in another place—that these clauses would not be brought into effect without a positive vote in the Commons—is not sufficient to remove the mischief. These clauses contain a threat which should never have been made, and which must have no place in the United Kingdom statute book. I invite the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, to consider the precedents that they would provide for an unscrupulous Government in the future.
I shall address my remarks to the situation that will arise if the Government seek to maintain the clauses and can get a majority in the House of Commons to that end. Your Lordships will then have to decide whether we maintain our opposition to them in the face of a majority in the elected House. I have argued in the past, and continue to believe, that this House must recognise the constitutional limitations on our power and must ultimately defer to elected House. But the issues on this occasion are of a different order. The Northern Ireland clauses in this Bill go to the root of our constitution. On this occasion, the power is in your Lordships’ hands, and we may not be used to that. The Government need the internal market provisions in this Bill by 31 December. They cannot, therefore, use the Parliament Acts to get the Bill through. If this House is resolute in rejecting the unacceptable Northern Ireland clauses, the Government will have to agree to remove them if they are to get the Bill passed.
The issues here are the rule of law and our constitution, as well as our national reputation. I believe that it is the role and duty of your Lordships’ House to defend these things, even in the face of an overweening Executive with a majority in another place, and I urge your Lordships to be resolute in doing so. We can prevent this disaster.