3rd reading & 3rd reading (Hansard) & 3rd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 2nd December 2020

(3 years, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 View all United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 155-I Marshalled list for Third Reading - (27 Nov 2020)
Lord Garnier Portrait Lord Garnier (Con)
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My Lords, to save time, I ask your Lordships’ House to read into my remarks the kind words of the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, about those behind this Bill. I think it is appropriate for me, a disagreeable Conservative Back-Bencher, to congratulate the Ministers, my noble friends Lord Callanan, Lord True and Lady Bloomfield, as well as my other friends on the Front Bench, for their conduct of the Bill, good spirit and sense of humour, as they have watched large parts of the Bill of which they had conduct, crumble during its passage. The Bill has had a bumpy ride; I do not think that is controversial. Today, we will return a somewhat different Bill to the other place compared to the one that it sent to us.

None the less, I urge that we do let it pass and go back to the other place. As I implied on Report, it has, on occasion, been tempting to think that, in relation to the progress and development of the Bill, Downing Street had

“learned nothing and forgotten nothing”.

Of course, Talleyrand was referring to the Bourbons after the abdication of Napoleon: they seemed determined endlessly to repeat the mistakes of their predecessors who had been swept away in the French Revolution. That is clearly not a fate I wish for the Government, although last night’s revolt in the Commons suggests that they need to have a care.

It may be said that all that needs to be said has already been said about the Bill. In the other place, that is often seen as a good reason to say it all over again. I will not say it all over again, but I will point out two themes that have emerged from our consideration of the Bill, which I hope the other place will not ignore when it considers the Bill we return to it.

The first relates to the rule of law. The Bill did not start well. It began with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland announcing that the Government would deliberately renege on their international treaty obligations, albeit, as he said, in a very specific and limited way. It was not a slip; it was a deliberate statement. But it was certainly a mistake, and it made the Government look ridiculous.

The Government sought to cure that error by passing the buck to the other place, and then sought to avoid the error by arguing that they were not breaking their rule of law obligations, or that there was a difference between our international law and domestic rule of law duties, or that it did not matter, or that they had to break their obligations because, in some unspecified manner, the EU was going to act in bad faith. I sincerely regret that the Lord Chancellor and the Attorney-General took part in this because, objectively observed, they did not assist. Few Britons who believe in the rule of law and in our respecting treaty obligations were convinced by any of that.

Part 5 of the Bill was unsupportable and it was rightly removed for the reasons set out by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and many other thoughtful contributors, from all parties and none. I therefore gently ask the Government and the thinking majority in the other place not to put Part 5 back into the Bill.

Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
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Hear, hear.

Lord Garnier Portrait Lord Garnier (Con)
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It is always a joy to have the support of my noble friend.

No British Government, and certainly no British Conservative Government, should be in the business of persuading the United Kingdom Parliament to enact a law that breaks a treaty that is barely a year old, the terms of which were put into domestic law earlier this year by the very same Government and Parliament. They cannot break the law, still less the law of their own making, and expect to engender respect at home or abroad.

My second theme relates to the maintenance of the United Kingdom—something already touched upon by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay. I am a unionist, and I want to see the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland continue and thrive. Of course, I know that there are some people in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland who want to see a different constitutional arrangement, whether that be through greater devolution, a federal system or the separation of Wales and Scotland from the United Kingdom and the unification of Northern Ireland and the Republic. But there are, and there were, provisions in the Bill—no doubt sincere arguments were made in favour of them by the Government—that will encourage those against the continuance of the union to conclude that the United Kingdom Government do not care about their views and that they should therefore try even harder to leave. My noble friend Lord Callanan’s statement at about 2.20 pm exemplified that.

The law too often passed by Parliament is the law of unintended consequence. If we are not more aware of the effect of our words and deeds upon the minds of those who want to bring the union to an end, it is we unionists who will live to regret it. It was, after all, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, my honourable friend Douglas Ross, who recently said that the case for separation was being won in London, not in Scotland.

I therefore ask the Government, in relation to this second theme—the maintenance of the United Kingdom —not to do anything that will give the separatists any excuse to say that the United Kingdom has had its day and that London knows nothing and cares less for the opinions and self-respect of the devolved Administrations. Of course separatists will find insult where none is intended and make good use of every slight, actual or perceived, so let us not give them any excuse to do so. Let us treat the devolved Administrations with respect and co-operate together as a functioning union, with more to gain from being one country than four separate ones.

I urge the other place to rest content with the Bill as we return it to them. It is in better shape now than it was and it will do less damage to the union and our country’s international reputation.