Iain Duncan Smith opposes using an emergency procedure to bring in a Bill to prevent a 'no-deal' Brexit

3rd April 2019

Iain Duncan Smith opposes using an emergency procedure to rush through a Bill to prevent the UK leaving the EU without a deal on 12th April; raising specific concerns about the precedent being set.

I intend to be very brief. I rise to explain why I will oppose this motion, in line with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who spoke for the Government.

I think the biggest danger here is that a precedent is being set. I am not by any means the oldest Member in the House—I simply chide the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), who spoke from the SNP Benches—but I recall that when I first came here that it was always a requirement for every Bill to have 100 hours in Committee before the Government were allowed to bring it back to the Floor of the House with any kind of guillotine. Debate and scrutiny took place in Committee, or on the Floor of the House for that matter, at great length, as many of my right hon. and hon. Friends will remember. I think the quality of our examination of Bills was infinitely better than what followed under the subsequent Labour Government, who introduced programme motions on Bills immediately. That has meant that this House has fallen into disrepute for its inability properly to scrutinise legislation in the way it should.

We now dump everything in the other place and say blithely, as my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) said earlier—I say quite genuinely that he is a good friend—things will go to the Lords and, of course, we expect the Lords to tidy it up. However, we are the elected Chamber: the public have elected us to come here to hold the Government to account. We constantly say that we are here to hold the Government to account, and then we blithely say that we will let the Lords do it for us when they get the chance and that we will think about it later on.

I was not going to give way, because my right hon. Friend told us that we were speaking for too long, but I will give way to him.

I certainly would never accuse my right hon. Friend of speaking for too long; it was others who advised me that I was speaking for too long. I just say to him and other Members present that we are aware of the issues the Government have with the details. We have discussed with the Government, at their request, changes that would accommodate those concerns. We expressed our total willingness to include those amendments at this stage in the Commons; the Government, so far at any rate, have not come forward with those. That is why that would have to be in the Lords; I would far prefer if it were done today.

I am happy to accept my right hon. Friend’s explanation for some of the rationale behind this, but if he will forgive me, I do not speak for the Government—to be fair, I have not done so for a little while, since I resigned, in case he had forgotten. I will try to speak for what I think it is like to be in opposition. I always think that Oppositions should be careful about what they wish for when they are going to be in government, because Oppositions fall upon all these mechanisms in this place. Delaying Bills is part of the reasonable rationale of an Opposition to force the Government to think again. These devices, once swept away at short notice, are swept away for good and for ill.

rose

I will give way briefly, because I intend to finish fairly shortly.

I absolutely sympathise with the sentiments that my right hon. Friend is expressing. Did he note that our right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) also said that this was not the world’s best drafted Bill, but that there was not enough time and that the House of Lords would expedite it, because he had already talked to a few people there who were going to proceed in a fashion that meant it would come back here quickly? The rush associated with this is absolutely appalling.

I think it is—I agree with my hon. Friend—but more important is the precedent being set. I worry that future Governments, of whichever persuasion, will reference this device and frequently conclude that time must be curtailed because it is their right to do so.

I will give way, but I feel very bad because I was going to conclude.

I urge the right hon. Gentleman not to feel bad about it. I also remind Members that the Northern Ireland Office has developed quite a habit of using the emergency procedure to take through Northern Ireland legislation in all its stages in one day in this House. We have had the Northern Ireland budget taken through in all its stages not just once but twice, when it was not an emergency, along with the regional rate and energy tariffs in Northern Ireland, so the right hon. Gentleman should please not use the argument that what we are doing today is setting a precedent. The Northern Ireland Office and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland have already set that precedent.

I recognise that, and I think that procedure should never be used, except in absolute extremis. I agree with the hon. Lady. As someone who once served in Northern Ireland, I have to say that if we legislate in haste, we will repent at leisure, and we do nothing in this place but repent at leisure again and again. The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 and all these other things that we said were emergencies were never properly scrutinised, and it is the scrutiny of this place that should matter above all else.

We talk about sweeping away precedents because they are archaic and were around for 200 years or whatever, and that everything modern must be brilliant. I do not agree with that. I think that sometimes history teaches endless lessons. This place is at its best when it is arguing and debating, and taking its time to do so. Other legislatures around the world, such as the Senate, which has no time limits, spend a lot of time looking at Bills and legislation. We do away with that at our peril.

rose

If it is urgent, I will give way; then I will conclude.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, because he has made all the points that I want to make, so I do not now need to speak, expect to make one point about the Northern Ireland legislation. That process was done with the consent of both sides of the House before the legislation was brought through. Therefore, there was a consensus in this Chamber that it needed to be done in that way, which does not exist on this occasion. That is a convention of the greatest importance, because now a Government with a majority will feel entitled to use this dangerous process.

I agree and I recognise that, but I think that Governments too often use that process, and it occasionally suits Oppositions to agree with them. It is better that we delay and debate. I will conclude with the wise words of my predecessor, now Lord Tebbit. When I first came here, I asked him, “How will I know whether I am right or wrong?” He said, “You’ll be wrong if you’re not speaking and arguing. You’re right if you’re arguing and you’re speaking. That’s what you were sent here for.”

Hansard