The rule of law is essential to an open and democratic society and the institutions which embody and protect it. Any Government that seeks to secure widespread compliance with the law must itself adhere to it
My noble friend Lady Bennett would like me to explain that we are dividing this Bill between us and she will speak on the internal and devolution issues. She abhors the destruction by this Bill of the rights of democratic devolution that have been embraced and exercised by the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland has long had a distinct education system with higher qualification standards for teachers. The Senedd too has plans for better control of single-use plastics than we have managed here in England.
I, therefore, will focus on international and rule of law issues in the Bill. First, I congratulate the Constitution Committee on its wonderful report on this Bill. I read it through and laughed with pleasure. I thank the committee for that. This debate has been extremely interesting because I did not think that anyone would have the audacity to defend this Bill, apart from the Minister. The Constitution Committee expressed the problem in relation to the law very well when it said:
“Society cannot afford to take this principle for granted or acquiesce in its violation. The rule of law is essential to an open and democratic society and the institutions which embody and protect it. Any Government that seeks to secure widespread compliance with the law must itself adhere to it”.
It is indicative that there are two amendments. One of them is from the Convenor of the Cross Benches, who is a former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, and the other is from a Peer who was a Conservative MP for 40 years. These are hardly rebels of the usual kind. The Government have some cheek to introduce the Bill now, because it is less than a year since they campaigned on Boris’s deal as their main election gambit. This House passed that deal in recognition of the fact that the Government had won the election and it was a quasi-referendum on the deal itself. Now the Government come to Parliament to try to unpick key provisions of the deal that they themselves negotiated.
It is too easy to get bogged down in seeing this as the narrow political issue around Brexit and Boris’s deal; it is much deeper than that. I say to those few noble Lords who have talked about remoaners that I voted for Brexit yet I am deeply unhappy with the Bill. The Government are trying to use the principle of parliamentary sovereignty to justify this course of action. That is wrong. A classic example of parliamentary sovereignty is that nothing stops Parliament from passing a law to ban Frenchmen from smoking in the streets of Paris, but it would have no effect. Parliament has the power to pass legislation that violates international laws and agreements, but that does not mean that it is justified in doing so. There is, therefore, scope for your Lordships’ House to amend the Bill to remove the offending provisions. If, however, this Bill cannot be sufficiently amended, our role as guardians of the constitution will require us to reject the Bill in its entirety. I will of course support the amendment.