The Lords met again to debate the Article 50 bill. The day was dominated by two Liberal Democrat amendments. The scene was set for entertainment and drama. The ultimate decision would be if the people or parliament should have the final say.
One amendment passed, one failed. Elsewhere, it was fun to see different perspectives of democracy from self-proclaimed democrats, particularly the Liberals who have been in the losing side in 2 referenda in around 5 years.
The first of those amendments was introduced was on providing a second referendum, this time on the outcome of the Article 50 negotiations. The second was on giving Parliament a meaningful say in approving any deal.
Lord Newby hesitantly introduced what was technically Amendment 3. Much of the debate wandered into whether the decision made by the people on 23rd June last year. Apparently, all referenda are advisory if they produce the result that any given Lord may prefer. David Cameron’s assertions, backed by his government’s propaganda, told the public something else.
Support for a second referendum came from all around the house. There were different perspectives, however. Those against the amendment were keen to highlight that the first referendum was in 1975. The second had already taken place last year.
Supporting the amendment, a number of speakers were keen to point out that such matters are “too complicated for the people”. It is always an education listening to the Lords to be reminded of the words and philosophies of Edmund Burke.
Those Lords who had been in the ‘other place’ during their careers were keen to regale us with their experience as well as why they are “representatives” rather than “delegates”.
It may surprise those sitting on the red benches that democracy has moved on somewhat since 1774. During the 19th century, more men were given the vote, even if they did not own property. By the time we got to the 20th century, even women got in on the act. Education is now open to all. We even have referenda nowadays.
In the event, Amendment 3 was defeated before Lord Pannick took to the stage over Amendment 1, allegedly ensuring that Parliament has the final say. Pannick will be remembered as the smart lawyer who took part in the legal challenge over the Article 50 process.
It was revealing that both sides of the debate agreed that the wording of Amendment 1 is slightly less than perfect. Lord Lawson highlighted this admirably, pointing out Pannick’s legal skills. Loose wording, so it would seem, presents a two year ticking time bomb.
A fellow Conservative, Lord Hogg, was among those prepared to dismiss slack wording in order to establish a principle. This is the same Hogg whose expenses claims, apparently including moat cleaning and piano tuning, gained such notoriety. Hogg did not declare his interest in CAP subsidies. On the same day, his daughter Charlotte faced calls to resign her position as Deputy Governor of the Bank of England, over her failure to disclose a potential conflict of interests.
In the meantime, the veteran swashbuckler, Lord Heseltine, declared his intent to rebel with the phrase “the fight back starts here”. He is another who benefits from CAP. Later in the evening, he was lose his five jobs advising the government. Perhaps he will need to up his Lords’ attendance record from 2.7%.
It is always fun to listen to those former Honourable and Right Honourable members of the Commons whilst researching their expenses history in the other house. Among those was Baroness McIntosh who famously claimed for Jayes Fluid twice in a week from a shop which is a four hour round drive from her former constituency home, yet close to her own private properties.
Had she really not made up her mind? Baroness McIntosh is still due an EU pension from her time spent as an MEP. Her previous significant rebellion as an MP was against expenses reform in 2008.
Another trend to delight the audience is Lord Ashdown’s increasing tendency to vehemently defend what start of as “misquotes”. When read to him verbatim, he embarks on debate ranging beyond the amendment. During his time as a Royal Marine, Ashdown will have learned of the benefits of a smoke screen.
At times, the drama turned to pantomime, notably with the contribution from Lord Pearson, one of three UKIP Lords. Outnumbered 34:1 by Liberal peers, it might have been unsurprising to hear the calls of “oh no we don’t”. Perhaps he should have advocated proportional representation in the Lords, given that his party secured over 50% more votes than the Liberals?
Given the nobility presented on the day, there was one notably chivalrous moment. Baroness Deech expressed a mistrust of the remaining 27 EU nations. When challenged, she gave supporting evidence of what she had read in the papers.
In the face of being metaphorically slapped down, up stepped Lord Lamont to provide concrete quotes from key EU negotiators and politicians from the 27. his gallantry calmed the house.
Other highlights, surprisingly to some, came from the clergy. The Archbishop of Canterbury sought to reduce division. Once again, The Archbishop of York is developing a habit of appealing to common sense and explaining the existing constitutional safeguards that made the amendment unnecessary.
The summaries made perfect sense. Some Lords do not trust the government or the people to make the right decisions. Some Lords do not trust the 27 EU states. Some seek to create a legal quagmire which will keep their practices in gainful employment whilst others will seek to use procedure to get their own way, whether the people like it or not.
The Lords decided that no further referendum was required but BOTH Houses should have the final say on approving a deal – if there is one.
Ultimately, the elected representatives in the Commons will decide. Those who go against the will of the people will have to seek re-election. If they fail, they can always be elevated to the House of Lords.