Article 50 bill not the 'proper place' for Brexit amendments, says Tory leader in Lords

Posted On: 
12th February 2017

The Government has renewed its calls on opposition parties not to amend its Brexit bill, saying it is not the “proper place” to set conditions before triggering Article 50. 

The House of Lords begins consideration of the Article 50 bill on 20 February
Credit: 
PA Images

Ministers have been forced to deny they are issuing threats to peers, after Downing Street had to disown a warning that the upper chamber could be abolished if it delayed the Prime Minister’s timetable for leaving the EU.

A senior Tory peer today said the Lords would be “playing with fire” if they sent the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill back to the Commons with changes.

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Labour has tabled eight amendments to the legislation, with the Liberal Democrats seeking further changes.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park, the Leader of the Lords, said the upper chamber could play a “really important and constructive part in scrutinising this bill”.

But she urged colleagues not to put amendments to the vote, saying there would be opportunities later down the line – such as during the promised Great Repeal Bill – for considerations about post-Brexit Britain to be heard.

She told Radio 5Live: “There will be numerous debates and votes, there will be legislation for years to come which actually are on the outcome of the negotiations and what a post-Brexit Britain will look like.

“That will be the proper place in which to talk about these issues, and that is the proper place to scrutinise and amend at that point. It’s not this bill.”

David Lidington, her counterpart in the Commons, gave a similar message on the Andrew Marr Show, arguing that the referendum result and fact the bill passed through the Commons unamended sent a “powerful message” to the Lords.

He too underlined that he was not issuing threats about possible consequences to the upper chamber.

“I am not standing, sort of, round the back alley, you know, waiting for a stray peer to arrive having a cosh in my hand,” the minister added.

“Of course they are free to propose and debate amendments, I hope they will also take full account of the strength of opinion form the elected House.”

‘PLAYING WITH FIRE’

However Lord Lamont, the former Conservative chancellor, delivered a stark warning that the red benches would be set against the “outrage in public opinion and outrage in the House of Commons” if it amended the bill.

“I think it would be untenable if it votes down or obstructs or causes great delay in a measure that had been passed by one of the biggest ever majorities in the history of parliament,” he told Sky News.

“I hope that the amendments are roundly defeated in the House of Lords, and I think that they’re playing with fire if they want the House of Lords to survive. I don’t think it will deserve to survive if they wreck this bill.”

AMENDMENTS

Labour has stressed it will not “sabotage” the Government’s bill but on Thursday set out eight proposed changes that it could push to a vote.

If changes are approved by peers, they will be sent back to the Commons where MPs can either accept them or overturn the bill in a process known as “ping-pong”.

Baroness Smith of Basildon, Labour’s leader in the Lords, insisted today her party did not want to draw out the legislative process and accused the Tories of trying to "bully" peers.

“I don’t see any extended ping-pong at all,” she told the BBC’s Sunday Politics.

“Asking the Commons to think again on things is perfectly legitimate. After all, if you look at the issues we’re not talking about the outcome of the negotiations, we’re talking about the process.”

Her stance was echoed by crossbencher Lord Kerslake, who said the Lords would be justified in telling MPs to reconsider the bill.

“I think it’s right and proper that we have a second debate and indeed where we think it’s justified to amend the bill,” the former civil service chief told ITV’s Peston on Sunday.

“We should not let ourselves be influenced by the threats about our future. If we do that we might as well pack up and go home.

"There is a debate to be had about the future of the Lords but whilst we are here we have a job to do.”