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I am sorry to find myself in disagreement with my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway. I will not go into the issue at length for the reasons given with great eloquence by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. First, I believe that if we were to have a referendum, we would be moving backwards to a stage which we passed long ago with the Weatherill amendment. Secondly, I believe it to be almost inevitable that if we had a referendum on this subject, it would be represented as one more round in the battle which finished long ago; that of the Peers against the people. So I hope with some confidence that when the noble Baroness the Leader of the House comes to reply, she will reject the amendment.
We should also bear in mind that referendums asking the public to express their opinion are not all that popular. Only last week, we emerged from a process which I would not like to describe in detail. I refer to that awful document which most of us met for the first time in a polling station. It was a revolting way of taking an opinion on the subject. If it is ever tried again, I believe that the disappointment recently experienced by the public will lead to an even lower poll than we had on this occasion. Those who advocate referendums should bear in mind that the public do not find us all that interesting. They do not wish to hear from us every day of the week.
There are in your Lordships' House many more modest people than there are in the House of Commons. We should perhaps use our influence on them to avoid referendums, and not encourage the use of this rather superficial and unpleasant device.
I wish to make only one more point before I sit down. I wish to express very quietly my sympathy with what my noble friend Lord Elton said very courteously just now. He said that when the first amendment appeared there occurred what I took to be--I may be wrong--a preliminary private chat between the two Front Benches, with eventually someone on the Back Benches perhaps having a chance to speak. It was silly of me to have had that view, but nevertheless I missed my opportunity to express an opinion. I will not go into what my opinion was now, but I hope that in future we will not be the victims of the Whips on the Government Front Bench and be caught out without having had an opportunity to say something.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, I am very much obliged to the noble Baroness for her explanation. If she will do me the courtesy of reading what I said, she will find that I made it perfectly clear that it was myself, and not her, who was the problem, and that I had made the mistake. That little private chat was entirely misread by myself, and for that I apologise.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Goodhart has clearly and ably set out the position of these Benches. I largely concur with what he said. However, I should like to refer to one matter on which he touched and which has been referred to by other noble Lords who have spoken. I refer to the lessons to be drawn from the democratic catastrophe, as I think one could call it, of the recent European elections. I am not at all sure that I go along with the view that, because the result was such an appalling reflection of the democratic vitality of the British electorate, one should have less reference to the electorate and should engage in less dialogue with them. I think the reverse is true.
When the Leader of the House comes to reply to the amendment, I should like her to comment on the way in which the consultation exercise, if one can call it that, is going vis-a-vis the proposed second stage of reform of this House.
Before Christmas I asked whether there would be what I called in my Question a widespread information and consultation campaign with the public at large. The answer that I was unequivocally given was, yes. If one reads the White Paper setting up the Royal Commission, one will find there, too, an unequivocal and enthusiastic endorsement of the notion that we should be engaging the great British public as much as possible in a dialogue in which, first, they will be enabled to understand the main sinews and lines of reform proposed and, secondly, to give their response to those proposals in order that the Royal Commission may have fed into it a wider tributary of responses than those of the usual "chattering classes". I have to say that so far the signs are extremely disappointing.
The Royal Commission has set in train a series of a dozen or so public meetings. It is to be commended on that, but what is not to be commended is that there is little or nothing by way of public information, let alone consultation, around those public meetings. I believe
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, it relates to the Bill in terms of the argument expressed by a number of noble Lords that the need for a referendum is to make up for the failure to inform and consult the public. I was seeking to engage the Government in responding to that general line of argument. While I am not persuaded that we should accept this amendment, I am entirely in sympathy with those noble Lords who feel that without it there will be no public information and consultation. That is the drift of my argument. I leave it at that, but I urge the Government, if it is not too late, to put some muscle behind this public information and consultation campaign and perhaps take a leaf out of the book of the Local Government Commission, which for the first and only time did effectively engage public opinion and received a huge response. I am disinclined to support the amendment, but I am extremely sympathetic to those who have spoken in terms of the failure to inform and consult the public.
Lord Marsh: My Lords, whatever conclusions may be drawn from last week's election results, they demonstrate two things. There is no overwhelming, pulsating desire on the part of the British electorate to become more and more involved in the political decision-making process. Secondly, far from being a catastrophe, it is difficult to imagine a more comprehensive, deeply emotionally moving demon- stration of the British public's opinion of some of the activities of the European Commission. That came over loud and clear.
Like the noble Baroness, I could well understand, although not agree with, a call for a referendum on the proposals for stage two. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, represents a significant body of opinion which has believed from the beginning that the details of stage two should have been available and negotiated before we took the decision on stage one. That view has been expressed--and expressed, and expressed. A refrain has begun to emerge.
The noble Lord, Lord Peyton, drew attention (he was wrong, as he said) to the attendance of some Members of this House. I have become increasingly bewildered by the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd-Webber--I must say that I have not given the noble Lord notice of this comment--because this is reaching a stage where it could be set to music. It could be developed at some length.
The problem for all oppositions is that strongly held, perfectly legitimate views are not accepted by the government of the day and it is difficult to come to terms with that. There comes a time when a government has to take a decision. This Government, whether right or wrong, have made it clearly, as they are entitled to
This is a serious point. We cannot get away from the recognition that there comes a stage in the passage of a Bill as controversial as this, and on which there are such deeply held emotions, when, with a government majority, it has to progress. Whatever the virtues of referendums--and I have grave doubts about them--to expect the public to take a decision on how we should manage the progress of a Bill through the Houses of Parliament would make us look ridiculous. That is not a criticism of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway. His is a serious and strongly held view. But we have now debated it many times. We cannot at this stage simply pass the matter on to the public by means of a referendum.
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