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Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I am very much obliged. I wonder whether I can help on this because we are going slightly off track. The question is not how high is the hurdle. It will not be very high when it starts. The whole concept is to develop a new dimension of comity--an enabling provision. Obviously my drafting would not be right; that is clear. I am not competent to draft this sort of provision. It would have to be drafted in consultation and there would need to be a willingness on the part of both Houses to recognise that something had to be done about the constitution. My noble friend did not quite understand what I was getting at.

Lord Bach: My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord is right to say that the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, did not understand what he was getting at. However, in my experience the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, is learned in these matters and normally understands these issues rather better than I.

Lord Norton of Louth: My Lords, as my name has been mentioned I had better speak to prove that I am present. My noble friend says that I misstate his position. I point out that that was based on a misstatement of what I said on Report; therefore, it is a misstatement based on a misstatement. I hope that I may help the noble Lord in one respect as I think that there is a point here which relates to what my noble friend Lord Cranborne said, particularly with regard to recognising an elephant when you see one.

Under my noble friend's amendment, the constitutional committee would merely give advice on whether a matter substantially affects the constitution. It would not necessarily give advice on whether a referendum should be held. That, I think, serves not to

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strengthen but to undermine the position of my noble friend. Merely to say that something substantially affects the constitution could include a number of issues on which no one would feel a referendum was necessary. Therefore, it would be easy for the Government to say that they do not think that this is something on which a referendum is necessary. As there would be several issues on which there would be general agreement that matters of that kind should not be put to a referendum, I do not think that the amendment would create a substantial hurdle.

Lord Bach: My Lords, I talk of other aspects of these--

Lord Peston: My Lords, I know that my noble friend wants to get a move on, as does everyone else, but before he does so I refer to an earlier question that I expressed badly. I merely asked whether the constitutional committee could--this follows the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth--say that this is an important matter for the constitution and that it thinks that the Government ought to consider holding a referendum. Would it be within the committee's powers to say that, or would it be ultra vires? That was my question. Could the committee at least recommend a referendum? Is the constitutional committee permitted to do that?

Lord Bach: My Lords, that is a much more difficult question than the first one that I thought the noble Lord had asked me. I do not know whether that would be beyond the committee's powers but I suspect that the constitutional committee will be a strong committee and will take a strong line. However, I am looking to the future.

I turn briefly to the other aspects of these amendments. We do not understand why the noble Lord considers that an independent body other than the electoral commission should administer a referendum held under these provisions. In the Bill, whatever its faults, we have gone to considerable lengths to secure the independence of the new electoral commission from the government of the day. The noble Lord's amendment appears to intend that the independent body which he has in mind would be appointed by the Secretary of State.

The debate about the proper place of referendums in our constitutional arrangements will run and run and rightly so. However, the Government do not think that matters of this order should be harnessed to proposals set out in the Bill. I do not believe that the noble Lord thinks so either. However, we and the House are grateful to him for having raised in this short debate matters of considerable importance, to which the House will no doubt return in future.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. I shall deal with one or two questions. No, it was not the concept that the constitutional committee should have the remit to recommend a referendum; its remit would be merely to advise on whether provisions in a

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Bill substantially affected the constitution. As to the hurdle, I am afraid that my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth still does not have it right, but I shall not pursue that on this occasion.

I take the point that this Bill, from a government point of view, is not the right vehicle for this amendment. But from anyone else's point of view, when you look at Clause 101 and you see that it is a generic application, and that it inhibits a referendum other than at the behest of government and inhibits Parliament, one is bound to put an amendment such as this down at all events at the very least to draw attention to the situation. That has certainly been done. As my noble friend Lord Cranborne said--I am most grateful to him for his help and support--this is something that we do have to worry about. It is something that we shall have to consider--it will not go away--as it is an important de facto part of our unwritten constitution.

I am not so sure that my attempt is sufficiently successful to be, so to speak, the end of the road and for me to seek to divide your Lordships' House and to take a formal opinion. I should prefer, if I may, again saying how much indebted I am to all noble Lords who have contributed, to ask leave to withdraw the amendment, but I may well wish to come back to this matter on the gracious Speech. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 18 not moved.]

Clause 112 [Notional referendum expenses]:

Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 19:

    Page 86, line 5, leave out ("less") and insert ("not more").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment has already been spoken to. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 114 [Restriction on payments in respect of referendum expenses]:

Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 20:

    Page 86, line 43, leave out ("less") and insert ("not more").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment has already been spoken to. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 125 [Restriction on publication etc. of promotional material by central and local government etc.]:

Lord Willoughby de Broke moved Amendment No. 21:

    Page 93, line 19, at end insert ("; or

(c) any institution of the European Union").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendments Nos. 21 and 44 are two modest but, I believe, necessary amendments. If they are put on the face of the Bill, as I hope noble Lords will accept that they should be, they will simply ensure that the EU institutions will not be tempted to interfere in a referendum--whether or not that concerns the euro--during the referendum period. I believe that that is not unreasonable.

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Similar amendments were moved in Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, dismissed the fear that there was any need for this kind of amendment. He said:

    "My view and the Government's view is that it would be entirely counter-productive for the commission to become embroiled in a referendum campaign on this issue".--[Official Report, 24/10/00; col. 195.]

He later stated:

    "I do not believe that the European Commission wishes in any way, shape or form to become involved in any attempt to slant the debate in this country".--[Official Report, 24/10/00; col. 200.]

The Minister must have been working terribly hard on his brief over the past few years as over the past years and months we have all been subjected to a constant bombardment of lectures from members of the Commission and other Eurocrats on the dangers that we face if we miss the various trains, planes, boats and bicycles that are so dear to EU image-makers.

I give one or two examples that support the need for my amendment. The Commission--it is one of the prime movers--supports the European Movement with money. The European Movement supports Britain in Europe. They are bed fellows and share the same offices. That is a good way to transfer money direct from the Commission to Britain in Europe. Britain in Europe is likely to be one of the major players in any referendum on the euro. I note that the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, is a supporter of Britain in Europe. Perhaps he may care to clarify whether he is still a member of its council. The Commission also supports 24 Euro-info centres in the United Kingdom. These are funded in part by the Commission, in part by the Government and in part by other business interests. One of the activities of these Eurocentres is to distribute literature for the Association for the Monetary Union of Europe, a strongly pro-euro campaigning group.

The EU Trade Union Information Bulletin informs that it is supported by DG X--the trades union division of the Commission. I am afraid that that bulletin is unashamed propaganda. It claims that the euro will,

    "reduce interest rates and mortgages and increase competition, reduce prices and create unemployment".

In other words, they are the usual fairy tales.

The contention that we do not need to have any safeguard in the Bill against interference by the European Commission or any other of the European institutions does not hold water. The Minister said in effect, "Don't worry, the Commission will be too clever or too wise to interfere". The Minister and some noble Lords may believe that but does the Commission? In order to be certain that the Commission and other institutions will not interfere, the safest move would be to put the provision on the face of the Bill. I beg to move.

6 p.m.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I support my noble friend's amendment. It has been the theme of critics of the Bill that the Government, quite rightly, have

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powerful opinions about which they are endeavouring to persuade the British public. A perception could grow that, despite the Government's natural desire to appear to conduct referendums under rules which are perceived to be and are fair, their opinions are driving them so strongly that they are blind to the fact that that is no longer so. There is more than a suspicion that the conditions under which two previous pre-legislative referendums on devolution in Scotland and Wales were held were rigged by the Government. This Bill is an opportunity to ensure that the Government are seen to make it more difficult to rig referendums.

My noble friend's amendment has a narrow application. But we know that very large sums of taxpayers' money, whatever their opinions, are paid through the EU budget into making propaganda on behalf of the European Union. If there were a universal consensus about the European Union and the desirability of a number of its activities and aspirations that might just be acceptable. But we are talking about probably the most important and most contentious political issue of the day. We know that the institutions of the European Union have a well-financed propaganda campaign, as my noble friend made clear. Large sums of taxpayers' money are poured into various lobbying groups. They may be groups employed directly by the European Union, like Mr Martin's organisation not far from this very building. Alternatively, those funds may be directed into supporting various campaigning groups, particularly in this country, of the kind to which my noble friend referred.

If the Government are to avoid reinforcing the impression that they are not averse to rigging the rules on referendums in their favour, they would be wise to make one little nod in the sceptics' directions--I do not use that term in the European sense but as regards sceptics of the Government's own intentions--by looking favourably on my noble friend's suggestion.

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