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However, it is time for me to wind up my remarks. I do not believe that the way forward is this amendment. I tried to indicate that by talking about the need to think strategically about justice and home affairs. Our approach to individual opt-ins would be governed to a degree by how that strategy is developed. I do not believe that the House would be best served by individual discussions on individual opt-ins. I believe it is well served and best served by the committee, which can take the strategic overview that is the most appropriate way forward. It has the power to bring forward to the House, if it so wishes, issues of concern and to suggest to the House that it should debate them. I know that noble Lords will not underestimate the importance and value of the committee; nor should they underestimate the value that the committee has within government. Noble Lords will be aware that those of us who have had the privilege of working with the committee in this area take great note and pay great attention to what is being said.

My response to the amendment was not just to be negative about it but to look for alternative ways in which we can ensure the best possible scrutiny, so that noble Lords can rest assured that the House will play an appropriate role. We believe that that is through the committee. I therefore hope the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Goodlad: I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for her speech and for her undertaking that the Government’s reply to the Select Committee’s report will be available before Report on the Bill. I was rather disappointed by what she said in response to the amendment, but I was encouraged by what was said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, and the noble Lords, Lord Rowlands and

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Lord Jopling, who between them bring decades, if not centuries, of experience on other people’s doorsteps. They understand the perception of our relationship with Europe from outside Parliament and how the way we react to the Bill will be affected by it. As the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, said, we use the affirmative procedure for far less important matters than the opt-ins that we are considering under the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Roper, in a typically perceptive speech, expressed the hope that what is proposed in this amendment would not be mutually exclusive with scrutiny in the European committee. There is no such intention. The committee did not consider the matter, but my intention is that they would be complementary, as the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, said.

Perhaps an excess of delicacy prevented me addressing the Minister’s remarks to the committee. These were alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Rowlands, and my noble friend Lord Jopling, in talking about the final word on opt-ins remaining with the Executive. I am sure that it was not the Minister’s intention to throw down the gauntlet to Parliament. Governments who have done that in the past tend to find that, in the end, Parliament prevails. We await the Government’s detailed response to the committee’s report. We will think carefully about that and return to the matter on Report. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Blackwell moved Amendment No. 160B:

The noble Lord said: I hope this amendment will be relatively uncontentious. I will therefore keep my opening remarks fairly brief. The treaty of Lisbon inserts into the relevant protocol a provision that Her Majesty’s Government may notify the European Council at any time of their intent to join the euro. The treaty is, of course, silent on what process may go on within the United Kingdom before the Government make that notification. Fortunately, for the last decade we have had cross-party agreement in the United Kingdom that no decision to join the euro would be taken without being the subject of a referendum. It has been a sensible policy to uphold in this country because of the recognition of how important a step joining the euro, were we ever to do so, would be.

There are a couple of reasons for that. This is not the place to discuss the pros and cons of the euro, but most people would accept that it has both economic and political significance. The economic benefits have been argued by many, but equally there are those—among whom I include myself—who believe that floating exchange rates were one of the great successes of the second half of the last century, and that they have worked greatly in the UK’s favour by enabling our

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economy to adjust in periods of turbulence. Indeed, you could argue that the only periods when the UK has had real trouble have been when it has attempted to link its exchange rate permanently to some other grouping. I happen to be in favour of maintaining floating exchange rates. Whichever side of the argument you come down on, most people would agree that these are serious and deep economic arguments that run across party lines. There are people of both persuasions in all parties and, indeed, in no party.

Similarly, on political grounds, a number of eminent people gave evidence to the recent House of Lords European Union Committee report on the euro. Most accepted—or indeed made—the point that because monetary policy is intimately linked with fiscal policy and therefore overall economic policy, and because of the impact that overall policy has on the way economic development affects the country and the individuals in it, it is very difficult to proceed to monetary union without that carrying with it some degree of political union. That factor has been one of the driving forces behind the adoption and development of the euro as part of a project of European integration. Therefore, any decision by the UK to join the euro would, most would accept, have implications for the level of pooling of sovereignty in a number of areas that that carried with it.

For economic reasons and reasons of sovereignty, and the important point that these arguments have run across party lines in the United Kingdom for many years, there has been a common policy of accepting that any decision on something so important should be adopted through a referendum.

One might ask why we need this commitment in this Bill. To be delicate, the public might have reason, as a result of recent debates, to be suspicious of whether commitments to referendums made by parties in manifestos have the level of value and confidence that they might have believed them to have. It is not for me to enlarge on that point. But, with this Bill including the provision to notify the Council of a decision to join the euro, it would be sensible for us to put beyond doubt that all parties in this Parliament, and those who are not of any party but are here to uphold the constitution, still subscribe to the view that a decision of this importance should be subject to a referendum. Including this provision takes it once and for all out of the political debate. It would be settled and decided that that is the view of all involved in this question.

I do not think any member of any political party would want it thought that, having made a commitment to a referendum, there was any doubt about that commitment. Therefore, it would be helpful to all political parties to have that written into the treaty so that no one can ever question their commitment. That is why I believe this is, I hope, an uncontentious amendment that should have the support of all sides of the Committee. I look forward to it being received in that manner. I beg to move.

Lord Tomlinson: We are beginning to make progress towards a consensus. I agree fairly substantially with the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell. The content of his amendment is highly appropriate; it is just its location

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in this Bill which is entirely inappropriate and wrong. I have no difficulty with the substance of what he is saying. I believe that I support a Government whose position in relation to the euro remains unchanged. They are in favour of the principle of joining the euro and I look forward to my noble friend confirming that policy, but in practice the conditions for that entry must be right. Those conditions have been laid fairly unambiguously by the Government and we all know the evaluation of economic tests made historically.

I can agree with the noble Lord that, at the end of that process when we believe the conditions have been met, there should be a referendum. But to locate that in this Bill to enable the ratification of the Lisbon treaty would be an act of complete folly with no logic. The only argument used to sustain it is to say that, because people might not trust the Government when they talk about referenda, anything on which we may need to have a referendum should be grounded in this Bill. That is a nonsense which needs to be opposed. I am sure that on sober reflection, knowing the cross-party agreement and consensus that the noble Lord has on the content, he will withdraw his amendment, knowing that this is the wrong place to put it.

4.30 pm

Lord Brittan of Spennithorne: My noble friend said one thing about which I was a little surprised in his opening remarks. I have always greatly admired his erudition and sophistication in his arguments, even if I have not always agreed. But to say that to have or to propose a referendum on any subject takes the matter out of political debate seems to fly completely in the face of the facts of the history. Every time a referendum has been held or suggested, it has been a political act of the highest order, designed not from high constitutional motives but because the people who propose or oppose it wish to achieve a particular political objective which they do not think they can achieve any other way. To say that having a referendum on this issue will take it out of the political debate flies in the face of history and reality.

I oppose this amendment precisely for the reasons that the noble Baroness gave in winding up the last debate. She referred to the importance of coherence—of not just having an ad hoc policy but one that makes sense taken together, one item with another. My idea of coherence is one of support for the concept of parliamentary democracy. That is why, if the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Goodlad had been put to the vote, I would have unhesitatingly supported it. We have to be serious about these matters and not just pick and choose which particular procedural or constitutional device we want according to whether it will get us the right answer.

When there is a matter as important as the question of an opt-in, for which the Government fought so hard for the right in the negotiations, to express any hesitation about Parliament having the right not just to be consulted but to decide on the matter is inconsistent with the belief in the supremacy of Parliament. If you are a real believer in the supremacy of Parliament and the need to restore it, you have to be ready to put the

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decisions of the Executive to the test of a parliamentary vote, by means of an effective vote and not just a consultative discussion.

By the same token, you ought to continue the process of parliamentary democracy by refusing to resort to the essentially Bonapartist device of a referendum, however popular that might be. That is inconsistent with the whole tradition of representative parliamentary democracy. Whoever has said it; however often it has been said; however many political parties have wanted to say it, have felt it convenient to say it, been pushed to say it or been pressed by sections of the press to say it, those who are true parliamentarians and believe in our representative democracy will not support the concept of a referendum, however unpopular that may be in certain quarters and however much they may be traduced for supporting the supremacy of Parliament rather than populist devices in some sections of the press. It is for that reason and principle that I am against this amendment—not because it is in the wrong Bill, although it certainly is and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, but because it is wrong in principle.

Lord Vinson: Does the noble Lord agree that a manifesto commitment to having a referendum binds the hands of Parliament to some degree, or should we ignore such commitments altogether?

Lord Brittan of Spennithorne: If I wrote the manifesto I would feel bound by it, but mercifully it is many years since I have had the responsibility for what appears in any manifesto.

Lord Hamilton of Epsom: Was Harold Wilson wrong to have a referendum on our entry into the EC?

Lord Brittan of Spennithorne: I did not want to enter into partisan matters, particularly ones going back so far in history. If my noble friend wishes to do so, I am happy to say that that was one of the most disreputable things that happened. Harold Wilson did not have a majority in his Cabinet, there had never been a national referendum and there has not been one since, and he resorted to the device of referendum precisely to deal with the political problem that his party was divided. He said, “We’ll have a referendum and members of the Cabinet can campaign on both sides. I am in favour”. He pulled the trick off and I am glad of the outcome, but the device was a shabby one. It will go down in the annals of the history of Parliament as one that put us on the wrong road.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: In moving the amendment, the noble Lord said it was uncontentious, a point which has not found universal acceptance. The amendment is completely unnecessary because the treaty of Lisbon says precisely nothing about our commitment under the Maastricht treaty to monetary union. Our opt-out, as it is called—although it is an opt-in—and the ability of the British Government to take a sovereign decision to activate it, if that is their wish, is covered by the commitment of all three parties to a referendum. Much though I, like the previous speaker, dislike the instrument of a referendum, I regard it as a complete and absolute reality that such a sovereign decision will

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be taken only if there has first been a referendum. That will no doubt be confirmed by all three Front Benches before this short debate is over.

One has to ask why, when the treaties of Amsterdam and Nice were ratified, no one thought it necessary to put in such a provision. It is not relevant. If we had been ratifying the constitutional treaty, it is just conceivable that you could have mounted a case saying it was necessary. Because the constitutional treaty completely rewrote all the instruments—although some of them were kept virtually identical—you could have argued that, for the avoidance of all doubt, it was desirable to make clear that the commitment by all three parties for a referendum on the euro applied to the new constitutional treaty. But we are not talking about the constitutional treaty; we are talking about a treaty which acts by amendment. It has not amended the provision on which the three parties have said they are committed to a referendum—that is, a decision to join the euro. The amendment is unnecessary. I hope the noble Lord will come to the same conclusion and will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Leach of Fairford: The noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, is surely right that the amendment should be unnecessary. We can all agree with that because all the main parties have promised a referendum before signing up to the euro. But I fear it is necessary after the disappointing fate of the promise to give the people the final say on the constitution, now rearranged, as Giscard put it, as the Lisbon treaty.

If the Government mean to escape their manifesto commitment on the currency, some sophistry would obviously be required to bolster the claim that circumstances had changed. That is not impossible. Europe does not like referendums—it has lost 11 or 12 of them—and has already shown that it is glad to co-operate in avoiding a vote if that helps promote integration. The kind of thing that might happen is that the basic objectives of the European monetary policy, which are in, I think, Article 127, could be revised to put more emphasis on growth and employment—Sarkozy would like that—and it might help the argument that the single currency was no longer quite the same economic animal as before. Maybe the Court of Justice could offer a more prescriptive interpretation of Article 4, a new article brought in by the Lisbon treaty which flatly states that the Union’s currency is the euro, or a passerelle might be invoked—I do not know.

However, I know that the British people trust politicians less and less. It is very sad but that is how it is. The supremacy of the Court of Justice, which was so cogently and brilliantly expounded last week by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Slynn, and the noble Lord, Lord Lester, must put in doubt governmental reassurances on the treaties, even when given in perfect good faith. That is why we need the provision on the face of the Bill.

A dismissive tone is adopted by many of your Lordships at the mere mention of referendums. The fondness for them of dictators and demigods— we heard about Bonaparte today—is brought up as though electoral intimidation were somehow a threat in 21st-century Britain. I do not think it is and I shall

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do my best to rescue the reputation of referendums from the assault on them by my noble friend Lord Brittan. The virtue of a referendum is that it cuts across party lines. Manifestos have rival packages of attractive and less attractive policies and you have to choose which package, on balance, you prefer. But a referendum comes pure and unbundled. Voters are not muddled by conflicting preferences or open to pressures from the Whips, who can sometimes coerce and cajole all but the bravest MPs to vote against their consciences. The secrecy of the polling booth can be a great protection.

In a referendum both sides are given equal airtime. The Government cannot make their case unanswered. Television editors cannot put their own slant on the story and people soon become surprisingly well informed. When I hear people talk about it in the House, I often think they do not realise that. During the Maastricht referendum, an enterprising academic asked 10 questions to a random sample of Danish voters—

Lord Tomlinson: The noble Lord refers to the Maastricht referendum. Can he give us the details of it, because it passed me by?

Lord Leach of Fairford: I was referring to the Maastricht referendum in Denmark. An enterprising Danish academic asked 10 questions to a random sample of Danish voters and of Danish MPs—a very well informed bunch, you would have thought. They were not very demanding questions—ones such as “Who is the EU president?” and “Which country holds the presidency?”. The voters got more answers right than the MPs. An internal Eurobarometer study confirmed that result. It showed that citizens in those countries that have held referendums on European integration know nearly twice as much about Europe as citizens in the other countries. One of the countries that came up surprisingly well was Switzerland, which of course is not even in the EU.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: Invoking the Swiss example is going too far, since Switzerland operates a system of decision by referendum which means its voters vote on hundreds of referendums every few years. They therefore have a very intimate knowledge of the matter. The noble Lord has not, however, referred to the experience in France and the Netherlands a mere two years ago, when it was fairly clearly demonstrated that the voters were voting about not the text that was before them but whether or not they liked Monsieur Chirac. That undercuts his argument. The debate on this provision is in any case about not whether referendums are a good thing—the noble Lord, Lord Brittan, referred to that—but whether it makes sense and is necessary to put a reference into this Bill to the three parties’ commitment to a referendum on the euro. The Committee will have plenty of opportunity later to debate the merits or demerits of a referendum when other amendments are moved.

Lord Leach of Fairford: I thank the noble Lord for making exactly the point in the context of the Swiss about why referendums are such a good thing. Although they are not in the EU, the Swiss become so well informed that when asked questions about the EU

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they happen to know more about them than people in the countries that are already members. That is exactly the point I am making.

Dicey was a great believer in referendums, because they put nation above party and focus objectively on a single big question—he presumably had in mind Irish home rule. John Locke said:

I think this thing is of great consequence—

If that was a good idea then, it must be an even better one today when there is unprecedented access to information through Wikipedia and the net. So please may we be spared talk about voters being too ignorant to take the right decision? If they are that ignorant, surely they are just as likely to elect the wrong party as to make the wrong choice in a referendum.

Lord Kinnock: First I have a comment and then a question, the comment being that I have sat through most of the proceedings—not all of them—on this Bill. I have not heard one Member of this Committee imply, let alone say, that the reason for not having a referendum is that the electorate of the United Kingdom do not understand, do not know and are not competent to make a judgment. There are different ways of putting it but I have not heard it said. Secondly, is the noble Lord advocating, either in the context of this Bill or more generally, that we transfer to a plebiscitary democracy that begins to compare with that of Switzerland?


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