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I return to an earlier point for a moment. The noble Lord, Lord Owen, took us back to the 1975 referendum. In doing so, he was right to distinguish between what was probably the single most fateful debate that this country has had since the Second World War on where its future lies, and the many other treaty changes with respect to the European Economic Community and the European Union. It is an issue of such majesty that I believe there is a case for a referendum. At that time, I disagreed with my colleagues, Lord Jenkins and the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, when they resigned from the Shadow Cabinet in opposition to the referendum. I thought that in rare, exceptional cases, where the whole future of a country was being decided, there was a case for a referendum. It is absolutely crucial, in the interests of Parliament and parliamentary sovereignty, that the distinction is clearly made. Those who are pressing for a referendum on the Lisbon treaty are blurring a crucial line.
Let us ask why. If referendaalthough there are some cases for themare to be truly representative of the attitudes of the people, they must be governed by rules and conventions that hold. The 1975 referendum was closely bound by such rules. Both sidesand both sides crossed party linesgot together to decide that every single household should receive a statement from each side and a statement by the Government. I repeat: both sides were cross-party. Money was spent on enabling the people to understand the issues at stake. Compare that to today. The British people have been deprivedI have to say thisby the previous Government of virtually any serious attempt to let them know exactly what is going on in the European Union. The difference is like that between night and day. There has been virtually no attempt by the Government, under Mr Blair, to rebut some of the wildest charges made against the European Union, There has been no attempt to correct the record, even where the issues are purely factual. For years, we have all read rubbish about the behaviour of the European Union. No attempt has been made to correct it.
To hold a referendum for politically opportunistic reasons, against the background of a country deprived of information by its own Government, is a very
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That is a perfectly good reason, but as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, has said, how many British voters would be able to say what this particular referendum would be about, not because they are stupid, but because nobody has given them clear information? It is not about one thing
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, it is not about one thing, one principle, one vision, one purpose. It is about a whole ragbag of mechanical changes, all different from each other. For the life of me, I cannot see how one can hold a referendum on that.
Lord Willoughby de Broke: My Lords, under the elections and referendums Act, surely the public would be entitled to form their own opinion on that, and the Government would be obliged to give people the information that they require. That is why they would be fully informed about the issues, whether they were pro or against. That is a legal obligation on the Government.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I take the noble Lords point, but you cannot catch up with seven years not knowing in, at most, a few weeks of knowing. I conclude by pointing to one last factor, which it is crucial that we take into account. I have mentioned the way in which, tragically, referenda can now be effectively influenced. I will go further: they can sometimes even be bought. In the Republic of Ireland, Libertas, the main funder of the no side of the argument, has recently refused to give information about where its donations come from, simply reiterating that it has kept within the law, and refusing to answer questions about that law. This is a moment when Parliament must decide for itself what the proper spheres for referenda are. I strongly urge that they be very tightly constrained. It must also decide what the proper preparations are for a decent, democratic referendum. None of this obtains in the current case and it is, therefore, the responsibility of Parliamentas was said so forcefully by my noble friend Lord Maclennanto take decisions, use its judgment and do what, long ago, Edmund Burke said we should do: to give our judgment to our fellow citizens.
Lord Kerr of Kinlochard: My Lords, I rise not because of the reference made by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, to Sir Humphrey, which I did not understand at all, but because what I want to say follows on exactly from what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, just said.
in the European Union, and that it would be disingenuous to talk of the treaty as a tidying-up operation. It is more than that, according to the Times. If you read that, you would assume that this treaty reduces British voting weight because of the arrival of new members. I do not think that the Times reported what the Select Committee said in our report, and what the facts are. The Select Committee report stated:
The new system for calculating a qualified majority is more equitable and takes more account of population than the current QMV rules, and the revision is significant. The UKs voting weight increases from 8 per cent to 12 per cent.
Would a reader of the Times leader this morning have reached the conclusion that the UK was gaining 50 per cent in voting weight in the Council of the European Union? I worry about a referendum on the basis of that kind of reporting in the Murdoch press and a lot of other sections of the press.
I also worry about a referendum on the basis of some of the descriptive arguments about the treaty advanced during our debates. If the treaty is a huge and unacceptable erosion of national sovereignty, as some have argued, usually late in our debates, why do the foreigners not spot that? Do we have a different definition of national sovereignty or attach additional weight to national sovereignty? Or are they just stupid? In Budapest, those who can remember 1956 will know that national sovereignty has real meaning and real value. So why did the Hungarian Parliament approve the ratification of this treaty by 325 votes to five? In Warsaw, the vote was 384 to 56. Those countries have a real understanding of what national sovereignty means because they have just regained it. They have read this text, and they know that this nonsense about huge diminution of sovereignty is simply not true.
A referendum is also inappropriate to this text for another reason given by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and from the Liberal Democrat Front Bench by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. This treaty is no big deal. It is a modest, sensible series of small reforms. It adds up to a great big book because there are a lot of small reforms. The size of the reforms, individually, is not great, but they are all worth having. I do not mean to play down the significance
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I do not want to exaggerate: the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, well knows, because he has heard it at home, that the Council is working perfectly well unreformed. It is, but the Council with a reformed presidency will work better. It is a small reform, but it is worth having. Of course, the talk of a democratic deficit in the European Union is grossly overblown. It always has been. The Council consists of the elected representatives of the member states. But the idea of increasing the role of the European Parliament will improve democratic control a little. It is no big deal, but it is worth doing and it is a good idea. Of course, ensuring that when the Council legislates it does so in public is not a big reform, but it should have happened a long time ago and it is good that it is in this treaty and will happen now. Of course, national parliaments could improve their scrutiny systems without this treaty, but the yellow card subsidiarity system will help them do that. That is a good thing. Of course, the Commission could go on with as many Commissioners as member states, but it would be better to see the Commission reduced so that there are no more Commissioners than there are Commissioners jobs to be done. That is what this treaty would do. Those are not enormously important reforms. They do not raise issues of national sovereignty, but they are worth doing.
I make one further point. I was impressed by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Owen, and I understand his position. But most people in this House who call for a referendum intend to vote no. Most people in this House who call for a referendum intend to campaign for a no vote.
Lord Kerr of Kinlochard: My Lords, I may be wrong. Perhaps we could hear. Perhaps people will tell us which way they will vote. Let me phrase it better. Many of those who are now campaigning for a referendum might, I suspect, be campaigning in a referendum against this treaty.
My final point relates to what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, said in his very wise speech. Let us suppose that today's amendment were carried and accepted by the Government, and there were a referendum and that, as a result, the United Kingdom was unable to ratify the Lisbon treaty, which therefore did not come into effect and was a dead letter. What would be the effect on the United Kingdom? How would UK interests be affected in that situation? From my experience, I believe that our interests would be seriously damaged.
Opposition spokesmen sometimes suggest that if this treaty were cleared away and finished, the European Union would breathe a great sigh of relief and move to a different prescriptionthe one that we hear about from some quarters on the opposition side of the House. They speak of a free trade area, and a looser, more liberal Europe. I know of no evidence for that theory. I know of no evidence to suggest that that is what would happen. Such evidence as I have seen suggests that it would not happen. The prescription for that kind of Europe was elegantly, comprehensively and beautifully made in the European convention by Mr David Heathcoat-Amory from the Conservative Party in the other place. At the end of the convention, he had seven supporters in a convention of 207. None of them was a member of a governing party, nor a member of a party in a governing coalition. If the United Kingdom found itself in the same position as Mr Heathcoat-Amory was in the convention, we would have some support, as he did. We would presumably have Sinn Fein and certainly Monsieur Le Penodd company, in my view, and not company that we should be seeking. There would be a low chance of our finding any government party to join us in our prescription. There would be no chance of our finding the required unanimity to change the treaty in that direction. That is why I am against a referendum, lest the consequence be that we find ourselves in that position. The treaty is no big deal; but for the UK to refuse to ratify the treaty would be a very big deal indeed. That is why I am against the amendment.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, this treaty is full of important matters, but I am not going to go into those because this debate is about whether we should have a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. It is completely wrong of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, and the noble Lord, Lord Brittan, to suggest that this House should not pass an amendment of this sort. If this House cannot discuss and pass amendments to decisions of the House of Commons, what on earth is it here for? The Salisbury convention says that the House of Lords should not try to thwart the Government when they have put something in their manifesto, but that does not mean that this House should not make amendments and send them back to the House of Commons for it to reconsider. That is what I want to talk about.
As other noble Lords have said, the people of this country believe that they were promised a referendum on the constitution. They believe that the Lisbon treaty enacts the measures contained in the constitution and that the Government have cheated them in refusing to honour their manifesto pledge promising a referendum. That is the fact of the matter. It is clear that nothing will move the people from that view. A deep resentment will continue to be felt for a long time if this Bill is passed without provision for a referendum.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that it is within the constitutional obligation of the House, as acknowledged in our functions, to enable the electorate to receive the benefit of our understanding, as has been put by the noble
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Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, this House has the right and duty to speak its mind, discuss things in detail and, if it takes a view different from the House of Commons, send things back to the House of Commons for further consideration. That is exactly what I was coming to.
At the next general election there will certainly be a number of organisations recommending voters not to vote for any MP, of whatever political party, who failed to support the amendment for a peoples referendum when it was moved in the House of Commons. In many seats, particularly those held by Labour, only a few votes could make the difference between holding and losing the seat. The political landscape has changed considerably since the House of Commons rejected a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. The 2008 local election results were a disaster for the Labour Party, and the losing of the Crewe and Nantwich by-election an added catastrophe. Recent opinion polls show that the Labour Party is polling the lowest support over a long period of time. I say to Labour Members in particular, it could well be that Labour MPs would welcome the opportunity to reconsider their position. It may well be in the interests of individual Members of Parliament and of the Labour Party in general.
Only this Housenobody elsecan give all MPs the opportunity to reconsider their position on whether the people should be consulted on this treaty. By passing these amendments and sending the Bill back to the House of Commons for further consideration of the referendum issue, Labour Members of this House would be doing their colleagues in the House of Commons a great service. My recommendation is that the House of Commons should be given another opportunity. That is what this House is about. It gives the opportunity to the House of Commons, the elected House, to think again. It by no means agrees completely that there should be a referendum, but it will allow the colleagues of Labour Members in this House to think again and perhaps vote differently.
Lord Patten of Barnes: My Lords, like my noble and learned friend Lord Howe, I have always been against referendums. To take up the point addressed to my noble friend Lord Brittan, I was against referendums when I was a European Commissioner, when chairman of the Conservative Party, a Cabinet Minister, a Member of Parliament and director of the Conservative research department. Despite my boundless regard for the Shadow Leader of the House, I am not going to change my opinion today, next week, next month or next year.
I have just two points to make this late in the debate and I will do so briefly. One argument we have heard is that we should vote in favour of a referendum in order to keep the Government cleana big enterprise but that is the proposition. We owe it to public integrity to vote for a referendum because of what the Government said in their manifesto. I do not doubt the sincerity of what the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said on this. There are perhaps one or two question marks about
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I do not want to get too deep into that argument but to make one simple point. Confessional time: I have written three-and-a-half manifestos. I have been a member of Governments who I suspect have not always kept every manifesto promise they have made and on which they were elected. If in this House we get into a constitutional tizzy every time a Government do not keep an election promise we are going to require a productivity rate of stellar, Asian proportions. So it is not a hugely good argument, although it is a reasonable political point for my noble friends to make.
I breezed into one or two of the debates in Committee. I have not taken part in the Bill: it reminds me a little of Francis Pyms observation that it is dog and bone for any debate in this country on Europethe same old bone dug up time after time. During the debates that I heard the most interesting and agile argument was made, not surprisingly, by my noble friend Lord Forsyth, was a terrific debater in the other Chamber too, from which we have both been ejected, and who is a terrific debater in this Chamber. My noble friend said that this treaty was very different from Maastricht, for example, because we put the Maastricht treaty into our manifesto, we were elected on it in 1992 with 43 per cent of the vote, and, therefore, there was no requirement on us to accept the case for a referendum.
It is true that we were electedsome of us, not meon that 1992 manifesto. I do not seem to remember every Conservative who was voted in on that manifesto taking the view that they should support the Maastricht treaty. I was some way off. I had to read about it in the South China Morning Post, but I seem to recall that a lot of people did not take the manifesto argument in that period, and there were even Members presently in this House who voted against the Maastricht treaty and voted in favour of a referendum on it. I shall come to that in a moment.
Secondly, my noble friends argument does not take account of other European treaties and legislation on which we have not had referendums. Our old friend the Single European Act, the biggest practical extension of qualified majority voting we have ever seen, was driven through on a guillotine on a three-line whip, as quite a few of us in this Chamber know very well. I am only sorry that my noble friend Lord Tebbit is not in his place, because he was party chairman at the time.
There is a third issue. As some noble Lords will know, I had something to do with the 1992 election campaign which we fought with the Maastricht treaty in our manifesto. I recall the advice that we gave to candidates, for example, in something called Questions of Policy. I shall not quote it, because it might be a
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