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I want to quote another speech made in that debate. It was wise at the time and is singularly wise today. It was made by my old boss, the late Lord Whitelaw. At the end of his remarks arguing against a referendum, he said:
The other place has rejected a referendum ... that is a fact which must surely be of crucial importance in the argument ... Your Lordships House is now being asked to overturn this very clear decision. This proposal cannot be represented as the action of a revising Chamber, neither does it provide any opportunity for compromise. It is in fact the clear rejection of the elected Chambers decision on a constitutional and voting question. For good measure, that is being proposed by the unelected House of Lords.
No Prime Ministercertainly no Prime Minister that I have ever knownand no government or House of Commons could be expected to accept such a clear challenge and reverse their decision. Therefore, even if the vote were carried in your Lordships House, the result would not be a referendum. Instead, there would be a damaging controversy between the two Houses and further delay, which would do much harm to our nation.[Official Report, 14/7/93; col. 263.]
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, my noble friend is talking about one of my old bosses, as well, who I greatly admired and, indeed, loved. But in that debate on 14 July 1993, to which my noble friend referred, the name of another old boss of mine of sorts came upSir Alec Douglas-Home who had become Lord Home. He presided over a review committee in the House of Lords, which concluded that regular use of referendums as instruments of constitutional protection should be contemplated within a wider framework of constitutional reform. We are in the midst of constitutional reform; we have it in a Bill before this House. Enormous constitutional changes are proposed and implied in this Bill. Is my noble friend quite sure that all the tradition and history, which is powerful but should not be our master, points in the direction in which he is leading?
Lord Patten of Barnes: My Lords, as my noble friend spoke, I was leafing through the debate of 14 July 1993. Thus far, I have failed to turn up the speech by the late Lord Home; perhaps it was made sub fusc. But Lord Home argued for precisely what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, argued for. He argued, within a constitutional settlement, for an agreed way in which we could take on the issue of referendums. If it ever comes to a vote on that in this House, I will vote against the use of referendums; but at least that vote would be an attempt to put that argument into a broader constitutional context.
Finally, I have not changed my views. My noble friends who will vote against a referendum tonight have not changed their views. I do not think that the European Union is changed fundamentally, except that it now has 27 members, which is why, as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, said, we have to have the institutional arrangements in this treaty. It will not be a terrible disaster if the Irish vote no, and I will make that point; but the European Union would work better if we had those arrangements in place. I have not changed my views. Some others have changed theirs. My strong prediction is that after the next election, they will find that they have to change their views back again as we come with a crashing and grinding of gears to face up to the fact that we are living in the real world and have responsibilities in it for the national interest.
Lord Moran: My Lords, treading gingerly on a ground on which a succession of political heavyweights have preceded me, I will be brief, unlike many who have taken part in this debate. I had my say about this Bill at Second Reading. I still think that the Government cannot go on disregarding public opinion, especially on an issue like this, which will accelerate the integration of Europe and go far towards establishing a single European state in which we would play a modest part. My conclusion then was that our people must be given a choice. That remains my view.
The Government, by resisting calls for the referendum they promised, have become detached from those they purport to govern. The Government seem increasingly indifferent to what people think and are indeed contemptuous of their views. An attitude like that often marks the dying stages of a Government. Some politicians, if they do their people an injury, tend to think that will fade away in due course, but it is seldom forgiven or forgotten.
Tomorrow, the Irish people will exercise their right to decide whether to subscribe to this treaty. Their constitution, unlike ours, allows them a free vote. If we were to vote today against allowing our people to take part in a referendum and the Irish should, as seems possible, vote no, that would be a signal humiliation of this House. The amendment, however, gives our people a voicesomething that they were promised and ought to have. It deserves the support of every one of us who believes that the electorate has a right to express its views in a matter of major constitutional importance that will affect their lives and those of their children. I will certainly support it. I do not wish to be ruled by Brussels bureaucrats. As was said in another contextI believe by Henry IInot today, not tomorrow, not ever.
Lord Radice: My Lords, we have had an impressive debate with some powerful speeches, but the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Patten, was extremely impressive indeed. I am on record as saying in this House on 10 December 2003 that there was no case for holding a referendum on the constitutional treaty. My judgment was that, unlike under the Single European Acta point made by the noble Lord, Lord Pattenor the Maastricht treaty, there was no major shift in powers between the nation states and the European Union and that there was therefore no case for referendum.
Like the Foreign Secretary, I was surprised that the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, promised in 2004 that we should have a referendum. When asked, the Foreign Secretary said that there was no way on the basis of constitutional significance that the treaty merited the decision that the Prime Minister took.
If a referendum was not necessary for the constitutional treaty, as I do not believe that it was, it is certainly not necessary for the Lisbon reform treaty. That is the view taken by all other member states. Of course it is true that Ireland has yet to vote and we will see what happensI will say a word about that in a moment.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, who made an excellent speech, that there are similarities between the two treaties, and I congratulate him on all his hard work, but my disagreement with him is that I do not believe that either the constitutional treaty or the Lisbon reform treaty merited a referendum. As the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, said, they are no big deal.
A powerful argument was made by my noble friend Lady Symons when she reminded us that the constitutional treaty abolished all existing treaties. She was supported by the Dutch Council of State, of which the noble Lord, Lord Neill, was rather critical. I perhaps read what it said slightly more carefully than him, and there was a lot more than the bits that he quoted. It stated that,
Instead of setting up a so-called constitution, the Lisbon treaty returns to the customary amendment procedure for existing European treaties, as applied in the treaties of Amsterdam and Nice. My noble friend has established a strong point there, which I do not believe has been answered during the debate.
There is also the Danish Justice Ministry, which has produced a penetrating legal analysisI do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Neill, has read itthat said that, for Denmark, the Lisbon treaty does not transfer new powers to the Union. That must also be true for the UK, especially in view of the opt-outs and so on that we negotiated. The report concluded that Denmark could ratify the Lisbon treaty by normal procedure rather than by having a referendum.
We should oppose the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and settle the matter here in Parliament. It is true that an Irish referendum is being held tomorrow; we all await the result with interesta matter which is a question for Ireland and for the EU. Whatever happens, Her Majesty's Government would be right to defeat the amendment, with the help of other parties and other noble Lords in the House, to hold a Third Reading in a fortnight's time, and to ratify the Bill.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I am aware that I have become unusually controversial in your Lordships' House on this subjectirritating those
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Very briefly, I feel that I should recall the EU's genesisthe basics of how it workswhich is boring but important. The powerful idea that gave rise to the European Union is that the nation states had been responsible for the carnage of two world wars. Those nation states, with their unreliable democracies, had therefore to be emasculated and diluted into a new form of supranational government, run by a Commission of technocrats. That is the big idea. It is from that idea that we have the EU's claim to have brought peace to Europe since 1945, which I do not have time to query now, although I will just mention the part played by NATO.
It is also from that big idea that we have the EU system of law-making, with all EU legislation proposed by the unelected Commission in private, negotiated in private by COREPER or the committee of permanent civil servants from the member states, and passed in private in the Council of national Ministers. It is true that the elected European Parliament has growing influence over that process, but it cannot propose legislation and it is not in its interest to resist it.
Lord Dykes: My Lords, I am asking a question. Does he agree that the British newspapers occasionally, reluctantly, mention Holland and Denmark, but also other leading countriesFrance, Italy and Spainwith a history of referendums, which have said that a referendum is not necessary at this time and that it should be a parliamentary process? The new countries, where one might think that there would be a referendum inclination, have said that parliament will do, in all cases.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I was just trying to sum up, for some of your Lordships who have not followed the story in detail so far, the position of the United Kingdomthis great democracy of ours.
I got as far as saying that after the laws have been through that process, they are enforced by the Commission and the Luxembourg Court of Justice, against whose rulings there is no appeal. The founders of the project, Jean Monnet and others, made no secret of their goal: that 80 per cent of all national legislation should come to be made under that system, leaving national parliaments in charge only of the rest. That is just about where we have now arrived since we joined in 1972, after a series of treaty changes that other noble Lords have mentioned. Those treaty changes have, without doubt, steadily increased the EU's share of our national legislation. There really is no doubt that the Lisbon treaty will take that process further, as noble Lords have said.
None of that has featured much in general elections, because all the main parties, the BBC and our political class generally have supported it. Many in your Lordships' House support it, and its extension under the Lisbon treaty. That is understandable. Your Lordships House is well endowed with former politicians and civil servants who have given much of their successful lives to building and supporting the project of European integration. They believe strongly that the United Kingdom must be at the heart of that project, whatever its disadvantages, if we are to play our part in this globalising world against terrorism, climate change, world poverty and on the international stage generally. We have heard much of that tonight.
However, a large and growing majority of the British people are not convinced. They feel powerless that their voices and their votes no longer count with their political class and that too much of the unwanted regulation which blights their lives comes from Brussels and not from people who are responsible to them. That is perhaps partly why 40 per cent of them no longer bother to vote in general elections. They have a point. Modern Governments are elected by around 40 per cent of the 60 per cent who vote, or some 24 per cent of the electorate, but those Governments then go on to make perhaps only 30 per cent of our national law, and less in the vital area of our industry and commerce. So one can understand people's growing frustration with the new Brussels system of governance and their anger that their well tried and hard won democracy should have been taken from them without their explicit or informed consent.
I do not pretend that our democracy would be restored if the British people voted down the Lisbon treaty in a referendum, but at least we would stay where we areat the treaty of Niceand the referendum campaign would, at last, produce the full and open national debate which has not taken place since the referendum of 1975. That means that no one under 50 has had a chance to vote on this great issue of how they are governed. Of course, there would be disappointment in Brussels because the treaty could not be ratified. They would be in the same sort of position they were in after the Dutch and French people rejected the original constitution. However, the project would continue, just as it did then.
Some noble Lords may not be aware that the pace of European legislation has increased by 25 per cent since the constitution failed, so the suggestion that the EU would fall apart without it has turned out to be unfounded. Likewise, the City of London has thrived, despite our not joining the euro. The hope must be that a rejection of the Lisbon treaty by the British people would lead to a fundamental reappraisal of the project in Brussels, and that we might go back to the EUs Laeken declarationit wanted to bring the project closer to the people but was frustrated by the constitution, which went in the opposite direction.
Those who accuse the Conservatives of wanting a referendum on the Lisbon treaty because they really want to leave the EU altogether are quite simply, and to me regrettably, wrong. I would not have joined the UK Independence Party if I had thought, after speaking to many influential Conservative friends, that there was a chance of that being so under its present leadership. We support the amendment because we see it as giving rise to an informed national debate and to the failure of the Lisbon treaty. To us, that is a worthy aim in itself and one which we share with the Conservative Party. However, we shall continue to believe that the United Kingdom would be much better off out of the project entirely, both constitutionally and economically, as I have tried to show on many previous occasions, and indeed from the point of view of our influence on the world stage. We will never accept that we have to surrender our right to govern ourselves in order to collaborate with our friends in Europe or with friends anywhere else on the planet.
Our debates thus far have largely looked into what the future might hold under this Lisbon treaty. I conclude by asking your Lordships not to forget the past. When we remember where we have been, we can sometimes see more clearly where we should go. Let us not forget that over the past few hundred years, in their thousands, in their tens of thousands, in their hundreds of thousands and, yes indeed, my Lords, in their millions, good British people have willingly given up their lives to create, and to safeguard, our system of parliamentary democracy and the absolute sovereignty of the Crown in Parliamentthe British Crown, in this Parliament. They have been joined in that great sacrificecertainly one of the greatest sacrifices the world has ever seenby many more from the Commonwealth and from our great cousin the United States of America. Has all that just become old fashioned, out-dated, and no longer relevant in this brave new globalising world? I hope not. In all humility, I suggest that we should now remember all those who made that sacrifice, and let their descendants decide how we proceed. They did not die for this. I support the amendment.
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I realise that making an intervention at this hour of the night is pretty dangerous stuff, as I am in fear of being howled down. I agree with many noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Anderson and Lord Owen, and my noble friend Lord Howell, that we live in a parliamentary democracy and that therefore referenda are a bad thing. I am against referenda. The difference in this case is that, at the last general election, each party, in turn, agreed that it would have a referendum. Plenty of people may
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Lord McNally: My Lords, my greatly missed friend, Lord Richard Holme, used to remind me of an American chairman who would bang his gavel and say, Everything to be said on the subject has already been said, but unfortunately not everyone has finished saying it. From the mood of the House, I suspect that we are eager to hear the Lord President and the noble Lord, Lord Howell, so I shall be brief.
First, the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, raised the issues of trust and honour, and I hope that he will accept that they are not unique to one side in this argument. I know that, if the French and the Dutch had voted yes, my party would have supported a referendum on the treaty that would then have been brought before this country. I have no doubt in my mind about that. However, I am also clearthis point, I think, was very well made by the noble Baroness, Lady Symonsthat what we have before us in the Lisbon treaty is different and can and should be treated differently from the treaty proposition that was promised for a referendum. I understand and respect the fact that other Members have taken a different view, but that is my honest opinion and it is held with just as much honour as that held by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham.
A point that has been made once or twice during Report is a certain lack of consistency by the Liberal Democrats. I do not like reading my own speeches but, by God, they stand up well. On 22 October 2007, I told the Lord President:
we will support the Government in their desire for Parliament to endorse this treaty via the European Union (Amendment) Bill, so long as the Bill is presented in a positive and forward-looking fashion.
The real hypocrisy is not among those who want to ratify the treaty, like all parliamentary treaties, by parliamentary means, but among those who argued for enlargement but now wish to deny Europe the means to make enlargement work. [Official Report, 17/12/07; col. 495-96]
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