The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Strathclyde): My Lords, it is with the greatest pleasure that I invite the House to agree this Motion today and thereby to place on record, on behalf of this House and the nation, our sincere admiration for His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh and our gratitude for his unswerving contribution to our national life ahead of his 90th birthday this Friday. The longest serving consort in British history, for over half a century the Duke has both steadfastly supported Her Majesty the Queen in her important work and at the same time created a distinctive and much valued role for himself in our national story. Like his predecessor a century before, Prince Philip has served our institutions with great dignity and honour. His role at the heart of a partnership that has helped to bequeath a glorious reign has been something both fundamental and very special.
Few of us can fail to admire Prince Philip when he comes to the State Opening of Parliament and sits quietly but resolutely next to Her Majesty on the Throne, with a twinkle in the eye and a profound understanding of the values of duty and service; and with an intrinsic grasp of our national character and spirit. Prince Philip has remained constant to this country and its people, and today we are going to recognise and thank him for that.
Born on 10 June 1921, a prince of Greece and Denmark, Prince Philip and his family were evacuated from Greece in 1922 by a Royal Navy ship, subsequently settling in France. Educated in Germany and the United Kingdom, he joined the Royal Navy as a cadet in 1939 at the onset of the Second World War. His appointments included that of first lieutenant of HMS
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Following his marriage to the then Princess Elizabeth in November 1947 and her accession to the throne in February 1952, Prince Philip, who had by then become the Duke of Edinburgh, began his new role in public life in support of the many duties, engagements and responsibilities carried out by Her Majesty the Queen. He is patron or president of some 800 organisations, foremost among them the Duke of Edinburgh's Award, a charity which has touched the lives of more than 4 million young people in more than 60 countries since its inception. He maintains an active interest in industry, conservation and the environment, most prominently as the first president of the UK arm of the World Wildlife Fund. He is also a proud father, a grandfather and most recently a great-grandfather, achievements and accolades sometimes too obvious to mention, but nevertheless sources of immense pride. He is a keen sportsman, a tireless collector, a passionate supporter of the arts, of education, of our Armed Forces and of the Commonwealth-to do full justice to Prince Philip's achievements and interests would require a litany.
He is a man of extraordinary range, commitment, involvement and passion. The Duke has been at the heart of what this country is about for almost his entire adult life. We owe to him a significant debt of gratitude for all that he has done and continues to do and I know that the whole House will wish to join me in conveying our warmest congratulations to His Royal Highness on the occasion of his forthcoming 90th birthday. I beg to move.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, it is a very great privilege for me to have the honour to associate the Opposition Benches and myself with the tribute that the Leader of the House has paid to His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh on the occasion of his forthcoming 90th birthday. The country holds Her Majesty the Queen in very high esteem and regard, all the more so since the royal wedding in April and the success of the extraordinary visit by the Queen to Ireland last month. A fundamental part of that esteem is the role played by His Royal Highness as the Queen's consort-indeed, the longest serving royal consort in British history. In doing so he has virtually defined the role, at least since it was carried out for Queen Victoria by Prince Albert.
While the Duke of Edinburgh may indeed be modest, his achievements are not. For many people all over the world, the words "Duke of Edinburgh" are inextricably linked with the award scheme which carries his name. Since 1956 when the scheme to help the development of young people began, a staggering 7 million young people have taken part in it across 132 countries-an astonishing achievement.
As he approaches his 90th birthday on Friday, we give heartfelt thanks for all that His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh has done for Her Majesty the Queen, for his service to this country, including his own fine naval record of service, for all the causes which have benefited from being associated with him and especially for the many millions of people who have participated in the Duke of Edinburgh's Award programme and whose lives have, as a result, been immeasurably altered and improved and whose volunteering has, in turn, altered and improved the lives of so many others.
The Motion before the House today speaks rightly of the outstanding service to the nation given by His Royal Highness in supporting the Queen, and his own deep contribution to our national life. Those are exactly the right sentiments and exactly what we on these Benches wish to support.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I am delighted to associate the Liberal Democrat Benches with the humble Address to be presented to Her Majesty the Queen, and the message to be conveyed to His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh on his 90th birthday. The essential feature of our democracy is the strength and stability of our monarchy. Whereas in other parts of the world presidents and prime ministers come and go, we can take great pride that next year we will celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen.
The Duke of Edinburgh has been the longest serving consort and the oldest serving spouse of a reigning British monarch. During all this time he has accompanied the Queen to various countries abroad. The Commonwealth, particularly the new Commonwealth, takes great pride in its loyalty to and respect for the Queen and the Duke. It is because of our Royal Family that the Commonwealth has continued to be an important political voice on the world stage.
As a person born in east Africa, I take great pride in one other matter. Prior to the Queen's accession in 1952, the royal couple visited Kenya. She came to us as a princess and we sent her back as a Queen. We wish His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh many happy returns and thank him for his services to the United Kingdom.
Baroness D'Souza: My Lords, nine decades is a long time and covers a great deal of ground and change. It is my happy task, on behalf of the Cross-Bench Peers, to wish His Royal Highness a very happy birthday and many congratulations on reaching such a venerable age, while at the same time confounding all the stereotypical views we hold of someone facing his
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More seriously, the Duke of Edinburgh, with his originality of thought and readiness to challenge accepted truths, has played a key role in modernising the monarchy, encouraging, as we have heard, millions of the young to undertake challenges. He has made significant contributions to conservation and undertaken the patronage of more than 800 organisations, as we have also already heard. Above all, he has been a steady and ever present consort to Her Majesty the Queen. Long may he continue in this and his many other roles.
Once again, on behalf of the Cross-Bench Peers, I am privileged to join all sides of your Lordships' House in offering our congratulations to His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, and to support wholeheartedly the humble Address and the Motion standing in the name of the noble Lord the Leader of the House.
The Archbishop of York: My Lords, on behalf of these Benches, I express the warmest congratulations to His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh on the occasion of his 90th birthday. As the embodiment of devotion, duty and loyalty in service to our country, the Duke has been a model example to us all.
As someone who shares a birthday with the Duke, I look with admiration and-if it is allowed in someone from these Benches-envy on his stamina and resilience. Until 2006, he was still pursuing his passion for carriage driving and competing with fell ponies. We have witnessed his tireless energy again in recent days with the royal wedding, the historic visit to the Republic of Ireland and the welcome to the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama, on his state visit. I have had particular cause to reflect on these qualities over the past couple of weeks during a stay in St Thomas's Hospital, where, in the words of the consultant surgeon, Mr Simon Atkinson, I had to have "a nasty appendix" removed. I was discharged from hospital only this morning. In my somewhat fragile state, the question in my mind has been a very simple one: how does the Duke do it?
His Royal Highness's long record of service to our nation began before his marriage to Her Majesty the Queen. As for many who risked their lives in the cause of freedom during action in the Second World War, the Duke's record of military service was a distinguished one. As an officer in the Royal Navy, his quick thinking in distracting a Luftwaffe bomber saved the lives of many on board HMS "Wallace". After the war, his marriage to the then Princess Elizabeth brought much happiness and hope to a nation during what were still uncertain and straitened times. The recent wedding of
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Since giving up his 14-year naval career, His Royal Highness has acted, as we have heard, as patron to some 800 organisations, as well as being chancellor of the University of Cambridge. In particular, I pay tribute to his passionate commitment to the welfare of our nation's young people, notably through the award scheme which bears his name and which has been an inspiration to so many similar schemes overseas. The award scheme's emphasis on physical achievement and service as ways of building confidence and character reflects the Duke's own experience and values. Underpinning those values has been his rootedness within the Christian religion, first within the Greek Orthodox Church and now for many decades within the Anglican branch of,
Not everyone is aware that His Royal Highness has a keen interest in theological questions. Bishops who are invited to stay and preach at Sandringham face a barrage of serious theological questions over lunch-and there is nowhere to hide. He listens appreciatively but never uncritically. In my case, the sermon was based on Jesus turning water into wine at Cana in Galilee. In conversation, the Duke suggested many possible explanations for the miracle as opposed to the one that I was giving. He even included a Uri Geller-type explanation. He produced a spoon that Uri Geller had bent for him. "You see this?" he said, "That could have been it". To my rescue came that still, small voice of calm from Her Majesty the Queen, saying, "Philip and his theories!". Secondly, among the Duke's theological interests are several publications that he co-authored, including "Survival or Extinction: A Christian Attitude to the Environment", a work that incorporated another of his enduring concerns-wildlife preservation and care for the environment.
In ecclesiastical affairs, as on other issues, the Duke of Edinburgh likes to cut to the heart of the matter. My right reverend friend the current Bishop of Norwich recalls that, on first arriving at Sandringham, the Duke asked him, "Are you happy clappy?". To that, he responded, "No, I'm smells and bells". I am pleased to say that, following this robust exchange, they got on fine.
Humour is ever one of the Duke's characteristics. The Duke is in fact a tease par excellence. For example, when showing me around the restored chapel in Windsor Castle after the devastating fire, he said, "Come and see my new piece of modern art". I looked at it but could not work it out and had to ask, "Who is the artist?". With a big laugh, he said, "That's a piece of wood saved from the fire". Later on, in writing to him, I suggested that he send that piece of modern art to the Yaohnanen tribe, in Tanna, who regard him as a god. I will leave noble Lords to imagine his response.
We express our gratitude for Your Royal Highness's outstanding service to the nation, not only in supporting Her Majesty The Queen throughout Her Majesty's reign but also in making Your Royal Highness's own deep contribution to national life, in particular in Your Royal Highness's distinguished naval service in the second world war and in Your Royal Highness's creation of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award which has done so much to encourage the development of young people;
Motion agreed nemine dissentiente and it was ordered that the Message be conveyed to His Royal Highness by the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lord Speaker, the Leader of the House (Lord Strathclyde), Lord Brabazon of Tara, Baroness D'Souza, Lord McNally and Baroness Royall of Blaisdon.
The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Sassoon): My Lords, the independent Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England, the MPC, is responsible for maintaining price stability. It sets policy to meet the inflation target in the medium term. The MPC continues to judge that inflation is likely to fall back through 2012 and 2013. Petrol retailing is a competitive market. It is that competition which should see reductions in oil prices passed on to consumers.
Lord Barnett: I thank the noble Lord for his Answer. I am conscious of the fact that he has a propensity to quote what I said some 40 years ago. I thought of checking this time, but on reflection I realised that the Government have inherited a different policy from that of my time. In 1997, the then Chancellor Gordon Brown, as the noble Lord has pointed out, introduced a new policy involving the transfer of power from the Chancellor to the Governor of the Bank of England and the Monetary Policy Committee. The Government do not particularly like the then Chancellor but I assume that they are happy with the inheritance. Perhaps the noble Lord will confirm that. I know that he does not like talking about interest rates but will he also confirm the extreme national and international importance of interest rates and that the Chancellor still has absolute confidence in the governor and his policy for dealing with inflation?
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, I am very happy to confirm that this Government are entirely comfortable with the structure around the MPC and have complete confidence in the governor. I could go on. I have quotes from 40 years ago. I was going to use quotes from 30 years ago but if the noble Lord would prefer me not to use them on this occasion I will not do so. However, his words of wisdom are always my guide.
Lord Bilimoria: My Lords, I agree with the Bank of England in keeping interest rates low to support the economy but on the other hand we have rampant inflation: food inflation is 5 per cent; wheat has gone to 70 per cent; corn is 100 per cent. The consumer is being squeezed because we have wage deflation. Does the Minister agree that the Government are between a rock and a hard place? In that situation, should not the Government consider reducing taxes to help the consumer and encourage growth?
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, I completely agree with the figures given by the noble Lord for the very considerable increases in commodity prices over the past year. Those are, of course, driven by global factors, but they impact very severely on consumers and businesses in this country. That much I agree with. He referred to low interest rates. This is absolutely critical. We have almost record low interest rates on our 10-year gilts at the moment-3.33 per cent, I think, last night. That is a recognition of the confidence that the Government have in the underlying fiscal policy but it also reinforces that the Government's contribution is to make sure that we continue to have a prudent view on public finances and do not deviate from the course that we set for reducing the fiscal deficit that we inherited.
Lord Higgins: My Lords, is it not clear that the mechanism set up by Mr Gordon Brown for controlling inflation is not working and that the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England is taking a number of other factors into account in addition to inflation? That being so, would it not be appropriate to revise and improve the remit given to the MPC rather than the Governor of the Bank of England having to write letter after letter after letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer explaining why inflation is above target?
Lord Sassoon: Well, I am always reluctant to disagree with the analysis of my noble friend who has considered these matters for many years, but I do disagree because I think that the medium-term target that the Bank of England has been given and the framework within which the MPC operates continue to be entirely appropriate. Of course, it is a medium-term target, and the latest Office for Budget Responsibility forecast from March shows inflation coming down to 2.5 per cent in 2012 and 2 per cent in 2013.The comparison of independent forecasters shows a very similar picture-2.3 per cent next year and 2.1 per cent in 2013. This shows that the Bank of England has the confidence of the commentators and the forecasters to continue to work to its mandate successfully.
Lord Hughes of Woodside: Is it not the case that inflation is never going to reach the benign figures that the Minister says? Yesterday we were warned of a gas price increase of 19 per cent, an electricity price increase of 10 per cent, and all the other companies will do the same. How can the noble Lord possibly think that inflation is under control? Is he simply going to let the spiral continue until we land in bankruptcy?
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, of course we would not wish to see inflation at the 4.5 per cent it is now. As has been explained, this is very largely driven by global factors with regard to commodity prices. We are not only keeping to our tight fiscal policy, which underpins the ability of the Bank of England to stick to its mandate, but giving help to the most vulnerable-whether that is the Budget announcement that gave a £630 increase in cash in personal allowances for the under-65s, whether it is in the arrangements that we made to cut fuel duty effectively by 6p per litre from what the plans of the previous Government had been, or whether it is increasing the state pension by 4.6 per cent. What the Government must do, and are doing, is to protect the most vulnerable in our society.
Lord Newby: My Lords, with the Chinese economy, the Indian economy and many other economies still growing strongly, is it not likely that the price of oil and other fossil fuels will remain high for the foreseeable future? In those circumstances, does the Minister agree that the Government's carbon reduction strategy assumes an even greater importance? In that context, can he tell us when the Government plan to bring forward the Bill formally establishing the green investment bank?
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, we will bring forward the Bill in due course when it is in good shape. I take my noble friend's point about commodity prices. It reinforces the fact that we need to ensure that all energy users get advice to use energy efficiently in order to reduce their household bills. That is part of where we are targeting government help.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, when energy prices and oil prices rise, the price to the consumer rises very quickly. When world prices fall, the price to the consumer falls very slowly. What are the Government going to do about that?
Lord Sassoon: I have no idea what the noble Lord's evidence for that is. The most recent intervention taken by the Government was to cut fuel duty, as I explained, by 1p per litre on Budget day. The price at the pump over the following few days fell by 0.8p per litre, despite rising oil prices over those same days. The market was investigated by Ofgem or the OFT. The competition authorities looked at the market for oil prices in 1998 and have not sought to look at it again. If the noble Lord or anyone else has evidence about prices, Ofgem, which looks at the market, has dealt with them recently and I am sure that the OFT will as well.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Baroness Wilcox): My Lords, about one-third of the £450 million conditionally allocated for successful bids in round 1 will benefit small and medium-sized enterprises. Our expectation is that at least 1,000 SMEs, located in areas where there is not already a vibrant private sector and culture of enterprise, will benefit directly from round 1. The second round of the fund is bigger, and we expect further bids that will benefit SMEs.
Lord Harrison: Given that only one-third of the successful submissions are from small businesses, whereas the regional growth fund was designed to help small businesses, does the Minister accept that a flaw in the design of that fund is that you had to submit a minimum bid of £1 million, which is out of reach for many small businesses? Does she accept that the advice on the BIS help site is absurd, given that the proposal that you should spatchcock together lots of different projects from small businesses not only increases bureaucracy but means that projects are brought together which are unnatural neighbours? Is it not time that the Government thought big about small businesses?
Baroness Wilcox: I know exactly what the noble Lord is talking about: the threshold value of £1 million seems very high for very small businesses. We recognise that £1 million is too high a threshold for the smallest businesses. Sadly, it would take much time and resource to deal with a very high number of very small bids. We have addressed that point by conditionally allocating funding to organisations with experience of the SME sector, so that they can work with it to deliver the grants. Projects below £1 million can join up with other projects to form a coherent package and can bid together to meet the threshold. I come from a business background and know that if you cannot get a grant
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Lord Bilimoria: My Lords, the credit crunch which started four years ago was as a result of the sub-prime crisis. After the credit crunch came the financial crisis then the recession and then the sovereign debt crisis, but the biggest domino effect was that lending to small businesses all but froze. Are the Government really doing enough to compel or encourage the banks to lend to small businesses, given the support that we have given to the banks over those years?
Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, the noble Lord will know that my right honourable friend in another place, the Secretary of State, is for ever speaking to and with businesses. Yes, of course we know that we need a predictable tax system to reward endeavour; we know that we need better access to both debt and equity finance; and we know that we need to reduce red tape. We are working hard on all of that.
Lord Cotter: My Lords, other support for small businesses is intended to come through local enterprise partnerships. Will the Minister take on board concerns that not enough small businesses-not in sufficient force-are being involved in local enterprise partnerships throughout the country? This is of great concern. Surely this should be part of the approval process that the Minister has to go through when he sets up the local enterprise partnerships in the first place.
Baroness Wilcox: The evidence is that we have been overwhelmed by the number of bids that have come in. For the second round that we are in now, there is an enormous number of bids, which is very heartening. It is competitive, and people are doing awfully well with it. I hope that I can speak later to the noble Lord and reassure him on this with the evidence that we have.
Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, given the record levels of youth unemployment, is the Minister aware of the newly released data from the Federation of Small Businesses showing that only 8 per cent of small businesses have taken on an apprentice in the past year? This is concerning, given that in 2009 more than half of the apprenticeships took place in businesses with fewer than 50 employees. Furthermore, the federation believes that allocated funding to apprenticeships must be used to benefit micro-businesses-that is, businesses that are likely to take on their first apprentice with the potential to grow. It believes that the Government should better promote group training agencies or apprentice training agencies.
Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, I expected this question to come from the noble Lord, Lord Sugar, whom I see is in the House today. My answer to this question is that this is a challenge fund and projects can cover whatever the bidders want. The aim of the fund is to create jobs and these could include apprenticeships-a key part of this Government's growth agenda. We look forward to bids coming forward for apprenticeship growth.
Lord Sugar: My Lords, my question for the Minister is not the one that she was anticipating. She will recall that in my short stint at BIS as an adviser to the Government, I concentrated on the business link centres. At the end of that period, I concluded that they were, frankly, a waste of money. I was told that they cost £250 million per year. Will the Minister give us an update on the status of the business link centres and indicate whether she has come to the same conclusion? Will the money that was given to the business link centres be deployed somewhere else?
Baroness Wilcox: I was not prepared to answer a question on that, but I will of course send an answer to the noble Lord. I would like to reassure him that I think that he would approve of the system that we are using here. It is working. The bids have already levered in £2.5 billion of private sector funding. Maybe he would like to follow carefully how we are proceeding with this sum-and maybe even support us in some ways.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): My Lord, it is local authorities that have a duty to provide statutory allotments. The Government are keen to support local communities that want to use local spaces for community food growing, and to protect existing land for this purpose. New neighbourhood planning provisions in the Localism Bill will provide a new right for communities to shape their local areas, including the means to boost allotment provision.
Baroness Sharples: I thank my noble friend for that reply. I realise that the Localism Bill will help, but are local councils playing by the rules in providing alternative sites when those present sites are needed for development or whatever? An enormous number of people who write to one now are looking for allotments and cannot get them. They have to wait years.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, we already know that there is a 50 per cent extra requirement for allotments. Local authorities can, of course, make land available if they have it for allotments. The neighbourhood planning provisions in the Localism Bill, to which my noble friend refers, will enable neighbourhoods to identify land where they think allotments could be provided within their neighbourhood plan and have that agreed by the local authority. There are, therefore, methods by which new allotments can be provided, but I recognise immediately that there are far too few for those who want them.
The Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells: My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister is aware that, in the 19thcentury, the Bishop of Bath and Wells was one of the founders of the allotment movement. I have to say that there are questions about why he founded the allotment movement, but he did. The Minister may also be aware that under the present development of the Bishop's Palace in Wells-in opening it more effectively to the public-the palace hosts not only the city allotments but a new community garden. I note that the National Trust has pledged some 1,000 allotments on its premises by 2012, and ask the Minister to encourage the development of land on all suitable estates open to the public as allotments or community gardens.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, that is a fascinating bit of history from the right reverend Prelate, which I did not know but I enjoyed hearing about. Of course, he is right that the National Trust has already started developing allotments and, yes, wherever allotments can be provided and wherever authorities or bodies are able to provide them, we could encourage that, because too many people who would like to grow their own food are waiting for allotments. The more provision, the better.
Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: Does the noble Baroness agree with me that allotments have many virtues, among them the fact that they provide an important habitat for honey-bees and other kinds of bees? Indeed, some allotment users keep bees on their allotments. Are the Government ensuring that research funding is being sustained in order to monitor and, if possible, to reverse the decline in the honey-bee population in this country? If she cannot tell the House now perhaps she would be kind enough to write to me.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, bees are a little beyond my brief and a little beyond my department's brief. I am extremely happy to refer the question, probably to Defra, and to ensure the noble Baroness has a reply.
Lord Greaves: My Lords, I remind the House that I am a local councillor; I am pleased to say that we have just provided some new allotments in my ward. In areas with town and parish councils, the town and parish councils are the statutory allotment authorities and very often run all the local allotments. They are often very good at managing the allotments and running them in an economic and financially viable way. The problem of producing new allotments is providing the capital funding in the beginning to set up the allotments before they can be managed. That is a real problem for town and parish councils. Will the Government look again at it?
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, it is right that local authorities have the statutory responsibility for allotments, and it would be up to them if they wished to put aside a capital sum to provide more in their area. I do not think that the Government can direct them to do that, although we recognise that many people want allotments. I certainly do not think that my department would tell local authorities that they had to provide them.
Lord Hamilton of Epsom: My Lords, my family have some allotments in Surrey-I live in Devon. They are run by the allotment holders, who provide everything that is needed to keep them running; they do not need the local authority. Is this not an example of the big society?
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, self-help and people working for themselves, producing their own answers and working without government intervention of course is the big society at its best. After all, the big society is just about that; it is about local people working for themselves and for others and looking after their neighbours. In that regard, what could be better than working on an allotment?
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, the noble Baroness has referred to the neighbourhood planning regimes of the Localism Bill and how they may be beneficial to allotment development. What protections are in the system to prevent aggressive development of allotments by narrowly focused neighbourhood forums?
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, allotments are protected: one cannot just come in and take them over. Land is made available for allotments and it is a statutory right for them to be there. It would only be if allotment owners did not want those allotments that they could be addressed within a neighbourhood plan and with the wish of the neighbourhood that they should change hands. I do not believe that anybody can aggressively take over allotments.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, the Home Office has agreed to set aside contingency funding, up to a maximum of £4.65 million, to assist with the costs of policing the proposed evictions at Dale Farm. The final grant awarded will be agreed after the operation and will only cover the costs incurred. In addition, the Department for Communities and Local Government has committed to provide up to £1.2 million to Basildon Borough Council to support the evictions at Dale Farm.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, will my noble friend comment on the decision to spend £117,000 per family on eviction of these people from the Dale Farm site considering that there are no other sites in the county to which they could be directed? Does this policy not simply mean that another £18 million will have to be spent by local authorities down the line on evicting the same families from even less suitable locations, to say nothing of the downstream costs on health, education and the social costs arising from these evictions?
Earl Attlee: My Lords, this is an extremely difficult and sensitive issue which my noble friend has worked on to good effect for decades. He suggests that this is an inappropriate use of potentially several million pounds of public money. However, there will be no need for any expensive police operation if those served with eviction notices leave within 28 days having exhausted all their appeal rights under our well developed system of justice and the rule of law. Why shouldone community group be allowed to flout our planning laws by suggesting disorder and thus an unaffordable police operation while a lone family or individual is easily required to comply?
Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, does the local authority not have a responsibility to have concern for these families? I believe there are 100 children involved. Surely there is an obligation on the council to look after their welfare: indeed, I believe there is an EU resolution on the stocks which would commit the local authority to doing precisely that. Why are these people being deprived of their homes after all the years that they have lived on this site?
Earl Attlee: My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely right. Basildon Borough Council had to make an undertaking to the High Court that the matters which the noble Baroness referred to would be dealt with properly.
Baroness Harris of Richmond: My Lords, could my noble friend tell me whether Basildon Borough Council has undertaken an equality assessment of its decision to evict the Gypsies and Travellers from this site?
The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the deep concern that many Traveller children are not being well engaged in the education system, that they are being failed and that the generational impact of continued failure is being perpetuated?
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Earl Attlee: My Lords, the noble Earl makes an extremely important point. If we carry on not properly educating Traveller children we will never break the cycle, because it is very difficult for Traveller families to engage in fully legitimate economic activity if they have not been properly educated. I referred to undertakings in my answer to the noble Baroness: the local authority has to deal with these issues.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, the local authority has obligations under the law of homelessness, as the noble Lord fully appreciates. I go back to my original point: we cannot allow people to flout our planning laws.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the original Question was about cost. The noble Earl will know that currently we are debating the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, which proposes to party-politicise our police force through the election of police commissioners. Would it not be true to say that the money being spent on those elected commissioners would be better spent on ensuring that our police forces are properly staffed?
Earl Attlee: My Lords, I thought that the noble Lord would raise the issue of police and crime commissioners; I would have been very disappointed if he had not. We do not intend to limit the influence of central government on policing decisions only to see the same restrictions imposed by PCCs. They will provide the community with a voice and local accountability that is currently non-existent.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, it is clear that this is a very complex issue. I hope that the House and noble Lords will appreciate that if this site is occupied illegally, action has to be taken to remove the occupiers. If the law is not upheld in this instance, how on earth can it be upheld in other instances which may be just as important?
To ask Her Majesty's Government, further to yesterday's Written Ministerial Statement, whether they will ensure that the terms of reference of the serious case review into the abuse at Winterbourne View encompass the question of the appropriateness of placing people with learning disabilities in private hospitals.
Baroness Hollins: My Lords, I declare an interest as a psychiatrist who has spent much of the last 30 years working with people with learning disabilities who have similar needs to those of the subjects of the shocking "Panorama" programme. I am also the carer of an adult man who has a learning disability and whose behaviour at times challenges those who support him. I have also been a policy adviser on learning disability to the Department of Health on two occasions.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe): My Lords, the safety and quality of care of those with learning disabilities are of the highest importance. We will discuss the terms of reference for the serious case review with South Gloucestershire Council. We want to ensure that the terms of reference for all of the reviews by the local authority, the strategic health authorities and the Care Quality Commission will give us the evidence that we need to answer the serious questions raised by the events at Winterbourne View. We have asked Mark Goldring, the chief executive of Mencap, to work closely with us in reviewing the evidence.
Baroness Hollins: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. The national picture needs to be thought about. This matter is not happening just in south Gloucestershire. I understand that there may be as many as 150 private hospitals. I consider that to be unacceptable given the three decades of work to close NHS long-stay hospitals, which was finally achieved just two years ago. Will the Minister consider reversing the decision to end the employment of the national director for learning disabilities, who, as a policy adviser to the department, could have responsibility for overseeing the implementation of government guidance? The Mansell report gives guidance on how to manage and support people with learning disabilities and challenging behaviour in the community, rather than exporting them a long way from home to private hospitals.
Earl Howe: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. She raises some important issues. I am aware that the chief executive designate of the National Health Service commissioning board and the current chief executive of the National Health Service, David Nicholson, will be looking at the whole question of national clinical directors and leadership in clinical care in the coming months.
The noble Baroness is right about care in the community. That has been the direction of travel under the previous Government, as it is now. She will know that many Winterbourne View residents were sectioned under the Mental Health Act and had challenging behaviour, an area I know she has experience of. I believe that privately provided care can be trusted; if the commissioning is right, if regulation is right and if the arrangements for oversight are right, it is not intrinsically less likely that privately provided care will be delivered at the right levels of quality.
Baroness Thornton: I am seeking assurance from the Minister that there will be a wide-ranging and independent review of this matter, held in public, that will shine a light on what happened at Winterbourne View and allow the wider lessons to be learnt. We need to know whether the CQC's failure to monitor the treatment of residents was due to the fact that there was a shortage of CQC staff. Does the CQC have sufficient powers to act in this case and, if so, is it using its powers adequately? Could the Minister also comment on the wisdom of placing more regulatory tasks with the CQC, as the Government are proposing in the process of reorganisation? Surely we need to see that the CQC is carrying out its current functions adequately.
Earl Howe: My Lords, first, there is a criminal investigation under way and it would not be appropriate to launch an inquiry, even if we were minded to do so. As the noble Baroness knows, the CQC has launched its own internal investigation. It has admitted that there were failings in its processes. South Gloucestershire Council will lead an independently chaired serious case review, as has been mentioned, involving all agencies, which will look at the lessons to be learnt. The strategic health authorities involved have instigated a serious untoward incident investigation. The department will, after these reviews have been concluded, examine all the evidence and report to Parliament.
We want to understand not only the immediate facts and why things went wrong at Winterbourne View but also whether there are more systemic weaknesses in the arrangements for looking after people with learning disabilities and who exhibit seriously challenging behaviour. It is very easy to make the CQC into a scapegoat. It is difficult to ask of the CQC that it polices every room in every hospital at every hour of the day. We rely on the CQC and have been supportive of it. It does much good work and clearly it will want to review its own processes as part of this.
Baroness Barker: Does the Minister agree that when this abuse was taking place, a number of professionals, including nurses and doctors, must have gone into that establishment and that these professional bodies should start to conduct their own inquiries into what their staff were doing in there at the time? Secondly, a bad provider of care has everything to fear from an unannounced visit, while a good provider of care has nothing to fear. Does the Minister agree that as a temporary measure the CQC could consider conducting only unannounced visits in the foreseeable future?
Earl Howe: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. My understanding is that all patients at Winterbourne View have been regularly reviewed by a multidisciplinary clinical team in the past six months on behalf of the primary care trust that commissioned their care, and most of them in the past three months. I am sure she is right to say that those who have conducted such reviews should examine their processes and my understanding is that that is exactly what will happen.
We have endorsed the CQC's proposal to launch a programme of risk-based and random unannounced inspections of a sample of the 150 hospitals providing care for people with learning disabilities. They will work in conjunction with local government improvement
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Lord Laming: Will the Minister encourage the Government to reinforce messages about managerial accountability wherever vulnerable people are being cared for and about the fact that the greater the degree of vulnerability, the greater that accountability must be held by the managers of the service?
Earl Howe: The noble Lord is quite right. There has clearly been a serious failing in management here. We are looking at that urgently and, no doubt, important lessons will be learnt. All agencies have acted immediately on being alerted to the situation by the "Panorama" team and, as I have mentioned, appropriate inquiries are under way.
Baroness Wall of New Barnet: I agree with the Minister about the response around the Care Quality Commission. When such a result as this comes out, the undermining is quite damaging right across the whole spectrum of its work. In hospital trusts and everywhere else, the CQC's inspection and report are held in great esteem if they are good and are very worrying if they are not. I wonder whether that is denigrated by this unfortunate incident and this awful opportunity that it has had and missed.
Earl Howe: My Lords, I take the noble Baroness's point. It is very easy to blame the CQC whereas we should in fact first point the finger at those who perpetrated these awful acts and at the management of the hospital. There are a number of other agents involved besides the regulator. We are committed to developing the role of the Care Quality Commission to make it a more effective regulator of health services in England. Those efforts can be supplemented by the role of HealthWatch, which she will know we proposed in the Bill before the other place to strengthen the arrangements for the patient and public voice. I am sure that there is more that we are able to do, but it is important that we learn the facts first before pointing the finger at the regulator or anybody else.
To ask Her Majesty's Government what measures they are proposing the United Nations Security Council should take against the Government of Syria in the draft resolution they are putting before the Security Council later today.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford):My Lords, today in New York, Britain and France, along with Germany, are asking for Security Council support for a resolution condemning the repression in Syria and calling for the Syrian Government to meet their people's legitimate demands, release all prisoners of conscience, lift restrictions on the media and the internet and co-operate with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The violence being meted out against peaceful demonstrators in Syria is an appalling response to the people demanding their basic rights and freedom. It is time for the Assad regime to stop the violence and reform or step aside.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that very full response-but is it really enough? There are hundreds of Syrian civilians who have died in terrible circumstances; worst of all is the report of a 13 year-old boy who was tortured, emasculated and murdered. There are thousands pouring over the Turkish border and reports of police officers being executed for refusing to fire on crowds of civilians. Does not the Minister believe that the situation in the town of Jisr al-Shughour is so like that in Benghazi that similar measures should be taken to protect the civilians there? Does he agree with the French Foreign Minister, Alain Juppé, with whom the British Government are sharing the platform today, who said that the process of reform in Syria is dead and that Syria's president has lost his legitimacy to govern?
Lord Howell of Guildford: The noble Baroness is absolutely right that the situation is far from getting better: it is getting worse. The reports of atrocities are disgusting. We have all been shocked by the news of the apparent treatment of a young child-indeed of many young children-in the mayhem of violence. All these questions are being debated today at the United Nations. We and the French-the noble Baroness mentioned Monsieur Juppé-are putting forward sentiments very similar to those that she suggested. It is a question of carrying all opinion in this direction in order to get effective co-operative and co-ordinated action. Not everyone, particularly in the Arab world, has yet reached the point where they have united in seeing that further measures are required beyond those that we are already proposing. I myself was able to consult with a number of Arab and Gulf leaders last week in that region and had some mixed opinions on whether this was the time for more forceful action. The noble Baroness can be assured that Her Majesty's Government hold this matter in the strongest-possible and deepest concern. We believe, and fear, that stronger measures will indeed be needed.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: I congratulate my noble friend on the new tougher resolution that the Government are trying to secure through the United Nations Security Council. Let us, however, speak plainly. We know that China is one of the countries that is likely to veto this resolution. My noble friend will of course be aware that Chinese workers in Libya had to be taken out on a Chinese frigate, and that China now
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Lord Howell of Guildford: My noble friend makes an extremely good point which has certainly occurred to me in discussions with senior Chinese diplomats. The traditional or conventional stance of the Chinese authorities and Chinese Government is that they do not interfere in foreign countries. The reality is that because of extended Chinese influence and involvement throughout the world, whether the Chinese authorities like it or not, they are involved and do have to move towards taking a responsible position as they become a world force and a world power, an active member of the World Trade Organisation and a responsible authority and influence in the world. If this is the role that they want to play, they will have to be involved in a much more positive way, as my noble friend says.
Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, it is now 30 years since I left Damascus as British ambassador to Syria. Of course I accept that we are absolutely right to condemn these appalling reports on what is happening in Syria, just as I hope that we condemned in 1982 similar reports of terrible massacres of people in Hama under the present president's father's rule. However, does the Minister accept that whatever its other faults, Ba'athism as a system of government is a secular system of government? I believe, and I hope that the Minister agrees, that we should be extremely careful to do nothing that could desecularise that wonderful country.
Lord Howell of Guildford: Those are clearly very wise remarks. I suspect that the noble Lord has more experience than I do of exactly how we reacted to the atrocious murders in Hama in 1982, which were conducted by the brother of the then president, Hafiz al-Assad. The noble Lord is right that Syria is a secular pattern. It is also a tribal pattern, and the tribal and family groups who have ruled Syria are of course not a majority; they are a minority, among many others. They have ruled by methods that we regard as reprehensible, and that are becoming even more so. I accept the noble Lord's analysis that one could see a very serious disintegration of a country of many tribes and various religious groups and, indeed, a pattern that could develop a far greater infection of jihadism and extreme religious activity. For the moment we will have to see how events unfold. We hope that they will take a better course, but at present there is not much room for optimism.
Lord Triesman: My Lords, I also welcome the steps that are being taken today at the United Nations and I understand the limitations that this Government and the French and German Governments must feel about how far they can go. This is, as the Minister has said, a savage regime, conducting brutal behaviour towards its own people. Can the noble Lord tell us what steps are being taken to engage Arab support in the region and whether consideration is being given to the International Criminal Court, which must certainly be looking at these as crimes of concern to humanity?
Lord Howell of Guildford: As Syria is not a signatory to the International Criminal Court it would need a UN resolution to direct such a course. I have no doubt that the idea has been circulated but no action has been taken on it. As for gaining the support of the surrounding region and the leading Arab powers, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary and other Ministers are in direct contact with a range of leaders in the area. Our posts are in constant contact with the area. I myself had contact last week with a number of leaders, including, although not directly an Arab leader, Mr Najib Mikati in Lebanon, which is directly affected by what is happening in Syria. We keep lines as open as we can with all the major influences and parties, not least the Turkish Government and Mr Erdogan who have some direct line of influence over Bashar al-Assad, but so far their efforts have been to no avail.
Lord Anderson of Swansea: UN Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973 were built on the platform of the Arab League agreement, and that provided a degree of cover, preventing Russia from vetoing the resolutions. What is the working assumption of the Government in respect both of the Arab League generally, which presumably is fairly pessimistic about support, and the way in which Russia will now react?
Lord Howell of Guildford: The noble Lord, with his experience, is describing precisely the modalities and parameters that my colleagues in the British Government and other diplomats are having to cope with in New York at this moment. There is some hope that a resolution can come forward. There are varying views within the Arab League and among Arab leaders about which way to go and how much pressure to apply. There have been in the past first the traditional Chinese attitude of non-interference, which I have already described, and secondly some reluctance from Moscow to be involved. But this could be changing and there comes a point in this transparent interconnected world where the sheer volume of the atrocities means that there is a unity of intolerance to the continual misbehaviour. We may get to that point soon.
Lord Liddle: My Lords, I rise to move this amendment in a purely formal way. I anticipate that, in speaking to Amendment 2, the noble Lord, Lord Howell, will give us assurances that will enable us to withdraw this amendment, but without further ado I would like to hear what he has to say.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My Lords, I am grateful to those noble Lords who have sought, through the tabling of these amendments and in Committee, to clarify the spirit of the provisions in the relevant clauses of the Bill by tabling all but one of the amendments before us in this group. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, who has just indicated that he is moving his amendment formally in order, quite rightly, to elicit from the Government our case for the amendment that we have tabled within the group.
As my noble friend Lord Wallace made clear in Committee, it has not been and nor should it be the Government's intention to tie the hands of Ministers and their officials who negotiate assiduously in the development of European Union legislation in order to protect and maximise the UK's interests and priorities. The fact is that Ministers and officials have participated constructively for many years in the earlier stages of the development and negotiation of various EU measures, and nothing in this Bill will prevent that from continuing in the same way. When it comes to the point at which the final decision is taken in the European Council or the Council, what the provisions of the Bill are designed to do is to prevent a Minister from voting in favour of a treaty or other measure specified in Part 1 at this final stage, or otherwise allow the adoption of a treaty or measure to happen, unless and until he or she has the approval specified in the relevant clause of the Bill. As we know, this may be an Act of Parliament or it may be an Act and a referendum where there is a transfer of competence or power. The Bill does not prevent the Government from signing up finally to and participating in anything at the EU level, but Ministers would first have to have the support of Parliament and, where necessary, of the British people before doing so.
The amendment tabled in my name in the Marshalled List makes the position crystal clear, and I hope to the satisfaction of noble Lords. The effect of the amendment will of course govern the use of the phraseology we are concerned with throughout the whole Bill, and therefore not oblige us to table a series of consequential amendments because this change to Clause 1, which is interpretive, will govern the whole Bill.
As my noble friend Lord Wallace explained in Committee, the words we are concerned with, "or otherwise supporting", are included to make clear that, at the point of the final and formal decision in Council or the European Council, a Minister would be unable to allow a measure to be adopted in Council or the European Council through means other than a positive vote, which under this Bill would have to be preceded by the necessary national procedures-namely, an Act and a referendum, if required. Articles 235(1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and Article 238(4) make clear that abstentions at the point of final and formal decision in Council do
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In addition, as many of your Lordships know, in Brussels matters often do not proceed to a formal vote. The chairman may just seek the sense of the room, and if no one dissents, take it that the proposal has been finally agreed unanimously. It is then ticked and it goes through. That could happen only after national procedures, which would require parliamentary approval, while if competences and powers are being transferred, it would of course require a referendum. So the phrase "or otherwise supporting" seeks to ensure that Parliament and the British people can be confident that there is no possibility that any inaction on the part of the Government of the day could allow a measure to be finally decided and agreed without the proper approval of Parliament or the people or, indeed, both. To allow a measure to be adopted in such a way would represent a sleight of hand that would cheat both this Parliament and the public out of their rightful say.
My noble friend also made the point that, in this way, the Government were replicating the phrase used by the 2008 Act, which was introduced by the previous Government when Parliament was approving the ratification of the Lisbon treaty. However, we accept the point-made, I think, by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford-that, although that was the position before, there is no reason why we cannot improve the drafting of provisions from the past, as indeed we can improve on much else that went on during the past Government and seek to do so.
We have reflected further on this point, as we have on all the amendments tabled in Committee, as we should. For the reasons I have given, we have tabled a government amendment to spell out, in the interpretation in Clause 1, exactly what is meant by "or otherwise supporting" and to explain when and where it applies: to wit, that it is only at the final and formal stage in the Council, or the European Council, that the bar on voting for or abstaining on-in other words, otherwise supporting-measures applies, unless or until there is parliamentary and, where necessary, public approval, in which case of course the support could go forward.
We feel that providing this amendment to the definition provides the clarity that noble Lords were seeking in their amendments. It spells out unambiguously the limitations on Ministers and in doing so makes clear-and I make clear now-that this and future Governments may negotiate proposals in future in the same way as they do now and they should seek the views of the scrutiny committees of both Houses in the same way as they do now and undertake any other existing national approval procedures that are required before finally agreeing to a proposal in the European Council or the Council.
That is the position. I hope noble Lords will accept that clarifies the concerns we all had in Committee on this matter and therefore I will beg to move the
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Lord Hannay of Chiswick: Before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps we could be just a little clearer. I thank him very much for the letter he sent me and other noble Lords about what I described as the chicken-and-egg situation, which is part of this nexus that he has been dealing with. That was a very helpful letter and I would be most grateful if he could agree that that letter should not only go to noble Lords who participated in this debate but could also go in the Library of both Houses, because I fear that sometimes the other place does not take very much cognisance of what is said by Ministers in this House. On this occasion, what is said in that letter, in particular about nothing in this Bill inhibiting Ministers from participating in negotiations other than on the final decision, is very important. I hope he can agree that the letter should go in the Library of both Houses.
On another point arising from what the noble Lord himself said, I have to confess to some slight confusion about how many of the instances of "or otherwise support" get taken out and how many get left in and whether there is not a degree of potential ambiguity from leaving any of them in at all. Perhaps he could just clarify that point. I had at first thought, and from what he initially said this afternoon, that he was actually saying that all the references to "or otherwise support" were going and that the statement would simply be that we would not allow any decision to be taken. That is, I think, the sense of what the Government have been trying to do and what those of us who have been trying to amend this provision are trying to do. However, I am still not quite clear where we are on that point.
Lord Howell of Guildford: On the first point, I will certainly endeavour to see that the words and wisdom of your Lordships' House are spread as widely as possible and that the correctness of our view is recognised, in the way that we are changing the phraseology of the past in an improving way.
As to the question of what is amended by our proposed amendment, I think that I said that by changing the definition in the interpretative Clause 1, that change governs all references to the particular words we are concerned with throughout the Bill. It simply overrides and governs all those references, so that there is no need for your Lordships to be bothered with the task of going through each clause amending or adding the amendment at every stage of the Bill. By putting it in Clause 1, in the interpretative section, we are governing and rendering effective in the light of the amendment everything that is said throughout the entire Bill. That is the position as I would like to put it to your Lordships and I believe that that is the correct one.
Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne: I pay tribute to the Minister and to the Government for listening with such deep concern to what seemed to me to be
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Lord Liddle: My Lords, I would not go as far as the noble Baroness in describing this as a major concession in the Bill. However, in the spirit of good will in the consideration of the Bill on Report, we are prepared to withdraw the amendments in my name in the light of what the noble Lord, Lord Howell, has said, subject only to two points of clarification: first, that his letter to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, will be deposited in the Library; and, secondly, that we are absolutely clear that the amendment to the interpretative clause, Clause 1(7), does therefore govern all the other references to "otherwise support" in the rest of the Bill, and that no one is going to turn around at a later stage and say that a Minister cannot publicly advocate a position, either in the Council or in a wider forum, until the point at which a formal decision has to be taken, so it is possible for Ministers publicly to advocate their support for a position, subject to the final decision having passed all the requirements of this eventual Act.
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, as a final word I repeat that the definition will apply to any use of this wording elsewhere in the Bill. That is the definitive statement I am making, and that applies.
"(a) voting in favour of the decision in the European Council or the Council, or
(b) allowing the decision to be adopted by consensus or unanimity by the European Council or the Council."
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment 7. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, will regard this too as a major concession by the Government. These two amendments are intended to address a point raised by a number of Peers during our debate on the first day in Committee some weeks ago on what the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, described as a probing amendment. The noble Baroness, along with the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, raised the question of the correct interpretation of Clauses 2 and 3 with respect to the application of the referendum provision to Gibraltar. They raised the concern that the provisions as drafted could result in the need to hold a referendum in the UK even if the proposed treaty change happened to apply solely to Gibraltar and not to the United Kingdom. They said that this would be nonsensical. I agree that in such unlikely circumstances it would be nonsensical.
As your Lordships' House is aware, the Bill concerns only the future transfer of competence or power from the UK to the EU. As I promised at the end of that debate, we have reflected further on this issue. Our view remains that the requirement for a referendum to be held in Gibraltar under the provisions of the EU Bill is not self-standing but is dependent on three things: first, that there is a treaty change which applies both to the UK and Gibraltar and, secondly, that the treaty change would result in a transfer of competence or power from the UK to the EU. Then and only then does the third condition arise; namely, whether the treaty change would also represent a transfer of competence or power from Gibraltar to the EU.
That said, we recognise that it is important to be as transparent and clear as possible. That is the Government's intention. Consequently, we have tabled these two simple amendments to Clauses 2 and 3 to make sure that the meaning is clear beyond doubt. The amendment makes explicit that only if a treaty change were to apply to both the UK and Gibraltar, and the referendum is to be held in the UK, would that referendum also be held in Gibraltar. I beg to move.
Lord Davies of Stamford: I hoped to intervene before the Minister sat down but I missed my cue. I shall be very brief. As the noble Lord and his colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Howell, have been courteous enough to mention me in the context of our debates on these matters in Committee, it would be wrong of me not to say that we on this side appreciate that the Government have genuinely reflected on the Committee stage debate on these two matters, relatively minor though they may be. That is encouraging for us and the hope that we can all take part in improving this legislation and that the result of our labours will not be entirely nil. Does the noble Lord have in mind any specific contingency in which there might be a proposal
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Lord Triesman: My Lords, I appreciate the tabling of these two amendments by the Government. I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, that they will probably not be thought of as huge concessions almost anywhere. He put that rather generously and he is quite right-they will not. More to the point, they are wise amendments. It may well be that on some future occasion he will wish to land in Gibraltar. He would not want to receive the sort of frosty reception that he would receive if he had done anything to the people of Gibraltar other than what appears as a result of these two amendments. It is a helpful clarification. We are satisfied with it and thank him.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: If no one else wishes to intervene, I ought to answer the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford. I find it difficult to imagine circumstances in which there would be proposals that would represent a transfer of powers or competences from Gibraltar to the EU. However, I have not looked back at Protocol 3 of the 1972 Act which ratified the treaty of accession and the extremely complicated circumstances in which Gibraltar is treated as a member of the EU but does not take part in all aspects of EU policy. For example, it does not take part in the common agricultural policy, but it takes part in the freedom of movement.
Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne:Would the Minister recommend to other European Union member states that have territories that are not specifically part of their geographical parameters-such as Spain and the Canary Islands, and France and her piece of territory in north Africa-that they follow the lead of the United Kingdom in drawing more fully into their embrace the territories that belong to them?
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I shall not detain the House very long. The question of the different relationships between the Crown dependencies and the EU, and Gibraltar and the EU, is a deeply arcane subject. I read an extremely long report from the Government of Jersey some 18 months ago about the relationship between Jersey and the EU. It is very good bedtime reading for anyone who does not wish to go to sleep. These are very complicated areas. However, I and our advisers cannot at the moment envisage the likelihood of a referendum. We nevertheless hope that this amendment clarifies the situation.
(d) the Electoral Commission have issued a certificate stating whether or not it appears to them that more than 40 per cent of the persons entitled to vote in the referendum have voted in it.
(a) in each House of Parliament a Minister of the Crown has moved a motion that the House approves Her Majesty's Government's intention to ratify the treaty, and
(b) each House has agreed to the motion without amendment."
Lord Williamson of Horton: My Lords, Amendment 5, and the similar Amendment 8 that is grouped with it, are both in my name. Although these amendments are relevant to the European Union Bill, they are not about European Union policy. They are about the way in which we deal with referendums in this country and the role of Parliament, if any, in relation to referendums. Perhaps this might have the unique result that, when we continue the discussion on this amendment, we might find that Europhiles, Europhobes and Eurosceptics are all on the same side, which would be rather unusual. The amendments have a good-indeed, a noble-parentage, since they are in substance the same as the much discussed amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, to the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill.
The effect of Amendment 5 is quite simple. The Government have proposed that, if, as a consequence of the referendum lock set up in the Bill, a national referendum were to be held on any of the about 50 cases covered by the Bill, that referendum result would be mandatory and Parliament would have no role. This amendment would not change that situation if at least 40 per cent of the persons entitled to vote had voted in the referendum. However, if there were a poor turnout and a smaller percentage of the electorate voted, the result would remain valid but would have to be confirmed by a Motion in each House of Parliament. This will give Parliament its proper representative role if there were, for example, a derisory turnout.
This amendment is particularly relevant to the Bill because all the potential decisions or transfers of power or competence to the European Union covered by the Bill are already subject to our veto and the Government have stated that they do not intend to make any of these decisions or transfers in the current Parliament. Unless, therefore, a sunset clause is inserted-the subject of later amendments-or, if it becomes an Act, a future Parliament repeals the Bill, the legislation has the potential to require national referendums for many years ahead.
What would be the circumstances of these potential referendums? First, they would be about issues where the UK Government had concluded that it would be in the national interest to act. If not, the Government would simply veto the proposal under existing powers. Secondly, a referendum might be about a change to qualified majority voting. There are 40 different cases listed in Schedule 1 on subjects which voters might find of little interest or importance. An example might be a change in the method of voting for the appointment of advocates-general of the European Court of Justice. Such a bizarre national referendum would probably
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To conclude, this amendment would bring back a role for Parliament in those cases, and only in those cases, where the British public had demonstrated their lack of interest by a very low turnout in a referendum. I beg to move Amendment 5.
Lord Howe of Aberavon: My Lords, I can add very little to the lucid presentation made by my noble friend Lord Williamson. I start from premises which I have described to the House before. My first premise is to regard referenda as unreliable things. The more complex the subject, the less reliable they become. I have said many times that the referenda which I have always been enthusiastic about were those which I was able to introduce at a meeting of the Welsh area council of the Conservative Party in the 1960s-namely, to determine, on a county basis and at seven-year intervals, whether public houses should be open on Sunday. That was put into law within a short time by Henry Brooke and remained there for 35 years, because after five seven-year lapses every county in Wales had finally been liberated, Caernarvon being the last. My noble and learned friend Lord Morris was then able to repeal the legislation. Nobody can argue with that.
Between 1974 and 1979, when I was on the opposition Benches in the other place and was able to do other things, I was on the board of a company called AGB Research, which was one of the largest and most effective market research companies in Europe, specialising largely in the measurement of television and broadcasting audiences. The whole process depended on trying to determine what people thought. In so far as we were dealing with quite simple things about broadcasting, it was easy enough to decide. In so far as we were measuring relative enthusiasm as between butter and margarine, we felt that we could rely on a referendum-style questioning and answering analysis. But unlike many of our competitors, we were always clear that we would never touch political opinion polls with a bargepole because we felt that in that area, however well one tried to do it, the outcome was likely to be less than lucid and less than decisive. For that reason, throughout this legislation I have been wholly lacking in enthusiasm for the introduction of referenda in substitute for decisions taken by Parliament.
We have reached the point when referenda seem likely to remain in legislation, but the least we can do is to try to make those referenda less ill founded than they might otherwise be. If we do not prescribe a minimum along the lines suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, then we are at the mercy of decisions being taken by almost invisible percentage votes. I do not regard there being much wisdom in a 40 per cent referendum, but I am delighted to be able to follow an
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Lord Richard: My Lords, I speak in partial support of this amendment. I cannot say I am very enthusiastic about part of it, but nevertheless I agree with the general thrust. Before I turn to the amendment, I would like to say how much I admire the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, particularly his actions in the 1950s in persuading the Conservative party in Wales to agree to a set of referendums on whether pubs should be open on Sundays. I say that because in the valley where I was brought up there was a Labour majority of 35,000, but the club with the biggest membership of all was the local Conservative club. Why? Because it was open on Sundays. He deserves to be commended for his altruism, which deprived the Amman Valley's Conservative party of a considerable amount of beer money.
My Lords, I am not too keen on this amendment for one reason. We have a figure which, if it is not reached, then prima facie at any rate the referendum should not be valid. However, in those circumstances where the turnout does not reach 40 per cent, the result is deemed to be valid because the matter will come back to Parliament and, if each House passes a resolution saying that, despite the turnout being under 40 per cent, the measure should go through, then it will go through. I question the value of that. If you have that in the Bill, it seems to me it is slightly pointless having a 40 per cent plateau. If one is going to have a figure that the turnout must reach for the referendum to be effective, why should Parliament give the Government a second chance of getting their policy through? If there is a condition that you must have 40 per cent, surely if you get that 40 per cent the referendum is valid; if you do not, the logical conclusion is that the referendum is not valid. If it were as simple as that, I would support the amendment entirely. On the other hand, I must say that if the amendment is one the House is prepared to accept, I would certainly go along with it rather than not have anything like it.
Lord Waddington: My Lords, I find the amendment rather strange. I certainly agree that a poor turnout may be taken as complete lack of interest in having a referendum on the issue, but a poor turnout certainly could not be taken as support for the measure in question. One must remember what sort of measures we are talking about: these are measures that cede more power to the European Union. So if there is a low turnout, the one thing that is absolutely certain-along
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As I have said before, it seems extraordinary that when the people give to our parliamentarians the opportunity to use certain specific powers they then spend the whole of a Parliament handing over those powers to other people. No wonder there is a lack of understanding of what is being done in the people's name. It is pretty nonsensical to say that if there is a low turnout in the referendum, we should hand the whole matter to Parliament, which is half the cause of the trouble in the first place. After all, it is Parliament which the public feel, with fairly good evidence, cheated them of the opportunity of a referendum when Lisbon turned up as a rehash of the European constitution. That is one of the causes for the Bill. We are having a Bill now to try to rebuild some of the lost confidence in the EU, and we should judge the amendment by that problem. As far as I can see, the amendment would add to the problem rather than reduce it.
Lord Tomlinson: When I heard the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, speak about nonsenses, that seemed to be a cue inviting me to participate in this debate. The noble Lord talked extensively about ceding powers to Europe, but the very essence of the Bill is that the issues subject to referenda are issues that require unanimity in the Council of Ministers. The Government have every power that they need; they have only to say no and by that process they can stop any ceding of powers to Europe or anywhere else. They can deny unanimity. That is not what it is about. The idea that the Bill is the last bastion defending the rights of Englishmen, to stop his rights being transferred to Brussels, is really the argument of the knave who knows better, because it does not do that at all.
If we are to have what I believe to be nonsensical referenda inflicted on us, there has to be at least some measure to give a minimum standard of credibility to the referenda. Like the noble Lord, Lord Richard, I am not particularly happy about the amendment, although I will support it. The idea of putting to a referendum an issue where people can vote for or against does not really transfer sovereignty to the British people. I would far rather see a question with four options: "For", "Against", "Don't know" and "Don't care". If we had that, considering some of the issues which will be subject to referenda, I suspect that it would be a combination of "Don't know" and "Don't care" that would win in every case. The amendment would not give us a great deal of protection, particularly as, as I said, power already rests in the hands of Ministers. If there is such a reluctance of Ministers to use the power that they already have, an honourable retreat is available from Government to the Back Benches, so that they can continue their impotence from there. When the Government have every power
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Lord Kerr of Kinlochard: My Lords, I rise to support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, which is a Tory amendment. I am surprised to find myself sounding more Tory than the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, which is a feat I had not expected to attempt. The noble Lord, Lord Williamson, comes from the West Country, and I suspect him of being a Burkean. At Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, took us through John Locke. The Taverne view against referenda was derived from Locke, and he contrasted that with the evil Rousseau, who led the French in the direction of referenda. I would have preferred to have dinner with Fox, but Burke impresses me on the role of Parliament. The reasons I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, have nothing to do with the European Union; they have to do with the position of Parliament.
"The wishes of the people should have great weight with their Representative, their opinion his high respect, their business his unremitted attention. It is his duty...to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiassed opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to them...Your representative [in Parliament] owes you, not only his industry, but also his judgment; and he betrays you, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion".
This Bill is a constitutional innovation. It says that once an Act of Parliament has been passed, it will be struck down by the people if they say no in a referendum. This is not the alternative vote referendum scenario. As Conservative noble Lords may remember, we did not vote for the alternative vote; we voted for a referendum on the alternative vote. In the case of this Bill, the treaty amendments that would have been considered by Parliament, and the 57 varieties of decisions-the baked beans can of decisions-that would have been considered by Parliament would have been subject to Acts of Parliament. They would have received parliamentary approval and then they would go to referenda. That is the first time, I think, that has happened in our constitutional history.
Lord Tebbit: Does the noble Lord think that he envisaged a day when Parliament would be transferring sovereign powers from the people of this country to those of another country, to people who they could not elect and could not dismiss?
Lord Kerr of Kinlochard: I am sure that Burke was not thinking of the situation of the EU Bill which is before us. The noble Lord is absolutely right. He may have been thinking of a situation in Ireland which developed in ways that bore some resemblance to that during his lifetime, but I am sure that when he was addressing the Bristol electorate his concern was simply with explaining to them how he saw the role of Parliament and the sovereignty of Parliament. It is because I think that he was right about that that I think that we should vote for the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, which I hope he will press to a vote. It does not restore full parliamentary sovereignty, but in a situation where-in his words-a derisory turnout had voted, the question of whether Parliament's will should be overruled would be raised. That is a little bit of Burke that would be rescued from the mess of Rousseau that we are in.
Lord Dykes: I rise briefly to speak enthusiastically in support of this amendment and to thank the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, for his remarks-I agree with them all. I was, like others may be, a little startled when the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, began to say that he rather agreed with the first part of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Waddington. But I understand what he was getting at. The beauty of the amendment is that it can appeal to a whole range of Members of this House in deciding, irrespective of their own particular views on the virtue of referendums, or referendumitis, or the danger of referendums, or whatever, that this would be a good way of making more respectable a given referendum result with a turnout requirement-following the wisdom of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, in a totally different context-and would make sure that we were not trivialising the exercise in a way that would disconcert the public in a big way. The beauty then is that, if the threshold is not reached, the power goes back to Parliament and the Government as the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, would always wish.
The electorate would say that that is what they elect parliamentarians to decide. We could easily have participation rates of less than 20 per cent, and we would return, therefore, to the Vernon Bogdanor example. I believe that this matter is important for parliamentarians in both Houses, but particularly here, as this House has an opportunity to improve the Bill in a way that government Ministers have already started to do with their generous amendment. We must work hard to restore public faith in the public's ownership of first-rate parliamentary standards of tradition, work and devotion to the public good. My personal view is that I am very fearful of referendumitis and this Bill would deliver a lot of it in the future if the situation were allowed to get out of hand.
Most sensible citizens are highly intelligent and quite rightly regard subjects other than mere politics as far more important and crucial. I often do. I would cite family and children, the local community, jobs and job prospects, football and-even better-rugby, holidays, the kids' results at school and music. Very many of those things are more important than politics. The public want to enhance political quality by leaving the political decisions to their elected representatives, even if some of them in the other place are sometimes rather nerdy people, like Bill Cash or John Redwood. We have to remember the warning words of my noble friend Lady Williams when she spoke of the disastrous example of California, which had become a bankrupt state as a result of excessive referendumitis and foolish populism. This amendment provides a pragmatic way of making the results of referendum-if there has to be one-more respectable. I hope that this House will support it.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I wish that the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, would not describe people who oppose his points of view in such terms as "nerds". It does not enhance debate and it is quite unnecessary to lampoon one's opponents.
The amendment has a certain superficial attraction, but we need to be extremely careful what we do. If you say that a decision on an item on which a referendum is to be held can take effect only if 40 per cent of the electorate vote, you could say that about almost every election we have. People are elected to the House of Commons-certainly in by-elections-on a turnout of less than 40 per cent of those entitled to vote. Why on earth should that be legitimate and a referendum on a matter which is to be transferred to European governance not be accepted? We have to be very careful not to create a precedent here which might be used in other circumstances that may be inconvenient to Parliament and certainly to local authorities, where the turnout is very often far below the 40 per cent of those entitled to vote.
The noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, talked about the various alternatives that might be put on the ballot paper. If you pass this amendment, there is another alternative which is that you can campaign for people not to vote. That is good democracy, is it not? Or is it? If you encourage people not to vote to get the decision you want, that is extremely bad democracy. I do not want to delay the House any further, but I believe that before we vote we should be very careful about what we are doing.
Lord Lamont of Lerwick: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, as always, made a very careful and thoughtful speech which places me in a slightly awkward position. I find it surprising that there is so much enthusiasm for this amendment from those who accuse the Government of obstructing the process towards greater European integration. They have said that the Government have been putting locks on moves towards further European integration. Here they are putting a padlock on the lock; they are putting another obstacle in the way of European integration. Let us not forget that one will get a referendum only when the Government are proposing to acquiesce in a step
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I do not accept the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, that there is a danger that we will have lots of referendums on trivial subjects such as the number of advocates-general or the voting system for having advocates-general. There are several reasons, which we went through in Committee, why we will not get a whole series of trivial referendums. First, these sorts of changes tend to come along in packages after major treaty revisions and we have been assured there will not be major treaty revisions. It seems unlikely that any one country is going to invest a huge amount of political capital pressing for a change in the voting system for choosing advocates-general. If some power has not been given to Brussels even after the Lisbon treaty and the Maastricht treaty-the series of constitutional treaties we have had-if powers are left to individual countries, there is a very good reason for that. Obviously in previous negotiations countries have not wanted to cede those powers. The idea that we are going to get a lot of referendums on trivial matters is unrealistic and is a chimera. If that was the basis of the noble Lord's argument I would not accept it. There are many subjects that are by no means trivial, such as our borders and our criminal justice system, where it would be wholly appropriate to have a referendum. That is why I am broadly a supporter of the Bill.
I said at the beginning that the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, places me in a slightly awkward position because I was, as some of my noble friends will remember, a very strong supporter of the 40 per cent threshold for the referendum on AV. Indeed, I voted twice against my party on it. I do not like to make personal comments but I got to my feet largely because of my noble friend Lord Dykes, who I have known for many years. On the AV question, my noble friend was a very firm opponent of the 40 per cent threshold to which he has put his name on this occasion. As I am placed in an awkward position and he is also exposed in an awkward position, I am prepared to do him a deal. If he will not support this amendment, I will vote for it.
Lord Risby: My Lords, it is worth pointing out that the referendum is now part of our political culture. Indeed, it is not only part of our political culture, but right across the European Union referendums are deployed to get people's views. It is now a fundamental part of the whole democratic process. However, the potential effect of this amendment is to make the referendum advisory. That is the point because if it is below 40 per cent the decision is referred back to Parliament. The essence of that argument is that the result ceases to be mandatory and effectively becomes advisory. That destroys the whole point of the reconnection process.
We are trying through the Bill to reconnect the people of this country with the European Union. It is a big challenge. If we are going to re-engage people in that process we must recognise that, if there is going to
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The AV referendum showed us that on an important constitutional issue, the people of this country will be fully engaged. They took it seriously and voted in great numbers. I have the greatest confidence that in a matter such as the one before us, the potential transfer of additional powers to the European Union, they will of course be very interested. Therefore, I feel that turnout would be quite high.
We must make sure that people feel that when they vote, their vote counts and is decisive. Otherwise, it will destroy the point of the referendum. The referendum lock should be given without qualification; it is in the spirit of what the Bill is about. The fullest acceptance of the referendum result voted by the people is something that we should recognise. It is our duty as parliamentarians to do so.
Lord Flight: My Lords, I voted on two occasions for the Rooker amendment on AV. It is tempting to join the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, in taking the position that there may be a similar argument for supporting here an amendment that requires a 40 per cent turnout. However, the position is not at all analogous. In this situation, the aim is to protect the people of this country from having the powers of their Parliament and Government further diluted and given away, as has sadly happened in the recent past, with Parliaments breaking their word to citizens and acting in a way contrary to that which they promised-I refer, for example, to the recent Lisbon treaty.
It is very clear that the Bill is there as a protection for the British people, and it would be made meaningless if we said to them, "We are going to give you this lock and protection, but if less than 40 per cent of people vote, we will give power back to the Government of the day who command a majority in the House of Commons". It is not an analogous situation to changing the voting system, where there were powerful arguments requiring an adequate turnout. It is not a situation that Burke would have supported in the slightest; he would have been absolutely against giving away the powers of the British Government and Parliament to another organisation. Either we give citizens a meaningful lock or we do not. Therefore, I feel no discomfort in opposing these amendments, having supported the Rooker amendment on AV; it is the whole point of the Bill.
Lord Deben: My Lords, I find myself in disagreement with both my noble friend Lord Lamont and the noble Lord behind him. I am opposed to referenda in any case and do not think that we should judge referenda, even if we are in favour of them, by the particular amendment that is before us. We should judge referenda
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The parliamentary democracy which we have is the greatest gift which we have been able to give to the world as a whole. Irrespective of the comments of my noble friend Lord Risby, parliamentary democracy and referenda do not go together, as a matter of fact. The one comes from a different tradition and I am not going to be one of those who besmirches the tradition by referring to the use of referenda by such people as Louis-Napoleon. That would be wrong. But referenda do come from that tradition and not from our parliamentary tradition.
Therefore, I was much enlightened by the reminder which the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, gave us of the great conservative thinker, Edmund Burke. He said that the embarrassing fact of being a parliamentarian is that you do have, in the end, to make up your own mind, even though the popular press, the women's advisory committee of your association, the local doctors' alliance and a whole range of other people tell you that you have got it wrong. I remind noble Lords of what happens if you take that away. It means that nobody with a strong view on abortion, for example, would be able to uphold his or her view in those circumstances. If he or she were to follow the views of the electorate, he or she would not be able to uphold what he or she thought was a moral position. The same would be true about capital punishment. No one would have voted against capital punishment if they had listened to the average elector over the past 30 or 40 years.
Let us not be too easily lulled into that simple concept of the referendum now being part of our democratic heritage. Referenda have always been used-I say this as a committed Conservative-in a way which has tended to favour those who take a very conservative attitude. My noble friend takes a very conservative attitude, so I am happy to give way to him.
Lord Tebbit: May I assume, therefore, that in defence of parliamentary sovereignty and all that of which he has been speaking, my noble friend will assert the right of Parliament, and none other, to decide whether prisoners should have any voting rights at all? Will he be on side in this matter or will he defer to some agency outside Parliament?
Lord Deben: I am always worried when my noble friend intervenes upon me but I am very pleased on this occasion to say that I agree with him entirely. This is an issue for Parliament and Parliament should make up its own mind-I have no doubt about that at all. He need not worry. I am a great defender of Parliament. But I ask this House not to allow itself to get into the situation which the Swiss got into. After all, Switzerland was the last country in Europe to allow women to vote. Why was that? Every time they passed it in Parliament, it was the referenda which defeated it. I ask noble Lords to be very careful about this.
Let us look at this amendment. I have great sympathy for the view which the noble Lord, Lord Richard, expressed. It seems to me that this is a very simple concept. We who are arguing for it have accepted that in our view, for bad reasons, we are going to have referenda. We are unlikely to have a referendum on something trivial-I do not really agree with the noble Lord, Lord Williamson; I think it will be likely to be on something of note. It will be on something which the Government have decided not to veto. It is going to be quite a rare occasion. It is going to be something which the Government have presented to Parliament, Parliament is going to vote for it, and it will then be placed before the public. All we are saying is that if less than 40 per cent of the public think it worth while voting, Parliament can reconsider the matter. It can take into account what the public have said and then ask itself what should it do.
I finish by saying that I would say this about a proposal for a referendum on something that I believed my side would win in all circumstances. This is not a matter about the subject; it is about the mechanism. It is that which we should face. May I suggest to noble Lords that this House has got to do its duty in ensuring that when there is a major change, as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, said, we ensure that it is not one with unforeseen circumstances? All we are saying is that if enough people vote, then it is mandatory; if not enough people vote, it is advisory. That seems to me to be a sensible compromise, so I ask the Minister to help those of us who find this Bill very difficult indeed and at least allow us to have this compromise, which is in the best tradition of British parliamentary democracy.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, seldom have I been made glummer than I have been made by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Deben, and indeed, by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, and those who tabled this amendment. They have encapsulated perfectly the disdain of the political class for the people of this country.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: I am indeed a member of the political class, but I think I see it perhaps with more objectivity than those who tabled this amendment. If your Lordships' House has a vote and less than 40 per cent turn out for it, the result is still valid. If 10 per cent of your Lordships' House votes, perhaps rather late at night, the result is still valid.
I say that those who tabled this amendment really do not understand the disdain of the people of this country for the political class, and that disdain is justified. Look at the position into which our political class has led this country over the past 50 years-since Suez, perhaps, and we got that wrong. Our children cannot learn to read; our prisons are overflowing with the illiterate; our hospitals are dirty; we are failing the old, most of whom end their lives in misery and loneliness; our streets are dangerous; our transport is creaky; our police are overburdened and overbureaucratised; even our Armed Forces are being asked to do too much with too little, and their morale is beginning to crack; immigration is out of control;
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Noble Lords may remember that for about two minutes last year I was the leader of the UK Independence Party and, rather against my will, we consulted focus groups, which I always think should be completely unnecessary. Even I was surprised by the answer to the question about what people thought about the political class. Every class of the British people in every area of this country said that they regarded the political class not with dislike, not with disdain, not with distrust, not even with anger, but with hatred. I believe that our system of representative parliamentary democracy, which those who tabled this amendment and the leaders of our political class like so much, is no longer supported by the people, and therefore has broken down.
Do not let us forget that up to the 19th century and the early 20th century most people in this country could not read, so it was reasonable to send representatives to Westminster to take decisions for them. But now people can read. On the whole, they are very much more sensible than the people who represent them and they want referendums. They want referendums not only on the European Union but perhaps across the board, which might be the only way to reconnect the people with their democracy. I believe that their decisions-even if only 15 per cent of them turn out to vote-will be very much wiser than those of our failed political class. Therefore, I oppose these amendments.
Baroness Brinton: My Lords, I shall speak specifically on the 40 per cent threshold and will start by reaffirming the point made by other noble Lords on these amendments going against the Government's objective of re-engaging with the British people, particularly on major EU issues about transfer of power and competency. I want to reassert the coalition's intentions on referendums in other parts of our life. The Localism Bill, which we discussed yesterday, has many arrangements in place for referendums.
It might be helpful to remind the House of the other referendum that took place a couple of months ago. I am not referring to the AV referendum but the one in King's Lynn about an incinerator. After a strong campaign against a local incinerator, the turnout was 61 per cent. It was interesting that there was a division between a county council view and a district council view about whether there should be such an incinerator. The county council view ignored the will of the people. I am afraid that my Conservative colleagues and my noble friends on these Benches suffered some significant defeats in the local elections. Nine councillors were rejected because the people felt that their voice had not been heard after they had been allowed to give it. We miss that opportunity at our peril. I have given that specific example because, in Committee, I raised the issue of the Scottish referendum in 1979 after which there was a significant disconnect. It has taken many years to address it. Some would argue that there is still a legacy of distrust between Westminster and Scotland.
I would prefer the political parties and other groups involved in campaigning for referendums to engage with the public, rather than there being a threshold which, as others have mentioned, could skew the result. You may get not just the "don't knows" and the "don't cares" referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, but those who do not support the motion actively being asked not to vote in order to skew the result. Then the public debate becomes about voting and not about the issue. That would be wrong.
The contrast between these two types of referendum is striking. In the first, a real referendum resulting in engagement with the public undoubtedly has helped the public's perception. The 1975 EU referendum benefited the perception and understanding of the EU for many years. But in Scotland there was a real contrast and, as I have mentioned, serious damage is still there.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, I find that I am afflicted by the quite well known advice once given to me by the Whips. It was, "Never listen to the debate on any issue". When I saw this amendment I was rather dismayed because, as my noble friend Lord Lamont pointed out, it replicates exactly the proposal which he, I and others put forward on the AV referendum. I found myself thinking, "Now I have got to be against this because I am against Europe taking more powers from Britain. How am I going to reconcile this in my mind?". My noble friend Lord Deben has been very helpful in this regard because it is not about the issue of European powers or the role of the European Community. It is about the relationship between Parliament and referendum.
I am going to upset a number of my noble friends by being on an unpredictable side in this argument. My noble friend Lord Risby said that it is now part of the culture in Europe to have referenda. I am rather alarmed by that, because we have a parliamentary democracy. I support this Bill in its intention, which is to give the people a say before a power is transferred, if that should happen. It seems very dangerous to get into a position where we have what is a constitutional innovation-the concept of drop-dead referenda. The moment the vote is cast, that is it. It has become enshrined in law and Parliament no longer has a say. That is a new concept which has crept into our constitution. When we joined the European Union, we did not have a referendum of that form. The Scottish referendum, with all due respect to my noble friend, was not of that form, either. Parliament was still in control and had the final say. My noble friend Lord Deben has been consistent throughout all the time I have known him in his opposition to referenda. I am not against referenda but they must be supported by a substantial group. We could argue about whether 35 per cent or 40 per cent or 50 per cent is the right number, but there ought to be a clear view expressed by the people.
Perhaps I may take up an earlier point. I know nothing about the incinerator but I have been involved in public life long enough to know that if you want to put an incinerator anywhere, you are going to get a majority in a referendum against it. That is why we have elections and that is why we have Parliament. It is in order to take difficult decisions, which, as my noble friend has said, may very well be unpopular. So I am rather inclined to support this amendment for that reason. It seems to be consistent in supporting the constitutional principles which this House should be concerned about. Tempted as I am by the expediency of the case, I think that argument ought to prevail.
Lord Hamilton of Epsom: In supporting this amendment, is my noble friend comfortable with the concept of a turnout of less than 40 per cent, which is therefore null, and a no vote by a narrow majority? Bearing in mind that the Government will have instigated this referendum because they want a yes vote, if they get a no vote by a narrow majority and the House of Commons reverses it to a yes vote, is my noble friend comfortable with that idea, because that is what he is advocating?
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: I am not advocating that at all. It would be a matter for the House of Commons to decide. The House of Commons and this House would have to take account of the nature of the campaign and the strength of the vote and the arguments that are put forward. The pressure of a referendum in itself, however big the turnout, will be a major factor in the considerations which are taken by the elected Members. I am not comfortable with the idea of cutting Parliament out when there may have been a low turnout. By the way, I was also not comfortable with accepting these arguments when I rejected them not many weeks ago in the context of having a threshold on the AV referendum.
Lord Taverne: My Lords, I want to make three short points. First, I refer to the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, who always argues his case with great force and effectiveness. However, on this occasion, it seemed rather strange. He said that if there is a low vote, it simply proves the lack of enthusiasm for the European Community, and the fact that people will not vote is equivalent to a no vote. The circumstances, as has just been pointed out, will be whether the Government support a change in the law. Suppose the next Government are a Conservative Government. They are not likely to make a major transfer of powers to Brussels. On some of these minor matters in Schedule 1, they might see the advantage in not having a veto and make that part of their case. If there is a very low vote, it is a toss-up as to which way it will go, but a 10 per cent vote in favour of a transfer of power and 9 per cent against is a quite a likely result. In effect, the argument put by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, is that it makes a transfer of power more likely.
The noble Lord, Lord Lamont, says that it is not likely that there would be an individual vote on some of the minor matters set out in Schedule 1 because they would be packaged, which is also what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, has told us on a
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The second point I want to make is that if this amendment is not passed, we are likely to be left with referendums on some of these minor matters. Are they really going to bind this country closer to Europe and reconnect the public with Brussels? Are they going to make Brussels more popular? Of course it is a result that I do not necessarily approve of, but would it not make referenda less and less popular with the public?
That brings me to my last point. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, referred to Burke. I should like to comment on that since I was the first person to bring Burke into the argument. In his doctrine, Burke says that the will of the people should always prevail; it is the anti-Rousseau argument. What is interesting is that while there have been some tests of it, although only a very few, they suggest that Burke is actually quite popular. I shall give two examples. In my speech at Second Reading, I referred to a by-election in which I resigned on an issue over which I was unpopular in the sense that a local poll showed a majority of three to two against our joining the European Community. But I argued for the principle of Burke that I was entitled to exercise my judgment, and Burke prevailed by a substantial majority. I can give another example. One of my neighbours where I lived until recently was a Conservative MP I greatly respected. He was the late Norman Miscampbell, who was a Member for Blackpool. Many people will remember that a police superintendent was murdered in that town, and a campaign was launched by his widow to restore the death penalty for the murder of a policeman. It had overwhelming support in Blackpool, but Norman Miscampbell, on principle and very bravely taking the Burke view, voted against the restoration of the death penalty. His fellow Conservative MP in Blackpool, the late Peter Blaker, supported the petition and voted in favour of it. At the next election, Norman Miscampbell's vote increased by somewhat more than that of Peter Blaker. Burke is not unpopular. When they reflect on it, people think it very reasonable that Members of Parliament should exercise their own judgment and not act as puppets.
Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, perhaps I may make a few remarks in support of this amendment. I find some of the arguments that have been used against it quite bizarre. The noble Lord, Lord Risby, said that the vast majority of people in this country want these referendums. If so, he has nothing to fear from the amendment. If the vast majority of people in this country want referendums, more than 40 per cent of them will vote when a referendum question is put, and this Bill, as amended, will then provide mandatory outcomes. It has been suggested that this is all about
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I argue that we should not go down the primrose path of thinking that the referendum fashion is sweeping across Europe. First, we are not talking about Europe; we are talking about Britain. I do not see why we should accept that argument as valid in our case. In any case, I have a strong feeling that most people who have supported referendums around Europe now bitterly regret it. In the most recent one, last weekend, the Slovenians voted against raising the pensionable age to something quite a long way below the pensionable age in this country; not, I would have thought, a very sensible thing to have happened-something rather like the incinerator case, I suspect. I am very much in the same group as the noble Lords, Lord Deben and Lord Forsyth. It is not a very good idea to have these referendums. The Government could quite easily have avoided most of the petty referendums by drawing up a much simpler Bill, but they chose to throw in the kitchen sink. Given that, the case for a threshold is really rather compelling and I therefore support the amendment.
Lord Hamilton of Epsom: Before the noble Lord sits down, does he accept that the power of the Executive has got much stronger in the House of Commons? We all talk here about parliamentary democracy in terms of the other place, but how many times have the Government actually been defeated over the past 20 years?
Lord Hannay of Chiswick: It is not the time of night to go into a lengthy disquisition on British constitutional history, but we still live in a representative parliamentary democracy and we still accept that a Government who have a majority in the House of Commons can make laws. However, we are seeking to contradict that with this provision. The amendment that is being moved is a small, modest palliation of that.
Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne: This amendment is not in fact about the absolute underpinnings of this Bill, although it is a very tempting set of red herrings that have been laid in front of your Lordships' House. This set of amendments is about whether or not there should be a 40 per cent threshold and, with your Lordships' permission, I would like to comment purely on that point.
The 40 per cent threshold seems to me, as a former Member of Parliament and of the European Parliament, to be a rather odd thing for noble Lords to be considering today. We do not have a 40 per cent threshold in the general election or in the European election, for example. We are perfectly comfortable with assuming that 50 per cent of those who come out to vote is the threshold on which the electorate are exercising their wisdom. I find it extremely difficult to see why, just for this Bill, some noble Lords are so adamantine in their perception that a 40 per cent threshold-and no less-is the absolute minimum they will accept if a referendum is to give a valid answer from the British people.
All noble Lords who have commented on the imperative of parliamentary democracy and Parliament's primacy are, of course, absolutely right. I think that it is Clause 18 of the Bill that, for the first time ever in many generations in Parliament, absolutely clearly defines that it is only through the primacy of Parliament that EU legislation can be accepted at all. It is our responsibility. The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, made the point in his very thoughtful intervention-and I fully support this-that we have been far too fast in ceding power from this Parliament to the European Union. However, I would perhaps remind him that that is our responsibility, certainly in the House of Commons and Government but also, to a much lesser extent, here. The noble Lord, Lord Roper, is in his place, representing the several generations of outstanding work by EU sub-committees in your Lordships' House. That has not been the case in the House of Commons, which has let slip piece after piece of legislation pouring in from Brussels. Indeed, it is the Ministers of the day, from every single Government-from the previous Government and the ones before that-that have fed the House of Commons so little material that somehow it has unwittingly, or in some other mode, let through all of this legislation and the growing burden of all these regulations which are, I believe, oppressing the peoples of the European Union and particularly the peoples of the United Kingdom.
This modest Bill, although it is relatively lightweight, does contain two or three very important points, the first of which I believe is the primacy of Parliament over EU legislation and therefore surely over the outcome of any referendum. It also gives the wonderful possibility of a downhill-driven knowledge base to the British people and some small modicum of authority over what will happen. I very much support the Bill because of those two points.
Coming back to Burke, to the point that was raised in the context of representative parliament, I cannot help but comment, because the flavour comes through so strongly, that some of the arguments that noble Lords are putting forward tend to resonate with those of us whose female forebears fought for the vote for women. In other words, somehow some elements of the population are not fit to bring their judgment to bear on important matters affecting the United Kingdom. It is difficult. Burke, of course, was wonderful, but before him and at his day women did not have the vote. Academics had more than their current bundle of votes per person, so did the landed gentry, so did the aristocracy; well, wonderful, but today is different.
One of the key differences is that today we have modern technology. Only the day before yesterday I had five e-mails, no less, from the great Steve Jobs himself urging me to discard my newly purchased iPhone and my iPad of the week before last in favour of iCloud, where all my data are going to be parked for ever and a day. Modern people, men, women and children of all backgrounds, all income brackets, all of us-I leave aside prisoners because I do not want to interfere with the debate between two prominent powerful members of the Conservative Party on that one-all those people have knowledge now, absolute knowledge, just as much as we do, and they have time, they have energy, they get involved.
My noble friend Lord Dykes commented that-despite the absence of cricket in his tremendous tour de force of commenting on what the British public are interested in-the British people trust their political representatives to make political judgments on their behalf. Noble Lords know full well that the British public have no trust in any politician at all at the moment, although I believe that they have greater trust in your Lordships' House than in the other place. What they do have confidence in is the knowledge that they take, albeit false knowledge, from Wikipedia, from iCloud and from other data that are now so readily available 24 hours a day and which people take, commandeer and use. Therefore, they want to be involved; they are able to be involved; they are knowledgeable about being involved and that is why the heart of the Bill is a good idea.
The 40 per cent threshold is a very odd idea, unless we are going to carry it right forward into the European Parliament, into the general election, into local elections, presumably-we can have a dismal turnout, yet we respect the council that is elected none the less and the mayors that are elected, if they are. I expect that there will be a pretty low turnout if we have elected police, for example. So we do accept that low turnout and we take just over a 50 per cent threshold as a majority. That is the way in which our parliamentary system works, that is the way in which our electoral system works. I can see no rationale, no reasonable argument that has been laid in front of your Lordships' House so far this afternoon, which tells me that I should support this set of amendments. These referenda will be few and far between-probably once every 10 years if the European Union actually proposes a further transfer of sovereign power, which at the moment is highly unlikely. It is busy with the euro, it is busy with the superabundance of enlargement; it is not going to propose anything very important for the moment on these grounds. Maybe once every 10 or 15 years there will be a referendum. Is this of such profound significance that it outweighs the normal way in which we vote in general elections? I think not. The logic is against it because the Bill says that the primacy of the British Parliament overrides everything coming from Brussels in any case. I oppose the amendments.
Lord Triesman: It has been a long debate and I suspect that there has been a very full review of most of the issues. I am very pleased to be associated with the noble Lords, Lord Williamson and Lord Dykes, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, in this amendment. I also find myself in very strong agreement with the noble Lords, Lord Deben and Lord Forsyth. I too have been thinking about Burke. It may completely destroy any prospect of my ever sitting successfully on these Benches again, but the reality is that those are the key arguments.
There was such strong support for my noble friend Lord Rooker's original concept of thresholds and the feed-through to the parliamentary system-there are some differences here that I shall explore in a moment-because it was felt strongly that when there were to be significant changes to our constitution or the arrangements under which we are governed, there ought to be a demonstrable degree of legitimacy. Goodness knows,
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The constitutional debates in this House were interesting. Many of your Lordships said that once the decision is taken in a referendum we should not try to second-guess the electorate. They will have spoken, however small the turnout and however profound the issue. None the less, they will have spoken. That was never a convincing reason not to look at the prospect of some threshold. That is why I agree so strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Deben. Unfortunately, we look at it from where we are now, with this legislation in front of us.
The reason why I assert that we may be in a slightly different position now is that most of the arguments that my noble friend Lord Rooker produced are still very good. However, the argument today has a slightly different salience. It has been argued that, in relation to Europe, the people of this country have felt disenfranchised. That may well be true; I do not particularly choose to argue that it is not the case. They may well resent having had less say than they believed they should. What is needed in these circumstances may be the indelible mark of people's approval for changes that might have a significant effect on their lives. I can see that. If it is true that we need that new kind of indelible mark, let us make sure that it is a credible mark, which has some authority and dignity and has not gone through on very small figures.
The reason why I believe that this is significantly different from the arguments about, for example, local elections, and different-with the greatest respect to former Members of the European Parliament-from European parliamentary elections, is this.
Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne: I was merely making the general point that 50 per cent-plus is our normal modus operandi. It is impossible to see why it should be any different for this referendum.
Lord Triesman: My Lords, the argument for 50 per cent plus has been widely canvassed recently among the people of the United Kingdom, who formed a very clear view of it, which I agree with. I make this point because it goes to the heart of the difference that we are discussing. The difference seems to be that Parliament will have taken a decision to put the matter to the electorate. The question is: what size or degree of opposition should there be before Parliament is overridden and its decision-the decision that has
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