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On major issues there can be little question but that there should be a proper referendum. The euro has been mentioned. The view of the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, commands great respect from me. I agree with him that borders, taxation, law and order and the examples that he gave are significant issues. This is why, in Committee, a number of noble Lords-myself included-have said that, were they in Government, they would have the confidence to just say no and spare everybody the problem of going through any kind of referendum. Why would we change our law and order? Why would we relax what we regarded as a proper defence of our borders? What Government who took genuine responsibility would do that? Just say no. The respect of the people of the United Kingdom, seeing a Government who said no in these areas, would be profoundly greater than any other kind of mechanism designed to achieve the same result.
Parliament is the proper representative place. Should there be an unconvincingly small turnout, which does not have what I have described as authority, Parliament should, and people will expect Parliament to, fulfil its proper role. If the result of the election were below 40 per cent, Parliament might very well conclude that the decision was still in the best interests of the people of the United Kingdom and use the authority it was elected to use. It might on the other hand conclude that it should not do so. This is the nature of a parliamentary debate and a decision taken on the balance of all the issues concerned.
The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, also described this as a constitutional innovation. I have tried to describe why I believe that is the right description. It is a constitutional innovation of a very profound and difficult kind, and one born of the fear of taking responsibility for taking difficult decisions ourselves as parliamentarians. Of course there are the issues that should be put before the people of the Untied Kingdom; I hope that I have illustrated what those might be. Alongside this are those instances where it is quite right that Parliament and the Government of the day should say no. In light of this Bill, this amendment stands as the optimum extent to which it is possible to defend the historic role of Parliament and to ensure that the responsibility of Parliament is not given away in needless circumstances.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I will make the point of order whether there are interruptions from other parts of the House or not. The noble Lord, Lord Triesman, said that we had had enough of this debate and that, when he got up, no other noble Lord would be able to speak. This is not in accordance with the Companion to the Standing Orders and Guide to the Proceedings of the House of Lords. If noble Lords turn to paragraph 8.139, on page 152, they will see that, as long as the House accepts that they should do so, noble Lords may speak until the Minister gets up. After this, there shall be no speeches. However, before the Minister or spokesman gets to his or her feet, with the permission of the House, any Member of the House may speak
As always, it has been a fascinating debate with many profound remarks. It has predominantly been a debate about referenda, but I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, that the debate has been entirely separate from the Bill. Speaking as one of the, I suspect, rather few ex-Ministers who have taken a referendum Act through the other place in the distant past-the Northern Ireland referendum Bill-I suppose that, in the eyes of my noble friends Lord Deben and my noble and learned friend Lord Howe, I am damned before I start.
Nevertheless, let me set out one or two of the arguments that have perhaps not been exposed as clearly as they should. We know that the purpose of these amendments is to include a minimum turnout threshold for any referendums arising as a result of the Bill. If the threshold is not met, regardless of the result, hey presto, the referendum would become advisory and not mandatory. This proposition has a whole string of disadvantages, which are not all obvious but become clear if you think about them. First, as many of your noble Lords have pointed out, instead of it being mandatory on the Government, it leaves the British people in real doubt about what the effect of their vote will be. The noble Lord, Lord Triesman, is incidentally entirely wrong that it will be mandatory on Parliaments; it will be mandatory on Governments, though it is true that Governments often, but not always, control Parliaments. However, this goes by the board if we pass the amendment. It will be the end of the British people's mandatory certainty and they will be back where they started, passing the ball back to Parliament and the party and Government controlling Parliament. This is where the record has, frankly, not been brilliant or reassuring. This is one of the reasons why we are facing these problems.
We have the glorious assertions of excellent and eloquent spokesmen like the noble Lords, Lord Tomlinson and Lord Triesman, that the only need is for the Government to say no. However, they have not said no. They have said yes, when many people have felt that this yes was the wrong and inappropriate proposition. The fear is that, now that we have said yes to Lisbon,
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The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, brought us back to Edmund Burke. I love Burke. He is one of my favourites. However, he is not particularly my favourite when he warned that democracy only works if, as he put it, there is a policeman within each one of us. It is slightly different from the proposition about parliamentary democracy. We all know perfectly well that Burke was not operating in today's situation. He perhaps did not foresee the iron discipline of party politics, where some parties get a complete grip on Parliament. Has the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, recently read-or ever read-Lord Hailsham on elected dictatorship? In it he would find a heavy antidote to the glorious idealism of the Burkean age, in which the noble Lord, Lord Deben, and Mr Burke could speak out to their conscience freely unaware of any party restraints. I have spent 31 years in the other place and I am afraid that every day I was aware of party restraints.
I cannot see that this 40 per cent threshold would reconnect the British people with the decisions being taken in their name at the EU level; it certainly would not do so. These devices do not serve to solve the problem, as astutely identified by a great many commentators day after day on the radio or in the newspapers. I see that my brief refers to the BBC's Europe editor, who said the other day that,
I would hope that this wise House of Lords, where we wear our party allegiances somewhat more lightly, would support efforts to resolve this concern and to see the European Union on a more solid basis than, frankly, it is today, not only for lack of popular support but because it is facing very serious policy issues as well. For those of us who want to build a better relationship between the British people and the EU and, indeed, people generally and the EU right across the 27 countries-soon to be 28 or more-I would have thought that this is the way to go.
By the same token, the amendment before us undermines that whole aim of the Bill. That is the first point which must be taken into account and cannot be dismissed, unless those who do so think that popular support and consensus are irrelevant, do not arise and that parliamentary wisdom is so entrenched and admired
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Thirdly, the Government believe that we should encourage public participation rather than providing reasons for keeping that down. We could wish that the internet age had never occurred and that the days of massive and wide public consultation had not developed, but they have. As my noble friend Lady Nicholson rightly pointed out, are we saying that local elections are not legitimate? We can wave a hand and say that they are different but that is just an assertion. I do not think that they are all that different. Are we saying that the European parliamentary elections are not legitimate? What does it do to the trust in the body politic if a majority have voted no in the referendum but Parliament decided, because it has the power to do so, to go ahead anyway? That would be extremely damaging.
Fourthly, the Lords Constitution Committee, to which some of my noble friends referred, in its wisdom-it is a very wise committee-shares opposition to thresholds. Its report on referendums in the UK concluded that,
There is a further question. During our first days in Committee on the Bill, the wise noble Lord, Lord Kerr, said that during the debates on the EEC Referendum Act 1975, the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher-then Margaret Thatcher-had objected to the possibility of the referendum being mandatory. She also said:
That, of course, is exactly our point. That is why I fear that the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, is wrong. These referenda, or the referendum that might occur-I think that it will occur only once every few years, but I will come to that in a moment-are mandatory on government. That is the whole point of the Bill. However, they are not mandatory on Parliament. They cannot be. Parliament's view of the treaty will be taken during the passage of legislation for the referendum. If Parliament did not support the treaty, it would not pass the legislation, so Parliament has its say and remains supreme in every sense.
Your Lordships will recall that this issue was discussed extensively during the first day of the Committee stage and noble Lords raised important issues on the need, or not, for turnout thresholds. There is nothing in this
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That also goes to the heart of the question on whether holding referendums in this area is a major constitutional change, as some of your Lordships have asserted. The recent nationwide referendum on the voting system for the House of Commons showed that where an issue is important, people will turn out to vote. The Government believe that the issues covered by the referendum lock in the EU Bill are not the trivial ones that noble Lords keep asserting. They are highly important and sensitive. They involve the red lines and major issues that have been central to British politics and, indeed, the politics of the European Union, for decades and are vastly important to the British people, successive Governments and Parliament. I challenge those who try to diminish them or assert that they are trivial to argue that proposition in a public forum. I do not believe that it can be sustained.
We do not have a "magic bullet" in terms of ensuring a high turnout. We expect both sides of the debate to make the strongest possible cases to encourage voters to express their views. However, what noble Lords are proposing in this amendment would almost certainly ensure that the turnout, and the British people's faith in Parliament, would suffer. To that extent it would be a highly negative move if the amendment were passed. Given the importance of the issues to which we have applied the referendum provisions in the Bill-they are very important-the people should be given a real say.
I know that this House has supported, and given a majority vote to, 40 per cent thresholds in the recent past. However, when comparing this Bill with the AV vote Bill and the subsequent referendum, I would point out that this is not a matter of opinion, as in the AV case, but of a treaty or a reduction in sovereign powers which has to be ratified. That is what would come before the British people. A decision has to be reached and to take that decision away from the people and give it back to Ministers-that is what an advisory referendum would do-may appeal to some but it is flatly against the aims of this Bill, against the restoration of public confidence in the European Union and against the spirit of our times.
I do not believe that there is any great appetite in any of the 27 countries of the Union-shortly to be 28 and perhaps more-for treaty changes, let alone for veto surrenders. I was very impressed by the wise evidence of Sir John Grant, who was our permanent representative in Brussels for four years up to 2007, in the post-Lisbon phase, which, incidentally, was totally different from the pattern of developments in Brussels before Lisbon. He commented on the possibility of a referendum taking place in the next five years on a move from unanimity voting to QMV by passerelle,
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I thought that those were wise words on the reality of whether we are going to see a dribble of small referenda and small changes or whether in fact, as is far more likely, we are going to see an established pattern of changes coming into a large treaty, which will have good and bad bits in it. Just as the electorate has to choose at election time between the good and bad bits of party manifestos, so they would have to make that choice with regard to the next Lisbon treaty, Budapest treaty, or whatever it might be called. I do not think there is any comparison at all with the small referenda we have had in the past-perhaps not the one that I took through Parliament and certainly not the one on Sunday opening hours in Wales. That seemed to me-if I may be forgiven the word, but it has been used-an absurd comparison. I agree with my noble friend Lord Lamont that this pattern of little referenda on little items is utterly implausible. I think the evidence that Sir John Grant gave to the Commons European Scrutiny Committee is far more convincing and based on recent and deep understanding of how the Brussels system actually works today.
For all those reasons, I would urge the noble Lords, despite the superficial attractions of 40 per cent-and they are very superficial-to understand its grave disadvantages. The amendment aims at the very heart of the Bill and undermines a lot of the causes that many of us hold dear about the positioning of this country in the 21st century. That being so they would be wise to withdraw their amendments.
Lord Williamson of Horton: My Lords, it is traditional to say we have had a wide-ranging debate. On this occasion it is true. When I put the amendment forward, I hoped I would get a measure of support from different parts of the House. I have done that, but of course there has been a good measure of disagreement as well. I have also succeeded in doing something I did not set out to do: I have clearly split the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats. That will, perhaps, give me a reward in heaven, although I will go on a little longer to say that I will be first to have a reward here in the Chamber.
I would like to make one or two very brief points. The first is that this amendment comes forward because of circumstances that have been dictated by the Government's Bill. They are nothing whatever to do with a blank space about how we are going to deal with Europe. We have a Bill on the table that potentially introduces more than 50 referenda. I do not think we will get those, but in any event what is happening in the near future, to which the Minister referred, is not relevant because the Government is not going to take this action during the current Parliament.
What we are discussing is what sort of referendum regime we want to build into our constitution for the medium term and what role we think Parliament should play in that. I think Parliament should play some part, particularly in those cases where the British
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I do not want to go into all the other details because I know nothing about the incinerator in King's Lynn. I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, that we have reached the death of the political class. I know they are a bit threatened, but I do not think they are dead. All those issues are beyond me.
One final point is that there have been a good number of comparisons with elections, local elections and so on, which have no 40 per cent bar. I think all those arguments are totally irrelevant. In particular, we had a Second Reading of a Bill yesterday that made possible a large number of referendums on local government. Every one of those referendums was going to be advisory, not mandatory. The position of the Government, particularly the Liberal Democrats, is in favour of advisory referenda and I cannot see why they wish to act differently in this case. I think I have said enough, and I wish to get my reward here and not in heaven. Therefore, I wish to test the opinion of the House.
"(a) a referendum does not need to be held in accordance with section (Process for determining the necessity of referendums); or
Lord Liddle: My Lords, after that great victory for Parliament-let us thank the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, for moving the amendment and being the moving spirit behind it, with other Cross-Benchers-I now speak to the amendments in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Triesman, which are also about the role of Parliament, about strengthening Parliament and substituting the discretion of Parliament for the automaticity of the referendum locks that the Bill contains.
The amendments do not drive a coach and horses through the basic principle of the Bill, which is a requirement for referendums on the big issues affecting
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What is the point of putting in place this proposal? It is to inject proportionality into the Bill. The Bill contains no proportionality whatever. It is a "thus far and no further" Bill as far as the European Union is concerned. It assumes-and it is an extraordinary assumption-that a Government can today foresee all the circumstances in which change in the European Union might be necessary over the coming years. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, keeps telling us that he sees very little prospect of a referendum occurring in the near future. However, within two years of the approval of the Lisbon treaty we have already had a proposal for a revision of that treaty, under the simplified revision procedure, to create a European stability mechanism, which is necessary to deal with the crisis in the euro area. That is not the result of an attempt to deceive people after it was thought that there would be no treaty changes immediately after Lisbon. That is not the reason. The reason is that, due to the crisis in the euro, circumstances have occurred which no one foresaw and it is necessary to make this minor amendment to the treaty.
As it happens, that does not affect us. However, if there was a change which in a similar set of circumstances did affect us, it would require a referendum. Yet it is hardly the kind of major issue about the nation's destiny that would justify having a referendum. It would therefore be up to the Joint Committee that we would establish to decide on the proportionality of these questions as to whether a referendum was necessary. It is a strengthening-an affirmation-of the rights of Parliament, just as we have voted for a few moments ago, and an important one to make.
I make three main broad political arguments for this. First, if you are seriously committed to Britain's participation in the European Union, you want a British Government to be able to respond flexibly to
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The second political argument is that there is no reason why the Liberal Democrats could not support this amendment. As I pointed out before, the coalition agreement in its text drew a very clear distinction between major treaties where referenda would be necessary and minor changes which would require primary legislation in Parliament. This Bill does not represent what the Liberal Democrats signed up for in the coalition agreement. I do not see why they have to besmirch their pro-European reputation by signing up to something that is simply there in order to appeal to the Eurosceptics on the Conservative Benches in the House of Commons. It is very clear-I could read it out but I will not delay the House by so doing-that under the coalition agreement, they could quite happily support this kind of proposal. Within the coalition agreement there is precisely the judgment about proportionality that this Bill does not contain.
The third point is defending the great cause of democracy. The Government argue that there is a great crisis of legitimacy in the European Union. Indeed, there is. But when you look at British politics, there is also a great crisis of legitimacy. When you look at opinion polls and who people trust, you will see that the European Parliament probably has a higher level of trust than many British institutions. In fact, trust in our political parties is, if anything, rather lower than trust in European institutions. I am not saying that because I like that situation. What I am saying is: be very careful if, in the Europe case, you think that the remedy for this lack of trust is to move to a referendum-type democracy-to move to the people being able to vote on anything and everything, which is what this Bill proposes on Europe. There would be absolutely no reason why people should not make the same argument about Westminster and move to referenda on anything and everything. What we would end up with is a situation like California, where propositions are voted through which make the task of running an efficient government wholly impossible. It ends up with contradictory propositions being carried in popular referenda and you cannot have an effective system of government. For all these arguments, we need to keep first and foremost in our mind the need to strengthen the role of Parliament in this Bill.
That is what the amendment does. It does not stop referenda; it does not drive a coach and horses through the Bill; but it introduces that vital element of proportionality by proposing a special committee of both Houses to examine the case for a referendum and gives Parliament the right to decide in which cases referenda should take place. That is in accordance with the principles of the Constitution Committee of the House. I thought that it was a bit rich of the Minister to quote the Constitution Committee on thresholds but to ignore completely its major point that it believes that referenda should be confined to fundamental issues of constitutional importance. This is a mechanism for confining referenda to issues of constitutional importance. For that reason I commend the amendment to the House.
Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, I support the amendment. It seems to me that it addresses an issue which desperately needs addressing in the Bill, and that is flexibility. The structure of the Bill, particularly in its elaborate nature, with the 56 possible incidences of referenda, is, frankly, a couch of Procrustes, on which we are busy stretching ourselves and on which, no doubt, our feet or our heads will one day be lopped off. It is very rigid indeed. It leaves very little appreciation to the Government of the day, although of course the Government of the day will have had to agree in Brussels that, in principle, subject to the proceedings in this Bill, they will go along with it. However, then the rigidity comes back in. It is not surprising in a way. The Government proudly call this Bill a referendum lock, the key of which they have taken out and are now throwing out of the window.
I think this amendment is one way to deal with the issue and earlier today we discussed others. I very much welcome the fact that the Government recognise that, in the handling of this "or otherwise support" issue, they needed a bit more flexibility and they have now moved an amendment, which I was delighted to see went through unopposed, which gives a little more flexibility. It enables a Minister in Brussels to say that he would take something back to London and subject it to the procedures under the Bill, but that he would support it. It enables him to say that but, of course, it does not allow it to go through in any legal sense. That is an increase in flexibility. We have just voted for an increase in flexibility for Parliament because, if less than 40 per cent of the British people are prepared to get off their backsides and vote, then Parliament will be able to take a decision itself and the result of the referendum will be only advisory.
It would be splendid if the Government would think a little more about how to introduce more flexibility into the Bill, while not removing the essence of it. I accept that it is supported by a majority in the House of Commons and that it is in the coalition agreement, which says that, if there are major constitutional changes, there will be a referendum. As the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, said, the recommendations of our own Constitution Committee are rather clear on this point but were ignored by the Government. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, quoted the bit he liked, but did not quote the bit he did not like in the Constitution Committee's report. That was a much longer bit, which said that referendums should be used only for major constitutional innovations. If you look at the various clauses of the Bill, you will see that there are stacks of things there which are not major constitutional innovations. This provision will give a little more flexibility there, and I hope that the Government will seriously consider that because flexibility will be needed somewhere down the line. The more care taken with the legislation, the better that legislation will be for the interests of this country.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: I say to noble Lords opposite that we on the Liberal Democrat Benches recognise that this amendment is intended to enhance scrutiny and to improve propositions that might be put forward by the Executive. We also accept the spirit of what noble Lords opposite are trying to do. For the
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I shall speak to the substantive elements of the amendment. We do not believe that it would be right to take such a dramatic step to remove from the Executive, the Government of the day, the decisions about what they will support or not and to give them to a committee of both Houses. We have had a long debate about Parliament and the importance of parliamentary scrutiny and so on. In Committee, we heard a lot of argumentation across the House regarding urgent situations and what would happen because decision-making was so late and would be so stymied. I find that the methodology proposed here would certainly add to the amount of time that would be taken to deal with measures if a Joint Committee had to rule on them. There would also be the issue of reintroducing some rather subjective concepts: urgency and national interest. We have had debates on those subjects; both are highly subjective. We are also conscious of the judicial review implications contained in the Bill.
Finally, the amendment seems to miss the underlying theme of the Bill, which is that the Executive make a call on a proposal, bring it to Parliament, Parliament agrees it and then the public are to ratify that decision through a referendum. As we have repeatedly heard from the ministerial Bench, the Bill is designed to reconnect the British public with these policy issues that emanate from the European Union. The public will be empowered, through the processes proposed here. To take that away and to give it to a Joint Committee of both Houses seems to me to entirely miss the point of the Bill. On that basis I suggest that it goes contra to where we had got. Before I conclude I give way to the noble Lord,
Lord Davies of Stamford: The noble Baroness has said that one of the reasons why she did not want to support the amendment was that she was worried that it would raise the possibility of judicial review on the decision about whether a referendum was necessary. According to this amendment, that decision will be taken by a parliamentary committee-in this case a joint parliamentary committee-so how could there possibly be a judicial review? That would be contrary to the Bill of Rights.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: I think I can see the point that the noble Lord is making. I wonder whether he is interested in hearing my reply, as he is now engaged in another conversation. As I understand the amendment, the committee would make a recommendation to the Government on the basis of urgency, significance and national interest. I think the decision of the Minister, in accepting or not accepting the recommendation, would be subject to judicial review.
Lord Davies of Stamford: My Lords, the clause makes no reference to the Joint Committee advising the Government. The Joint Committee would have the responsibility for making a decision. By definition, if the decision is made by a parliamentary committee-a Joint Committee or other parliamentary committee-it could not be subject to judicial review.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: Since the noble Lord continues with the matter, I will detain the House for a moment. What is the point of a recommendation coming out of a Joint Committee if the Government ignore it?
Lord Empey: My Lords, I have listened carefully to this debate and there is one thing that we can say about ourselves: we are at least consistent in our inconsistency. We were talking earlier about 40 per cent thresholds and yesterday we were talking about 5 per cent thresholds, and some of us have been subjected to referendums over the years whether we like them or not. Therefore, the important argument about parliamentary democracy which was put forward eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Deben, and others does not quite register. I fear that this amendment suffers from the same weakness that it is the purpose of the Bill to try and resolve-that, effectively, Parliament is making these decisions. We hide behind the words "major constitutional significance"-some people may say they are weasel words-because what is major to me might not be major to the noble Baroness. We then take away from the Government of the day any significant role unless they rely on their party positions to whip people into particular positions.
The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, referred to the fact that the Government had to be able to respond and be a good partner to our European colleagues. I believe that the United Kingdom has been an exceptionally good partner over the years. However, simply because we have particular constitutional architecture concerning how we take decisions that affect us in no way invalidates us as a good partner nor does it invalidate a Government's ability to respond. There are many decisions that require an urgent response. I see no reason why that cannot continue.
It is only when there is actually a change of substance that time will be taken to ratify that. Even when we have been talking about the current economic position in Europe we have been looking at the stability arrangements and others, and we know that these are going to take 18 months to 24 months to get through on existing arrangements. Therefore, I do not believe that this country would be unable to respond and act as a good partner. Nor am I frightened by the prospect that if we enhance our constitutional arrangements our European partners will take the huff and stop dealing with us. I do not believe that for one moment. It is our business. I believe that the Commission accepts that it is our business to decide whatever structures should be put in place. That is the way of the world. Other countries do it. Other countries have referenda; other countries have a variety of constitutional locks. As the European Union grows, I suspect we will enhance the variety of different decision-making processes that come in. Why should we be worried about that?
I do not think that people on the street are running around saying, "I wonder if we are a good partner with our colleagues in Paris or Bonn". I do not think this is something that registers with the people. What does register is if they are told one thing and then something happens that is the opposite of what they were told or promised. That comes back to why there is a need for such a Bill. Whatever its inelegancies-and I can see that there are many-it is there because we have broken a trust. There is a huge gap between what we as politicians think and what the public think of us. It has only been the recent financial crisis and the situation with bankers that we now have somebody we can look down upon. Until then, we were really at the bottom of the pile.
Lord Empey: Yes, and all the better for it. However, time has moved on and things have evolved from what we did when kings were able to come into this building and chop people's heads off. Our constitution continuously evolves. Just because we are attracted to the idea that a representative should be free to come into Parliament and express his or her opinion on behalf of those they represent-and people believe that to be a sacrosanct position-in the way the modern world has developed, the referendum genie is out of the bottle whether people like it or not. You are not going to be able to push it back in so the question is, what triggers it? Do we leave the trigger with the institution which has led us to the position where this Bill is on the table or do we put in some safeguards so that people know they will get their say?
I think that there is little alternative but to give this a try. It is not something that will last for ever-it might change. After 10 or 20 years it might no longer be sustainable and we need to improve it. We have moved on, people have moved on, communication has moved on and, thank God, people are educated to a much greater extent. Years ago, when people came into these buildings they represented the masses outside who could not read or write. Perhaps very few people had any grasp of what was going on around them. Their world was confined to their farm or, in more recent years, to a factory. Today, the people out there are much more sophisticated and probably know more than many of us in here. We have to respect that and trust the people.
We all make mistakes and sometimes referendums produce results that we do not like. The same happens in elections: it is the peril of the democratic world. However, we should look at the alternatives around the world. Whatever faults we may have, ours is a better system, but it has to evolve. I fear that this amendment, if passed, short-circuits and defeats the whole purpose of the legislation. Therefore, I am unable to support it.
Lord Hamilton of Epsom: I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Empey, because the purpose of the Bill is to give the people of this country the final say on what
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I spent much time as a Government Whip in another place saying to my colleagues, "Don't worry about this, it is just tidying things up and putting things in order. It does not really have any impact on the way we do business here." Every single time I said that I was lying through my teeth. Government have been lying though their teeth from the very start when we entered the economic community. We said to everybody, "Don't worry, there are no issues of sovereignty here. We are joining a free trading area. A free trading area is a wonderful idea and we want to get into this as quickly as possible".
Baroness Quin: When we joined the European Economic Community, we were already in the European free trade area. I am old enough to remember that the debates focused on the difference between a free trade area and the treaties that established the European Economic Community.
Lord Hamilton of Epsom: That was not the story that I was told. If I had realised the massive implications for the transfer of sovereignty as a result of signing, I would not have supported the referendum on the question of our membership of the European Union.
There has been a tremendous amount of deception. Not only is it an understatement of what we have signed up to, but it is a process of grandmother's footsteps-a little bit at a time, always understating the implications. Therefore, with reference to the amendment, if we leave it with Parliament to make the decisions about whether the implications of the business are worthy of a referendum, we are right back in the position of deceiving the people of this country and will merely sow more mistrust and undermine the whole purpose of the Bill, which is to reassure the British people that if there is any question of us being drawn further into the European Union we will put it to them to decide whether it should happen.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, there is another reason to disagree with the amendment. Any Joint Committee composed of Members of your Lordships' House and the other place is bound to be stacked in favour of the Europhiles. In your Lordships' House, we now number some 800 Members, of whom I think only eight are prepared to say, more or less in public, that we should leave the European Union. That compares with some 84 per cent of the British public who want a referendum on whether we stay in the European Union at all-which has nothing to do with the Bill-and more than 50 per cent who believe that we should leave outright. In recent years, I have often pointed out that the composition of your Lordships' Select Committees is skewed in favour of Europhilia, even by the standards of your Lordships' House. I have not made a recent
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In the House of Commons, some 26 Members have joined the joint Better Off Out group and have voted in a refreshingly Eurosceptic direction on the Bill and other matters. The Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament of course will be stacked by the Whips and will, in the recent tradition of both Houses of Parliament, get wildly out of tune with the British people-something that the Bill is supposed to do something to correct. The amendment goes in entirely the opposite direction and I hope that it will be resisted.
Lord Kerr of Kinlochard: My Lords, I need to recant. In Committee, I was against the amendment on the grounds that it complicated things. However, now it seems that it may be the only hope for dealing with a problem that I had hoped would be dealt with by another route. I was young, innocent and idealistic; I did not realise that we would end up cheering a government concession that means that, in the Bill, "support" is a term of art defined at the beginning, and the various prohibitions on Ministers of the Crown in any way supporting X, Y and Z does not mean that they cannot propose, advocate or support them in Brussels-just that they cannot vote for them. This is a huge advance and I am beginning to understand how difficult the legislative process is.
Clauses 2 and 3 have two different procedures, depending on whether the treaty amendment emerges by the classical method plus a convention, or by the accelerated method that is meant to deal with emergencies. We have two different procedures, and one of the paradoxes is that we have a significance test in the second but not in the first. Therefore, we envisage that any treaty amendment by the first, traditional method plus the convention must be significant. The second curiosity is that I thought that a treaty amendment was a treaty amendment, whichever route it came by. The third curiosity is that the accelerator method, covered in Clause 3, is meant to be used in an emergency, but we do not have any emergency or urgency test built in.
The charm of the amendment, as I now see, is that it brings in these tests. It would get significance into the traditional method, where it is not at the moment. It would also bring in urgency and the national interest, which perhaps is not a bad idea. It is a complication and it is a great pity that we have not had any clear rationale for the separate methods that depend on the origin in Brussels of the treaty amendment. However, we are where we are and clearly the Government are not going to give us any concessions on that. Therefore, faute de mieux, I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Liddle.
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I begin by dissociating myself entirely from the statement of the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, that somehow the Bill gives
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These are the important issues: defence and security, national security, military issues, national tax, fiscal and energy policy, provisions under the EU budget, financial management of the EU, citizenship and elections, foreign policy and social security. These are not trivial issues that can be dismissed. What prevails in these comments is a devastating lack of understanding of the importance of the remaining issues that are not within the competence and power of the EU because the nation states do not feel that it is necessary for them to be there-and, on the contrary, think that they should remain under national and sovereign control. Therefore, the starting point of many of these comments is so far removed from what is in the Bill and what the Bill is concerned with that I find it very hard to find a bridge of words to link the two, but I will try my best.
Under these amendments, decisions on whether a referendum on treaty change or a decision-these are big issues-should be held would be made by a special committee of both Houses. This is similar, though not identical, to the debate we had on amendments in Committee. They were limited to Clause 6 decisions, and seem to have widened the scope of the so-called European referendum scrutiny committee to cover treaties and Article 48(6) decisions. This is a big assignment of discretion to this parliamentary committee. How this committee would come about, I am not too sure. I have to say in the best of spirits to the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, that if he thinks that this committee would be free of interference from the Government or party-political pressures of various sorts, then his innocence is not entirely lost.
I am at least pleased that this amendment recognises that consideration should be given to the need for a referendum when treaties or Article 48 decisions are to be made. This is a clear step forward from the status quo, where it was entirely down to Ministers to decide whether a referendum was to be held and where, as we have sadly seen, Ministers and Governments can and do change their minds-hence many of our problems. The amendment appears to have retained the provisions in the Bill-which is good-that all treaties and Article 48
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Moving from ministerial discretion over whether a referendum should be held, to parliamentary discretion over whether a referendum should be held, really is not sufficient. What we would have is an extra step in the process of deciding whether to have a referendum, which I suspect would merely diminish further rather than increase the confidence and trust of the British people when compared to the current provisions in the Bill and to what the Bill is trying to do. It would cut right across, and therefore potentially diminish, the work done by the European scrutiny committees of both Houses, which-despite the overrides, which one must concede have been too frequent-has been valuable in giving some impression to the general public and to the electorate of this country that there are some brakes on the system.
Why would the arrangements for the proposed European referendum scrutiny committee diminish public trust? The answer is that because whereas the Bill is, with the exception of the narrowly defined significance test, very specific about which transfers of power and competence would lead to a referendum-that is what this whole Bill is about-these amendments would do away with the certainty. In agreeing the Bill as drafted, Parliament would be giving a clear signal to the public as to when a referendum would be held. If the amendment were agreed, the whole process would be lost in a whirlpool of subjective political judgments and, I have no doubt, of manoeuvres as well, and of all the pressures that operate through our political system-perfectly properly, because that is the way that a democratic system works. The idea that they would be absent and that an isolated, divinely independent judgment could be reached by this committee is absurd and naive.
These amendments require the committee to assess all treaties and Article 48 decisions against significance, urgency and the national interest. These are highly subjective terms which are capable of a far wider range of interpretation than the criteria in Clause 4, which have been carefully analysed and crafted. This amendment moves the whole debate away from an objective consideration of whether power or competence has been transferred from the UK to the EU. It moves it away from objectivity to subjectivity of precisely the kind which works against trust and against confidence, and against support for the whole European Union project which I thought so many noble Lords wanted to see reinforced.
Government and Parliament will of course take into consideration issues of urgency, importance and certainly the national interest when negotiating a treaty change, and in passing Acts to ratify treaty change. These are centrally important issues, but they are not the right criteria on which to decide whether a referendum is needed before a treaty change or an Article 48 decision is ratified.
The other problem with these amendments is that the decisions on these highly subjective issues will be made, frankly, by a small number of parliamentarians.
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The coalition Government intend to address this cynicism, apathy and lack of trust. The aim is to reconnect the British people directly to the key decisions on the EU and assure them that, while there are now vast powers and competences in the EU's hands, any further expansion of these would have to be very carefully argued and in many cases put to the British people for their approval. It remains a mystery to me why the Opposition still somehow argue that there should be these extra powers-that we are going to need these future treaty changes-but what for? One is left groping the air, trying to understand the mystery of it all. It is a sort of apophatic doctrine, that somehow there are issues ahead so complicated that the people cannot put them into words or understand them, and that these require the flexibility which the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, keeps returning to.
We know that the British people want a say. The June 2009 survey by the European Parliament found that eight out of 10 people in this country agreed that future EU treaty changes should be decided by referendums. Fewer than one in 10 disagreed. These amendments do not represent the modern reality about transparency and openness that we in the coalition Government want, and which reflects a modern attitude to participatory democracy. They are a step back in time which may be nostalgic and romantic, but they take us away from reality and away from the future.
However well intentioned these amendments, they cannot serve to enhance this Bill or its underlying virtues and purpose. The Bill is deliberately designed to set out as clearly as possible which treaty changes would require a referendum, while avoiding the need for trivial referendums. That seems to me to be a scare story which I hope we are not going to hear repeated because it is not connected with the reality, the intention or the possibilities which arise from this Bill. Leaving it to the discretion of a committee of parliamentarians to decide whether a referendum is needed will do nothing whatever to reconnect, re-engage and regain the trust of the British people. I believe this is an amendment that we could do without and that does not help the Bill or the underlying purposes, which I believe most noble Lords in all political parties and in none basically want reinforced. I think these amendments go the other way and take away from us the purposes and goals that we should be pursuing, so I ask the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Liddle: My Lords, I have to confess that I am staggered by the Minister's reply. He misrepresents the position of the Opposition, and I do not think he understands the content of the Bill that he is putting before this House. Let me briefly say why. He goes on at length about allowing people to vote on decisions that affect their daily lives. Is he putting this forward as a general principle? Do the Government think that there should be a vote on the merits of their health reforms and the changes to their health reforms? How many people in the country do they think would vote for that? The idea that this Government stand for a general principle of giving people the right to have a say over decisions that affect their own lives is a nonsense.
Why is it that this principle should simply be applied to the European Union and be applied in a way in which the Government do not appear to understand what they are doing? The Minister says that we are saying that this Bill will require referenda on anything or everything. In the case of the European Union, there are 56 instances where this Bill requires a referendum. Is it seriously being suggested that there are 56 issues of profound importance affecting Britain's future in Europe which would require a referendum? I suggest not. We know what those major issues are. We will have amendments later to confine the referenda to those major issues. It is a nonsense to suggest that we should have referenda on 56 issues. As far as Europe is concerned, that is anything or everything.
There is a point-blank refusal on the part of Ministers to understand the need for some flexibility when we are dealing with the future. I do not think that the government Benches understand the point of an Article 48(6) simplified revision procedure, which is under Clause 3. It is to deal with circumstances which we cannot foretell, yet in every circumstance, apart from very limited exceptions, this legislation says that such an amendment would require a referendum. It is the view of every expert on the European Union that that is going to inhibit greatly Britain's ability in future years to play a leading role in the European Union.
As for the Minister's remarks about how parliamentary committees are all fixes and you cannot trust what they say, I thought that he had respect for the workings of Parliament and for the workings of the Constitution Committee of this House, for instance, which puts forward very objective reports, despite the party composition of its membership. I would have thought that if we agreed, as this amendment proposes, to a parliamentary process for deciding what was proportional, such a parliamentary committee would do its job independent of the Executive in such a way that we could all respect its judgment.
To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their response to the Report of the Science and Technology Committee on Setting priorities for publicly funded research (3rd Report, Session 2009-10, HL Paper 104).
Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: My Lords, it is often said that the future success of this country depends on our continuing success in science and technology. Although I am not a scientist, I fully agree with that comment. There are clearly a number of other determinants of national well-being, not all of which are in our control. However, success in science and technology is significantly within our control. It is with that element of the nation's future that we are concerned today.
We start from a strong platform. We have talent and, equally importantly-I shall come back to this-we attract talent to this country. This is a good place to be a research scientist. We have institutions which give civil support to this, most notably the Royal Society, as well as the various academies and institutions, including the Royal Society of Edinburgh, of which I confess an interest as a past president.
We have talented and able scientists who continue to build on the legacy of Newton, Boyle, Harvey, Darwin, Clerk Maxwell, Rutherford and so on. I could go on for half the evening but I shall not. I mention those names and the talent of our scientists to point out that, in forthcoming debates about the membership of this House, I fervently hope we will continue to have the immensely able and informed scientific opinion which, as noble Lords will hear in this debate, we have with us. As the boxing metaphor puts it, the nation has a capacity to punch above its weight in science, technology and engineering. This is not simply an additional national boast and an intellectual luxury in which we enjoy indulging but one of the key conditions of our economic vibrancy as a nation.
This report was prepared as a matter of some urgency in the autumn of 2009 and the spring of 2010, before the impending election, to help the debate about the place of science and technology in our community at a time which evidently was going to be one of financial austerity. For a variety of reasons the report comes fairly late to this House, but there have been significant movements since it was submitted both in the Government's response and in the development of some of the recommendations that we have made. As a consequence, my remarks will focus partly on the report-some of its highlights and one or two of its key recommendations-and partly on policy developments of the new coalition Government which have real significance for our capacity in science and technology.
Initially, what were our main recommendations? The first is just motherhood and apple pie; that is, spend money wisely. I have to say that usually-I
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As to the report and spending money wisely, I want to make two points, which I think will be expanded on by some of my colleagues. Evidence given to us suggested at that time a certain flabbiness in co-ordination within government, in policy formulation and in drawing on the best possible advice in this area. I believe, and I think that my colleagues agree, that this led to a limitation in overall vision. Science and technology and its importance for our community is so critical that there has to be a vision that is clear and understood widely by the community at large so that when we are supporting significant spend in science, as we are and which is a good thing, the arguments will be understood by the wider community.
One condition of informed vision, planning and policy is knowing where we are. We asked a key question of our witnesses: what is the total spend, department by department, across the whole of government on research in science and technology? Our witnesses, who came from well-informed sources, could not answer that question. One of them significantly pointed to the difficulties in this country as compared with other countries in putting a total figure on research and expenditure in science and technology across all departments. You can do it for the research councils-that is pretty straightforward-but a significant part of our research activity is funded through departments. "We don't know" was the answer, and no one at that stage could tell us. I believe that there has been progress since then. I will come back to that in a moment. We need to know what steps can be put in place to ensure that there is such a total picture of the platform from which we start in planning expenditure in this area.
The second point I want to make from the report is that we attach very great importance to the role of the Chief Scientific Adviser. I believe we have an excellent Chief Scientific Adviser at the moment. There are scientific advisers in most departments but not all. I point the finger at the Treasury here. I would like to know when that is going to happen. There was talk of a scientific adviser there. The Chief Scientific Adviser and his colleagues in departments have a critical role to play in policy development and implementation. We believe that the Chief Scientific Adviser should have more access to specific departmental and interdepartmental debates about funding. The condition of this is that they are present in key meetings with the Treasury as these are identified over the months and years to come. The scientific adviser should have input into departmental expenditure, budget creation and discussions with the Treasury. The advice that the scientific adviser gives in the formulation of policy is critical. We also put stress on encouraging scientific
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In the few minutes remaining to me I want to point to two or three policy developments that will have, and are having, an impact on our capacity in science. This has been a constant refrain from the committee over the years. The Government's left hand must know what their right hand is doing. Understandably, co-ordination sometimes fails. It is a big complex business. However, I will give three examples where I have concerns to ensure that the unintended consequences which could be bad for science are not a reality. I start with the question of science in schools. I thoroughly supported the clear statement by the noble Lord, Lord Browne, about the importance of funding STEM subjects in universities, both in civil terms and also in terms of the economy. I am concerned that that has not gone along with equally clear statements about whether we will have enough well-qualified and able students coming through to fill the places in universities that are going to be so funded. Put bluntly, I am concerned that that will not be the case. I simply ask the Minister to ask her colleagues in the relevant department what they are going to do about the critical point of the curriculum for science and the attractiveness of science to senior pupils in schools. Good things have happened and I support the Browne proposals and the department's interest in the Baker-Dearing trust's initiative on technical education. I think that that is very good and very important.
The second example is the Department of Health. I do not want to intrude on private grief but there are real discussions going on about the state of the current Bill. The Bill contains a clear permissive statement that research can be commissioned. I would like reassurances that the resources will not simply slide away from those who do the commissioning. If the resources move significantly towards a different form of commissioning within the health service, will there be a danger that the major input of the NHS into research might slip backwards-for example, for drug trials which are very important in this country, but also basic research in medical science? It would be good, even if not today in writing, to have some reassurances that this can be done.
The last point is a matter of government policy. When I was a vice-chancellor I was well aware of the importance of looking internationally to recruit the best scientists. Universities have raised concerns about visas and we would like to be reassured again that there is no coyness or truculence in issuing visas to those who have been identified as capable of making major contributions to scientific research in this country. It is easy to turn off the enthusiasm of those who want to come, and plenty of other countries are developing policies and procedures to make it easy for these individuals to go there. So I ask three questions about contemporary policy and how it is developing. I look forward to the Minister's reply.
Lord Willis of Knaresborough: My Lords, I did not have the pleasure of serving on the committee under the noble Lord's chairmanship. Interestingly, I was conducting a similar inquiry in another place at exactly the same time on the same subject and coming to the same conclusions. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, for analysing so admirably the Government's response to the Select Committee report. The fact that the Government's response bore precious little relevance to the actual recommendations of the report makes his contribution today even more noteworthy. That said, he is right to say that the Government's actual record on research is far more positive. Ministers have chosen very wisely to build on the sound foundations laid by the previous Government, particularly the noble Lords, Lord Sainsbury and Lord Drayson, even agreeing to include in the Ministerial Code a requirement to take notice of independent scientific advice, which was a recommendation from both our committees. Despite draconian cuts in public expenditure, a flat cash settlement of £4.5 billion is to be welcomed; and the major capital investment at Harwell, at the new Institute for Animal Health at Pirbright, for molecular biology at Cambridge and, of course, the fact that the St Pancras development is going ahead, are clear indications of the Government's commitment to science.
The Treasury is almost on message. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, that this afternoon a scientific adviser to the Treasury, James Richardson, was appointed. However, we should not get too excited because his press officer in the Treasury quickly sent a message saying:
"I would like to stress that the post of Chief Scientific Advisor will be taken on alongside James' current responsibilities as the Director of Public Spending and the chief Micro economist at the Treasury".
However, lest we get carried away by the Government's record, the reality is that despite a decade during which we have seen research funding double, the amount we have spent as a proportion of GDP has actually fallen from 0.69 per cent in 2004 to 0.6 per cent in 2009, and this at a time when the UK was enjoying the most prolonged period of economic prosperity that the nation had ever seen. More worrying is that, while we were spending arguably more in cash terms but less as a proportion of our GDP, all our competitors were outstripping us in terms of their investment. Even more important is that over the coming decade, they are all planning to increase their spend rather than simply hold it where it is.
The Science and Technology Committee report recommended urgent prioritisation of our research effort, a call that has been echoed by most scientific bodies. Since 2004, we have had a 10-year science and innovation framework which has served us well, and we should be honest enough to admit that. But we need another one, and it has to be in place before the next CSR, and we have to do the lobbying for it. A key priority of any plan must be the re-engineering of our research infrastructure, in particular in our universities and institutes, by asking what we expect them to deliver and giving them the resources to do so. By
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I shall say to noble Lords what I have said before. We cannot sustain 165 higher education institutions offering master's and PhD courses. In the United States, only 28 per cent of universities offer PhD programmes, while in the UK the figure is 90 per cent, often with few faculty. Surely the time has come to look at US-style graduate schools in the UK. Further, many say that the new fee regime will make students more demanding customers. Quite frankly, that is no good for science. What we want is our universities to become more demanding providers. They should ask more from their students in order to raise the academic bar. We constantly forget that that is the best way to give value to our students.
Finally, and here I have to declare an interest as chair of the Association of Medical Research Charities, it is crucially important that we retain links with our charitable research funders. Some 15 per cent of the money going into our universities comes from charities, with the 126 member charities in AMRC spending roughly £1 billion last year. Without the Charity Research Support Fund introduced by the previous Government, it would not be possible to deliver the front-line support that charities provide. I want to ask the Minister about this because the replies I have had so far suggest that the Charity Research Support Fund will last only until 2011-12, with £198 million. I hope that my noble friend will be able to get a message from the Box saying that at least throughout the whole of this comprehensive spending review period, it will remain in place. Without it, we will seriously affect the amount of money going into research from our charities.
Lord Oxburgh: My Lords, in the spirit of doing the best with what we have, I intend to follow the lead made by the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, in discussing the role of departmental chief scientific advisers. Until a couple of decades ago, the departments for which research was important tended to fund and manage their own research institutes. It was not a perfect world, but Ministers and officials had direct access to scientific advice and technical expertise that was closely tailored to their needs. This situation changed dramatically when a majority of government research institutes were privatised, turned into executive agencies or, in some cases, closed. The consequences for government science have been profound. Perhaps the main one is that today, there is virtually no opportunity to pursue a scientific career within the Civil Service.
New science and engineering graduates are recruited and indeed welcomed, but they bring very little experience of the world of science and engineering with them. The consequence is that when it comes to advice on matters of policy and procurement in these areas, departments may have virtually no relevant expertise or experience. In essence, departments lost at this time
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For a newcomer to be effective in Whitehall, there are several requirements. The most important of these is for the CSA to win the confidence of colleagues and to convince them that he or she can help the department do its job better. This means that the CSA must be seen to bring real expertise and experience to the job, and early on must take the time to get to know their Ministers and colleagues properly, as well as understand departmental priorities and problems. This is very hard for someone who can devote only a day or a couple of days a week to the job. Secondly, the CSA needs sufficient rank to be taken seriously within the department. They must attend senior staff meetings so that problems can be spotted before they arise. Without that, the job becomes simply reactive, so that advice is often given too late and may not be taken seriously. Thirdly, the CSA has to have sufficient resources to do the job. These may be resources of people or of money to bring in external help. I make these points because there may be a tendency, at a time of financial stringency, to think that a departmental CSA is an unaffordable luxury or that savings can be made by downgrading the post. This is far from the truth if the CSA is being used properly.
Against that background, it was a real concern to learn from evidence given at a recent meeting of the Science and Technology Select Committee that the Ministry of Defence plans to reduce the grading of its CSA when the present incumbent shortly retires. I must confess to a particular interest in this post as it was one that I held some 20 years ago. For the moment disregarding the fact that, as our report shows, the MoD has a massive R&D spend that is comparable to that of all other government departments put together and that the department does not have an entirely unblemished procurement record, technology is probably more important to the MoD than to any other department in Whitehall. It depends on maintaining a technological edge to which the CSA should make a vital contribution. This is particularly the case at a time, such as the present, of rapid technological change. At a time when challenges to our armed services appear to widen daily, does it really make sense to risk the quality and level of their technical support? In military matters there are no prizes for coming second. Lowering the grade of the MoD CSA sends a very clear message to the outside world: namely, that lower-calibre and less experienced applicants would be acceptable.
In the present climate, the need for effective departmental CSAs to help ensure good value for money is stronger than ever. I ask the Minister to use the influence of her department to ensure that the role of CSAs in Whitehall departments is not diluted and in particular to ask the Ministry of Defence to reconsider its plan to downgrade its CSA.
Lord Krebs: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood, for introducing this important debate and for chairing the inquiry of the Select Committee of which I was a member. I should also add that I am the noble Lord's successor as chairman of the Select Committee, although he is, as they say, a very hard act to follow.
As the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, has said, nobody seriously questions the importance of science and technology for the future well-being of this country. I want to add two points to that. One is the inherent unpredictability of identifying where those future significant discoveries will arise. It is famously said-perhaps apocryphally-that when Faraday was asked about the importance of his discoveries, he said "What use is a baby?". The other point I wanted to make is that our own science and technology base not only enables us to benefit from knowledge generated here but to tap into the global source of knowledge-it enhances our absorptive capacity.
Science is one of the things at which the UK excels. If the Wimbledon tournament that starts in a couple of weeks' time were a tournament for science, we would certainly not be waiting 75 years for our first male champion and 34 for our first female champion. The figures are very familiar but are worth repeating: we have 1 per cent of the world's population, invest 3 per cent of the world's science funding but produce 9 per cent of the scientific papers and 14 per cent of the most highly cited papers. In terms of bangs per buck we are top of the G8 league and, as the noble Lord, Lord Willis, has already said, this is in spite of the fact that our public investment in science as a percentage of GDP is low-about half that of many of our major competitors.
However, we should not rest on our laurels. The global landscape of science is changing very rapidly and the recent Royal Society report Knowledge, networks and nations highlights the rapidly changing global landscape. China, with its R&D spend growing by 20 per cent per year, is predicted to overtake the USA as the leading nation for publishing scientific papers by 2013. The Royal Society also highlights many other developing countries-for example Iran and Turkey-as dynamic rising stars.
In short, unless we not only sustain but increase our investment in science, we will very soon lose our pre-eminent position. The comprehensive spending review, as the noble Lord, Lord Willis, has mentioned, did secure level cash funding for science programmes over the next four years. This was, in relative terms, good news, but we should not forget that our competitors are increasing their investment. We should also not forget that the settlement included a swingeing 54 per cent cut in the capital budget of the research councils.
I ask the Minister whether she agrees that the funding levels for science in this country do indeed pose a serious threat to our ability to attract and retain the best talent in a global market in the coming years. We should also note that some government departments cut their R&D budgets dramatically: 45 per cent for DCMS and 20 per cent for Defra. We heard from the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir John Beddington, last
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I turn briefly in the last few minutes to the question of scientific advice, to which others have already alluded. As we have heard, over the past few years, an increasing number of government departments have appointed chief scientific advisers who are leading experts from academia or other sources outside the civil service. This has been a most welcome development. However, I seek reassurance from the Minister that the commitment to this ideal is not faltering.
Therefore, I want to ask the following questions. First, given the importance of social sciences for many policy matters, will the Government appoint an independent-an independent-chief social scientist to replace Professor Paul Wiles, who has retired? When are the Departments for Transport and for Business, Innovation and Skills going to replace Professor Brian Collins, who was their independent chief scientific adviser? This latter point is particularly important in light of the recent critical reviews of these two departments by the Government Office for Science. The review for the Minister's own department says,
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, as one of the few non-scientists speaking in this debate, I should say that I was prompted to speak because the grand challenges that the report refers to and the issues that it raises so powerfully-food security, water security and climate change-concern us all. I was very concerned by the issues which were so well expounded between the chairman and the Chief Scientific Adviser when, on page 43 of the report, they talked about orphan issues. They both agreed that such important issues often fall through the cracks in the system. That is really what prompted me to speak today. It is very worrying to think that such important issues-in critical areas such as biodiversity or climate change, which are the ones that the report quotes-are not being covered.
That perhaps is also why questions that require a cross-departmental response are so essential. There is a non-answer to the key question on page 68 of the evidence, which is really worrying. I want to ask the Minister today the same question:
So my question for the Minister is: have they now been shared, or can they be? And is the Minister satisfied that cross-departmental sponsorship works well? That question is prompted by my visit to the Natural History Museum earlier this year to see its work in some depth. Its primary sponsorship body is, of course, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, because it is a museum. However, much of its work would be sponsored by almost any other department, whether it was Defra or DECC. Its work on a national, European and international level concerned with ecosystems, for example, is absolutely critical. I am sorry that the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, is not speaking tonight. He made some incredibly important points in this report with regard to systematics and taxonomy. Indeed, the Committee has previously done some very interesting reports on these issues. He said that it is a discipline that is quite critical in delivering biodiversity and conservation commitments.
It is critical also in understanding a swathe of issues around, for example, food security-one of those grand challenges-biological pest control and plant adaptation to climate change, to mention but a few. Last week the Government published the first national ecosystem assessment which underlined how valuable a healthy environment is to our economy. If there are gaps in our knowledge of that ecosystem, it will be very hard to build on the aspirations of the environment White Paper.
It was also interesting to learn from the Natural History Museum's recent assessment that for each pound of government money invested, £4 in wider economic benefits are delivered. Too often grants for research are seen as a cost to the Government rather than as an investment giving, in this case, a pretty fair return.
I may be a lone voice in today's debate, but when I look at appendix 5 and see the public funding for R&D, the challenges mentioned-climate change, food security and water security, in one category-and then I look at the spend, I come away with the feeling that our priority is still literally to be able to fight our way out of adversity. The MoD research budget, as has already been mentioned, is nearly twice that of all other government departments added together. We are still at the point of paying lip service to solving problems through the acquisition and application of knowledge, while actually spending too much resource in researching which weapons would be best to use if that approach fails and we literally have to fight for our share in a hungry, water-short, energy-poor world.
I do not think that that is a battle we can win anyway in the long term with weapons. I do think that we could win it with enough investment and effort in understanding the problems and developing the solutions. I understand that this report is not asking for more money, it is asking for it to be spent in a more rational and wise way and in closing those cracks. I hope that, over time, we can look at shifting that investment.
Lord Rees of Ludlow: As noble Lords have emphasised, science is indeed a UK success story, but the UK could pay a heavy price if we lose this competitive advantage. We are up against strengthening global competition for the most talented individuals, the most innovative firms and leadership in high-tech sectors. The CSR indeed cut the science budget less than we had feared, but those who read in the foreign press about trends here do not get a positive impression. We still lag behind our OECD comparators. Our universities are perceived to be engulfed in turbulent restructuring. Mobile talent from eastern Europe or Asia is in consequence less likely to perceive the UK as a favoured destination than was the case a few years ago. Our brightest young people, savvy about trends and anxiously choosing a career, are not getting a signal that the UK offers enticing opportunities in cutting-edge science.
A dangerous feedback operates here: a downward trend of just a few per cent in the UK when other countries are on the rise sends a signal that disproportionately reduces our chances of attracting, retaining and incentivising top talent. To attract academics, access to responsive mode funding is crucial. We must continue to support the best research across all subject areas; otherwise we could lose out on the greatest innovations, which often occur at the interfaces of traditional disciplines. We also need breadth, to provide absorptive capacity so that the UK can seize on ideas from the rest of the world and sustain top-rate university education.
Last year's Nobel Prize in Physics went to two Russians on the faculty of Manchester University. They created a substance called graphene; a new form of carbon, a lattice one atom thick with extraordinary tensile strength and electrical properties which could lead to transformative technologies. If the UK is to sustain its scientific excellence, our universities must provide a supportive environment for serendipitous breakthroughs such as this. We must continue to be a preferred destination for people like Novoselov and Geim and, of course, our border agencies must welcome them in, wherever in the world they are from.
I want to say just a word about impact as measured in the report. The impacts of science are often felt far away from the time and place where the original research is done. Even in medicine, where research is often highly targeted, the lag between scientific research and health benefits can be anywhere from 10 to 25 years. In other areas of science it can be decades before direct benefits are felt. The lineage of any spin-off can be traced back to a surprisingly diverse range of influences. What is controversial is not whether the impact is important-all scientists realise that and all aspire to make an impact-the issue is whether impact can be appropriately quantified as a measure for allocating specific grant support. Most of us are concerned that it is too long-term and diffuse to serve that role.
The across-the-board public support for academic research comes, of course, from within the ring-fenced science budget, but, of course, when it comes to the development phase, we cannot do everything and prioritisation is essential. The Government have a role here, as emphasised in the Hauser report, in bridging the gap between what is done in universities and what
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From outside government, it is also the role of bodies such as the Royal Society-where I declare an interest, as a recent president-to provide scientific guidance to government and to the public. Indeed, at a time when, through the Public Bodies Bill, some statutory advisory bodies are under threat, the role of academies has never been more essential in providing independent, authoritative advice. The global developments of the 21st century will be driven by waves of new technologies. We must be equipped to ride these waves and to ensure that scientific advances optimally enhance our quality of life and the environment.
"We are supposed to be the clever country. We used to be the commonsense country. Not for much longer if the politicians continue to undervalue the potency of those Francis Bacon called the 'merchants of light', of new knowledge, especially scientific knowledge, which is unarguably the only sure wealth of the future".
Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, I join the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, as the other non-scientist and I enter the debate with some trepidation after hearing the contributions. First, I welcome the report and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, for his introduction. He said that the UK was a good place for science and technology and our aim should be to keep it that way, but we are in danger of losing our world-leading position in science. The Government only have a three-year spending review period plan for science. We have called for the Government to reinstate a 10-year funding plan for science. This allowed researchers and investors more confidence in the long-term funding landscape and was welcomed by British scientists and campaign groups.
The Government have repeatedly claimed that the spending review science settlement is a long-term plan for science and refused to reinstate Labour's 10-year plan for science. However, scientists know that three years is not long-term; it is not even one PhD funding cycle. In a speech to the Campaign for Science and Engineering before the Budget, John Denham called for the Government to put in place a long-term funding plan. He said:
We would argue that the previous Labour Government rescued British science. We introduced the science research investment fund in 2002 to address a historic backlog of upgrading and updating required by the physical university research infrastructure across the UK, left by the previous Tory Government. We also set up the higher education innovation fund. We set up the UKRC, funding for which was withdrawn by BIS this year, to promote the position of women scientists and engineers. We set up the Technology Strategy Board and the RDAs that have successfully invested in British science and innovation. We introduced the 10-year commitment to invest in science and innovation. This gave the research community long-term confidence, as I said. This long-term increase has now been reversed, with a real-terms cut over the next three years, while, as several contributors have said, our international competitors-even those with deficit reduction programmes-increase their investment.
As I think the noble Lord, Lord Willis, pointed out, China is increasing investment in R&D by 8 per cent, Germany is increasing investment by 7 per cent, France by 1 per cent, Australia by 25 per cent and the USA by 5.7 per cent. There are major new players in world science, from Brazil to Singapore and from the Gulf states to India. As the Royal Society said in a recent report, we need to keep running just to stand still. The coalition does not seem to understand how tough the global competitive environment is.
Several contributors have said that the cuts under the comprehensive spending review could have been worse. The reality is that the science budget stays the same in cash terms, but has a 10 per cent real-terms resource cut of £450 million over that period. Capital research and development spend takes an enormous 40 per cent cut, which will recreate the huge backlog of building works that built up under the previous Tory Government. Other areas of the science budget, such as funding for engagement and diversity in science, also face large cuts. There is an increasing focus on centralised excellence to the detriment of regional research centres and universities. RDA science funding, which was £440 million per annum, has also been lost. Therefore, I have the following questions for the Minister. Why is the UK reducing its overall spending on research and development when our competitors are increasing their investment? When will the Government set out their plans for investment in British science and innovation beyond 2014-15?
The noble Lord, Lord Rees, made some interesting points when he talked about worrying signs and downward trends. If we want to maintain the UK as a place where people want to continue undertaking research, and to attract such people as the recent Nobel Prize winners he referred to, we have to make sure that we create the right environment.
I must admit that when I looked at the report from a lay person's perspective, I found a lot of complexity, even in dealing with the terms. I would not have known until I read more carefully what "responsive-mode" research was-I would have referred to it as blue-skies research-as opposed to "targeted" research. What interests me in all this important talk of research and
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Baroness Wilcox): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood, for introducing this debate on the report Setting priorities for publicly funded research produced by the Science and Technology Committee, which he chaired. The Government's response was published in July 2010 and a copy is still available on the committee's website. I will try to answer as many questions as I can in the limited time that we have for such an important subject, but I will write to any noble Lords whose questions I do not manage to pick up. It has been a pleasure to hear views, advice and questions from some of the finest minds in the country, possibly the world. It is one of the great advantages of this House that we are able to do so. I thank all noble Lords who have spoken.
There have been many developments since the Government published their response to the report Setting priorities for publicly funded research. In October 2010 the Chancellor announced that science and research programme funding would be protected with a flat cash, ring-fenced settlement for 2011-15. This was a major commitment to science at a time of great pressure on public spending.
I will try to answer questions as I go through. I hope this does not make it too disjointed. To respond to the noble Lord, Lord Willis, who talked of a charity support fund, the charity support fund is part of HEFCE's block grant for research and will continue throughout the spending review period, as was announced last December. I hope that is helpful.
In December, the science budget was allocated to the individual research councils, HEFCE and other programmes. In line with views from leaders of the academic and business communities, the balance of funding between research councils and HEFCE was kept broadly the same-here I acknowledge the noble Lord, Lord Young. The coalition Government's long-term vision for science and research was published alongside their plans for science funding to 2011-15.
In the Budget in March, an additional £100 million was announced for science capital projects. This investment will develop infrastructure at national research campuses in Daresbury, Norwich and Cambridge, and the International Space Innovation Centre at Harwell. This is a vital investment in our research base, particularly life sciences and space industries, which are critical for delivering economic growth. This investment is not intended to reverse the announcements in the spending
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The spending review announced that key scientific infrastructure projects would go ahead. There will be a £69 million investment in the Diamond synchrotron at Harwell in Oxfordshire, and £220 million capital funding for the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation in London. Since the spending review, the Government have announced funding for three further projects, including £33 million for the birth cohort study.
The noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, raised the matter of the government Chief Scientific Adviser's input into Treasury meetings. Sir John Beddington cannot, of course, attend all Treasury meetings, but he meets regularly with the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury and is working closely with the Treasury on the implications of the spending review for departmental research budgets. I understand from this work that the overall outcome for research spending by government departments also looks good in the circumstances. Sir John Beddington explained this in detail to the Lords Science and Technology Committee two weeks ago.
The Government have emphasised their commitment to health research in the National Health Service White Paper and the spending review. The Department of Health will be increasing its investment in health research in real terms over the next four years. A crucial part of this will be £775 million to promote translational R&D. The department has been very clear on this.
Peter Luff reported recently that the Ministry of Defence's science and technology budget is, in cash terms, expected to rise over the spending review period. The nature of departmental research budgets and ongoing planning means that we cannot give the noble Lords, Lord Sutherland and Lord Krebs, the final figures for every department for the next four years. I understand that Sir John will be sending the Science and Technology Select Committee information for departments that are in a position to provide details of their expected expenditure over the spending review period. Each year the Government publish outturn figures on departmental expenditure on R&D in the science, engineering and technology statistics. This autumn the Government will be publishing outturn figures for all departments for 2009-10.
The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, mentioned that some departments have had significant cuts in budget. In general, research spending plans for other government departments are in line with the settlement that they have received from the Treasury in the spending review. Departments are now looking very carefully at their priorities and the resources needed to deliver their science, research and evidence needs. They will not have all the answers overnight and should probably not try to set too much in stone. Going forward, departments will be reviewing and updating their science and innovation strategies to ensure that they reflect current departmental priorities and cross-cutting issues and that policy-making delivery and evaluation is evidence based.
The noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, was concerned about science in schools. The Department for Education's The Importance of Teaching-The Schools White Paper
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The noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, worried about the MoD CSA being downgraded. The MoD recognises the importance of science and engineering to its business. This was considered carefully in planning following the spending review. It has been decided that the MoD's chief scientific adviser will be at director-general level, rather than permanent secretary. I understand that Sir John Beddington has been closely involved in this decision. He will be a member of the selection panel, which I hope is of some reassurance to the noble Lord.
The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, asked about the Government's chief social scientist. Jenny Dibden and Richard Bartholomew are joint heads of the Government's social research service. These arrangements work very well-it says here. In response to the noble Lord's question, "When will the CSA, DfT and BIS be replaced?"-sorry, that cannot be right-I can say that DfT and BIS are currently looking at how the CSA function will best be delivered. This includes exploring the possibility of a shared role with another government department to take advantage of the synergies and overlaps between their science, technology and research interests. The government Chief Scientific Adviser has been involved in these departments' deliberations about the role of their respective CSAs and will be involved in the appointment process.
Departments also draw upon independent advice from science advisory councils and around 70 scientific advisory committees. In line with the Government's priorities, it is essential that advice takes place in an open and transparent way. This is why the coalition Government have now included a specific reference to the principles of scientific advice to Government in the ministerial code. Continuing with the theme of independence, the Government restated their commitment to the Haldane principle in December. The long-established Haldane principle continues to work well. It protects scientific independence and excellence and is one of the key factors that makes the UK research base a world leader.
In response to the third point made by the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, despite commitments to reduce net migration, the Government recognise the value that academics and scientists bring to our economy. Recent changes to the points-based system have made provision for this. The truly world class will come through the exceptional talent route in tier 1 where entry is not contingent upon a job offer. Otherwise, others will be prioritised through tier 2 where points are awarded for high-level qualifications.
The coalition Government have continued to demonstrate our clear commitment to evidence-based policy making and to science and research by giving a real boost to our world-class research base. This puts science and research in a privileged position. We will work hard to ensure that investment delivers economic benefit, creating new businesses and improving existing ones, attracting highly skilled scientists and technicians and international business investment and improving public policy and services.
Lord Triesman: My Lords, given the debates that we had in Committee and the debate which we had shortly before the dinner break, it is possible to speak to this amendment fairly briefly. Its aim is to take account of circumstances where the Government conclude that it is in the interests of the people of the United Kingdom to act with greater dispatch than would occur if the whole of the processes set out in other parts of this Bill were gone through.
Earlier this afternoon the noble Lord, Lord Howell, asked-I understand the point-"What are the circumstances in which events might take place that are difficult to put into words?". I shall try to put at least one such circumstance into words, but I recognise immediately that it may be difficult to do so in the context of the judgments that Governments have to make about the interests of the country when events precipitate at a rate which is not anticipated in the normal course of events. However, my ministerial experience, and that of many others in your Lordships' House, tells us that events happen. I think that I am quoting a former Conservative Prime Minister, and he was entirely right-they do. Events happen and Governments have to respond to them. We will be able to deal with many of them using the sovereign processes of our own political system. Some will occur in a wider context and we will deal with them through
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When we talked about the meltdown of the world banking system, noble Lords rightly pointed out that the emergency arrangements that were made took a considerable time to design and to begin to be put in place. Indeed, they are not in place to this day and we have not reached the end of that process. That is rather regrettable because it seems to me that in international terms we are without a number of the levers which we would probably desire to have, in order to have a real impact on some of those events in concert with others. The G20 made a very good effort at least at one meeting, and arguably at two meetings, to try to work out some sort of architecture to deal with those circumstances. Others may disagree but I believe that if Europe had been able to speak with a more coherent voice in the G20 meetings, it would have been much more likely to have arrived at an authoritative consensus with the United States and with China in particular.
It seems to be within the realms of possibility, and perhaps not so fanciful either, that there could be circumstances-particularly in acute financial crises-where the Government might conclude that emergency conditions applied, they needed to be able to act under those conditions, it was desirable for the interests of the country and the people of the country that they did act under those conditions, and that slight variations in the current arrangements would make that more possible. These are inevitably difficult conditions to envisage largely because every time you try to do so you can usually point to a set of arrangements which have already been designed to take account of them. However, we have surely learnt, certainly since late 2007-we have learnt this rather harsh lesson through 2008 and up to the present-that it is not possible to predict all those circumstances, manage them, say that we have the levers for managing them or say that the other institutions, particularly the G20 in which we put such faith, are capable of doing so, partly because Europe is incapable of acting or speaking in a single and coherent way. I beg to move.
Viscount Trenchard: My Lords, I am afraid the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, has not persuaded me of the need to include an urgency condition. It seems to me there is absolutely nothing that prevents the UK from co-ordinating with other EU member states in response to any natural disaster. Furthermore, if the amendment were adopted, the ability of the UK to react speedily might even be circumscribed. The
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Baroness Falkner of Margravine: I too oppose the amendment, although I recognise that in tabling it the opposition Benches are very conscious of the leap in the dark that we are making to some extent with this Bill. It is about future eventualities at a time of significant flux in the world, and indeed in the European Union. One would need to be a clairvoyant to imagine what might be coming down the road in terms of emergencies and urgencies that would need rather speedier action than the normal pace of change in the European Union. In fact I think one of the reasons why there is a disconnect between the British electorate and the Union is partly because of the very slow and cumbersome methodology and pace of reacting to events. When there is a deep economic recession or a great financial or banking crisis, people out in the country want their leaders and politicians to act speedily to deal with the issues that led to those events, and perhaps would wish us to move faster than we have been capable of doing in international fora and multilateral institutions.
Despite recognising these things, I nevertheless oppose this amendment because I think what defines urgency is so subjective and so much predicated on what the Government of the day, and the policy-makers on either side of the debate, would imagine to be urgent or not. While I think we all know what is urgent when it hits us in the face, and it is quite right that we should and should then act speedily, enshrining it in law seems to raise a host of problems, not least again with judicial review. It also creates a basis of very subjective analysis as to whether something is urgent or not, and the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, in his very helpful moving of the amendment, accepted that we do take quite a long time-that even the European financial stability mechanism is going to take a leisurely pace. This really goes to the heart of the argument; that it is better for us to look for ways to facilitate speed and urgency when the urgent situation arises, rather than to seek to enshrine it in law at this stage.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I have read the amendment, which would restrict the operation of the Bill to matters of urgency. That is what it is about. I thought that the Bill was about major transfers of power, not just little changes to ongoing, day-to-day matters in the EU; it is about major transfers of competence or powers. Whenever you are transferring powers from this country to another institution, it ought not to be done in haste. There should not be urgency about it.
Those sort of matters, those great matters, should be decided only once all the issues concerned have been examined by the Government and by Parliament; and then by referendum. Why do we want an urgency
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Lord Kerr of Kinlochard: The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, will be very upset. I accuse myself of being nerdish, and I hope that the noble Lord will agree that I can be considered in the same class as Mr William Cash.
We are talking about an amendment to Clause 3. Clause 3 is about the accelerated, simplified procedure. I do not know why we have Clause 3 separate from Clause 2, but we do, and we are debating it. The simplified procedure cannot be used for the transfer of competences. That is what the treaty states. Article 48(6) states that the decisions referred to in the second paragraph,
We are talking about urgency and the use of the competences that the treaties have conferred. We are talking about urgency because that is the nature of the simplified procedure. It was invented to move fast in situations where we might want to. It avoids the convention, it avoids the full paraphernalia after Parliament-you still have to consult Parliament under Article 48(6), but that can be quite quick.
This is a modest amendment, unlike the previous amendment on which we voted, which was bigger. This is a modest amendment because it simply suggests that the urgency condition might be written into Clause 3, on the simplified treaty revision procedure, which is about urgent treaty revision and not about competence. It cannot be used to confer competences on the Union from the member states.
It seems to me appropriate and modest to say that, when we are dealing with treaty revisions or decisions taken under Article 48(6)-which, by definition, will happen only in a hurry-we should be able to have an accelerated procedure here in this country. We might accept that the general view was correct: this was an emergency and we needed to move fast. Of course, if you did not accept that, you would have said "No" in Brussels and the accelerated procedure would have stopped, because it still requires unanimity. By definition, you are in a situation where people have thought, "We haven't got the time to do the whole shooting match". This is important. The Government think it is in the UK interest-they voted for it. Who would decide whether the urgency consideration applied? It is a question asked in this debate. The House would decide. Parliament would decide. If this provision was in the Bill, the Government would have to explain whether
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I do not see anything wrong with this amendment. It seems to me that it is appropriate-particularly appropriate-to this clause. I supported the previous amendment-the bigger amendment-which would have written it also into Clause 2, alongside the significance condition, which sadly is still missing in Clause 2, for reasons that I do not understand. Putting it in Clause 3, which the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, proposes, is absolutely appropriate and I support the amendment.
The Minister commented with approval, as would I, on the evidence that Sir John Grant gave to the Commons committee. Sir John Grant made two points that the Minister quoted with approval. I approve of them too-although, as the Minister delicately pointed out, Sir John is a more recent permanent representative in Brussels than me. There may have been a faint connotation in the Minister's remark that I might be a bit fuddy-duddy or out of date. I accept that; it is perfectly possible, and Sir John Grant is a very brilliant man.
Sir John said that he saw no chance of serious treaty amendment in the next few years. I agree with him for a whole lot of reasons. Nobody in Brussels wants it; the UK Government have said that they are not going to have it; and it is in a coalition agreement. That seems to me to be fairly conclusive, so I think Sir John Grant was on pretty safe ground with that prediction. He also spoke of the unlikelihood-and the Minister quoted him-of the passerelles being used in the near future. I agree. That seems to me to be implausible too.
What the Minister did not mention-I cannot remember whether Sir John Grant did-is the much more likely scenario in which, some time in the next decade, something will cause people to say, "Jeepers, we are going to have to change something. This is clearly a case for the accelerated procedure". Things do happen in the world, things change, and the chances are-I do not think this is very likely in the near future, though the monetary example is fresh in our minds-that some time in the next decade there will be a need seen by most people, possibly by us as well, for a change, and if it is to be done quickly then the chances are that people will use Article 48(6) procedure.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: May I, with apologies, ask a nerdish question of the noble Lord? If I understand Article 48(7) correctly, it suggests that urgency can be carried through at the fastest in six months. Is that correct?
Lord Kerr of Kinlochard: I do not think that is what the treaty says, but yes, it is likely that that is the case. Of course, any treaty amendment requires ratification by whatever the national procedures are. I am talking about an emergency situation in which most people think, "We have to do this pretty fast".
We could still have our referendum. If the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, were accepted, there is nothing to stop the Government of the day saying to Parliament, "Despite all the risks of
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Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne: The noble Lords opposite will not be surprised to hear that I find it very difficult to accept this amendment. Coming from the Brussels angle, I remind noble Lords that in Brussels the word "urgency" relates to the French word "urgence", which means of powerful importance. I recall that week after week, month after month in Strasbourg and Brussels, we had urgency debates which took place many days, weeks and sometimes months after the activity in question, such as a revolution somewhere or the Arab spring. It took me a while to realise that the English meaning of the word "urgency" is quick or hurry up whereas in French it means something that counts, something that is valued and something to which we should pay special attention. It is rather like high representative which does not mean high at all, but important.
I suggest that the transfer of sovereignty falls into the French "urgence" category-it is something of powerful importance-but inevitably Brussels life advances at the pace of a snail; it is very slow. Rather like the mills of God, Brussels grinds exceeding small and it takes a very long time. I have never known anything of importance, high-value, "urgence", to happen at any speed in Brussels. Nor do I think that the transfer of sovereignty, important as it is, should be done in haste. I honestly cannot anticipate Brussels not taking maybe a decade over something of real value, such as the transfer of sovereignty.
When I joined the other place in 1980, I found myself dealing with a very important piece of legislation on intellectual property. It was data protection and intellectual property in computer software. When I arrived in the House of Lords, a decade later, I found that the Bill had been to Brussels and come back to the Lords and it was still in an active, first-step, consultation process. Two years later, when I arrived in the European Parliament, being lucky enough to be elected there in 1999, I found the Bill was in the European Parliament. It was just about to leave the European Parliament when I left a decade later. Powerfully important things such as that take a considerable length of time. How much longer do we imagine that the transfer of sovereignty would take?
During the past decade, we in the United Kingdom have very actively supported the enlargement of the European Union. It now has 27 states and more are coming in: Croatia tomorrow and the Balkans the day after. As a result, quite properly, the slowness has increased tremendously. It is no longer possible to put things through even at a reasonable speed; now things
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Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, if you do not mind me saying very briefly, I find the debate that we have been having since dinner of singular unreality. It reached its apotheosis in the last speech, which told us, "Keep calm dear, nothing is going to happen for 16 years. Everything is going so slowly, as they will be translating urgency from 'urgence' and back again and making something of it". I am sorry, but you have to look back only one year to see a circumstance where there was a major crisis, when the Greek economy was on the point of collapse and the European Union, including Britain, decided that something needed to be done about it because otherwise there was a very real risk for the solidarity of the whole European financial structure. It is no good saying it will not happen. It has happened. Please do not tell me that it could not happen again.
So what happens then if you lock all the doors and throw all the keys out of the window, as the Government are absolutely determined to do? Their supporters have explained with enormous eloquence this evening how jolly happy we will all be when we throw all the keys away and we cannot unlock the door-we cannot do anything in less than two or three years or something like that-and we shall all be happy. What happens? They find some other way of doing it. That is what will happen now. And the British Government will help to find another way too, because it will be in our interests to do so.
This debate is a matter of total unreality. It has no meaning whatsoever. If the Government had a bit of common sense, they would see that the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, does have quite a lot of sense in it.
Lord Flight: My Lords, I suggest that what the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has just said illustrates the very reason why this amendment is undesirable. It is not in the interests of this country to get sucked into bailing out economies that have gone off the rails as a result of the problems of sharing a currency. Had there been a requirement for a referendum, the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the previous Government would not have been in a position to have committed this country to things to which he should not have committed us.
Charming and likeable though the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, may have been, this amendment is just another excuse for watering down the basic principle of this Bill. It is of less magnitude than the last amendment. Urgency is a subjective matter-it could arise; it could not arise-but the basic principle of the Bill is that the elite of British Governments will no longer be able to commit this country to loss of sovereignty and other such matters without the consent of the people.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, we all understand that events happen-although I believe that what Harold Macmillan said was, "Events, dear boy, events." We also understand that in a crisis Governments get together and take the necessary decisions to deal with that crisis. The noble Lord, Lord Triesman, rightly said that we cannot envisage what sort of crisis we might be facing in five to 10 years' time or even in two years' time. The G20 is a very good example of the sort of body which has come to operate relatively effectively, as a form of consultation about a number of global problems. However, the G20 is of an entirely different quality from the European Union. If there were a crisis, the relevant Governments would necessarily get together and have to act, but they would undoubtedly act by consensus. That would be different from agreeing to change the structures and competences of a European Union, which is not simply an international organisation but a structure of law, a semi-confederal institution of which we have become a co-operative member.
Lord Davies of Stamford: I thank the Minister for giving way. Is not the argument that he is adducing one that entirely excludes even the theoretical possibility that the European Union might turn out to be the best instrument for addressing the crisis that we are talking about? If the crisis can be dealt with by consensus with other Governments-the G20 or whatever-that is well and good, but what the Government are doing in the Bill is excluding the possibility that the European Union may be the most effective instrument for solving the problem and might need additional powers for that emergency.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the Bill in no way excludes the European Union from being the appropriate body to respond. It is entirely appropriate that bodies such as the European Council and the Council of Ministers in its various forms should take decisions. How those decisions are taken, and what their legal implications will be, are matters probably best not dealt with in an emergency. Where there might be a transfer of competences, one should consider it not under emergency conditions but rather more coolly.
It is of course very difficult to foresee what sort of crises we might face, or how and in what framework we and others would respond. The European Union exists as a framework and therefore may very often be used as such, and we and others would work through it. It has plenty of competences and the ability to take decisions by consensus in response to a crisis. However, that does not transfer powers and competences. That is the difference between taking urgent decisions and
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The second part of the condition is that the treaty change should be in the national interest. My noble friend Lord Howell said, when debating a previous amendment, that the national interest is not an entirely objective concept. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, agrees that the coalition has come together in the national interest and is acting in what we think is the national interest-although he may have a different view of the national interest from members of the coalition. Politics revolves around our contesting views of Britain's best national interests. Therefore, the concept is not an entirely objective one that we can usefully write into the Bill. No Government would agree to any treaty change at EU level if they were not of the firm belief that such a move was consistent with the national interest. No Administration would ever agree to a treaty change if they considered that it would be against the interests of the United Kingdom. Therefore, I assure noble Lords that the national interest, as we see it, is at the heart of every major decision that this Government take on EU matters-as I assume was the case with the previous Government and will be for any subsequent Government.
Having answered those questions, I urge noble Lords to withdraw the amendment. We have had a useful but general debate about what might happen in a hypothetical crisis that none of us can yet quite envisage, let alone consider what immediate changes in powers or competences it would require.
Lord Triesman: My Lords, just to take any possible lingering tension out of the highly charged environment of this Chamber-I would hate to wind up everybody inappropriately-I will tell you now that, in a few minutes, I will withdraw the amendment. Before I do so, I have to say that, from an intellectual point of view, these have been some of the more depressing arguments that I have heard. I do not mean to say that in order to be rude. I just think that we must allow ourselves the courtesy of being a great deal more rigorous.
As the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, pointed out, it is plainly the intention of the amendment to provide a means whereby, in circumstances which are very pressing and where we need potentially to adjust our capacity to act-this is about our capacity to act and the mechanisms that we can use to act-we do not deny ourselves the opportunity to do something if it is in the national interest.
I cannot imagine that it really needed any presentation to us, but I readily accept that what constitutes the national interest will not be determined by some objective basis, as would a demonstration of Boyle's law of gaseous volumes. This is not a point that I have ever attempted to make. The national interest will be defined by the Government of the day, whether a single party or a coalition. We may or may not all agree with one another, but it is in the nature of our parliamentary
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Let us not deal with this kind of discussion as though it were incumbent upon us to do something like Boyle did, in showing the way in which the volumes of gases under pressure react to it, which can then be set out in a textbook to be tested to kingdom come in any laboratory in the land. Let us deal with it as political people-I was going to say, if the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, was in his place, as humble members of the political class. Let us deal with it as political people-with a small p-who understand perfectly well the convention which decides what the national interest is at any time. I am sorry, but I cannot buy that kind of argument. I do not think it treats us credibly.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Flight, that it was never my intention in moving this amendment that the Bill should be watered down. I do not like that interpretation being ascribed to what I have said. I have always tried in the House, whether on the government Benches or on these Benches, to be very candid and very frank-it does not always win you friends-about what I am doing and why I am doing it, because it seems to me that life is a lot easier if you try to do it that way. The reason is not to water it down but to make certain that Ministers in any Government have the kind of authority and ability to act in circumstances which come along that we cannot predict.
I am not omniscient, and I cannot say any more than anybody else in the House what I know will happen or what kinds of competence we may require at a particular time to deal with those issues. I will be candid with the House: I did not expect the collapse of Lehman Brothers; I was astonished to know that we were within two hours of the Royal Bank of Scotland collapsing; and I notice that sovereign debt crises are occurring more rapidly and are likely to occur more rapidly. I just say to the House no more than that it is extremely likely that we will face more such circumstances. I do not want to feel that we do not have all the levers at our disposal in order to deal with them.
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