10 Jan 2014 : Column 1735

House of Lords

Friday, 10 January 2014.

10 am

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds.

Arrangement of Business

Announcement

10.07 am

Baroness Anelay of St Johns (Con): My Lords, before we begin the Second Reading of the European Union (Referendum) Bill, perhaps I may offer the House some advice on timings and say a brief word about the speakers list. It has come to my attention that there may be an error on the list. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, for whom we all have great regard, appears not to be on it, and I believe that the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, may be on it in error. With the leave of the House, I propose that after we have had the opening speech from my noble friend Lord Dobbs, I will discuss the matter with the opposition Chief Whip—the noble Lord, Lord Bassam—and ensure not only that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, is able to speak but that he is able to do so in an appropriately prominent place in the list. I hope that that will meet with the approval of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and of the House.

I turn to advice on timings. If we exclude from the guidance I am about to give my noble friend Lord Dobbs, who will propose the Second Reading, and the two speakers who will wind up—the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, and my noble friend Lady Warsi—everybody else should speak for four minutes. That would give us a concluding time for the debate of about 3 pm. That terminology does not quite sit with my usual vocabulary, but I believe that the wording will sound particularly familiar to the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, who is to speak in the debate, as I have blatantly pinched his words: it is the self-same advice that he gave on a similar occasion for the Second Reading of a Private Member’s Bill on a Friday, when he was the then Labour Government’s Chief Whip. It was his advice for the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Joffe. On that occasion, the same guidance of four-minute speeches was given and there were no complaints, despite the fact that there were then 92 speakers listed, as opposed to 68. The House followed the prediction of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott. He said that it would rise between 5 pm and 6 pm and, my goodness, it rose at 5.29 pm —he was very accurate. The debate proceeded in an orderly manner, because that is the way this House operates. I feel that it is the will of the House that that should apply to this Bill, too.

Lord Richard (Lab): My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, opens the debate, I will say to the Chief Whip that I am grateful for what she said. I

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express no opinion one way or the other on what went on in the Government Whips’ Office, save to say that I was insistent that I had put my name down but that it did not appear on the speakers list. I am grateful to the Chief Whip for indicating what she is going to do. However, I am slightly concerned about the procedure that she has outlined for the rest of the debate.

The Companion is very clear. It is a firm convention of this House that, when Private Members’ Bills are taken on a Friday, the House does not sit beyond 3 pm. From what the noble Baroness has just said, I am not sure whether she accepts that it should not sit beyond 3 pm—in which case, if we come to 3 pm and the debate has not concluded, it will be adjourned even though it has not been completed—or whether she is saying that if everybody does what she would like us to do, it is her hope that the debate will finish by 3 pm. If it is the latter—if it is merely her hope—that, with great respect, is not in accordance with the Companion. The Companion is very clear on this. I will read out the relevant piece from the Companion. Chapter 3, headed “Sittings and Documents of the House”, states:

“The House also sits on Fridays at 10 a.m. when pressure of business makes it necessary. It is a firm convention that the House normally rises by about 10 p.m. on Mondays to Wednesdays, by about 7 p.m. on Thursdays, and by about 3 p.m. on Fridays”.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Richard: My Lords, if everybody takes three minutes, of course we will be up by 3 pm. If everybody takes 10 minutes, there is not a hope that we will be up by then. This is not a time-limited debate. The only limit is that set out in the Companion, which I think the government Chief Whip is now prepared to ignore.

I am not against this Bill getting a Second Reading; of course it should get a Second Reading. What I am concerned about is that the Bill should be treated no differently from any other Private Member’s Bill. I have been present in this House on a recent Friday when the axe came down at 2.50 pm when one of my noble friends had a Bill he was about to propose. I am told that that was at the behest—although I cannot verify that—but certainly with the concurrence of the government Chief Whip. We were told that 3 pm was the time and therefore the Bill did not proceed.

When the noble Lord, Lord Steel, was proposing one of his Bills, I distinctly recollect a situation in which it was—I hesitate to use the words, “talked out”, but there was expansive discussion of the previous Bill, as a result of which, at 3 pm, down came the axe and the noble Lord’s Bill could not proceed. It is important to establish the principle that this Bill is a Private Member’s Bill and should be treated as such. It should be treated no differently from any other Bill. I say to the noble Baroness that if it comes to 2.50 pm this afternoon and another 30-odd speakers remain on the list, I will be minded in those circumstances to move an adjournment of further discussion on the Bill. I am not saying that I am going to do that, but I am certainly not saying that I am not going to do that.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I think it would be appropriate if I responded. The mood of the House is clearly that it wishes to get on with the debate

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rather than debate procedure. I remind the House that as government Chief Whip I am indeed the guardian of the

Companion

, so of course I accept what the noble Lord, Lord Richard, quoted from part of it. I sought in my introduction to explain that I was indeed following normal procedure. The

Companion

was phrased in 2006 in the way in which the noble Lord described—it is normal that we rise at 3 pm, but the House is self-regulating and if Members wish to speak for longer than four minutes and rise later than 3 pm, it is in their hands.

However, on previous occasions, Private Members’ Bills have never—ever—taken more than one day. There has never been an attempt to adjourn the House on a Second Reading; and it would be unprecedented for a Member to seek to adjourn the House to prevent the completion of a Second Reading. On previous occasions, anyone who wished to prevent a Second Reading tabled a Motion beforehand—and, before those procedures were put in place long ago, a vote against Second Reading itself was made.

Let us not indulge in procedural quotations from only part of the Companion. I did explain that I was following the position of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, when a very serious Private Member’s Bill was before this House. In that case, the House chose to rise at 5.30 pm. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, referred to another occasion recently. Perhaps I may explain to the House that when that Second Reading did not proceed, I had beforehand talked to the mover of the Private Member’s Bill to ensure that if the Second Reading could not be concluded at a reasonable time, I would of course ensure that they had the first available opportunity and date that would ensure that their Bill could reach another place. So I always play fair. I am keeping to the rules and suggest that the House moves on. It is now 10.16 am. This is a Bill that the House wants to debate.

Lord Grocott (Lab): My Lords, given that I have been quoted in evidence, I should be able to make a couple of comments. Yes, this is a Private Member’s Bill—but, my word, it is a Private Member’s Bill like no other that anyone else can remember in this House. I need to remind the House that it is a Private Member’s Bill that is passionately supported by the Prime Minister—so much so that when it was going through the House of Commons, the Conservative Party was on a heavy three-line whip. That makes the Bill very different from any other Private Member’s Bill in my experience—and, I would guess, that of anyone in this House with longer experience than mine. I will leave that aside for a moment.

I will make just this plea to the Chief Whip. As she has been kind enough to say that she is following precisely my advice in this respect, will she at least do me the courtesy of assuring me that whenever I give advice on the timing of Bills between now and, say, the general election, she will take it?

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European Union (Referendum) Bill

Second Reading

10.18 am

Moved by Lord Dobbs

That the Bill be read a second time.

Lord Dobbs (Con): My Lords, I thank each and every one of your Lordships for being here in such numbers for this important debate. I must apologise for the fact that it is a Friday and it will be a full day. I understand just how difficult that is for many and how much not inconvenience but real sacrifice your presence has entailed. I am grateful. I intend to make a short speech, lasting less than 10 minutes, I hope—if any of your Lordships think that 10 minutes is not showing sufficient respect for such an important Bill, I can only offer a further apology. However, this Bill is short, the principle at its heart is extraordinarily simple and I am conscious of how many others will want to speak.

The principle behind this Bill is that the people have a right to decide their own future. We had a vote of course in 1975, in which we embraced the Common Market by a huge majority. I was one of those voters. However, that vote needs reinforcing. The institutions of Europe have changed beyond imagination since then and no one in this country below the age of 60 has had any say. It has caused great controversy and has resulted in growing scepticism, not just about Europe but about all our political processes. The noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, who, I am sad to say, is not in his seat today, was entirely right the other day in an interview with the Times when he said that voters’ trust in all sorts of institutions was collapsing, so much so that many people simply were not even bothering to vote. I agree with him entirely.

Sir John Major, in a speech a few weeks ago to the Atlantic Partnership, said that Europe had become a toxic issue:

“Many Britons believe they were misled during the Referendum on entry, and we need to drain that poison out of the system”.

He went on to say:

“Only—only a fresh endorsement of membership can do this. Without that we will never be rid of the turbulent debate that has racked British politics for too long”.

That comes from a man with huge experience who is committed publicly and passionately to Britain remaining within the EU.

I will not bother the House with the details of how many opinion polls show that the British public repeatedly, and by huge margins, insist on a referendum. This Bill, which will give them one, came to us from the House of Commons after many days of debate and a great deal of time spent in the Division Lobbies. It passed its Second Reading there by 304 votes with not a single vote against. The lowest vote for the Bill at any stage was 233 and the highest vote for any amendment was 29.

This Bill is needed and it is also very much wanted. It will give us a referendum before the last day of 2017. Some people have insisted that it is the wrong date. I simply ask them: if not then, when? Others suggest

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that the uncertainty will be damaging, but why should it be more damaging than the outcome of an election campaign? Right now, the whole of Europe is riddled with uncertainty, although perhaps the greatest uncertainty is felt on the Benches opposite. Having been at one stage desperate to get out of Europe and at other stages desperate to bind themselves more closely to Europe, no one in the current Labour Party seems able to tell us what their policy will be at the next election. I do not mean that to be a criticism. This is a difficult issue. We politicians have made a regular mess of it over decades, which is why we need to get the people to decide. After all, my noble friends on the Liberal Democrat Benches, in their last election manifesto, said that they,

“remain committed to an in/out referendum the next time a British government signs up for fundamental change in the relationship between the UK and the EU”.

That is precisely what the Prime Minister intends to do, yet apparently my noble friends have changed their minds. I shall be entirely frank: many people out there have not been particularly impressed with the Conservative record either, which is why the people must decide.

The question that the Bill proposes putting to them is:

“Do you think that the United Kingdom should be a member of the European Union?”.

That is what the House of Commons approved. Most of us would think that this is a straightforward question. The Electoral Commission acknowledges that it is,

“brief, uses straightforward language, and is easy to understand”.

However—and it is a significant “however”—the commission believes that there is a possibility of confusion because some voters may not be aware that we are already members of the European Union. No doubt we can, and will, debate the wording with passion and real commitment in this House, although I think it is worth pointing out that when the commission canvassed far and wide for views on this question it received only 19 responses. Most of the 19 were from various politically involved organisations and politicians; five were from members of the public; but not a single Peer expressed any view whatever, although perhaps that is about to change.

I move on to the franchise. The proposal in Clause 2 is very simple. Those entitled to vote would be those who are eligible to vote in parliamentary elections, with the addition of Peers. It is a very generous Bill and it is also pretty standard stuff. Some have suggested that the franchise could be extended to those from other EU countries who are resident in Britain, to all British nationals who live in the EU or to 16 and 17 year- olds. All those cases are arguable and I have a suspicion that they will be argued passionately and eloquently. They are arguable but none of them is overwhelming. Nothing in this Bill is so unfair or so unbalanced that it is sufficient reason for denying the people their referendum. It would be beyond irony, and in some eyes beyond forgiveness, if this House were to pursue attempts to improve the question to the point where the Bill died and no question could be put, or to try to widen the franchise of those entitled to vote to the point where not a single person ended up getting the opportunity to vote.

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There are provisions in the Bill to cover the exceptional position of Gibraltar, the conduct of the referendum and its costs. The AV referendum cost £75 million; this referendum might conceivably cost more, but at least people seem to want this one and it could very well be the best money we ever spent. How much longer can we allow, let alone encourage, the issue of Europe to distort our politics and destroy the public’s respect for our institutions?

Sir John Major has said that he will campaign at the referendum for us to stay in Europe. The Prime Minister has declared very publicly that he will campaign for us to stay in Europe. They both support this referendum. Labour figures, by contrast, have suggested that a referendum is like a lottery. It is not. A referendum is about democracy. It is not about being anti-European or pro-European; it is about allowing people to decide their own future. It will be a brave man who denies them that choice, and an even braver unelected Peer.

We are allowed great latitude in this House to indulge our interests and our expertise but never, I hope, to indulge ourselves. What we want individually from Europe or what we feel individually about Europe is not relevant here. The question is what the country wants. I think that the answer is very clear. They want—they demand—this Bill, which I commend to the House. I beg to move.

10.28 am

Lord Liddle (Lab): My Lords, in rising to put the Labour Party’s position on the Bill, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, on the very charming and elegant way in which he moved the Second Reading of his Bill, except that we all know that it is not really a Private Member’s Bill; it is a Conservative Party Bill for a Conservative Party purpose. That purpose is to try to create a semblance of unity in a party that is deeply divided on the question of the European Union and, at the same time, to convince voters tempted by UKIP not to follow down that path.

I realise that many Conservatives may not like this characterisation of their position on the Bill but, if challenged on it in the confidentiality of the Lobby, surely their only possible response would be one very familiar to Francis Urquhart, the character created by the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs: “You may very well think that; I couldn’t possibly comment”.

Labour does not have these visceral internal divisions to manage.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Liddle: It does not. With one or two honourable exceptions, we are unambiguously a pro-European party. That does not mean that we want a European superstate—we do not. It does not mean that we always agree with what the European Union does; we are passionate advocates of EU reform in its economic policies, its regulatory approach, and its accountability to national Parliaments and public opinion.

Some may say, “If you believe in the European Union so strongly, why are you so unwilling to support a referendum on our membership?”. It is a fair question.

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“Is it only because you are not confident of winning your case?”. I wish to set out today why Labour argues that the question of whether to hold a referendum has to be judged first and foremost on the test of the national interest, not what serves one sectional force of a political party in the land. It is for that reason that we have severe doubts about this Bill.

Labour is not in principle an anti-referendum party. It was, after all, a Labour Government that ensured that we had a referendum on the decision to join in 1975. Where there has been the possibility of major constitutional change, we have proposed a referendum—on whether to join the single currency after 1997 and on the abortive constitutional treaty. In the passage of the European Union Bill through this House in 2011, we were always clear that a major change in Britain’s relationship with the EU would in future require a referendum.

The Conservative Party has never shown that consistency of commitment. Edward Heath refused a referendum in 1972; Margaret Thatcher pushed through the Single European Act without a question of a referendum; and John Major behaved similarly over Maastricht. It is true that David Cameron made a binding commitment to hold a referendum on the Lisbon treaty, but he then abandoned it once Lisbon was ratified in 2009, doubtless because he then believed that it would be damaging to his party in the 2010 general election if, as he put it, it was always “banging on about Europe”.

What has changed since then? The truth is that all that has changed is internal Conservative division and the misreading by Conservative Back-Benchers—certainly if you read the poll of the noble Lord, Lord Ashcroft, it is a misreading—of the nature of the UKIP threat to their position. That is why the party has shifted its position on a referendum.

We judge the question on the national interest. If there was a major treaty in prospect that would radically change the nature of the EU then, yes, there is already legislation on the statute book to say that there would be a referendum. However, the Cameron proposition on the referendum in his eloquently argued Bloomberg speech—with much of which I agree—is nevertheless fundamentally flawed. He has chosen, as this Bill sets out, the end of 2017 as the end date for a UK referendum without the slightest idea of what by then he will have tried to negotiate, whether there is any prospect of our partners playing ball with such a renegotiation, whether a new treaty is necessary as part of that and what he would judge to be an acceptable outcome.

The truth is that he is playing Russian roulette with the British economic recovery. So far we have seen a recovery in consumer confidence and the housing market, but there is as yet very little sign of new business investment and exports. If the business world was to think seriously that this Bill had the slightest chance of passage and that the Conservatives were likely winners of the next general election, the uncertainty generated over our continuing membership of the EU for the next four years could have a devastating economic effect. If the Labour Party were now to acquiesce in the central proposition of this Bill, it could well make

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that possibility a certainty, with a negative impact on investment, living standards and growth. People may not believe me, but listen to what Nissan has to say, listen to what Siemens has to say, listen to what Goldman Sachs and other overseas banks based in the City have to say. Do we really want to create now four years of major economic uncertainty by passing this Bill?

Even if you disregard the wider consequences, the Bill is flawed. First, as your Lordships’ Constitution Committee and Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee have pointed out, the Bill sets a question for the referendum that the Electoral Commission has judged unsatisfactory. Secondly, it leaves to ministerial discretion the procedures for holding a referendum without the opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny which every other referendum proposition put into legislation has allowed.

Thirdly, 16 year-olds will be able to vote in Scotland on the question of the country’s independence but not on whether Britain should stay in the EU, which is a key question for their future. Fourthly, Gibraltarians will have a voice in Britain’s future in the EU, but not the hundreds of thousands of British citizens living and working in the rest of the Union.

Fifthly, the Bill does not nothing to facilitate the fullest possible unbiased public debate before a referendum is held. In that respect it is an “all power to the Daily Mail”Bill. Sixthly—and this is what I care about most—it is a threat to our union, the United Kingdom. If, as is perfectly possible, Scotland in 2017 were to vote to stay in the EU and England to leave, that would re-open the result of what many of us on all sides of this House want to be a decisive rejection of independence in the Scottish referendum this autumn.

A referendum now would settle nothing. A vote to leave would open up complex negotiations on the nature of Britain’s future relationship with the EU, with demands possibly emerging for a further referendum on the outcome of those negotiations. A vote to stay could be re-opened if, say within a decade, there is a major treaty change. All in all, this Bill is a pig in a poke and it cannot be in the national interest to buy into it. Their Lordships would be failing in their constitutional duty if they did not give this bad Bill the fullest parliamentary scrutiny.

10.37 am

Lord Strathclyde (Con): My Lords, 12 months ago, almost to the day, your Lordships kindly and generously paid tribute to my time as Leader of the House and to my 14 years as leader of the Conservative Party in this House. It was a fulsome tribute, and wholly ill deserved, but the best way of showing my appreciation for those tributes was, I believe, a long period of silence from me. However, I think one year is long enough, so I am delighted to support my noble friend Lord Dobbs’ timely Bill and to listen to this vast list of speakers. We have hardly seen such a large list since we last debated the vexed subject of House of Lords reform.

As we all know, referendums are rare beasts. We also know that they are hugely important and significant issues which need to be debated seriously by Parliament. However, equally, they are not unprecedented. This

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controversial issue of our continued membership of the EU has grown considerably over the course of the past two decades. It is an issue on which parties are divided, notwithstanding what the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, explained in his speech, and it is therefore right that on this issue we should change the normal political process of Parliament and consult the people directly in a referendum.

The European Union has changed out of all recognition over the past 40 years and has changed pretty fundamentally in the past 10 years. The EU institutions continue to evolve, particularly as they digest the full implications of the eurozone. We need the agreement of the people to our continuing participation and involvement. Of course, today is not about the outcome of the referendum or, indeed, the merits of continuing our membership of the EU but about whether a referendum should take place. Some will argue that a referendum creates uncertainty—we have heard some of that from the Labour Front Bench. I argue that having an end date for a referendum resolves uncertainty.

We debate the Second Reading today and, as is customary in this House, there is no Motion to deny the Bill that Second Reading. Therefore, by the end of today, the House will have agreed the principle of the Bill. Many Peers have asked me whether it would be right for this House to block the Bill. We do have the power to block the Bill, but I believe we do not have the authority to do so. The Bill, as my noble friend explained, was passed through the House of Commons largely unopposed, with huge majorities, and nobody outside this House would understand why the House of Lords was deliberately denying the people their say on this issue.

Furthermore, I hear it whispered that a small number of Peers plan to stop the Bill by using our much valued free and open procedures to disrupt its progress, therefore delaying the Bill and using time to stop it from becoming law. I can think of little else that would be so comprehensively damaging to the well earned reputation of your Lordships’ House for fair-minded scrutiny than to see a tiny minority of Peers indulge in the worst kind of procedural tactics. I very much hope that these rumours are untrue.

The Bill gives the people of this country their voice—a voice to be heard directly. It has been passed by the House of Commons, and my noble friend Lord Dobbs, and the Bill’s sponsor in another place, James Wharton, should be able to anticipate that the Bill will become law by the end of the Session. We in this House are unelected and appointed. To defy the elected House from time to time on a government Bill is one thing; to defy the House of Commons and the people at the same time is quite another, and I urge the House not to do it. I support the Bill and wish it well.

10.43 am

Baroness Falkner of Margravine (LD): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, for his bravery in sponsoring the Bill in your Lordships’ House. It was also wonderful to hear the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, break his vow of silence to engage us on the Bill today. It is always a pleasure to hear from the noble Lord.

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We welcome the opportunity to debate this brief Bill, which makes provision for a referendum on the United Kingdom remaining in, or leaving, the European Union by 2017. Its brevity is not to be confused with modesty, for its ambitions are too important to be expressed in a 700-word, six-clause piece of legislation debated at the end of a parliamentary Session. This is too important for a Bill to be rushed though the House with 16 weeks to go before a European election and 16 months before the British public give their verdict on this Government’s performance—a Government who have a good record of meeting the challenges that our country has faced in the past three years.

The implications for our country’s future trajectory in the EU should not be consigned to a Private Member’s Bill and the ability to call on the House on a Friday, against a ticking clock, when the other place needs to receive it. Indeed, we know from Mr Cameron’s Bloomberg speech that his passion for an “in or out” referendum for the UK was set out only a year ago, last January, and was to be implemented after a Conservative victory in 2015, not today.

The Bill before us has not had the benefit of being subject to public consultation, pre-legislative scrutiny or the taking of evidence from interested parties, and has arrived here unamended. It has been left to this House to do its duty as a revising Chamber. I have no doubt that noble Lords here are up to the task—indeed it is our duty, as our country’s future is at stake—but this is not the manner in which to pass legislation of constitutional import.

Noble Lords will want to hear the Lib Dem position on the Bill. I will put my hands up at the outset: I was one of the Liberal Democrat policy researchers who first put it to my noble friend Lord Ashdown— the then leader of the Liberal Democrats—as long ago as 1995 that the Liberal Democrats should consult the British people through a referendum on any constitutional changes that might arise out of the 1996 Intergovernmental Conference. I know it is not the tradition of the House to brandish documents around, but if noble Lords on the Conservative Benches wish to peruse that pledge, I have the document here and they can leave the Chamber and do so.

It was from that consistent position that I stood here in this very spot, three years ago, and supported the referendum Bill that become the European Union Act 2011, when many noble Lords across the Chamber were opposed to it. We stood by the democratic principle that the people should be consulted when significant change is proposed and we do so today. We are proud to have enshrined in law the European Union Act 2011. So the Liberal Democrat position is clear: we say yes to reform of the EU and yes to a referendum if there is any further change.

I come to the Bill we are looking at today. The noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, has set out a general case for why the Conservatives believe that we need an “in or out” referendum by the end of 2017. A date for a decision is arbitrarily plucked out of the air as the end of 2017, and the period for the preparation of that decision is randomly established as December 2016, without an indication of what substantive change will

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have occurred in the United Kingdom’s position vis-à-vis the EU in the interim. The general election is to be held in May 2015.

The question the noble Lord has not addressed is what change will take place in our relationship with the EU between May 2015 and December 2016 for which the European Union Act will not be sufficient safeguard. If he believes that we will have a transfer of competences in that 19-month period, then surely the Act will apply. If there is treaty change from today on, the Act will apply. The answer to the question must be that noble Lords on the Conservative Benches have come to the view that the Act only guarantees a say for the people on future change, whereas they now—only two years after voting for that Bill—feel the need for a repatriation of powers referendum, which is what this should be called. That is the message behind this Bill.

However, even on that reasoning, they are contradicting themselves. Indeed, the Prime Minister himself said in his Bloomberg speech that the next Conservative manifesto will ask for a mandate to negotiate a new settlement with EU partners and that the British people would be asked after that negotiation. Yet now this House is asked to approve a fixed date for a referendum before we even know whether that mandate is to be granted or, indeed, what is to be negotiated. Should the detail of a new settlement not be outlined to the people before they are asked for their view on remaining in or leaving? If it is a matter of trust, then the Conservatives are saying, “Trust us to negotiate before we tell you what we will negotiate and trust us to have a referendum on it irrespective of success”. It will be interesting to see what the House makes of that. I look forward to learning more of their thinking on the Bill as we delve deeper in Committee. I will try to keep an open mind on their responses.

I come to the other significant issue in the Bill: that of the question itself. I should declare that I am a member of your Lordships’ Constitution Committee, which has reported on the Bill. The Electoral Commission has recommended a change to clarify the question, as it appears that a number of voters are not yet aware that we are in the European Union and may not understand the question. We will explore the possibility of improving that aspect and examine the question of the franchise in terms of eligibility to vote in the referendum.

For the moment, let me end on that question of trust—trusting the voters to make the right choice on the EU, which we unequivocally do. William Gladstone 150 years ago defined liberalism as,

“a principle of trust in the people only qualified by prudence”.

It is that combination of trust and prudence that we will put into the scrutiny of this Bill in the coming weeks.

10.50 am

Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB): My Lords, the European Union (Referendum) Bill to which we are invited to give a Second Reading today is a mercifully short one, but it is also exceptionally significant. It puts into play Britain’s role as a member of the European Union—a role that underlies much of the functioning

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of our economy and our capacity to influence and shape events in a rapidly changing world. To act in this way with our European Union membership is a high-risk strategy that has been ill thought through by its authors and is fraught with possible unintended negative consequences for this country. However, our task, as with every other Bill that comes before us, is to scrutinise the Bill rigorously and, where possible, improve it—not simply denounce it, tempting though that may be.

The Bill is also in many respects an oddity. First, take its proclaimed status as a Private Member’s Bill. That is surely more of a sham than a reality. Just about the only characteristic that fits its proclaimed status is that we are debating it on a Friday and will continue to do so as we work our way through its Committee and Report stages. However, I understand that the Bill was as good as whipped in another place and, if I am not badly informed, it is as good as whipped in this House. It has been openly suggested by Ministers of one of the two coalition parties that the Bill has their full support. That hardly makes it much of a Private Member’s Bill, even if it was introduced in this House by a distinguished Back-Bencher, the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, who has, with others, regaled us over the years with the odder aspects of our political life.

The oddities do not stop there. It is generally recognised as a convention of our unwritten constitution that our Parliament cannot and should not aim to bind the hands of its successors, but the sole purpose of this Bill is to do precisely that. It has no other purpose and will have no effect at all during the lifetime of this Parliament. Its object is to ensure that, whatever the outcome of the 2015 election, the die will have been cast. Once a precedent like that has been set, one wonders what there will be to stop any Government that can exercise a majority in the other place from pre-legislating commitments for their successor.

Another oddity is that only two years or so ago, when we dealt with the European Union Act 2011 and its 57 or so varieties of decision in the EU that would trigger a referendum in this country, we were assured with great intensity and certainty by the noble Lords, Lord Howell of Guildford and Lord Wallace of Saltaire, that once that Act was passed Britain would be at ease with its membership and there would be no question of needing any referendum outside the scope of that Act. What has happened in the two and a half years since then to justify reversing those assurances? It is not anything in Brussels, where no decision has been taken to trigger that Act. I suppose the answer must be the rise of UKIP and the attitude of a significant number of the Government’s supporters in another place who believe that, because they cannot secure a majority in Parliament for their objective of Britain withdrawing from the EU, some other means must be found.

The finally oddity is that the cry has gone up before we have even given the Bill a Second Reading that this House should not resist the will of the elected Chamber. Yet, if you come to think of it, every Bill that reaches this House from another place falls into that category. Are we therefore not to scrutinise or, where we consider it to be defective, amend this Bill? If so, there is not an awful lot left for us to do and the concept of a bicameral system would be junked.

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In addition to these oddities and constitutional imperfections, the Bill has a number of other substantive defects. Does it really make sense to impose an artificial timetable and deadline of 2017 for the holding of an “in or out” referendum, some three years or more ahead of the event? I suggest not. For one thing, 2017 is a singularly poorly chosen year for such an exercise. In the first half of that year, France will hold presidential and parliamentary elections. In the second half, the Germans will hold national elections and, judging by last year’s precedent, it takes some time and much internal negotiation before they form a coalition. That same year, Britain will next hold the presidency of the European Union. These are as suboptimal conditions as one could devise for this choice of year, so there must be doubt that it is really a sensible way to proceed.

But the whole concept of setting a date so far in advance is surely deeply flawed, too. Would it not make more sense for the Government of the day first to secure the reforms they wish for in order to put the question on Britain’s continued membership to a referendum and then set a date? That is what was done in 1974-75. Does it not also make no sense to create such a long period of uncertainty for inward investors, on whose decisions the continued improved of the economy is so dependent?

Then there is the question to be put in the referendum. The authors of this Bill devised a form of words that the Electoral Commission judged to be flawed on the grounds of clarity and objectivity. More than that, the Electoral Commission submitted two formulations which it believed met those criteria, but the authors of the Bill brushed those aside and continued with their own. What on earth do we have an Electoral Commission for if we just ignore its advice? I was glad to see that our own Constitutional Committee shared my bafflement at this cavalier treatment of that advice.

There is also the question of the franchise, which has been referred to by other noble Lords. It is no doubt very welcome that Members of your Lordships’ House are to be allowed to vote on this occasion, but three important and much larger blocks of voters who will be critically affected by the decisions to be taken as a result of the proposed referendum are being excluded, despite the fact that this is not a vote for the duration of a five-year Parliament but a much longer period. The three blocks are: teenagers between the ages of 16 and 18, whose future job prospects and lives will be directly affected; the 1.5 million to 2 million British citizens resident in other member states, many of whom are disfranchised from our parliamentary elections due to the length of their residence but whose rights and status will be directly affected by this decision; and citizens from other EU member states resident in this country who can vote in our local elections and who will also be affected by this. Does the case for giving these categories the vote on this occasion not deserve careful consideration?

We surely need some threshold to be set for a referendum of this sort if its outcome is to be considered legally or politically binding. If either the turnout or majority for the result was to fall short of certain

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levels, it would be a travesty to argue—as the proposers of referendums are wont to do—that “the people have had their say”.

What, too, about the requirements for the provision of relevant, objective information to the electorate ahead of the vote? On this, the Bill we are considering is completely and astonishingly silent. Is it just to be left to government edict and the protagonists in the campaign to provide information—or perhaps disinformation? Or will a party with the majority in the other place after the 2015 election simply be able to impose its preferences in this respect? That surely would not do. That was certainly the view of our Delegated Powers Committee when it reported. Would it not be far better to set out in this Bill the way in which information should be provided ahead of a referendum vote on the economic impact of the decision, the consequences for individuals’ rights and status, and so on? Nothing is more distorted—

Lord Trefgarne (Con): My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord, and I will do so very briefly. I am listening very carefully to what he has to say—detailed arguments which will no doubt be redeployed in Committee. Could he indicate for how much longer we will have to listen to this?

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: This is not a time-limited debate, and I have not the slightest intention of replying to that interruption, but I am in fact getting rather close to the end. That will give pleasure to the noble Lord, and he would have spared us two minutes’ more time if he had not made that intervention.

It is essential that objective information should be provided, and the requirement for the provision of such information would best find its place in the Bill itself.

I apologise for having spoken at some length about the deficiencies of the Bill. I hope that its promoters will reflect carefully on the points that I and others are making before we reach Committee and Report on the Bill. This is far too serious a matter, with profound consequences for the future of this country, to be handled in the rather slap-dash and simplistic way that the legislation does in its present form.

11.01 am

Lord Crickhowell (Con): My Lords, the Constitution Committee, of which I am a member, published a brief but important report on the Bill. Paragraphs 9 to 14 cover the referendum question and the role of the Electoral Commission. Paragraphs 15 to 17 cover the regulation of the referendum. The very important paragraphs 6 to 8 on process make two crucial points must be taken into account: first, that the Bill has reached us having been approved by huge majorities in the Commons; and, secondly, that if any amendments are approved here, it will almost certainly kill the Bill—or, as we delicately put it, “make it unlikely” that there would be time for the Bill to be passed.

In what we have to say about the recommendations of the Electoral Commission, we included the words:

“Taking account of the circumstances described in paragraphs 6–8, the House will wish to consider”,

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et cetera. Those circumstances included the rejection by 244 votes to three of an amendment which would have replaced the proposed question with the first alternative proposed by the Electoral Commission.

In paragraph 17, which considers whether the conduct of the referendum should be decided by a process set out in full in the Act of Parliament, we have again used the words:

“Taking account of the circumstances described in paragraphs 6–8, the House will wish to consider”.

Those circumstances include the very limited time available. We have proposed that undertakings should be sought as to how the Secretary of State would intend to fulfil the duty imposed by Clause 3(2), in light of the fact that it would be virtually impossible in a Private Member’s Bill to set up the process in full in the Act.

I turn from the agreed position of the committee to my own conclusions as to how we should proceed. The issue that confronts us concerns the relationship between the two Houses and the proper role of the unelected House. The Bill has come to us with the full authority of the elected House, and with a great deal of evidence that the electorate want a referendum. Having served in both Houses, I am certain that, although the work we do here is hugely valuable, the will of the elected House must prevail. For that reason, I believe that it would be a grave mistake if the Lords were to kill the Bill. We have heard a good deal recently about the cynicism of the public and their considerable contempt for politicians. Very few outside Parliament will understand our arcane procedures, and if the Bill dies in the hands of this non-elected Chamber, many will believe that it was just another political manoeuvre designed to frustrate their legitimate wishes.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who has given immensely distinguished service to his country, but has never been elected, and who indicated that he intended to table many amendments and spend a great deal of time debating them, that if Members in his position take that line, it will simply add salt to the wounds already opened. Many of us fought vigorously and with success to defeat legislation that would have destroyed the House of Lords as we have known it and made it wholly elected. To defy the will of the Commons on this issue would be ample reason for those who believe in Lords reform to drag the question out of the long grass, where it lies at present.

There will be those who will debate the merits of staying in or leaving the EU and related questions. I will not join those debates. I do not think that this is the time or the place to do so. The issues before us are really very simple. Are we to approve or are we to destroy the Bill sent to us by the Commons? Are we to add to the despair that exists about the political system? Are we going to block the wishes of ordinary people who want the certainty that their views will be heard? I profoundly hope that the Bill will pass.

11.04 am

Lord Radice (Lab): In 1975, Mrs Thatcher, as she then was, said in her first parliamentary speech as leader of the Opposition, that,

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“the referendum is a tactical device to get over a split”,

in the Labour Party. She continued: “The referendum’s true genesis” is,

“a piece of thoughtless short-term brokerage in the Labour Party”.—[

Official Report

, Commons, 11/3/75; cols. 306, 317.]

One could say, with Mrs Thatcher, that Mr Cameron’s conversion to an “in or out” referendum, something which he did not have in his election manifesto, is a piece of short-term brokerage. We have heard some very impressive speeches already, but let us get down to basics. Under pressure from UKIP and his Eurosceptic Back-Benchers—that is where the pressure has come from—Mr Cameron has committed his party to a referendum, as he puts it in his Bloomberg speech—incidentally, notice the language he uses—whether to stay in on renegotiated terms of membership or to pull out altogether. He does not use the language of the Bill, I note.

In short, in order to keep his party together, the Conservative Prime Minister has taken a very big gamble with the country’s future. We know from Mr Cameron’s speech that if a Conservative Government are elected, they will then introduce the necessary legislation and, after negotiation with our partners, hold a referendum in the first half of the new Parliament. In other words, it is quite unnecessary to have the Bill at all.

Like all the speakers so far, I very much admire the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs. I have read his political thrillers and dramas with great interest and involvement, but I have to say to him that his Bill, apart from its place as a piece of political symbolism—because that is what it is—is neither necessary nor fit for purpose. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, that such a crucial step as an “in or out” referendum should not be introduced as a Private Member’s Bill. We all know why it is being introduced as a Private Member’s Bill.

The Bill also has a number of crucial weaknesses. It is no good ignoring them altogether. I have also been in Parliament for 40 years both down at the other end and at this end. Those weaknesses include the inflexibility of the date. If Mr Cameron is going to embark on a process of complex renegotiation, he will need flexibility in the timing of the referendum. He is not going to get that if the Bill goes through. Secondly, the rules under which the referendum is to be conducted are made by orders of the Secretary of State. The Delegated Powers Committee said in its report that these powers are inappropriate. Are we to totally ignore that?

Thirdly, the referendum question should be amended, we are told, by the Electoral Commission. It is no good just brushing it aside; we set it up in order to give us advice on elections and referendums. It has said that the question should be amended and offered two far superior alternatives to the one in the Bill. Although, as I have made clear, I believe that the Bill is unnecessary, I hope that this House does its proper job, as it always does, and is able to amend the Bill to make it better. If there are certain Bills which we are not allowed to amend, where are we as a second Chamber? A special rule for one Bill? Come on—that really is not a good enough argument.

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In conclusion, I agree with my noble friend Lord Liddle, who made a very impressive speech. It is absolutely right that our party is not committing itself, in a Gadarene rush, to a referendum until it becomes much clearer what developments are actually happening in the EU. That is not clear at this moment. I end on this sentence: if there is an “in or out” referendum, I shall vote as I did in 1975—to stay in the EU—and I shall be voting that way with great confidence, because I believe British membership to be in the economic and strategic interests of the United Kingdom and of the European Union.

11.10 am

Lord Roper (LD): My Lords, I must begin with a confession. I have changed my attitude to referendums. For the first half of my life, my sceptical view of referendums was very much based on the view in Clement Attlee’s dictum that they were,

“a device for despots and dictators”,

and that they were inappropriate for a parliamentary democracy. In 1972, my sympathy was with my then right honourable friends Roy Jenkins and George Thomson, when they resigned from the Labour Party’s Front Bench rather than support a referendum. However, after the 1974 elections I was much involved in the 1975 referendum and I much enjoyed working under the leadership of the father of the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill, and with my noble friend Lord Hurd of Westwell. I remember that my noble friend Lord Newby, who is the Captain of the Yeomen of the Guard, was one of the most enthusiastic young campaigners in that campaign, and that in Manchester I worked with my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire and Dame Helen Wallace. I, too, am therefore in favour of the broad thrust of the European Union Act 2011, with its obligation to have a referendum when there is a significant shift of power to European institutions.

Why, then, do I have questions about the Bill that we are considering? As the noble Lord, Lord Radice, has said he does, I have considerable doubts as to whether it is right for a referendum to be introduced by a Private Member’s Bill. I do not believe that that in itself is a reason for opposing the Bill. However, like other noble Lords, I feel that there are significant defects in the Bill before us and that this House would be failing in its function as a revising Chamber if it was not to consider them carefully, but not for too long, in Committee.

As has been said by others, I believe that at this stage to fix the date at 2017 is a mistake. It is not clear how long it would take a Conservative Government, assuming that they were elected at a general election, to agree the necessary reforms to the European Union and Britain’s relations to it. There would be a case for a referendum when that had occurred but it is clearly a mistake to make a fixed decision on the year of that referendum now. As has been said, as our own Select Committee on the Constitution has reported, the question in the Bill has been examined by the Electoral Commission and I believe that we must return to that issue in Committee.

The Bill, as has been drawn to our attention, has a rather unusual provision in that it widens the normal parliamentary franchise in order to give your Lordships

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a vote in the referendum. I am sure that that was to guarantee that there was no amendment on that topic introduced in this House but, as has been said, there are other significant limitations on those voting because of the basis of the parliamentary franchise. There is a strong case for basing it on the local government electorate, as this would permit other citizens of the European Union to vote in the referendum. They will be clearly affected in such a decision and we should certainly consider this in Committee. My noble friend Lord Shipley will be raising the related question of the right to vote of British citizens living in the European Union. I share his view that we should consider that in Committee.

Finally, our Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee raised in its report questions related to Clause 3 on the rules of the conduct of the referendum and suggested that, as in some previous referendums, they should be incorporated as a schedule to the Bill so that they can be given detailed parliamentary scrutiny. It is the problem of having a Private Member’s Bill that it would have been very difficult for the Member of the House of Commons who introduced the Bill there, or indeed for the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, to draft a schedule when in the case of the other Bills it amounted to some 100 pages. This is therefore a matter which we will have to think about rather carefully but we are unlikely to be able to make an appropriate amendment. The House should give a Second Reading to the Bill but then carry on its normal function of careful consideration in Committee.

11.15 am

Lord Kakkar (CB): My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, on the thoughtful way in which he introduced this Second Reading. In listening to the noble Lord, it reminded me of something that was said to me many years ago: that in life, to be successful, you must answer the exam question before you. The question before your Lordships’ House is not one today of whether our country should remain part of, or leave, the European Union but simply whether the people of our country should have a say by way of a referendum in determining the answer to that question.

Whatever one’s views about whether the Bill is appropriate, wise or necessary, your Lordships need to be sensitive to the circumstances in which we have received the Bill. We have heard already in this important debate that in the other place—the place that is composed of the elected representatives of our fellow citizens, sent to that Chamber to exercise their judgment on behalf of the citizens—that the Bill passed through its various stages either unopposed or with very substantial majorities, reflecting public opinion on this matter of whether the people more generally should have their say by way of a referendum.

Having said that, there is of course a clear constitutional responsibility that this Chamber has, in a bicameral Parliament, to undertake thorough and appropriate scrutiny and revision of legislation. Indeed, this whole question of the role of the second Chamber was debated at length in the last Session as part of discussions and debates generally on the House of Lords Reform Bill, so it is very clear that we have this constitutional

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responsibility. Although the Shadow Foreign Secretary, Douglas Alexander, speaking at Third Reading in another place stated that members of the Labour Party had provided an appropriate level of scrutiny in all stages of the Bill, both in Committee and on Report, your Lordships’ Constitution Committee identified areas where further scrutiny might indeed be advisable and necessary but also stated very clearly that there are implications in that revision and scrutiny. It suggested ways in which much of that might be dealt with through undertakings provided by the ministerial response to questions raised in your Lordships’ House.

It is vitally important that we come back to the question of how your Lordships should exercise the substantial powers that they have with regard to the conduct of their constitutional responsibilities. In the short time that I have had the privilege of sitting among your Lordships, I have come to understand that we have substantial powers but we show maturity and considerable restraint in the exercise of those powers. The question of Europe and our country’s future role in Europe is important, and one which has been fraught with considerable political disagreement. However, the situation would be made considerably worse if, in addition to the important debate on the future relations of our nation with Europe, the debate were to be attended by a further accusation. That accusation might be that those who have the privilege of sitting in your Lordships’ House and therefore the opportunity for their individual voices to be heard on every issue, apart from questions of supply and confidence, were to deny our fellow citizens the opportunity for their voice to be heard at the ballot box on the question of our future membership of the European Union, particularly when their elected representatives, sitting in another place, have made it very clear that it is their judgment that our fellow citizens should be given a voice.

11.20 am

Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market (Con): My Lords, given the need to be brief, I am tempted simply to say that I agree with my noble friend Lord Dobbs, to whom I am grateful for the way in which he introduced the Bill, and to my noble friends Lord Strathclyde and Lord Crickhowell, and then simply sit down, but I do not think that that would be quite sufficient. I want to express a few views about both the Bill and the position of this House.

In the early and mid-1960s, when I first took an interest in politics, I became a convinced supporter of the campaign for us to join the EEC, for all the reasons that we expounded then. During the mid-1980s and 1990s I often had to negotiate in Brussels in the DTI, in agriculture, for the Treasury, in transport and even sometimes on education, and I continued to take a very positive view but with considerable concerns about the extensions of the EU budget and the erosion of the principle of subsidiarity. Today, as others have said, the EU is a very different place and a different Community and we face new situations. I do not have time to elaborate them all but they include many new members bringing new challenges, the eurozone, ever-

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growing budgets, the increasing temptation for some to extend Community competence and the need to reassert subsidiarity. So I strongly support the Prime Minister’s view about renegotiation.

On the referendum, I am much struck by the facts that we had a referendum on Europe in 1975; we have had subsequent referendums on the alternative vote and now of course on Scottish independence, so they are becoming more commonplace; and there are many in the other place who were not able to vote in 1975 because they were too young or, as in the case of the promoter, were not even born then. I therefore feel that there is a very strong case for a referendum on this issue so I support the Bill.

It seems to make no sense to have a referendum before the renegotiation takes place so I agree with the timing point in the Bill.

I come to the point that most concerns me, and I very much support what my noble friend Lord Crickhowell said. The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, has made it clear that he has severe doubts about the Bill. I must ask him: why then did the Labour Party in the House of Commons not vote at Second Reading or in fact on any amendments to amend the Bill on the points that have been raised here? The Labour Party accepted them, did not vote and did not take a position, and I therefore do not understand why it should be only this House that does so.

I am a firm advocate of our non-elected House, for all the reasons that we have often debated, the most important of which is the expertise and experience of the Members of this House that enable us, among other things, to improve in detail the legislation that comes before us. A crucial point here, though, is that in the end, where there is disagreement on amendments between our two Houses, this House always gives way to the elected Chamber. That is the principle that enables this House to continue to do its work, despite those critics who believe that both Houses in a democracy should be elected. Here, though, we face a rare and most unusual situation. There is strong support in the country for a referendum, as is clear from the polls, and this was very much reflected in the debates in the other place on the Bill and the decisions that the elected House made on it.

I have read all the debates on the Bill in the other place and in principle, as others have said, the Bill was unopposed at Second Reading. There were many amendments that dealt with most of the points that have been raised here today but no one, or a very tiny minority of people, voted in favour of them, so the other place has overwhelmingly made its position very clear. The elected House has therefore debated all these points and, as I say, made its position clear, and the point that we now face is that any amendments passed by this House could almost certainly—indeed, will—kill the Bill. In my view, it is not for this unelected House to do so, and I hope that we will not.

11.24 am

Lord Mandelson (Lab): My Lords, we have heard some excellent speeches in this debate so far, including, charmingly, from the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, in a very good five-minute contribution.

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Having been a member of the European Commission, I think that I can talk with some experience about the need for change in the European Union. My experience has made me decidedly pro-reform of the EU, but not in favour of a pig-in-a-poke referendum in this country designed to bridge the divisions within the Conservative Party. Of course, at a time when people across Europe are worried about their jobs, borne down by the cost of living and nervous about whether or when the fast-rising economic powers in the world are going to eat Europe’s collective lunch, it is hardly surprising that public hostility is directed at the EU. However, it is instructive that opinion polls, including recent ones, indicate that while the public are in favour of a referendum they are by a bigger majority in favour of Britain showing leadership in the EU, exerting its influence and not walking away from its responsibilities within it. That is why I am very confident that in any public debate we will win the argument that breaking up the EU is not the answer and Britain leaving it will not help our own economic future, which is completely intertwined with that of Europe.

That is why collectively our primary purpose should be to raise Europe’s performance and game globally, and why Britain is an essential component in changing Europe and bringing about that rise in Europe’s performance. We therefore need to concentrate all our efforts and energy on building up Britain’s influence in Europe, not driving Britain out of it. I am co-president with Kenneth Clarke and Danny Alexander of British Influence, the organisation dedicated to making our EU membership more effective. We want above all to see a confident Britain at the heart of a reforming Europe. My opposition to the Bill is based on the fact that it will scupper that objective.

The Bill is not about changing or improving the EU; indeed, it is stage 1 in raising impossible demands of the EU in order to create a pretext for leaving it. It will create huge uncertainty among investors when we need confidence to build our economic recovery, and it will put the Government into a straitjacket, binding them to a rigid timetable regardless of what is happening in the rest of Europe and indeed in our own country. It certainly will not increase the Government’s negotiating authority in Europe, at a time when we need to be reaching out and building coalitions so as to safeguard our national interests as a member of the EU and in the single market but not in the core eurozone.

My message to the Government is: stop grandstanding to the UKIP gallery. If they are really serious about European reform, they have to go out and work for it and join others in achieving it. If the need or cause for a referendum arises in the future—if a new treaty involving fresh European integration or transfer of powers requires it—that will be the time to consider the proposition of holding a referendum.

In conclusion, while we should be out there in Europe banging the drum for British interests, making sure that our people fill the right posts and that our policies are uppermost in the minds of the European Commission or others, we should recall the words of William Hague, who originally got it right before he

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and the Prime Minister were taken hostage by the militant tendency within their party, when he said about a referendum:

“It would not help anyone looking for a job. It would not help any business trying to expand. It would mean that for a time, we, the leading advocates of removing barriers to trade in Europe and the rest of the world, would lack the authority to do so”.—[Official Report, Commons, 24/10/11; col. 55.]

He was absolutely right. We would simply create more alienation and public disillusion in Britain and on the continent and sacrifice yet more of our authority if we were to accept this Bill and if, instead of leading the charge for reform, we devoted the next three years to a referendum that presents a choice between standing on the periphery of an unreformed Europe or leaving it altogether. That, in essence, is what the backers of this Bill are inviting us to do, and we should resoundingly reject that choice.

11.30 am

Lord Taverne (LD): My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, in his very eloquent speech opening this debate, said that the referendum is about democracy. We need to be very cautious about the use of the referendum. It is very much against the tradition of parliamentary government. Personally, I am a great admirer of Locke, the champion of parliamentary government, and less an admirer of Rousseau, who felt that the will of the people should prevail in all circumstances and, if necessary, override that of a Parliament.

It seems to me that we now accept the referendum as part of our procedures, but it has to be used very cautiously and it can be justified only if the choice in a referendum is clear. Will that be the case in 2017? It is extremely unlikely. The eurozone is in a state of flux and the European Union as a whole is in a state of turmoil. In the southern states of the Union, there is a revolt against the austerity which they see as imposed on them by Germany and against excessive regulation proposed—or imposed—by Brussels. Germany is right to insist on structural reforms and effective government, but it has pushed austerity too far and the question still arises: will the eurozone survive? I note that Mr Draghi says that it is wrong to assume that the worst is now over. So the question may well arise by 2017: what sort of Europe are we going to have to leave? It will not be clear. Will there be a larger eurozone or a smaller eurozone? The result will have a very great effect on relations between Britain and Europe. Will there be a new banking union and, if so, what form will it take? There probably will be one, but the form is still very uncertain, and it may take a long time to work out the details, yet the shape of a banking union will make a very big difference to the future of the City of London.

What is going to happen in the May elections? It seems quite possible that the extreme anti-European parties in France, Greece, the Netherlands, Finland and, perhaps, the UK, will win an overall majority in the European Parliament. That will have major effects and cause major changes in the European Union as we know it. Will we know the effects by 2017? It is very unlikely. If we are to have a referendum, it is vital to know what sort of Europe we are going to join, and in

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the next three years we cannot predict exactly what the implications will be. The only logical reason for having a fixed date now is that the events of the next three years are irrelevant. The only logical reason, in a sense, therefore, is for those who just want out: UKIP and the Tea Party section of the Conservative Party. As Mr Farage has admitted, he does not really care about the economic effects or the effect on jobs and British influence in the world. What matters to UKIP is that in an isolated little England we should be free to keep beastly foreigners out. It is the gut anti-Europeans who really can justify a referendum irrespective of the date.

11.35 am

Lord Howell of Guildford (Con): Apart from the obvious unwisdom of this House trying to throw out or talk out a Bill passed overwhelmingly in the other place, on which my noble friend Lord Strathclyde spoke so eloquently and pleased so many of us, I have just two brief observations to make.

First, I noticed that the other day the very able Treasury Minister Danny Alexander MP was deploring the uncertainty here about the European Union and all the scepticism, argument and talk of actual withdrawal. He believed it was undermining investment in the UK. We have heard the same message here today. My view of Mr Alexander is that much of the time he talks a great deal of sense and is an extremely able Treasury Minister, but on this occasion I believe he and the party of which he is a member have got things completely upside down.

What is the best way to drain the uncertainty and doubts out of the system and end the bickering and difficulties that have gone on? Obviously, it is to have in due course, at the right time, a popular vote which will settle the matter for decades ahead, just as the previous referendum did in 1975. It may not be for ever as things change. The whole of Europe is changing, but it will certainly settle the matter for decades ahead. Anything which assists that outcome, such as this Bill, should be strongly supported, not opposed, by those who see themselves as good Europeans. If Mr Alexander and his colleagues in his party or, indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, from whom we have just heard, want less uncertainty and a stronger investor commitment to this nation over the next decade, they should be supporting, not opposing, this Bill. Those who oppose the in/out referendum idea are really saying that they are in favour of more friction and continuing, unending uncertainty, precisely the conditions which turn off investors and weaken confidence. In the end I believe that in reality all the political parties, even our Liberal Democrat friends sitting here, will have to face that and commit themselves to a referendum.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine (LD):Is the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, whose expertise on this matter is known throughout the House, really saying that the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, who the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, has just quoted, was wrong when he opposed having a fixed date?

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Lord Howell of Guildford: No. Of course I am not saying any such thing.

Secondly, I understand and sympathise with the doubts and cautions that your Lordships have about referendums. We just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, on that. However the disdain—I heard a lot of that when I had the honour of taking the European Union Bill through this House on behalf of the Government in 2011—of some for referring great issues of constitutional power and the national future to popular judgment damages the European cause which the strongest European enthusiasts claim they espouse. There could be no better way of wounding the cause of European reform and progress—here I want to be optimistic, but careful—which I sensed from a debate we had in this Chamber last night may just be beginning to rise above party and acquire all-party common-sense support, which will be necessary for this nation, than hiding the issue. There could be no better way of wounding all that than hiding the issue from popular judgment and setting that trend back. If I am right, that trend is there. There could be no more effective way of consolidating a more democratic and popular European Union—and, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, one that has been undergoing huge change in the past two or three years and will continue to change over the next three years—than referring it to the people for decision in due course.

Noble Lords may dislike the referendum instrument, but in this information age, they must know perfectly well that Parliament is trusted only up to a point and when it comes to letting go of further powers, or taking steps into a very uncertain constitutional future, not much at all. With two-thirds of this nation on the internet each morning, it is absurd to believe that a decision such as one on our membership of the EU can somehow be kept from them.

I read somewhere that the great Lord Salisbury, at the beginning of the previous century, used to deplore in this House the way that public opinion was beginning to intrude into matters of foreign policy and international affairs. It is probably time that we moved on a little from that. This Bill will help us to do so.

11.40 am

Lord Turnbull (CB): My Lords, there are many features of the EU and our relationship with it that are beneficial, but there are also many that are objectionable, beginning with the complacency of the Brussels elite, exemplified on the radio this morning. There is the contempt for popular opinion; the driving ambition for ever closer union; the relentless expansion of the EU competences; the extravagance over buildings and expenses; the waste within EU programmes such as the CAP, overseas aid and the common fisheries policy; the hypocrisy of demanding a 6% real-terms increase in the EU budget while imposing harsh austerity on national budgets; the economic illiteracy of many of the regimes, such as the euro, the Social Chapter and the working time directive; and the damage to competitiveness in seeking to decarbonise in only 35 more years, largely on the basis of renewables. There is also the jealousy and hostility towards London as a financial centre. Finally, there is the abject failure of the Lisbon

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agenda, agreed in 2000, to make Europe the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world.

It is not surprising that many people have become exasperated, but does that justify this curious Bill? It does not in my view. To make a rational and informed choice on EU membership, one needs to start with an analysis of the status quo of EU membership—its costs and benefits—and then compare that with not one but two counterfactuals. First, what would life be like as a member of the EU on revised terms? Secondly, what would life be like outside the EU? Current government policy at least attempts to address the first. That is, after a period of negotiation the results are to be put to the people for a decision. However, this still fails to deal with the nature of life outside the EU.

The Bill deals with neither of these cases. Leaving the EU cannot be treated like deciding not to renew one’s subscription to a golf club, which has no lasting consequences. The decision to leave the EU would leave a host of important issues unresolved, including citizenship and rights of residence affecting millions of people who have moved one way or another within the European Union; ownership of property; employment; trade in goods and services; recognition of intellectual property; the operation of cross-border businesses; study at European universities; and many others. We would need to know how many of the favourable aspects of EU membership, such as free trade, we could retain through bilateral agreements, and how many of the unfavourable elements we could jettison.

This is a defective Bill as it does nothing to address these issues and help the people to make an informed decision of a very major kind. It is also, I believe, a pointless Bill as it will not settle the question of whether or when there will be an “in or out” referendum. That will be determined by the outcome of the next election, in the next Parliament, which can endorse, amend or repeal this Bill.

11.44 am

Lord Garel-Jones (Con): My Lords, I begin by saying that this Bill is, in my view, otiose. That is, I hope, a polite way of saying that it is unnecessary. Two things seem abundantly clear. If, as I hope, the Conservative Party wins the next general election, there will be a referendum. It will appear in the party manifesto and that is quite good enough for me. If the incoming Government is not Conservative or Conservative-led and is not committed to a referendum or enthusiastic about this Bill, all they need is a guillotine Motion and one day to dispose of it in the other place. Therefore, I ask myself: what is the point of all this? Is there, perhaps, a hidden agenda? Could it possibly be an effort to bounce the Labour Party into lining up behind the Conservatives on this matter, or perhaps an effort to attract potential UKIP voters?

I confess that I am something of a Thatcherite where referenda are concerned, but I accept, picking up the point that my noble friend Lord Howell has just made about Lord Salisbury’s remarks 100 years ago, that we have moved on. The Prime Minister has given his word on this matter and I accept that. However, in

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the unlikely event that the British people vote to leave the European Union, far from it being the end of the game it would be just the beginning. Following a withdrawal vote, the Government of the day would, one assumes, enter into negotiations with our former partners on a treaty setting out the terms and conditions of our relationship with our largest trading partner. I do not propose today to enter into the complexity of such negotiations. Suffice it to say that they would bring into sharp focus the real issues that would arise in such a situation.

Let me give just one brief example. Whatever the detailed outcome of the negotiations might be, there can be no doubt that Britain, like Norway, would be obliged to follow EU rules on the single market. In reality, this would mean that any changes in the said rules—they are, by their nature, constantly evolving—would be made in a forum where Britain was not represented. Any new directive emerging from it would be sent to the UK Parliament and we would have 90 days to comply. It would be goodbye to parliamentary sovereignty. In the trade, I think this is known as “fax diplomacy”. As in so many other walks of life, the devil is in the detail. Those who believe that a vote in favour of withdrawal would signify the end of the game are mistaken—the game is just beginning. I mentioned compliance with single market rules, which is just one of many hugely complex issues that would need to be settled.

I firmly believe that the Prime Minister is right to seek change. Indeed, I believe that many of our partners would be sympathetic to the proposition that “one size fits all” is not always the best way to maintain relations between 28 countries. Again, I give just one brief example. The principle of subsidiarity needs adjusting to ensure greater and smoother involvement by national parliaments. Therefore, I very much support what the Prime Minister seeks to do.

Some noble Lords may be surprised that continued membership of the European Union remains the official policy of the Conservative Party. I just wish we could be a little more robust in setting out the advantages of membership and a little more aggressive in setting out the real dangers of withdrawal. You do not pander to UKIP; you confront it with a barrage of facts.

11.48 am

Lord Grocott (Lab): My Lords, whatever one’s views on the merits of the Bill—I shall come to those in a moment—I hope we can agree on one point, which is that, as a parliamentary occasion, this has certain “Alice in Wonderland” characteristics. I just remind Members of the origins of this Private Member’s Bill, which were as follows. At each stage I feel we probably need another chapter of Erskine May.

First, it was a Bill that the Prime Minister wanted to include in the Queen’s Speech but felt that he did not have the parliamentary strength to do so. Normally, if Prime Ministers—certainly Prime Ministers I have known and, I dare say, most other people—want a Bill in the Queen’s Speech, they tend to get that Bill in the Queen’s Speech. They have various mechanisms that they can deploy to achieve this. However, of course it did not go into the Queen’s Speech because the Minister

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in charge of constitutional affairs—heaven help us—who is the Deputy Prime Minister, decided that it should not be in the Queen’s Speech because he was opposed to legislating for an “in or out” referendum on our membership of the European Union. He is also, of course, the only party leader who fought the previous election on a manifesto commitment to do that. So the strangeness develops as we go along this journey.

We then have what I can only describe as a slightly humiliating process whereby the Prime Minister keeps all his fingers crossed that one Back-Bencher will be successful in the private Members’ ballot and he can persuade that Back-Bencher to introduce the Bill that he himself could not introduce. It then gets stranger. As the Bill proceeds through the House of Commons, a heavy three-line Whip is imposed on the Conservative Party to vote in favour of the Bill.

If I were being generous I would say, “I’m sympathetic to the Prime Minister because it’s a coalition—we’re in a funny old game at the moment—and maybe he can be excused for this”. But of course the truth is that he has been hoist with his own petard, because what should normally happen in a situation like this is that the Prime Minister should say, “I can’t do what I think is in the national interest to do. Therefore I will call a general election and see whether the public agree with me or not”. That option has, however, been removed by one part of the constitutional vandalism of this Government, which is that they passed the Fixed-term Parliaments Act. The noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, said at Second Reading—he can reread that speech with pleasure—that the problem with that is that it puts Prime Ministers and Governments into a straitjacket. That, of course, is where we see ourselves today. So those characteristics make this situation very unusual if not unique.

As for the principle of a referendum, I have no problem whatever with the principle of an “in or out” referendum on our membership of the European Union. I would be surprised if there were many people in my dear old party who have an objection in principle to that. It was, after all, a Labour Government who introduced what at that time was a brand-new constitutional device: in 1975 we introduced a Bill on which many of us voted, one way or another, and we had our first ever referendum. That is the correct thing to do for a matter of constitutional significance of this kind. For accuracy, I should record that I voted no in that referendum, and I may say that I have never been persuaded subsequently that I made a colossal error of judgment. Indeed, at the very least, had the public followed the same direction as I did, we would be able to be home today instead of debating this Bill.

So I do not have any problem with the principle whatever. However, I do have a great problem—this was the constitutional point that the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, made—with the notion of this Parliament telling the next Parliament what to do. That point is fundamental, and it is particularly so. We have heard several people ask, “What does this House of Lords have to do with telling that House of Commons whether it should or should not go ahead with a piece of legislation?”. My answer is that this House of Commons should not be telling the next House of

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Commons what it should be doing. That is particularly true as we are nearly in the fifth year of this Parliament—we come back to that wretched Fixed-term Parliaments Act again—so many people down the other end will either not be standing at the next election or, please God, a few of them on the government Benches will not be back and will be spending more time with their families.

So that is where we are in respect of one Parliament trying to bounce the next. That is my answer to all those who say—and several speakers have said it—that the right thing to do is to put this to the people and that that is the democratic thing to do. It is not democratic for a Parliament elected in 2010, in what is nearly its fag-end year, to tell a Parliament that will be elected in 2015 what it should do in 2017. That is a matter for that Parliament to decide, not this one. We should have no concern, anxiety or sense of embarrassment about saying that this is something on which we should cave in to the Commons.

In particular—I will make this very brief procedural point—it really would contort our procedures in this House to get this Bill back to the House of Commons by 28 February, which is what the procedures would require us to do. We have to have gaps between Second Reading and Committee, between Committee and Report and between Report and Third Reading, and if there are any amendments, they will all have to be dealt with by 28 February. You would never do that with a constitutional Bill, or with a Bill with constitutional implications of this sort.

I conclude by saying that I am not opposed to a referendum in principle at all, but we should look in the history books. The right way to do this is the way in which the dear old Labour Party did it in 1974. It fought a general election with a commitment to a referendum in its manifesto and it carried out its manifesto commitment. If that is what the Labour Party decides, then it will be in the Labour Party manifesto. That is the procedure that the Conservative Party, I respectfully suggest, ought to adopt. That should be enough. That is the correct way to proceed, not the way that is being recommended by the Bill.

11.55 am

Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay (LD): My Lords, this is an utterly unnecessary, indeed otiose, Bill. It does serious damage to business and jobs in Britain and to stability and security in Europe. As my old friend the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, pointed out, it is playing with fire for long-term confidence and investment from all over the world.

Let me make my own position clear. I was actively involved with my then boss, Roy Jenkins, who was president of the 1975 yes campaign in the referendum. I fought and nearly won a seat—like the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, who won his—in the October 1974 general election on a pledge that our future in Europe would be decided either at a referendum or at a general election. How I wish that we had stuck to a general election as the way to decide. Unlike my old noble friend Lord Roper, the more referenda I see, the less I like them. I agree with the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, on this, if on nothing else. Who fixes the

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topic, and who decides the date? We had a crystal-clear result by 2:1 in 1975. Will we have another referendum every 10, 20, 30, 40 or 50 years? Who decides that, and why? No; referenda are the coward’s way out. They are an abdication of responsibility by leaders and parties who do not have the courage to take a decision and put it to the people. In any case, there is no need for a referendum on Europe when there is a clear choice at the next general election. If you want to come out of Europe, you vote UKIP. If you want to stay in, you vote Liberal Democrat or Labour. If you do not know or do not care, you vote Conservative.

Nevertheless, the Commons in its infinite wisdom has sent us this defective little Bill, so we must do our constitutional duty and scrutinise, amend and examine it as thoroughly as we possibly can. I will press, with my noble friend Lord Shipley, one amendment in particular as the Bill proceeds, to ensure that all the estimated 1.5 million UK citizens living in the other member states of the EU—that figure is from the Commons Library—have a vote, if, by any chance, a referendum comes to pass. Those fellow citizens of ours, 1 million of whom live in Spain, France and Ireland alone, have made the decision, often many years ago, to go to work or retire in the rest of Europe in good faith and in the assurance that we were part of the EU, with free movement of labour guaranteed, and equal rights with any other European citizen to live wherever they want in Europe. What a betrayal of their trust it would be to take away their rights and risk uprooting them from their jobs and homes, without giving them a vote in a referendum which would be so crucial to their future.

A decision to leave the EU could hit Britons living abroad far harder even than many people who have always lived in this country. If, heaven forbid, there is ever another referendum on Britain’s place in Europe, all Britons living in the European Union must have a vote.

11.59 am

Lord Owen (CB): My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, must be correct that the procedure that should be followed in a perfect world would be the one that he outlined. The trouble is that we do not live in a perfect world, and we never have done. Europe splits parties and families, and has been doing so for 40 years. That is what we have to grapple with on this issue.

As my noble friend Lord Roper knows, I supported a referendum in 1972, and was defeated in the argument in our group. I resigned over the issue, but it was not really the central core of that question. It is right that there was a vote—but in those days it was a vote on whether there should be referendum then, in that Parliament of 1972 to 1973. I think that this is a gimmick, in many respects. However, why are we here? We are here because successive Prime Ministers have given commitments to hold referendums and then have not done so. The country does not trust us. On this issue of Europe, they have seen party after party manoeuvre and manipulate, and they do not believe it—and they do not actually believe it, even if they say at a general election that there will be a referendum. I was told by the parties opposite at the last election that there would be no top-down changes in the National

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Health Service. And what have they done? We used to believe that the mandate meant something, but now we are told that the mandate cannot be trusted.

Under these circumstances, it seems not unreasonable for all three major parties to commit themselves to a referendum, because it is a settled will of the British people in my judgment that there should be a referendum. I personally believe that we should start negotiating that now; I do not accept at all that it is not possible to get to a situation in Europe where we could have a referendum in the early part of next year before there is a general election. That would be the best thing; we would have a lot of political parties actually trying to get a serious negotiation. Most people in Europe feel that this issue going on is debilitating to Europe, and damaging to confidence. We have not resolved the issue of the eurozone, which is not yet safe. The whole situation that will come over the next year or so is hanging around—whether or not Britain will or not be in the European Union—is not good for Europe, not good for Britain, and not good for foreign investment or the world economy.

Personally, I do not have any particular wish to have a referendum in 2017. I agree very much with what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that that will not happen. There are juxtapositions of presidencies and general elections in Germany, which are crucial, and you would not opt to have it in 2017. So if it comes, it is more likely to be in 2016—but I would far prefer it to be at the end of this year or in 2015.

As to the constitutional process, it would be madness for this House to reject the Bill, and to invoke the Parliament Act would be absurd. It would also be ridiculous for us to be bullied into not having proper constitutional discussions of these very important issues. We are actually saying that we do not like the Electoral Commission set-up on the question. I personally think that there is a very good reason to go along with it; why set up an Electoral Commission and then ignore its advice? The other thing that is absolutely crazy is to go again with what was done over the alternative vote and have a whole year in which you have announced an election. The provision that you must do this by December 2016 seems ridiculous, but I do not get very fussed about it because I do not think that there will be a referendum in 2017. Let us have a proper debate and make time for that. The Government may have to postpone starting the new Session, if it is so important to them.

I believe that what has happened has improved UKIP’s chances. The politics of the Prime Minister’s decision was wrong, I think—but that is his judgment and one for the Conservatives. It is a fact that this Bill comes to us not having been contested in the House of Commons, with great big majorities there. I think that the largest opposition vote was 240 to 30. Neither the Liberal Democrats nor the Labour Party wants to break cover and say that they will not have a referendum, but that is because it is quite obvious that the general public wants one. So my advice is to do it.

The referendum in 1975 settled the issue for a long time, and was salutary and important. We were not going into Europe in 1972 with the whole-hearted

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consent of the British people—and we did after that. When we were negotiating and when we held the first presidency in 1977, it was an inestimable help to have that referendum behind us. So there is another reason. And then, in the 1983 election, the proposition was put to the country to come out of the European Union without even a referendum. That was blown to smithereens in the election. We will never come out of the European Union without a referendum, and I believe that that is an important constitutional safeguard. So those who decry having referendums on anything, like the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, are not living in the modern world. Referendums are here on constitutional questions; they have been incredibly helpful in Northern Ireland and can be stabilising mechanisms if they are used wisely.

We are not using the referendum wisely in this case. This is a silly piece of legislation and should not be in front of us. Were we to vote, I would vote rather reluctantly for it, because any other vote shows to the general public that you do not want a referendum and that you are afraid of it. As to the question of how I vote, I would leave that open. I do not think that this renegotiation is trivial; I hope that in the European elections we will have a long period in which people advance their reform agendas. Let us hear what they are, and hear what the Social Democrats want.

On present conduct and performance, I do not think that the present Prime Minister is ideally suited to negotiating a good deal for us. It is quite likely that a new Labour Government coming in in 2015 would be in a far better position, for one practical reason: they are fully paid-up members of the social democratic grouping, which is hugely influential in the European Parliament. That is another thing that has changed dramatically since 1975. You do not make changes nowadays in European treaties or make any major reform without the European Parliament. I regret that, because I think that it has been given too much power, but the fact is that you cannot get through any substantive reform without a fair measure of support in the European Parliament. Therefore, getting a political party like the Labour Party, which can mobilise the Social Democrats, would be helpful. The fact is that the Conservative Party is not able to mobilise the Christian Democrats.

I have spoken for long enough and feel that I have said all that I intend to say on this debate. I do not intend to participate in Committee.

12.07 pm

Lord King of Bridgwater (Con): My Lords, I was going to start by saying that I thought that there was a lot of common ground between my views and what the noble Lord, Lord Owen, was saying until, unfortunately, his last comment, which I was not able to go along with. But I certainly agree with him in his support for the principle of a referendum on occasions, and particularly his reference to Northern Ireland. The very existence of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom depends on referenda; that is the constitutional position that we have established, and its value has been shown. But there is common ground.

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I accept that this is not a normal parliamentary Bill—or it is not a normal Private Member’s Bill, let us put it that way. It is due to the courtesy of the coalition that we have to go about it in this way. That is what is being respected. The other problem about the courtesy of coalition makes difficult another of the propositions of the noble Lord, Lord Owen, which I would otherwise strongly support. I refer to the difficulty of entering now into negotiations on this matter, which the coalition may make more difficult.

Having said that, I think that there is general agreement. The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, made the point that it is quite wrong for us to lay down an Act of Parliament that will affect things that successive Parliaments may want to do. But how many Acts of Parliament might that apply to? That is what Parliaments do. No Parliament can bind its successor; if the successor Parliament is deeply offended by something, it can change it. That is our parliamentary process.

We all come to this without trailing clouds of glory and with some memories of our previous involvement. I was in Parliament when we joined the Common Market, and I supported Prime Minister Heath at that time. I voted yes in the referendum in 1975 and then found myself as the Minister representing the United Kingdom, first for environment and then for employment. I had a whole succession of ministerial meetings. I worked at first with my noble friend Lord Heseltine, a staunch European who found his Europeanism was helped by never attending any of those meetings. I actually did them all, and it was a test of one’s European faith, at three o’clock in the morning in Luxembourg or Brussels, on some of the turgid exercises that we got involved in. But what I remember, of course, is that we joined the six—and we were part of the nine. I tested one or two of my distinguished colleagues of this House in asking them how many members there now are of the European Union. I have to say, sparing one or two blushes here, that neither of them got it right.

Lord Lawson of Blaby (Con): I was out by only one.

Lord King of Bridgwater: In case I test other Members of this House, I will make the simple point about how much it has changed: from the Common Market to the European Economic Community and now the European Union. The current figure—the lunchtime score—is 28. That is the simplest illustration of the extraordinary changes that have taken place.

Of course, the point has already been made that over this period we have had four more treaties, changes happening in all sorts of directions, and the real feeling that the founding principles of the European Union—how it is going to be managed, administered and led—need amendment and change. I think that is common ground. This morning I heard Mr Chuka Umunna, the spokesman for the Labour Party, saying that the problem with the enlargement of the Union, with the whole lot of other countries that have come in—as Wikipedia says, “located primarily in Europe”—and now make up the European Union, a number of them, sadly, with vastly divergent economic situations, standards of living and income expectations, is that the free movement of labour should now be interpreted

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as being not for jobseekers, only for workers. As the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, pointed out, as various tensions and issues have given rise to public concern, the current economic situation and prospects of employment for young people have brought a particular focus on the free movement of labour, and this is a challenge that will have to be faced.

The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, made a very interesting speech. He set out all the arguments for why it is a pretty bad idea ever to have a referendum and all the risks that you have to face, but I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Owen, that in the end you cannot just duck it; you cannot have Prime Ministers promising and never delivering; you cannot have parties moving one way or the other. I am sure that the Labour Party will be outstandingly responsible in this House but its performance in the other place, where it could not make up its mind whether it was yes, no or maybe, underlines the lack of public confidence in this.

Of course, I recognise that there are risks. There have to be significant reforms and there then has to be a major campaign. My noble friend Lord Garel-Jones made the point that people will have to start standing up—not now because we do not know what the changes will be, but when the changes are made—and if they believe in Europe, fight for it. But to say, “We will not have this Bill, we dare not trust the people”, is an impossible position for this House and this Parliament to take. I support this Bill.

12.13 pm

Lord Kinnock (Lab): My Lords, I am not against referendums in principle. I have long expressed my conviction that in this parliamentary democracy, referendums are justified when proposals are made to change significantly the way in which our country is governed. But this Bill has nothing to do with any fundamental alterations in the governance of the United Kingdom. It exists because the Prime Minister, through a series of lame gestures and rejected assurances, has tried to assuage the militant Europhobes in his party and has failed. He has sought to mollify them; in return he gets mockery, intensified demands and a host of Private Members’ Bills, including this one. His efforts have been as fruitless as appeasement always deserves to be.

The most celebrated manifestation of the Prime Minister’s futile attempts to buy internal party peace with concession came in his long gestated Bloomberg speech a year ago. Setting out his case for a referendum, he repeated, with apparent endorsement, some of the nostrums favoured by the Europhobes. He said that,

“many ask ‘why can’t we just have what we voted to join—a common market?’ … People feel that the EU is heading in a direction that they never signed up to”.

Of course, Mr Cameron could have answered himself by revisiting the irrefragable fact that in 1973, in the approach to accession, and in the staying-in referendum in 1975, proponents and opponents of Community membership very loudly, repeatedly and graphically told the people of this country of the significant and essential political and constitutional obligations and implications of being part of the European Community. There was no doubt—there is no doubt—about that.

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Even more relevantly, Mr Cameron could have acknowledged that participation in the single market, which he says is,

“the principal reason for our membership of the EU”,

clearly and inevitably had to involve and will continue to require full political, legal and constitutional engagement in the European Union.

The reason is simple. To function properly, markets must have rules that are meaningful, and the Commission, Ministers representing our Governments and other Governments in the Council and the European Court of Justice are vital to ensure the fair application of those rules. There is no single market, no participation in the single market, without full recognition of that judicial, political and constitutional reality; to pretend otherwise is to mock the intelligence of the British people. The British people definitely—to use Mr Cameron’s term—“signed up” to that explicit condition of participation in the single market.

In response to what Mr Cameron has called the people who feel concerned at the direction allegedly being taken by the European Union, he could have recognised candidly and crucially that if in the future, as in the past, proposals are made about the EU, the euro or the banking system that would be harmful to the well-being of our country, we can and will be able to exercise our ability to secure modification, derogation or opt-out, or, if necessary, use our right to veto. He could add that we can and must use the same powers, derived from full engagement, to secure the necessary reforms of the European Union and its operation.

Those truths, all supported by evidence and experience, would have been fitting weapons for a Prime Minister who sensibly wanted the United Kingdom to remain in the EU and the single market, as he says, and was prepared to show resilient, responsible leadership. By heeding those in business and commerce who are gravely alarmed by the pall of doubt now hanging over our country’s continued membership, by recognising the sincere concerns of allies who understand the necessity of the UK’s continuing role in the world’s most developed association of democracies, and by repelling those who seek departure from the European Union, Mr Cameron would have shown those qualities of determination and duty.

The Prime Minister has chosen not to follow such a course. Instead, again echoing the Europhobes, he declared portentously:

“It is time to settle this European question in British politics”.

It is a statement made absurd by the tortured experience of my party for years after the 1975 referendum was supposed to resolve schisms between proponents and opponents of Community membership. More relevant for the Prime Minister, it is a statement made pitifully ludicrous by the vexatious history of his own party, not for a few years but for five whole decades.

At one time, I thought Mr Cameron understood that. In 2006, as a newly elected leader, he called on his party to concentrate on,

“the things that most people care about”,

and to stop “banging on about Europe”. I thought then that the obsessive introversion of the Europhobes was to be rebuffed, as it was by Margaret Thatcher and by John Major. Instead, Mr Cameron’s appeal to

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stop the “banging on” has been greeted daily by the war-drums of the unyielding Europhobes inside, and UKIP outside, his party, and to the detriment of our country, he has pranced to their rhythm.

As a result, the basic question about the Bill is why the United Kingdom should suffer the potentially huge risks and costs of an “in or out” referendum on issues yet to be indentified and negotiated, involving conditions and consequences yet to be revealed, under a Government yet to be elected, simply because the Prime Minister lacks the fortitude to lead his own party with authority. The answer to that question is, like Mr Cameron, blowing in the wind.

Let us scrutinise the Bill. Let us expose the fictions. Let us concentrate on the facts and, then, let us ensure that the people really have the information that they need to come to the right result at the next election.

12.20 pm

Lord Shipley (LD): My Lords, I led a debate in your Lordships’ House in October on the importance of our continued membership of the EU to our economy and to jobs. I live in the north-east of England, where our regional economy is hugely dependent on exports to the EU and inward investment from abroad. As we know from the warnings of Nissan, Hitachi and others, leaving the EU could cost us thousands of jobs if we lost the benefits of the single market.

I have no difficulty with the principle of referendums. They can give legitimacy to constitutional change, they can clear the air when there are differences of opinion and they can engage voters directly in decision-making. However, they should be used only when there is an identifiable constitutional need, when the question to be asked has been approved by the Electoral Commission and when the franchise applies to all those who could be personally affected by the result. The Bill fails those tests: the timing proposed does not reflect constitutional need; the question needs to be changed because the Electoral Commission recommends a different question; and many people likely to be directly affected by the result will be denied a vote.

I now pursue this latter issue about who can vote. UK voters who move abroad can vote in UK parliamentary elections from their last UK address for up to 15 years after moving, but not after 15 years. So, UK citizens who have lived elsewhere in the EU for less than 15 years can have a vote in this referendum if they have a registered address in a UK constituency. However, what about UK pensioners who may have lived elsewhere in the EU for more than 15 years? They will be denied a vote. Yet their pensions, currently uprated, as in the UK, could cease to be uprated if we leave the EU. They could be treated as UK pensioners living in Commonwealth countries are treated, where pensions are not uprated. These pensioners may have contributed all their lives and they have a right to be involved in a referendum. So do all those working and living elsewhere in the EU, whether under or over 15 years, since they could lose their rights to do so. So do all those from elsewhere in the EU working in the UK and paying taxes here. They should have the same rights in a referendum as they hold for local elections.

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It is of great interest to me that, in the referendum on Scottish independence later this year, the test for who can vote is residency. A voter must reside in Scotland, so 790,000 people born in Scotland but living elsewhere in the UK cannot vote. Conversely, 413,000 people born elsewhere in the UK can vote because they reside in Scotland. This is a very different approach, but that difference confirms my view that we need to explore the matter of who can vote in this EU referendum in much greater depth in Committee.

12.25 pm

The Marquess of Lothian (Con): My Lords, I support the Bill for two reasons. First, it seeks, finally, after 40 years, to re-establish the rights of the British people to decide their own future in or out of Europe. That is to be welcomed. Never in the history of democracy has there been such a large bureaucratic empire built over nearly half a century without once consulting the peoples who are affected by it as to whether they wanted it or whether they liked the shape of it. The Bill really establishes a principle which has to be welcomed.

I have been interested in this debate to try to analyse why the dog that should have barked has not barked or perhaps dared not bark—expect that it almost barked in the case of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, but he withdrew from it just before its sound was fully heard. That bark is that there are, and have been all over my political career, people who are passionately in favour of Europe and believe that it is too important and complex an issue to trust the British people to decide. Those same people, and there have been one or two today, will say, “Well, they have the right to do that in a general election”. Some of us who have fought many general elections know that a general election cannot be fought on a single issue. There are many issues, so to say after a general election, “Part of our manifesto touched on Europe, and you voted for us and have therefore made your decision”, is actually nonsense. We have to have a clear decision taken, and I believe that this is the right way to do it.

The other thing that I have learnt in my political career is that this issue, however hard we have tried, is irresolvable by political parties. It is irresolvable between political parties and within them. In the end, when you have a situation like that, the only answer is to let the people themselves decide.

The second reason I support the Bill is that it gives us time. It gives us until 2017 to prepare. That is the one distinction between the 1975 referendum and this one. In 1975, we had very little time to prepare. We were told, if I remember rightly, that there had been a renegotiation. In fact, when we look at it in retrospect, the renegotiation was not worth a row of beans, but some of us were taken in. We regret that now, and we voted yes in that referendum.

The noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, touched on an important point: on this occasion, when the referendum comes, we must have established fully the cases for and against, so that the British people can make a sensible decision. I have heard the arguments for the reforms that are needed. They have to be fundamental, reversible

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only by further referendum, and must ultimately return to the people of this country the sovereignty which we have given away without asking their consent over many years.

The noble Lord’s second point was to make the case as to what would be the situation of this country were we to come out of the European Union. That equally requires time. The argument so often used on Europe is, “You may not be very happy with Europe, but look what it will be like if you come out. You will be cast into the outer darkness of isolation”. Well, we must fill that outer darkness of isolation over the years between now and 2017 by exploring what other arrangements can be made.

I hope that we will explore with some of our Commonwealth colleagues, some of whom have some of the larger economies in the world, what free trade or further trading arrangements can be made. We need to take part in further discussion about the future of NATO, which is a crucial issue whether we are in or out of Europe. It has to be part of what would be there were we to come out of Europe. We also have to start discussing with our European partners what trading arrangements we can have with them if we did come out of Europe. There is no question that they are going to need to continue to trade with us just as much as we are going to need to continue to trade with them.

We have the ability over three years to start filling that vacuum. If we do that, when we get to the referendum—and I think we will, because I am confident that there will be a Conservative Government which will deliver a referendum—then, for the first time, we will be able to ask a sensible question of the British people, to make a decision between two viable alternatives: “Which way do you want to see your country going?”. I hope that, if we do that, they will decide that governing our own destiny must be the right answer.

12.30 pm

Lord Willoughby de Broke (UKIP): My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, for introducing this important Bill. It has been a long time getting here, has it not? It is more than 20 years since we last debated an EU referendum, when there was a Motion to approve a referendum on the Maastricht treaty. I voted for it, but we were defeated, thanks largely to the very successful whipping of the then Conservative Chief Whip in this House, the noble Lord, Lord Hesketh—who, I am happy to say, has now seen the light and is a member of UKIP.

I have to say that I am still astonished and disappointed that it was successive Conservative Governments who started handing over the powers of Parliament and of the British people, without asking them, to Brussels. That was enthusiastically followed up by successive Labour Governments, who were cheered from the sidelines by the Liberal Democrats, for whom no surrender to Europe and Brussels is ever meek enough.

Many of the powers were given away, as I will tell noble Lords in a minute, without the British people ever being asked whether that was what they wanted. Treaty after treaty—Maastricht, Nice, Amsterdam, Lisbon—drained ever more power away from the British Parliament at Westminster and from the people of this

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country and channelled it to the unelected bureaucrats in Brussels. Very little that matters is now left to the Westminster Parliament, which has nothing at all to say about the economy, immigration, energy, trade, agriculture, fisheries and social policy.

During those 20 seemingly endless years, with endless debates about our membership of the EU, some of us were always against the handover of powers—the surrender to Brussels of the powers of Parliament and of the British people. However, in this House at least, we have always been outnumbered by the Europhile tendency—the Euro-grandees, who seem unable to see politics except through their Euro-prism. They accuse those who believe in parliamentary democracy in this country—the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, was at it today—of being “little Englanders”, of wrapping ourselves in the union jack and of wanting to turn back the clock. That is patronising rubbish. Why are they so blinded by Brussels and the desire for further integration that they are unable to see the truth?

After all, it is the Europhiles who got it wrong, not us, the “foam-flecked Europhobes”. It was the Europhiles who wanted us to join the euro. They said that if we did not we would be marginalised. However, the euro has not exactly been a shining example of political and fiscal success, has it? Just ask the millions of unemployed in France, Spain, Ireland, Portugal and Greece how they are getting on with the euro. It is not really very successful.

The Europhiles were badly wrong then and they are badly wrong now when they say that we will be marginalised and somehow turned into a pariah state if we were rash enough to leave the EU. As EU Employment Commissioner László Andor happily put it the other day, we will become the “nasty country” of Europe—that is, the nasty country that gives the EU £20 billion a year at the moment. We look forward to getting that back.

The Vice-President of the European Commission, Viviane Reding, could not have been blunter when she spoke in Athens the day before yesterday. She said:

“We need to build a United States of Europe with the Commission as government”.

That is not an invention of Nigel Farage and UKIP’s “foam-flecked Europhobes”—it is straight from the apparatchik’s mouth. So we know what direction Europe is going in. I am grateful to Mr Andor and Ms Reding for reminding us that the EU is going one way and one way only, for reminding us how damaging and how humiliating our membership of this club is and for reminding us that the European project is all about rampant supranationalism, with a sneering disregard for national sovereignty.

This Bill will give the British people a chance to make their voice heard, and to vote on whether they wish to continue to be run from Brussels or whether it is time to throw off the shackles of the EU and to be a truly free nation with the ability to frame our own laws and decide our own destiny at last.

12.35 pm

Lord Finkelstein (Con): I begin by congratulating my noble friend on his sponsorship of this important Bill and by commiserating with him on the fact that its

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Second Reading is being held on one of the alternate Fridays in which the moon is in the orbit of Jupiter and both the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats find themselves against a European referendum at the same time.

However, we should not be too critical of those who wish to extend the debate. After all, if they do that for long enough, it will soon be Monday and they might by then be in favour of a European referendum. I admire the courage of those opposite who have thrown themselves into the case against a European referendum and their touching confidence that their leader will not change his mind. It is a bit like Charlie Brown’s faith that Lucy will not pull the ball away when she holds it for him.

I will confine myself to three points that reflect my status as a new Member of the House as I contemplate, without the advantage of others’ long service, my obligations as a Peer. The first is that we are a revising Chamber, with a particular duty to protect the essential liberties and good government of the United Kingdom, and to be always mindful of the potential for abuse through the arbitrary use of executive power in the House of Commons. It is our job to insist that the House of Commons enjoys legitimacy and public consent for its actions. This is particularly the case where its actions have constitutional implications. Here I look for correction from more experienced colleagues. Would it not be odd for the House to attempt to block a proposal made in the other place for a referendum? Would it not be odd for it to be us who removed a check on executive power and ruled that the people should not be consulted? Should an appointed House stand between the people and a chance to vote? Surely not.

I hope noble Lords will forgive a further piece of naivety. Is it not also one of our duties to accept the principle laid down in the manifesto of the governing parties? Surely it would be almost a breach of the Salisbury convention for us to veto the principle of an “in or out” referendum advanced so steadfastly and well by the Liberal Democrats at the most recent general election.

The same principle should surely persuade noble Lords to embed this principle in legislation now. New though I am to these things, it seems to be in the best traditions of the House to act as a guarantor when previous referendum promises have been made and then ignored. There has been much talk of UKIP, but we all understand the politics here. We understand that the Labour Party promised a referendum on the European constitution. It won an election on that promise and then denied a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. With the best will in the world, that was a scandalous event that demands and requires this Bill.

My third point is that this House brings experience to the debate, as today has shown. If an argument is made, the House has heard it before and knows its worth. At every stage of Europe’s development, we have been told that what happens is inevitable, that a better deal is impossible and that Britain cannot stand apart and insist on its own terms. When the euro began, France’s Finance Minister said that Britain

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would pay the penalty for being out of it. We would be excluded from the councils of Europe. “Monetary union is a marriage”, he declared forthrightly, “and people who are married do not want others in the bedroom”. How wonderful the bedroom metaphor was, given that the Minister was Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

Apposite it was—but wrong. We can with confidence negotiate reform of the European Union. We have learnt from experience that we can insist on our rights, that we can negotiate with success and that it is right to trust the people. I am therefore pleased to support my noble friend.

12.39 pm

Baroness Quin (Lab): My Lords, my noble friend Lord Liddle, in his excellent speech on behalf of the Labour Party, reminded us that our party is not against referendums, and that is certainly the case, as the record shows. My personal position is a little different in that I have always been rather concerned about the way that ad hoc and ill thought out referendums have seemed to become part of our constitution. Therefore, I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Roper, reminded me that my political hero Clement Attlee greatly distrusted referendums.

However, I accept that at this stage the genie is probably largely out of the bottle and, certainly, if we are to have referendums, the major constitutional issues of the day are, presumably, suitable subjects for them. Therefore, my objections to the Bill do not relate to the fact that it calls for a referendum but are much more concerned with other aspects of it, including the substance of the clauses and, indeed, some of the political circumstances surrounding the process and passage of the Bill, which were very effectively described by my noble friend Lord Kinnock a few minutes ago.

The timing issue is a very serious one. To call for a referendum by a specific date, regardless of the circumstances of the time and whether we might be in negotiations with other EU countries, is simply crazy. I am also concerned at the suggestion that we should deal with this Bill in this House in a completely different way from the way we would normally deal with legislation, including Private Members’ Bills. I certainly cannot see the justification for that. That point was made very effectively by my noble friend Lord Radice.

Another possible rule seemed to emerge during the debate that we should give easy passage to items which have been heavily voted in favour of in another place. This would be a rather dangerous route for us to go down if it were applied to all future legislation. I am not sure what the proponents of such an approach mean in terms of how many votes would need to be cast in favour of a measure in the other place for us not to treat it seriously in this House. However, as I say, I think that it would be a very dangerous route to go down.

I join other noble Lords in saying that I do not like the fact that the Bill attempts to bind a successor Parliament. That is quite wrong. Although it is true, as I think the noble Lords, Lord Howell and Lord King, said, that Parliaments pass many bits of legislation which may have effect in the future, this Bill is unusual

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in singling out a specific date in a future Parliament. I do not recall that having been done before in quite this way. If we give the Bill easy passage, we will follow a constitutionally alarming procedure.

The point has been made many times that the general public are very much in favour of a referendum. I accept that opinion polls show that to be the case. However, we should also remember that in recent general elections Europe has been a much lower priority than many other issues, certainly compared with such issues as the cost of living, health, education and housing. This was confirmed to me in the most recent spate of door knocking that I took part in, which was during the South Shields by-election. While canvassing in different areas over two days, Europe was not raised with me once although many other issues were, despite the fact that there was a great deal of media frenzy about it and that UKIP’s best efforts were deployed to try to raise the issue and profit from the unpopularity of the coalition parties.

Much has been made of how much certainty the Bill introduces into the debate, but I do not think that it introduces any certainty at all. As I said, Parliament cannot bind its successor. Therefore, there are many reasons why a referendum held at the particular time envisaged in the Bill will not go ahead. For that reason, it is very understandable that businesses in particular are very worried about the uncertainty that the Bill would create. I agree very much with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley. Certainly, in the north-east of England, which has the Nissan car plant, which is one of the most productive on the planet, and which is an exporting region—I think that we are the only part of the country to have a positive trade balance—there is great fear and uncertainty as a result of this measure. Given the number of firms involved and the number of people they employ up and down the country, it would be wrong for us to disregard this in our approach to the Bill.

For all those reasons, I hope that the Bill, which has attracted so many excellent speakers today, will be given the closest and most careful scrutiny in your Lordships’ House, and that we will deal with it seriously in the way that we deal with other legislation.

12.44 pm

Lord Richard: My Lords, your Lordships may have noticed that on the list of speakers this slot is down for the noble Lord, Lord Bichard. Your Lordships will also note that I am not the noble Lord, Lord Bichard. Apparently, what has happened is that, when I registered my name to speak in the debate in the government Chief Whips’ Office, they succeeded in confusing “Bichard” and “Richard”, so that is why I am in this slot.

Your Lordships may have gathered from my earlier intervention that I believe this Bill should be treated in exactly the same way as any other Private Member’s Bill. I want to deal, although in not too much detail, with the argument that somehow or other this Bill is so special that this House should resile from its normal position as a revising Chamber. That argument was accurately recounted by the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, in his rather refreshing speech. This House is a revising

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Chamber and should remain so. I think that there is a clear division in this House and in the other place as to the desirability, or otherwise, of this legislation. The only way in which we can proceed sensibly is to ensure that our consideration of the Bill is strictly in accordance with the rules and conventions of this House. That includes the timing of sessions and the intervals between the different stages of the Bill.

I say at the outset that I do not oppose the Bill getting a Second Reading. It has passed the House of Commons and deserves full consideration in this House. However, I do not accept that the Bill somehow or other deserves to be treated differently from any other Private Member’s Bill. It should have its Second Reading and proceed to a Committee stage, at which no doubt amendments will be put down and debated. It may even be thought appropriate for some amendments to be passed by this House. The Bill should then go to Report and Third Reading in exactly the same way as any other Private Member’s Bill. The idea that somehow or other the Bill should be given an accelerated and easier passage is to my mind constitutional nonsense. It should receive proper scrutiny and proper consideration. The timetabling of legislation in the other place is not something that we up here should have to take into account. It is a matter for the House of Commons and is not a matter for this House.

If, after the Bill has completed its passage here, it has been amended, the Commons will have to consider those amendments. Perhaps we will be into ping-pong—I know not. At the end of the day, the House of Commons must be entitled to have its way. Of course it must. That is a view that I have held and expressed on many occasions in the past few years, particularly when this House was actively considering the issue of House of Lords reform. However, to say that at the end of the day the House of Commons must be entitled to have its way is not quite sufficient. This Bill is not at the end of the day but at the beginning, and I do not approve, frankly, of the Bill having a dawning in this House and suddenly going back to the House of Commons unconsidered and possibly unamended.

I regard the Bill, I am bound to say, as grotesquely premature. I do not want to say too much about its merits or demerits, particularly as I have spoken for four minutes already. I regard the Bill as ill advised and ill intentioned. It is ill advised because how on earth can we say now what the issues will be in 2017? How do we know what sort of negotiations will be carried out? How do we know what the result of those negotiations will be? How can we now, today, say that we believe that the result of those negotiations should be put to a referendum in four years’ time? It is absurd. One could not do it. The only reason that we are beings asked to do it is because of the ill intention behind the Bill. It is nothing to do with the merits or demerits of a referendum.

The problem with the Bill is that it is patently inspired not by the issue but by the politics of the issue. Relations with Europe have proved toxic to the Conservative Party over the past 30 years, and the Bill is an attempt to do two things—first, to try and

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recoup some of the party’s losses to UKIP and, secondly, to try and wrong-foot the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party.

This is not a government Bill. It is a Private Member’s Bill supported by the Conservative Party. The noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, who is to wind up the debate, speaks not for the Government but for the Conservative Party. No. 10 has been briefing not for the Government but for the Conservative Party. It is a partisan Bill and deserves to be treated accordingly—strictly in accordance with the rules and conventions of this House, no more and no less.

12.51 pm

Lord Vinson (Con): My Lords, I should like briefly to revert to why we need a referendum and why this Bill is thus so important. Our nation has nearly bankrupted itself fighting three wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, all of which aimed to give democracy and self-determination to those three nations. Yet here at home we daily deny self-rule, even to the extent that last week, contrary to the views of our own Health and Safety Executive, the EU issued a diktat controlling the nature of how much spice bakers can put into pastries. This is a perfect example, albeit insignificant in itself, of how Parliament has become a charade, as the EU reaches into every nook and cranny of our nation. Surely, it was never meant to be like that. Things have moved on. Currently, thousands of the decisions that widely affect the lives of voters are taken by anonymous and unaccountable bureaucrats rather than by parliamentarians responsible to those voters. Is it any wonder that there is widespread voter disenchantment?

Noble Lords will recall that the American War of Independence, just over 200 years ago, was triggered on that famous slogan, “No taxation without representation”. We are now back to roughly the same position: we have regulation without rectification. It is virtually impossible to change EU regulations. Most decision-making has been taken away from national Parliaments and for virtually everything that matters, from the economy to immigration, decisions are made elsewhere, many of them extremely damaging to our national efficiency—not least as regards the working time directive; and we were told last night in an excellent speech by the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, of the harm that that had done to our medical service.

Far from being little Englanders, there are those of us who believe that democracy, however imperfect it may be, is the right for citizens to sack those who rule and regulate them, something we are unable to do today. This democratic deficit lies at the malfunctioning heart of the EU. The people of this country have been promised a referendum and I hope that they will get one as we need our sovereignty back. Meanwhile, of course, every attempt will be made from the Benches opposite to scare people into thinking that we should hold on to the EU nurse for fear of meeting something worse.

Unbalanced projections are given that 3 million jobs in this country depend on our EU trade, conveniently forgetting that 4 million jobs in the EU depend on us. We are advised that the car industry will be in deep

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distress, overlooking the fact that we import some 800,000 more cars from the EU—450,000 from Germany alone—and that this only partially accounts for our huge trading imbalance with the EU, currently running at £50 billion a year.

Trade crosses all boundaries. Germany exports all round the world. It will continue to export to us, just as we will continue to export to it. Can anybody seriously argue that trade on this scale would come to a standstill? Bilateral trading arrangements would be made, as they have been recently with Turkey, and trade would carry on. They need us more than we need them.

It is high time that the truth of this matter was given to the British people, and the BBC editorial committee, for once, has encouraged a fair and balanced coverage of the alternatives. Frankly, I believe that it is impossible to be a democrat today and to support our continued membership of an unreformed European Union. It is time that this matter was put to the British people—we want our country back.

12.54 pm

Lord Monks (Lab): My Lords, there is much mention of people being told the truth in the European debate. I ask supporters of this Bill to reflect for a moment on the following truths, which seem self-evident to me as a former general-secretary of the TUC and the European TUC. An important truth is that, once the business world—or certainly those parts of it concerned with exports—considers that Britain may well leave the EU, thousands of British jobs will be at grave risk. If the Bill is enacted, the prospect of that exit will become rather more real and tangible.

Europhobes and Eurosceptics often say that the British people are not being told the truth about the EU—there was an echo of that from the previous speaker—but let us have a go at some of those truths. The first is that the British economy is closely integrated with the economies of other countries, not just in Europe but perhaps particularly in Europe. The 40% share of our trade with the EU is easily the biggest component of our business. Before nostalgics get too keen on the Commonwealth connection, they might just bear in mind that the level of our trade with North Rhine-Westphalia is larger than that with Australia and India combined. Our trade with China has only recently exceeded our trade with the Republic of Ireland.

So get real. The booming motor industry—all foreign owned—exports the bulk of its vehicles to European destinations. We certainly import a lot but the import side is not going to change in a way that threatens the export side. However, there is a threat because many UK manufacturing firms are foreign owned, including a huge slice of the City of London. There has been a big change since 1975 and inward investment would certainly be affected. There have been several references to Nissan and its importance to the north-east economy but its importance goes much wider than that. Siemens has also been mentioned, and Goldman Sachs was referred to by my noble friend Lord Liddle. We have to start believing what some of these chief executives say. Others who are not saying it publicly are saying it privately.

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The fact is that, like it or not—I address this particularly to the nationalist tendency here today who are dreaming of a Britain that was perhaps relevant 30 or 40 years ago but is not relevant today—many of the levers of power are in foreign hands. They are the sources of much of the investment, technology, know-how and jobs that help Britain to pay its way in the world. Mr Farage may not care if an EU exit makes us all poorer; the rest of us just do not have that luxury.

Remember this: foreign firms will not have a vote in a referendum but they can surely vote with their feet if they become worried about the future of this country. By the way, no Europhobe or Eurosceptic ever seems to complain about the selling of Britain to foreign owners. That is a much great constraint on our sovereignty than any Europhile ever dreamt of. That is the reality and the truth which people on the other side of this House, particularly those in the Conservative Party, should face up to.

Another truth is that if many of the better foreign firms started to wind down their activities in this country—it would not happen overnight—new product lines would go to other countries and outside the EU we would become a sub-contractor to the world, with zero economic sovereignty and a disappearing tax base. We would become a bits-and-pieces economy, offering low-paid, transient work to our people. People knock the Social Chapter and the working time directive, but do we really want junior hospital doctors to go back to working 100 hours a week? Do we really want to get rid of the four-week minimum holiday entitlement that workers have been given? That is what the Social Chapter is about. If those on the other side of the House want to get rid of things, I hope that they will tell us specifically what those things are.

1 pm

Lord Tugendhat (Con): My Lords, as the House knows, I am a former EU Commissioner and, as such, I look forward to campaigning in the referendum that the Prime Minister has promised to hold in the event of a Conservative election victory. Whatever happens to this Bill, that remains the case. The Prime Minister set out his policy in his Bloomberg speech and I support that policy. The Prime Minister has given his word and I am sure that he will keep it. So, in the event of a Conservative electoral victory, there will be a referendum whether or not this Bill goes through Parliament. The important thing is that the referendum will take place because the Prime Minister has said it will, provided that he of course can lead a successful campaign in the election.

So the Bill is, in part, unnecessary. However, I am afraid that it is also, in part, a bad Bill. A referendum on UK membership of the European Union will be a major political, economic and constitutional event. On that point everyone can agree. It should therefore be organised with the greatest possible care and thoroughness; it should not be based on a rushed and inadequate Private Member’s Bill. The Electoral Commission has drawn attention to some of the inadequacies, as have the reports of the Select Committee on the Constitution and the Delegated Powers Committee.

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In the interests of brevity I will not repeat the points made by the Select Committee on the Constitution, the Electoral Commission or the Committee on Delegated Powers, but I endorse a great many of them and I do not think that the House should fly in the face of them. The points deserve serious consideration.

I would add two further points of my own. One point concerns the position of Gibraltar. It is bizarre that Gibraltarians should be given the right to participate in a referendum of this kind. I do not see why that particular overseas territory, or any other overseas territory, should be given that right. If Gibraltar has a referendum on its relationship with Spain, or whatever it might be, we will not have a vote, and I do not see why it should have a vote here. There is an element of absurdity in that.

Much more serious is the position of the hundreds of thousands of British citizens who work, live and have retired in other countries within the European Union. Those people will be directly affected by the result of any referendum and I think that they certainly have the right to participate. I do not know what the figures would be but it would not be impossible to put together arrangements which would enable a great many of those people to participate.

We should perhaps learn from Australia, a country which goes in for referenda from time to time. It had an important referendum some years ago on whether or not it wanted to remain a monarchy. Australians living, working or retired in this country, the United States, the continent of Europe, India or wherever it might be were able to vote, under certain conditions and as long as they met certain criteria. Just as Australians were able to vote on the constitutional future of their country even if they were not at the time living in Australia, so British citizens should be able to do the same even if they are not at the precise time living in this country.

To conclude, the Conservative Party will ensure that there is a referendum if it wins the election. That is true whatever happens to this Bill. However, the Bill provides an inadequate basis on which to hold such a referendum. Therefore the House should not feel inhibited about seeking to improve it.

1.04 pm

Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke (Lab): My Lords, we have had a number of very interesting speeches in the past couple of hours, but the first few sentences of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, absolutely sums the situation up. If the Prime Minister wants a referendum on Europe before December 2017, he puts it in his manifesto, goes to the people and, if he is elected, gets his referendum. The noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, in his very amusing speech, talked about leadership—it is not a sign of leadership to cower behind the, albeit elegant, coat-tails of a Back-Bencher to try to get a piece of legislation before this House because of fear of UKIP on the one hand or of what the noble Lord, Lord Garel-Jones, described as the Tea Party tendency in the Tory party on the other. Nevertheless, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, on his opening remarks. It is quite interesting that the ghost of Francis Urquhart is sitting out in the

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Prince’s Chamber, because that gives the show away—this is a government Bill masquerading as a Back-Bencher’s Bill. That is regrettable for two reasons: first, it is here under false pretences and, secondly, the very fact that it seeks to bind a future Government is absolutely outrageous. It is a constitutional outrage that one Government should seek to bind another.

This has been the morning for true confessions, with a number of noble Lords saying how they voted yes in 1975. I voted no, but have changed my position, because I have seen the advantages of the single market. The oldest and best single market is here in the United Kingdom. Right now, another referendum is going on—it seems to have been going on since time began but has actually been going on for only a couple of years—which seeks to break up that oldest and best single market. This Trojan horse of a Bill seeks to take us out of the biggest single market in the world—the single market that changed my opinion. My fear about this Bill is that it talks about a referendum in 2017 and that there will be uncertainty between now and then.

Anyone who has had anything to do with foreign direct investment—not just with the Nissans of this world but with SMEs, many of which are at the high-tech end of the market—knows that when you go to the United States, Australia, the BRICs or, as we are now supposed to say, the MINTs, one of the great advantages we have is that we say, “Come and settle in the United Kingdom. We have access to the biggest single market in the world, transparent accountancy and a transparent legal system”. What we are saying to them today is: “Hold on a minute, maybe we will but maybe we won’t”. At this stage in what we hope is an economic recovery, that is barking mad. We need stability and certainty and to be able to play, as my noble friend Lord Monks said, to the power of that single market, to bring jobs to this country and to consolidate them.

The noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, and a number of other noble Lords have said today that the country wants a referendum. That is not the case where I come from—it is very far down the list of priorities there. The saloon bar may want a referendum but most of the people of this country have other priorities and we should be concentrating on those. Mark my words: the problem that you get with a long and protracted referendum is that the focus of attention is diverted from key and influential matters that we should be addressing. I ask your Lordships’ House to give this legislation detailed line-by-line scrutiny. As many have already said, the Bill is not fit for purpose and, as Members of a revising Chamber with a respect for the unwritten constitution of our country, we should not be prepared to tolerate a Trojan horse. That is what this Bill is.

1.10 pm

Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield (CB): My Lords, the European question was sent to try us. It has succeeded mightily in doing so ever since that week in May 1950 when Jean Monnet turned up in London and sprung his and Robert Schuman’s plan for a Coal and Steel Community upon a suspicious and resentful Attlee

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Government and what was then a deeply sceptical Treasury and Foreign Office. The Bill before us today is but the latest instalment in what is so far a 64 year- old psychodrama.

Standard British political boundaries have never been able to cope with the European question. The divisions are as much within parties as between them, as the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, reminded us. The particular fervour of our great and perpetual European debate is fuelled, too, by deep individual as well as collective questions about who we are, what kind of country we wish to be and how best we can engineer for ourselves a decent and effective place in the world. Our free trading instincts jostle against our protectionist impulses. Our maritime, open-sea instincts cut against excessive continental commitments.

All the time, though it is little spoken of, the question of Europe arouses a sense of our specialness; our quirkiness; our suspicion of grand schemes and their dirigiste implications; our refusal to contemplate life as a medium-sized power folded inside a huge European grouping; and our absolute belief that we are not and never can be just any old country. All these factors leave a profound emotional deficit for many of our people with the idea of a deeply integrated federal Europe. This deficit has not eased over the four decades since accession. On the contrary, I think the deficit has steadily accumulated.

In my judgment, all these impulses and feelings swirl through the Bill before us, short though it is. Europe is undeniably a first-order question for our people and for our place in the world. Therefore, it is necessary that the consent of the British people to our membership of the European Union should be tested every couple of generations or so. The bulk of the British electorate has not been asked the “in or out” question, as the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, stressed in his eloquent opening speech. The time is approaching when they need to be—but how soon? Is it desirable now to fix a deadline and set the clock ticking? Here, for me, the reservations set in.

The negotiating climate today is far less manageable than in 1975, with our current EU of 28 members, several of whom deeply resent their experience of the UK as the permanent awkward squad in Europe, emitting a constant drizzle of complaint within the Union’s councils. The climate is different, too, at the very top. It is not the era of Schmidt and Giscard. To borrow from PG Wodehouse, if you are a 21st century German Chancellor or French President, it is always easy to distinguish between a ray of sunshine and a British Prime Minister bearing a request to renegotiate.

I accept that there is never an ideal time for a renegotiation followed by a referendum. Our economy was in terrible shape in 1975, with inflation rising above 25%, deindustrialisation proceeding apace and stagflation everywhere—but the road to a 2017 referendum would be hard, stretching and sloggy, even if unforgiving and unforeseen events do not add to the wear and tear of high diplomacy and political manoeuvre. To legislate now for a date three years away and the other side of a general election strikes me as not just undesirable but immensely risky for our country.

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Only one thing is certain: even a meaningful and successful renegotiation followed by a referendum in which the British people showed a continuing desire to remain within the EU would not settle the matter. There were those nearly 40 years ago who thought the 1975 referendum had done just that. How wrong they were. Even if the UK is still an EU nation in 2020—I profoundly hope that it will be—we will remain the awkward squad over the channel, while for us at home the European question will always retain its own special talent to torment.


1.14 pm

Lord Wakeham (Con): My Lords, I will be brief, because I think that the issue before us is important but simple, and also because my noble friend Lord Selsdon has told me that I have made more than 6,000 speeches in Parliament since the date of the previous referendum Bill in 1975, so a short speech is probably to be recommended.