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House of Lords

Friday, 24 January 2014.

10 am

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

European Union (Referendum) Bill

Committee (1st Day)

10.06 am

Clause 1: Referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union

Amendment 1

Moved by Lord Armstrong of Ilminster

1: Clause 1, page 1, line 2, leave out subsection (1) and insert—

“(1) A referendum is to be held with the question—

“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”

appearing on the ballot papers.”

Lord Armstrong of Ilminster (CB): My Lords, I hope that I can be reasonably brief in moving the amendment. We have a long day ahead of us.

The amendment does not bear on the issue of whether a referendum on United Kingdom membership of the European Union should be held. Nor does it bear on the date at which or by which such a referendum should be held. Thus it does not call into question the principal purposes of the Bill. It is intended to ensure that when a referendum is held, the right question is put to the electorate.

I and other noble Lords who have put their names to the amendment consider that the question proposed in Clause 1(4) of the Bill is inappropriate, confusing and potentially misleading. The wording might be appropriate if the United Kingdom was not a member of the Union but was now proposing to apply for membership, or if we had applied for membership and the Government and Parliament wanted to ascertain whether the electorate would support a proposal to join the Union on terms that would have been negotiated with the existing membership. Then the question for the electorate would be whether they thought that we should forgo whatever might be the advantages and disadvantages of not being members of the Union in order to enjoy whatever might be the benefits and privileges of membership, and incur whatever might be the liabilities and obligations of becoming members.

However, that is not the situation. We are, and have been for more than 40 years, members of the European Union. Therefore, when a referendum is called, the question we should be asking the electorate to consider is whether we should forgo the benefits and privileges we now enjoy, and be relieved of the liabilities and obligations we now incur as members of the European Union, in order to enjoy whatever might be the benefits and advantages and incur whatever might be the costs

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and liabilities of ceasing to be members. The question put to the electorate should be clear beyond a peradventure that that is the choice on which they are being asked to vote. The question proposed in Clause 1(4) of the Bill as drafted fails to make clear the nature of the choice. It could thus be confusing, and potentially misleading, to some voters.

The question proposed in the amendment is not designed by me or by other noble Lords who have put their names to it. It has been designed by the Electoral Commission, the business of which is to advise the Government and Parliament on such matters. I cannot see why it should be thought to be necessary or right to second-guess the Electoral Commission on this matter. Only that it might sound disrespectful of the commission, which I do not wish to be, I remind your Lordships of the old adage that a man who keeps a dog does not need to bark himself.

The form of words which the Electoral Commission has recommended, and which is proposed in the amendment, provides a question which defines correctly, clearly and unambiguously the nature of the choice which the voters will be asked to make in the referendum proposed in the Bill. I beg to move.

The Lord Speaker (Baroness D'Souza): I remind your Lordships that, if the amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments 2 to 7 by reason of pre-emption.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab): As some commentators have noted, I have tabled one or two amendments, and one or two are included in the first grouping. However, I say first of all that, like the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, I intend to be brief. This Bill is a disgrace; it is not fit for purpose. A senior official of the Law Society of Scotland told me that he had never seen such a badly drafted Bill. It has been hastily got together, and it shows. For example, it has none of the schedules necessary for such a major constitutional Bill. That is why it is only three pages long. We have been accused of having tabled lots of amendments for what is only a three-page Bill, but a normal constitutional Bill would have schedules outlining how the referendum would be conducted and the rules of the referendum. None of that is included in this Bill. It is a government Bill trying to patch over divisions in the Tory party and trying to outflank the UK Independence Party—which deserves to be outflanked, by the way.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Con): If the Bill is so bad and such a shambles, why did not the noble Lord’s colleagues in the House of Commons vote it down?

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: Presumably they thought that there was a greater intellect here to be able to examine it in more detail, with such people as the noble Lords, Lord Armstrong and Lord Kerr, and a whole range of people like that. I am sure that they will welcome all the suggestions from this House, as well as the wisdom that we are about to receive.

Lord Cormack (Con): I am grateful, but the noble Lord knows only too well that the other place had neither the stamina to talk the Bill out nor the courage

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to go into the Lobbies in any numbers from either his party or the Liberal Democrats. All the Divisions had huge majorities, where the negative vote was derisory. He knows full well that the question asked by my noble friend Lord Forsyth comes to the heart of the matter. We are being used.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: Maybe the noble Lord does not realise that those Divisions in the House of Commons were artificially constructed. The Conservatives put in the Tellers on both sides; they manufactured those Divisions deliberately.

Lord Cormack: In other words, it was unanimous in the other House.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: Everyone knows that this is a Tory party Bill masquerading as a Private Member’s Bill. Today it is also a disgrace that we are discussing it because the coalition government Chief Whip, the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, has used her position, I think improperly, to put it ahead of all other Private Members’ Bills. There are 23 Private Members’ Bills waiting to be discussed—

10.15 am

Baroness Anelay of St Johns (Con): The noble Lord is inviting others to intervene. I know that when he impugns my integrity I need to come to the Dispatch Box to explain that I have followed precisely the same procedure in all these matters as my predecessors in a Labour Government. I am aware that the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, has exchanged with the Telegraph online the contents of a private letter that I sent to him in the usual channels. I will give the noble Lord the opportunity to respond, but may I just complete saying that I have absolutely followed every rule? If the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, says that he did not discuss the terms of that letter and that the Telegraph obtained it by other means, I will welcome his assurance on that matter.

Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab): The noble Baroness, for whom I have the greatest respect, makes a number of allegations, which are completely unfounded. Nobody could have been more surprised than I to receive a telephone call from the Telegraph, which I referred to our communications adviser, yesterday afternoon. I was extraordinarily disappointed to hear about what I had assumed was confidential correspondence, seeking simply two things—a clarification of the Chief Whip’s role in the business of the House today but, more importantly, some idea of when the business of the House might conclude. I had hoped that we would have a reasonable time put before your Lordships’ House this morning for business to be conducted within. I am appalled that that correspondence was leaked; it is not my practice to leak correspondence. I genuinely believed when I wrote that letter that it was a letter written in confidence and I would appreciate an apology on this point.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I am very glad to hear that the noble Lord did not leak that. I certainly could come to only one conclusion. I am

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very disappointed that anybody should leak private information, because I always value my exchanges with the noble Lord, Lord Bassam. We have worked together well and we will continue to do so. All I can say is that anybody who has revealed that information has acted improperly. I know that this House wishes to proceed in a proper manner and I assure the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, that I have followed every single procedure of every previous government Chief Whip.

A noble Lord: Apology!

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: The apology should be from those who leaked the information. I am saying that I am deeply sorry that I saw the information online and that somebody has leaked it. I am deeply grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, has made it clear to the House that it was not he.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton (Lab): Did the noble Baroness, the Chief Whip, apologise to my noble friend Lord Bassam for repeating something that she believed to be true which my noble friend has denied?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I have made it clear that there would be an apology from me if I had uttered an untruth. I have not uttered an untruth. What I have said is that I am deeply disappointed that anybody should have leaked that letter. The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, has been able to make it clear that it was not he. I am grateful for that because our relationship has been a proper one in the usual channels and will continue to be so.

Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab): My Lords—

Baroness Quin (Lab): My Lords—

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, we began today with the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, making it clear that he wishes a proper process on this Bill. I know from Peers who have come to see me who are against the Bill that they want to proceed. I suggest that we do so in the normal manner, but I would be grateful if the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, did not impugn my motives or actions as government Chief Whip. I answered all those matters to the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, in that private letter, which will clearly remain private as far as the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, and I are concerned.

Baroness Quin: My Lords, this is important because the Chief Whip said that she acted in accordance with the actions of previous Chief Whips. However, this situation is unprecedented as only one part of the Government is imposing business on us in this way. She is not acting in accordance with the actions of previous Chief Whips because she acting only as part of the Government and not the whole Government. That is a very big difference from what has happened before.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: I am grateful for those interesting interventions, which clarified quite a lot. As my noble friend Lady Quin rightly said, it is

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unprecedented for a Tory Chief Whip to use her position as a government Whip to put Tory party Bills high up the agenda. Perhaps she can give me an example of where a particular Private Member’s Bill has been given precedence over every other Private Member’s Bill. All the others have been kicked to the sidelines. I understand that she is making promises to promoters of Private Members’ Bills that their Bills will be given priority next year because they have been kicked out in the current Session.

The other outrageous matter is that because of the procedure here and in the other place, and because this is a Private Member’s Bill, not a government Bill, we are told that we cannot discuss it in the detail that we should discuss it in and we cannot scrutinise it in the way that we should scrutinise it. An artificial deadline has been imposed on us that we have to finish it by a particular time. This is no way to treat a major constitutional issue.

That brings me to the first group of amendments. My amendments, like others, say that the key issue of the question on the ballot paper should be based on the impartial advice of the Electoral Commission. We have set up the Electoral Commission to give advice on these questions. The Scottish Government have accepted the Electoral Commission’s advice regarding the question in the Scottish referendum. This Government should do the same and accept the advice of the impartial Electoral Commission.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, who is today a proxy for the Government—that is what he is; he is a government stooge—that if he refuses to accept this amendment, it will be clear confirmation that this Bill is a party political ploy and not a serious attempt to legitimise and legislate for a fair and genuine referendum.

Lord Quirk (CB): My Lords, I have put down my name to two of the amendments in this group but I shall be brief—pedantic, but brief. Our verb “to be” is highly irregular, drawing strands of form and meaning from four different roots. They are represented in today’s English by, for example, “is”, “are”, “was” and “be” itself. I put this list before the House because “be” is, as your Lordships know, always tinged with the future. Indeed, as your Lordships will also know, “be” is actually cognate with the word “future” itself. When somebody calls out, “Please remain seated”, we know that she accepts that we are all seated. By contrast, the injunction, “Please be seated”, acknowledges that most of us are not. So it was that when, as the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, has just reminded us, the Electoral Commission was advising on this year’s referendum in Scotland, it did not suggest that Scotland should remain an independent country because, of course, it is not. Instead, it recommended the wording, “Should Scotland be an independent country?”. The Scottish Government sensibly accepted this advice.

When this same Electoral Commission advised the promoters of the Bill before us today, it saw, of course, that the boot was on the other foot. In this case, it favoured the wording, “Should the UK remain in the European Union?”, because we already are, and stoutly rejected the wording, “Should the UK be a member?” because this might imply to voters that we were not. It may seem absurd to suggest that, after 40 years, any

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British voter might not know that we were a member of the European Union. However, let us remember that we have a hostile press and that successive semi-hostile, or at least semi-detached, Governments have belittled, demonised or at any rate done their best to ignore the EU and its relevance to British lives. It is not just the EU itself, of course. Think how much better our school system would have been if Governments over the past 40 or 50 years had bothered to notice how much better they do things on the other side of the North Sea.

But back to the present: at Second Reading, the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, supplied telling examples of public ignorance of trans-Channel institutions. For example, she referred to people confusing the EU with the Council of Europe. She might well have added that since 2000 there has been an even more dangerous source of confusion—the existence of the eurozone. How many British voters faced with the question in this Bill might interpret it as asking, “Should the UK be a member of the eurozone?”.

It beggars belief that one with such a command of subtle nuance as the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, could possibly be unaware of all this. But he is a busy man. Now that he most certainly has had dispelled for him any cloud of unknowing that has interposed, I have no doubt that he will be on his feet and, through grateful tears, hasten to accept these amendments.

Lord Lipsey (Lab): My Lords, I regret that I was not able to participate in the Second Reading of this Bill, but I want to make one very short preliminary point, coming to what I hope is a speech of substance. I hope that all the speeches we will hear today will be speeches of substance because we are not about some political game here. We have a piece of legislation before us. It is our duty as a House to scrutinise it and, if possible, improve it, and that is what we are doing. We are not trying to overrule the House of Commons. Of course, it can restore its Bill in its original format, as its procedures allow. We are going through a process of scrutiny.

I want to make the preliminary point that I do not do so as a Euroenthusiast or Eurofanatic, as some of us have been branded in the press. As a matter of fact, I voted no in the 1975 referendum and I would expect—although I do not make that final judgment now—to vote no in the referendum proposed under either this Bill or more sensible legislation. I may well change my mind and, in any case, it is unlikely to affect the result because Renwick’s rule, named after Dr Alan Renwick of Reading University, shows clearly that during a referendum campaign opinion in virtually every country in the world and in virtually every case moves towards a no vote. The fact that polls now suggest that people will vote to get out is no indication of the likely result. So I would expect a no vote, but I may be in the minority. I hope that noble Lords will feel that it is acceptable to say that because I do not want us to be characterised in a way that does not fit.

10.30 am

My concern is with the substance of the Bill and the substance of the question. First, questions really matter. I say that from a certain basis of experience:

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I was adviser to a Prime Minister on polls; I used to commission polls for the

Sunday Times

; I was on the advisory committee of the National Centre for Social Research, which is the outstanding opinion research body in the country; and I chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Statistics. Results matter. I could give all sorts of examples: polls on Europe are all over the place and polls on the future of this House differ quite considerably. It is difficult to follow exactly what the people of Scotland are saying in polls on Scottish independence because different questions elicit different answers. However, I want to give just one example.

Two polls were conducted at roughly the same time on people’s views on taxes and public spending. The first, by YouGov, was conducted for the Taxpayers’ Alliance. The other, for the Fabian Society, was also conducted by YouGov. However, the answers could not have been more different. In the first poll, the question was: “Do you think the Government spends too much and therefore taxes us too much, or is the balance about right, or does it spend too little?”. The result was: 50% said the Government tax too much; 16% said that the balance was about right; 12% said they tax us too little. That seems to be pretty decisive, until you read the Fabian Society poll, which listed services. It asked: “Would you prefer tax rates and the level of provision for each of the following services to rise or fall; or is the balance right?”, and then listed the services. Nearly 60% said more should be spent on elderly care, even if it meant higher taxes. The figure for the National Health Service was 50%, and on no service listed was the majority in favour of tax cuts. That just shows that the question you ask can matter. That is not a very subtle example, but I could, if the House wanted to listen to me for ever—which I suspect it does not—cite a lot more examples in which subtle changes in wording can change the outcome.

We come to the question in the Bill and the question recommended by the Electoral Commission. If I were sponsoring the Bill, I would take comfort from the fact that the commission had put forward its preferred question. For the life of me, I cannot understand why the Bill has not been amended to include that preferred question, but that is a matter for the mover, not for me. The commission said that it found no evidence that its suggested question resulted in research participants changing their vote in any way. The wording used in this case was not shown to change the result. I do not wish to criticise the Electoral Commission in any way for this extremely difficult research, but I have examined it. It was essentially based on focus groups and interviews with individual, small groups of people who were asked to analyse the question. With respect—and everyone in this House who knows about market research and polling will agree with this proposition—you simply cannot, must not, draw quantitative conclusions from qualitative research. One does not follow the other.

There is only one way in which to do a piece of research that might answer the question before us, and that is to take two samples—one asking the question put in the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, the other asking the Electoral Commission’s question—and see whether the results are the same. You probably would have to do this at least two or three times

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because of sampling error and so on. Then you would know whether the wording of the question made a difference. We do not know whether the Electoral Commission’s wording would produce a different result from the question of the noble Lord—it might or it might not. What we do know is that between a question drafted by the Electoral Commission, which deals with these matters very frequently and is used to finding out the nuance of questions, and a question put together by the tyros in Conservative Central Office who drafted the Bill, there should be no choice for this House. The Electoral Commission is the referee, and to begin the passage of the Bill by rejecting the decision of the referee in favour of your personal whim is a disgraceful way to legislate. I support these amendments.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury (LD): My Lords, whatever our views about this potential referendum, I am sure that everyone in the House is united in the view that if there is to be a referendum, we must ensure that a success is made of it. Success does not mean yes or no, it means the number of our fellow countrymen who vote in that referendum. That will depend, first, upon the number who register under the new registration procedures that are coming in shortly and, secondly, upon the number who turn out to vote on the day.

I want to make only one point. I speak in support of Amendments 1, 11 and 32, all of which, in different ways, want the question to be put to be reworded. I should declare an interest as the founder and president of the Citizenship Foundation, which was established nearly 25 years ago when the understanding then, particularly by young citizens, of what was going on in our complicated democracy was patently inadequate for an engaged citizenry. I think that most will agree that things have become worse in the interim. For a variety of reasons, there is today a low adhesion to the political process by so-called ordinary men and women. I desperately hope that everything we say and do in relation to the Bill will be centred on that one residual need, which is to maximise the number of people who turn out on the day, if there is to be a referendum day.

I will not go into the difference between Amendments 1, 11 and 32. I will merely say to the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, that the question in the Bill does not have the optimum wording. It can and should be clearer. I do not particularly mind which of the amendments we adopt. The question certainly needs to be clearer for the sake of the public.

Lord Grenfell (Lab): My Lords, I support these amendments very strongly indeed. I find it curious that, so far, not one word has been spoken from the Benches opposite in defence of their wording. That is rather curious, until you look at why the Bill is before us. Let me remind noble Lords of what the commission concluded. It said that the question,

“should be amended to make it more direct and to the point, and to improve clarity and understanding”.

Nothing could be clearer and more easily understood than that. However, it appears to all of us on these Benches that we are being asked to forget what it said and to go along, without question, with the wording proposed by Conservative Central Office, if that is where it emanated from.

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Why do we have to do that? The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for whom I have great respect and affection, who knows this House well and, in fact, is a very sane voice on all matters to do with House of Lords reform, astonished me with the attitude he has taken towards the Bill. He said at Second Reading:

“Let us say that this Bill is imperfect and has got here by a most peculiar route”—

that is somewhat at odds with what the Government Chief Whip has said—

“but let us speed it on its way so that those outside this House cannot say that the House of Lords stood between them and having their say on perhaps the most important international issue of modern times”.—[

Official Report

, 10/1/14; col. 1808.]

We are not saying that they will not have a say. You will not find anywhere in our amendments a clause saying that there will be no referendum on the EU. It is a complete canard to go on suggesting that this is what we on these Benches are saying. I want to make it perfectly clear that the reason why one can support these—

Lord Cormack: I never said such a thing. I said what I said in the context of the other place having not opposed this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, this morning said that the Divisions were contrived. That confirms my case rather than confounding it. The other place has sent this Bill here when it would have been quite within the capacities of the noble Lord’s party and the Liberal Democrats either to have talked it out or to have amended it in the other place. They chose not to do so and therefore we face a Bill that was almost unanimously supported in the House of Commons and we have to look at it in that context.

Lord Grenfell: I am sorry to disagree with the noble Lord but I was quoting directly from Hansard. That is exactly what he said:

“Let us say that this Bill is imperfect and has got here by a most peculiar route”.—[Official Report, 10/1/14; col. 1808.]

It could not be clearer. In whatever context you wish to put that, it is pretty plain language. It is the sort of language one is used to hearing from the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. In this case, I do not quite understand his response.

Finally, in support of these amendments, please let us scrutinise this Bill properly. We have a right and a duty to do so. We must not just wave it through, as some would have us do, because that is not what our function is here. This first group of amendments is a very good test for this House. What we are proposing is not party political—it could not be further from party politics. These amendments seek to bring clarity to the people when they have a referendum. I repeat, let us not hear more, please, from the opposite Benches saying that, on our side, this is all a conspiracy to prevent the British people having a referendum. It is not.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, it strikes me as quite extraordinary, following up on the speech from the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, where he talked to us about the verb “to be”; the question here is, “To be or not to be” because if this Bill is amended or talked out there will not be a referendum. If the Bill is amended it is going to go back to the House of Commons and it

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is going to run out of time. Let us be clear what is going on here. All this self-righteous talk about how we have a duty to consider this Bill—

Lord Grenfell: My Lords—

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: I will give way to the noble Lord in a moment. The consequence of all this self-righteous talk about how we have a duty to consider this Bill properly will be that the British people will not be guaranteed a say before 2017 on whether they wish to be members of the European Union.

It seems it was not five minutes ago that this House was subject to an attack with it being suggested that we become an elected House. We fought off that battle on the basis that the other place was supreme; that the will of the other House should always be carried forward. The clearly expressed will of the other House was that this Bill should reach the statute book, otherwise it would not have come here. This House has to recognise that of course we have powers and duties—we could exercise our powers and duties in ways that frustrate lots of Bills—but in the end we look down the Corridor and we look at what the intention of the House of Commons was. It may be that this Bill came to this House because the parties opposite did not have the courage to kill it there but the fact is that it has been passed by the House of Commons and the noble Lord, in criticising us for not speaking and for trying to speed its passage, is making the case for frustrating the will of the House of Commons. Even worse, he is denying the British people the opportunity to be sure at the next election that, whatever happens, there will be provision on the statute book for them to have their say on the most important question facing our country’s future.

Lord Grenfell: My Lords, if the noble Lord is claiming that if we passed amendments there would never be a referendum for the British people on the EU, are we changing the whole concept of parliamentary democracy? Are we saying that no Government could ever introduce a Bill for a referendum? No. It is untrue. We are saying that this Bill is a wretched Bill. It is not the proper basis on which to have a referendum. That is all we are saying. It must be changed.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: The noble Lord knows perfectly well that we are not having an academic discussion here about whether the British people will have a referendum. What is being considered here is a Bill which—if it is passed unamended by this House and reflects the will of the House of Commons—will result in a referendum. The noble Lord’s views on Europe are perfectly clear and it is no good trying to pretend that the consequences of our actions, if we amend or delay this Bill, will be to deny the people a guarantee that they will get a referendum at the next election. I think that will have very damaging consequences for this House. People will say, “What on earth are these unelected people doing preventing us having our say?”. I have some sympathy with the noble Lord’s amendment—after all I made exactly the same case on the Scottish referendum—but I am not going to vote for it because I do not think that as an unelected Peer I

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have the right to prevent the House of Commons delivering to the British people the opportunity to have their say in a referendum.

10.45 am

Lord Radice (Lab): All the noble Lord is saying would be true but this Bill refers to a referendum in 2017. It is not talking about a referendum in this Parliament. As we know—and the noble Lord knows—we cannot bind our successors. What the noble Lord is saying does not actually apply.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: If the noble Lord read the Bill—it is not a very complicated one—he would find that it says that the referendum must be held before 31 December 2017 and if the House of Commons had thought that it was not appropriate to set a date for a referendum after the date of the general election then it would have voted the Bill down.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords—

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: I am not going to give way again—I intended to interrupt only briefly. The noble Lord was long enough in the other place to understand what is happening here. Liberal and Labour Party supporters do not have the guts to face up to the British people and say, “We want to stop you having a referendum,” and therefore they have dumped this here. Members opposite who vote for amendments—

Baroness Butler-Sloss (CB): My Lords, we have had 40 minutes on this. It is an important amendment. I respectfully say to the House that it would be helpful to hear speeches on the amendment and then have a vote.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, I entirely acknowledge what the noble and learned Baroness says but, of course, if noble Lords vote to amend the Bill they should recognise that they are denying the British people their say in a referendum.

Lord Giddens (Lab): My Lords, I follow up on the comment that the noble and learned Baroness has just made. I speak in this debate as an academic more than as a Labour Party member. If the UK were to leave the European Union, it would be a really wrenching process of readjustment. When a country is contemplating such a profound and consequential decision, it is crucial that the question chosen in the referendum should be as clear and impartial as possible. For that reason I think we should have some academic discussion of it, because, as has been said, questions are crucial in a referendum.

The report of the Electoral Commission is sound, sensible and well researched. For maximum clarity it makes absolute sense to have the formula proposed in this amendment, which is endorsed by the commission. Contrary to all kinds of political babble, I would hope that most Members of the House will support the amendment because it is in the interests of the country.

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It is not a party-political issue. It is in the interests of the country, if we have a referendum on a decision crucial to the future of the country, that the question asked is impartial and proper.

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB): My Lords, I speak in support of the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong. I have a dog point—but the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, made it himself. I would put it in a slightly different form. I would say, “Why have a watchdog and ignore its barking?”.

I also have a tartan point—but the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, made it himself. When Mr Salmond put forward his question for the Scottish referendum, loud were our complaints and strong were our strictures, particularly from the former Secretaries of State for Scotland. Their wizened locks shook. In the case of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, his head shook. Loud was our condemnation of Mr Salmond for ignoring the advice of the Electoral Commission. What happened? He listened to us, or he listened to the Electoral Commission, and he changed his question. He did as the House of Lords encouraged him to do. That seems to be quite a relevant precedent.

My third point you could call cui bono. I disagree with the noble Lords, Lord Grenfell and Lord Lipsey. They say that the question in the Bill—the slanted question—was written by Conservative Central Office. However, we know from the Second Reading debate that that is not true, because we were told then that the form of the question that the Tea Party in the other place has chosen to put in the Bill was not the one it was given by the Conservative Party hierarchy. The Conservative Party hierarchy provided a question very like the one proposed by my noble friend Lord Armstrong of Ilminster in the amendment before the House.

You have to say, “cui bono”. There will be people in this House who think that it is a very good idea to have a slanted question because they are not seeking a referendum; they are seeking a referendum that says we leave the European Union. Those on the other side who are thinking of opposing the amendment of my noble friend Lord Armstrong—and I hope they are very few—should reflect that this is not what the Conservative Party sought. This is a question that is not accidentally defective but deliberately defective. I support my noble friend’s amendment.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine (LD): My Lords, I apologise on behalf of my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill, whose name is added to Amendment 1 and the other amendments in this group, spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong. My noble friend is unable to be in the House this morning because he has a medical appointment.

I agree with Amendments 1, 28 and 31, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, and with Amendment 32, and I want to speak briefly to them—but, before doing so, I want to take on what the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, said. I tend not to tangle with the noble Lord—normally he is far too ferocious for me to lift my head above the parapet— but I remind him that it was Mr David Cameron, the Prime Minister, who undertook in a speech in

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January 2013, famously known as the Bloomberg speech, to negotiate a new settlement with our European partners. He said that once the settlement had been negotiated, there would be an “in or out” referendum in which the British people would choose to stay in the EU on these new terms or come out altogether. He undertook that this would be done in the first half of the next Parliament. He said:

“Legislation will be drafted before the next election. And if a Conservative Government is elected we will introduce the enabling legislation immediately and pass it by the end of that year”.

In fact, what has happened is that the Bill before us is the enabling legislation. It should not be before us in this Parliament; it should come as enabling legislation after the next general election.

I will now speak to the amendment. I note that I am the first member of this House’s Constitution Committee to so do and I regret that our chairman, the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, is unable to be here now. However, I draw the House’s attention to the Constitution Committee’s report on the Bill. The report is brief but clear. It clearly sets out that the Electoral Commission has, in Section 104, a duty,

“to ‘consider the wording’ of a referendum question and to report on its ‘intelligibility’. In doing so the Electoral Commission considers whether the question presents the options to voters ‘clearly, simply and neutrally’”.

It recommends that the question be amended from the question in the Bill, which is:

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

to one of two alternatives. One is:

“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?”,

and several noble Lords have spoken to that, and the other is:

“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”,

with the possible answers to the second option being, instead of yes or no, remain or leave. We should discuss both options.

My personal preference is not, as this group of amendments recommends, that the question should require a yes or no answer but that it should ask whether the UK should remain a member of the EU or leave the EU, with a “remain or leave” option clearly put to the electorate. The reason I say that is that when the Electoral Commission conducted its research—in the way that the noble Lord, Lipsey, might have found flawed, although I will not address his concerns at this point—it discovered that significant numbers of the public were confused as to whether we were members of the EU or members of the eurozone, and indeed there were people who did not know that we were members of the European Union. In the light of that, the committee certainly suggests that the House should carefully consider whether it is satisfied with the question and that it should do so in the spirit of its obligation to carry out scrutiny and revision.

Lord Soley (Lab): My Lords, I want to make two or three short points. They will be short because, at least in large part, the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, has made one of the most important points—that when the SNP drew up the question, we all, rightly, said no. We have

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the Electoral Commission to do this and it must set the question. Notwithstanding some of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, and others about views within and between political parties, the principle of having an independent body to draw up the question is an important one. Personally, I am not fond of referendums at the best of times. They are usually invented in order to help political parties get out of difficult situations. However, if we are to have them—and I accept that they are now part of the furniture of politics—it is very important that the question should be drawn up independently. That is why, whichever question is acceptable, it must be agreed or approved by the Electoral Commission.

My second point concerns the wording. That is particularly important, as was pointed out in an earlier intervention. The question in the Bill is:

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

I liked the use made by the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, of the “To be or not to be” approach. My knowledge of English grammar is terrible. I seem to be able to use it all right, but I have never understood it. However, what I can say with some conviction is that in another part of “Hamlet” it is said that he ought to be sent to England because we are all mad here—so perhaps there was more logic to it than I realised.

My point is that, if you put it in those terms, you must also look at the context, which I think my noble friend Lord Lipsey put his finger on—that is, the importance of the question to the whole population. As has just been said, the reality is that a minority—it is a significant, although not huge, minority—do not know whether we are a member of the European Union. They are uncertain about that, and they often confuse membership of the EU with membership of the eurozone.

If a question is put to them in the format that appears in the Bill, the tendency is, as the Liberal party discovered when it proposed the amendment on voting systems, that people will tend to vote no if they think that by doing so they will preserve the status quo. In other words, a no vote is saying, “I don’t want change”. However, by voting no to this—I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, knows this, having written “House of Cards” so well; knowledge of the Whips’ Office is always a useful experience, not to mention knowledge of No. 10—you will change things, but a significant minority, although by no means the majority, of people will believe that they are maintaining the status quo.

I like the wording in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, because it clearly presents the issue, which we have never resolved in this country. It says quite clearly:

“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”.

It is a statement of a factual situation and it gives a choice. Given that one of the arguments about a referendum has always been that the people must choose but must be informed by the discussion that runs up to the referendum, it is very important that that discussion takes place in the context of a question that says, “Your two alternatives are either to leave, which has big implications, or to stay in, which also

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has big implications, and you must make the choice”. If we do that, at least we will be open and honest with the electorate and challenge them to think about it.

If we surrender to the people as a whole our right to be the representatives in a democracy who decide these issues and then put ourselves before the electorate—this is one of the reasons why I do not like referendums —we must ensure that the people as a whole are presented with the arguments. The wording of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, does that and enables the debate to take place.

My other big concern about referendums of course is that, as with the one in 1975, they do not solve the matter; people are still uncertain. I suspect that in 25 years’ time you might find people arguing for another referendum. I can think of at least one person in this House who will be happy to come back next year with a referendum if necessary.

Even if noble Lords do not accept this amendment, they should accept one that will enable the Electoral Commission to deliver the referendum question in a way that enables the British people to make a proper choice.

11 am

Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB): My Lords, I support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster. I am all the more willing to do so because, in its four proposers, it has support from all the main parties in the House and from the Cross Benches. In a debate which has already shown a tendency to become partisan, it is important to move ahead on that kind of cross-party basis.

I support the amendment because if and when there is a referendum, there will be a huge amount of partisan speaking, writing and so on—and quite right, too—on both sides and there will be much that is confusing. However, surely we all ought to be able to agree that the question on the paper we vote on should be a genuinely level playing field. That is critical. Everything else about the campaign will not be a level playing field—and that is right because we live in a democracy—but the question should be.

We have before us two questions. The one in the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, has been considered by the body set up under Parliament’s authority to give advice on these matters and found to be defective. We have heard why it is defective. I will be interested to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, when he replies to this debate, why he thinks that, despite it being defective, it should be persevered with. I hope that he will not persevere with it; I hope he will accept the amendment.

The other question, which has been put forward by the Electoral Commission and which we are now considering, is, as has been said by everyone who has spoken today, a genuinely level playing field. It is important that if and when this referendum takes place it is perceived to be on a question that everyone can recognise as being a level playing field. How on earth are they going to think that if the Electoral Commission’s advice has been junked on a form of words whose origin appears to be obscure at the moment? Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, can

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tell us whom Mr Wharton consulted before he put this on the Order Paper. Whose opinion did he take? He is, after all, a freshman Member and I doubt that he has done a great deal of drafting of referendum questions in his life. Whom did he consult?

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, will surprise us all by accepting the amendment, because the issue of a level playing field in the question to be asked is absolutely fundamental.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern (Con): My Lords, your Lordships will not be surprised that I am extremely concerned about this Bill, its implications and the time at which it has reached your Lordships’ House.

As I understand the Bill, it does nothing more than confer on the electorate of this country the right to an “in or out” referendum on our membership of the European Union—nothing more and nothing less. Further action is required from the Government and both Houses of Parliament before a referendum can take place under the Bill. It is clear from the present situation that no referendum is likely to take place before the next general election, the date of which we know—or at least at the moment we know—because of the excellent system of fixed Parliaments that has now been put in place.

It is clear that action by the incoming Government will certainly be required. I have reached the conclusion that any incoming Government holding a referendum during their term of office will wish to be in charge of all the details of that referendum and will put them in place through a public general statute. This will be put in place by the Government and run by the Government, with both Houses of Parliament—I hope more or less in their present forms—having a full opportunity to consider the details.

I am not a prophet—I do not know how many of us are—and I do not know exactly what the conditions will be in 2016-17. For all I know, the eurozone may be a distinct body from the European Union and a change of name may occur—as, for example, happened in connection with Maastricht when the name changed from the European Economic Community to the European Union. So the question will have to be decided ultimately in the light of the circumstances prevailing at the time of the referendum. That is absolutely essential.

Lord Giddens: Would not that also apply to the date of the referendum? Should not that be decided in the light of what is happening in the European Union at a particular point because it is becoming so transformed?

Lord Mackay of Clashfern: Exactly. Every part of this Bill can be altered by general legislation after the general election, including the date. However, the need for the date now is to give an entitlement to a referendum. If you do not put in a date, it will be in never-never land so it has to have a date now, but that date, like every other detail in this Bill, is subject to alteration.

Therefore, the extent to which we need to trouble about the detail is a substantial question. We do not know the circumstances of the referendum—at least I do not know—and therefore it will need to be adjusted in the light of the circumstances at the time. That will have to happen through a Bill authorised, put forward

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and promoted by the Government of the day. This Bill is not promoted by the Government of the day but by, essentially, the Member of the House of Commons who put it forward. He is a member of the Conservative Party and I know that the Bill is substantially supported by a good number of its members, but not all.

I am a strong believer in the European Union and our membership of it and have been for many years. I survived in government during the Maastricht debate, which would have been an experience for anyone, and there were demands then for a referendum on the Maastricht treaty. I have always found referenda difficult, but it is particularly difficult to have a referendum on a treaty because the chance that those people who vote have even read it—indeed, this may sometimes even apply to the legislators—is rather small. A referendum on a treaty is therefore difficult. At one time it was proposed to hold a referendum on the constitution of the EU, but that was equally difficult.

However, the question of whether, either now or in the future, you should be in or out is relatively simple. Just as it is in the Scottish referendum, it is a suitable question for a referendum. What this Bill does is give the British electorate the entitlement to have a referendum. As I said in response to the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, the date has to be put in, as otherwise there is no enforceable entitlement, but the actual date for the referendum needs to be fixed by Government action along with action by both Houses of Parliament.

I am anxious about this because of what has been said by the Constitution Committee. I shall read out what the committee said because it is important:

“Three further private members’ Fridays are scheduled in the House of Commons this session: on Fridays 17 January, 24 January and 28 February 2014. So if the Lords were to pass any amendments to the bill, in order for it to become law in this session it would have to return to the Commons in time for the Lords amendments to be considered on Friday 28 February 2014. The requirement in the House of Lords for minimum intervals between stages of a bill may make it unlikely that the bill would finish the Lords in time for any amendments passed by the Lords to be considered by the Commons on Friday 28 February 2014”.

I would like to know what the proposers of this amendment have to say in relation to that.

The danger I see is that by exercising our undoubted responsibility for scrutiny, and given that scrutiny is supposed to improve a Bill, we will improve it in such a way as to kill it. This troubles me a great deal, not so much from the point of this House and its position in relation to the Commons, but I consider it to be important in terms of the position of the country in relation to the European Union.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: Surely the pressure on time that the noble and learned Lord has explained is wholly arbitrary. It is not something which has been decided by this House; it has been forced upon this House. It is no fault of this House that there is such pressure of time. The implication of what the noble and learned Lord is saying is that even if the Bill is thoroughly flawed and thoroughly bad, we should just wave it on.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern: I did not say it was our fault—certainly not. The Bill started off as early as possible in the other place. It took some time because

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there was a lot of discussion. Members of the House of Commons considered it without a guillotine and it arrived here, I think, in early December. I remember well the Clerk reading out the fact that it had appeared.

Lord Radice: Should such an important issue as a referendum be introduced in the form of a Private Member’s Bill? Is not the reason we are in such trouble because it has been introduced under the wrong heading and in the wrong way?

Lord Mackay of Clashfern: There is no option. If the Government do not want to give the people an entitlement to a referendum, then unless your Lordships can enlighten me, there is no other option that I know of by which that can be made a statutory entitlement. Of course, your Lordships may wonder why they should have bothered, and I hope to come to that briefly—usually when you say “briefly” it makes your speech longer, but I hope that it does not do that to mine.

The point I want to make is this. UKIP, which is a recognised political party in our country and is represented here by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, and others, has two issues. The first is that the people of this country should have a referendum. The second is that the people of this country, if granted a referendum, should vote to come out of the European Union. On the first question, UKIP appears to have a very considerable amount of public support, and indeed that was recognised in the debate on Second Reading.

But what about the parties simply putting a promise in their manifestos? The difficulty is that in recent years, all the parties which have been in government have promised a referendum, and yet no referendum has taken place. The result is that all the parties are being accused of making false promises that cannot be trusted. The noble Lord, Lord Owen, made this point very forcefully at Second Reading, and it strikes me as an extremely important one. If the small print of those promises were to be examined, I think it would be seen that there were no real false promises. However, from what I have seen over the years, any discussion of the small print does not form an important part of political propaganda, so the business of the false promise allegation has therefore gained a good deal of strength.

I know of no better assurance that anyone could give to the British people that they will have a referendum other than an entitlement to one in a Bill. However, the Bill, although it provides for the entitlement, need not and does not of itself actually produce a referendum. Before a referendum can take place under this Bill, action by the Government and by both Houses of Parliament is necessary.

11.15 am

Lord Anderson of Swansea: The promise is not bankable on the principle that no Parliament can bind their successor.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern: Exactly, and this Bill does not bind anyone—except that if it remains on the statute book, it will entitle the British people to a referendum.

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Baroness Quin: From what the noble and learned Lord is saying, it seems that the Bill has no purpose whatever. Moreover, on his earlier point about timing, is it not the case that if we pass amendments to this Bill, it will be up to the House of Commons, if it decides that it wants to allocate more time, to do so? That could be done via the usual channels.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern: I have not myself been a Member of the House of Commons, but as I understand it our Constitution Committee, which knows much more about these matters than I do, has said that it is likely that if we pass amendments, this Bill will fall. That is a fact as stated by the committee. The noble Baroness has said that I am saying that the Bill has no purpose at all. I do not say that for a moment. The purpose of the Bill is that it gives the best assurance to the British people that they will get an “in or out” referendum in due course. However, it is only an entitlement and the full—

Lord Quirk: If the importance of this Bill is to guarantee the great British people a referendum, can the noble and learned Lord explain why its devisers have gone out of their way to put down the question in such a tendentious form—a form that actually goes against the advice of the Electoral Commission?

Lord Mackay of Clashfern: First, as I said, the Electoral Commission’s advice so far is provisional. Like me, it realises that the actual question will depend to some extent on the circumstances that obtain at the date of the referendum. I do not regard the question as particularly tendentious. The idea that those who are going to vote will not know, at the end of a referendum campaign, whether we are in the Union or out, is perhaps not the most—

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: Did the noble and learned Lord support Alex Salmond on changing the question for the Scottish people? I have listened very carefully, and with respect, to the noble and learned Lord. He appears not to particularly like the question, not to accept the date and not to accept that this is binding on a future Government. I have two questions for him. If he wishes the British people to take on good faith what emerges from here and from Parliament as a whole, surely he would support a better question? Secondly, why is the date in the Bill not during the lifetime of the next Government, given all that has been said about the large amount of work that the Prime Minister says has to be done before the people know the circumstances in which any question would be put?

Lord Mackay of Clashfern: As I said, the only purpose of the Bill, as I see it, is to provide the British people with an assurance that they will have an “in or out” referendum. Indeed, I think my noble friend said that was the principle of the Bill at the beginning. I have very little difficulty with the question as formulated by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, and would be perfectly happy with it. However, I do not think it is a really definitive question for the referendum itself because that would be much better looked at when, finally, the referendum actually takes place.

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Lord Giddens: Is not the inference from what the noble and learned Lord says that anything could be in the Bill and it would not matter as long as it goes through? That, surely, is an absurd position. It is up to us in the House of Lords to make sure that the Bill is sensible and well reasoned and, especially, that the question asked is fair and impartial. That is absolutely central to any referendum, as any country anywhere around the world with experience of this shows. The question has to be clear, fair and impartial and it has to be the core of what determines the future of the country. It does not make any sense to say that it does not matter and we will come back to it later.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern: I do not say that the question does not matter—not at all. I perfectly understand that the question at the time the referendum is taken has to be fair, excellent and take full account of the circumstances. In response to the second question asked by the noble Baroness, there is quite a lot of work to be done, but I know of no way other than this Bill that gives an assurance to the British people, going into the next election, that they will have an “in or out” referendum.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: Would I be wrong in saying that the whole trend of the noble and learned Lord’s reasoning, which I have been following with great care, is that the wording for the referendum should not be in the Bill at all but should be determined by statute in the new Parliament? If that is the case, would it not be better to at least follow the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, and have a decent wording in the Bill? There is of course no Motion on the Order Paper to dispense totally with the wording.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, in order to have an enforceable entitlement, it is essential, as I see it, to have a question that is related to the issue that you want to raise. Essentially, the Bill is legislating to say, “There shall be a referendum”. However, in order to be enforceable and to create a real entitlement, it has to state the time within which the referendum must happen, the question that must be raised, the mechanisms by which a system can be set and who the electorate are. That is all necessary in order to create an entitlement, but the entitlement does not mean that the referendum is going to take place only in accordance with the Bill. There is no question that this Bill binds any other Parliament any more than any other Bill with a sunset clause in it. This Bill does nothing except give that entitlement to the British people. If the Bill passes, I shall be interested in the number of manifestos that contain an undertaking to repeal it.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: The noble and learned Lord has set out his position repeatedly and carefully but there is one point where I am unclear on it. Is he not aware that there is an entitlement, called the European Union Act 2011, which creates a steadfast, watertight provision that there will be a referendum should there be any change and transfer of powers from the United Kingdom to the EU? It does not even limit us to having that referendum by 2017. Should that happen before 2017, we would be required to have a referendum before 2017.

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Lord Mackay of Clashfern: The noble Baroness can be assured that I know of that Act. Indeed, I took part in proposing an amendment to the then Bill which ultimately was accepted, after negotiation and with modifications, in the House of Commons. I do know about that, but the trouble is that it applies only when there is a transfer of power to the European Union. This is why it is so important that this is an “in or out” referendum.

This is what UKIP wants. I am trying to get round to saying that a terrible shadow is cast on the second question that UKIP is posing by the attitude to the first question. An important point for noble Lords to consider in relation to the Bill is that UKIP, as I understand it, is saying that the reason there has been no referendum, in spite of so many promises, is that those who are in favour of the referendum do not think that they will get the right answer in it. I do not believe that for a minute. If the British people had a referendum on this subject at more or less any time, but particularly after the next election, I think there would be a resounding yes to staying in the European Union. I am a very firm believer in the European Union, for reasons which I have given, including the one that I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, mention at Second Reading—the peace that the arrangement has brought to our continent since its inception. I used to hear that a lot from senior Members of the House when I was first here. It is vitally important and I was so glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, put it first.

The trouble is that if the Bill does not pass, for whatever reason, it gives the best propaganda yet to the view that we do not want to give the people a referendum because those of us who are in favour of the European Union think we would lose that referendum. The failure to grant a referendum fuels the second aspect of UKIP’s claims. I am very much in favour of the European Union, as I have said. I fear that if we take any action which causes the Bill to fail—particularly those of us who are in favour of the European Union—it will give people the best propaganda yet to say that the reason for refusal in the first issue is the fear of those who support the Union that the referendum will go against them. This has never been a real issue in elections to date because all the main parties have been agreed in relation to the European Union.

11.30 am

The noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, was surprised that there had been no speech on this side—well, he has one now.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Mackay of Clashfern: I thought it was the courtesy of this House to give the signatories to an amendment the right to speak first after it has been moved. Sadly, earlier in the debate, that system seemed to have been departed from, but I did not come forward quite as early as I might have done on that ground. Anyway, I am here now.

The ordinary, straightforward way to kill this Bill would be to refuse it a Second Reading in this House. But, having granted it a Second Reading, if the Bill is

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instead killed by the use of a procedure that is intended to improve it, that is a very powerful point that will affect the political debate on this issue until the next general election.

Lord Hurd of Westwell (Con): My Lords, I am following my noble and learned friend’s argument with care. I do not understand, however, quite how those of us who are in favour of Britain remaining in the European Union might be damaged by the acceptance of something on the lines of the amendment. I cannot see why that would be the result of accepting the amendments before us, which simply give guidance and lay down how this House, at this time—the end of January—should give our view on how such a referendum could be phrased. I cannot see how the consequence that my noble and learned friend fears could derive from accepting something like this amendment.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern: That fear arises because of what we have been told by the Constitution Committee of this House: that if the Bill is amended it will probably not reach the statute book. That is a very important issue for me. I am sorry about it and, as the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea, said, it is not our fault; we did not take all this time to consider the Bill but it came to us at the beginning of December and we are trying to get on with it as quickly as possible. I am sorry to have spoken for so long.

Baroness Boothroyd (CB): My Lords, of course it is right for the Constitution Committee to advise this House on what it believes is correct in relation to Private Members’ Bills. But if we amend the Bill in this House and it goes back to the House of Commons, it is certainly for the Government—as the people who determine the business, along with the usual channels—to determine what time should be given to these amendments in the House of Commons. Therefore, we can amend the Bill. That is our job if we wish to do so.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, I do not know whether that is an intervention. The trouble with that is that this is not a government Bill. We are in a situation of coalition and the other party in the coalition does not want this, so there is no question of the Government being able to arrange matters in the House of Commons. I defer, of course, to the noble Baroness’s knowledge of the procedure.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: Before my noble and learned friend sits down, it is very important that we clear this up. Of course, the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, is absolutely right. The problem here is that the Government cannot do that because the Liberals are refusing to allow government time. So it is the case that if the Bill is amended, it will be lost.

Lord Elystan-Morgan (CB): My Lords, the issue immediately before the House is very direct and very simple. It is a choice between the version of wording for the referendum preferred by the Electoral Commission or the one that is contained in the draft. Even if the

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Electoral Commission had in no way opined on this matter, I would urge the House to accept the version that is in the amendment, for two reasons.

First, it is founded on a factual matrix; in other words, the fact of our current membership of the European Union. Secondly, it shows clearly and concisely what the effect of a negative vote would be. Nothing could be fairer and I suspect that almost any intelligent schoolboy or schoolgirl in this land would say, “Yes, that version is preferable in so far as it is more likely to lead to a clear, understandable and final result in this matter”.

In addition, of course, there is the question of parentage. It comes from the Electoral Commission. It therefore has a quasi-judicial status—I appreciate that one is extending that somewhat but it is a neutral status of high standing. That, I think, makes it all the more obvious that not only would justice be done but would be manifestly seen to be done.

Turning for a moment to the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, there is no such animal in the constitutional field as an unamendable Bill so far as this House is concerned. There can be no question at all about that. The argument that is put forward is this: were the House of Lords to intervene, it would do so at its peril. Some persons use that in a blackmailing way—I absolve completely the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, from such an argument, but certain persons put it forward in terrorem. Whether it be in terrorem or as a completely neutral commentary on the situation, of the two circumstances, I would rather belong to a House that risks its own end by doing that which is right and proper than to run away from what is a clear responsibility and right in this matter.

Baroness Butler-Sloss: My Lords, there is a very short and simple answer: because almost everybody in this House so far has supported the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, why on earth does not the mover of the Bill accept this amendment? There is no problem in the Commons.

Lord Richard (Lab): My Lords, I will deal first with the so-called constitutional argument that seems to have emerged in the past three-quarters of an hour or so, which is that somehow or other this House should not seek to scrutinise this Bill too closely, it should not seek to amend it and it should certainly not seek to do anything that sent it back to the House of Commons in a different form from that in which it arrived here.

Over the past two years I have listened ad nauseam to Members of this House, particularly some of those who have spoken today. I am thinking notably of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, who lectured me continually on the virtues of the nominated House as we have it and the iniquities of possibly having an elected House and told me—as I say, very frequently and very loudly—that the function of this House was that we should scrutinise a Bill, we should revise a Bill, we should examine it in detail, we should send it back to the House of Commons if we thought it was right, and we

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should amend it. The phrase that I heard so often was that the main function of this House was to ask the House of Commons to think again.

I do not detect any dissent from the other side so I was rather disappointed when the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, at Second Reading and indeed today, repeated the argument that somehow or other this Bill is so special and so unique that we should not consider it, we should not try to amend it, we should certainly not succeed in amending it and we should certainly not ask the House of Commons to think again about what it has sent here. That is a nonsense: it is a constitutional nonsense; it is a political nonsense; and it makes absolute nonsense of the functions of this House.

We do have those duties. They are not just rights but duties. If proposed legislation comes before the House of Lords, the House of Lords has a duty to scrutinise it, particularly if it has not been done properly in the other place. The short answer to this issue and this amendment is very simple: it is that the Electoral Commission, an independent body, has looked at this issue and had some research done. It may be imperfect, as the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, told us, but the general effect of all that work by the Electoral Commission is that it has come up with a proposal for a question that should be put in the referendum. It is a question which on the Electoral Commission’s analysis is clear, unambiguous, neutral and fair, and it should therefore be one which this House should be prepared to include in the Bill.

For the life of me, I do not understand the attitude on the other side. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, said that, somehow or other, we would be strengthening the UKIP argument that the United Kingdom should withdraw from the European Union. If the noble and learned Lord had looked in the rows behind him at the moment that he said that he was against that, he would have seen the faces of those whose predominant passion as far as Europe is concerned seems to be that we should withdraw. It is quite extraordinary that the people who are most vociferous in support of this legislation are not the democrats in the Conservative Party but are, as somebody has christened them, the Tea Party.

So be it. That is what we are faced with. For the House of Lords not to accept that that is what we are faced with and for the House of Lords not to do its duty in relation to this Bill would be a derogation of its duties. I hope therefore that the House will vote strongly in favour of the amendment.

Lord Davies of Stamford: My Lords, I have great respect and regard for the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay—

Lord Wigley (PC): My Lords, as someone who has put his name to two of the amendments grouped with the lead amendment, I am very happy to support the amendment put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong. As a relatively new Member of this House—it is three years ago this week that I took my place in this Chamber—I am acutely aware that I had to be conscious then of the role of this House as a revising Chamber

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but a Chamber, of course, which always gives way to the democratically expressed wish in the House of Commons.

At the Second Reading of this Bill, I was flabbergasted to hear the suggestion that we as a House of Lords should not consider amending this Bill in any shape or form even if there was a glaring weakness in it and that we should return it unamended to the House of Commons for reasons that I do not understand. I know from having spent 27 years in the House of Commons that it has the capability of creating the time, certainly if it is the Government’s wish to do so. If there is the extent of consensus in the House of Commons that has been suggested in this debate, surely that consensus would allow that time to be made available for it—or perhaps the consensus does not exist to the extent that has been suggested in this debate.

Be that as it may, I believe that the amendment before us is a vital one. It is one which I am conscious of in the context of the debate that we had some months ago on the position in Scotland. My good friend, Mr Alex Salmond, who has been roundly rubbished for suggesting a question other than the question being put forward by the Electoral Commission, had the good sense to accept the Electoral Commission’s suggestion. I believe that we should have the good sense to accept the words proposed in Amendment 1 that would provide for that to take place.

I invite the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, who is in charge of this Bill, to do what would be the sensible thing and accept the amendment. That would curtail the time that is being used and give an indication that this House still has a role on important legislation such as this. In doing so, he would change the tone of the whole debate from hereon in.

11.45 am

Lord Lea of Crondall (Lab): My Lords—

Lord Davies of Stamford: I have given way already on two or three occasions. I think that I have shown considerable courtesy in giving way several times before speaking. I say with the greatest sincerity that I have nothing but the greatest admiration for the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay. Anybody who knows him knows that he is a man of the greatest integrity, and he was undoubtedly an extremely distinguished Lord Chancellor. But I was really quite shocked by something that he said this morning and I feel that, for once, he has allowed party loyalty to override his general judgment.

He seemed to suggest—I wish I could believe that I had misheard him—that we should allow in this place any kind of rubbish to become the law of the land simply on grounds of political expediency, as a substitute for party manifestos as a declaration of future intent or something of that sort. That seemed to me an extraordinary thing for any Member of this House to say, particularly a former Lord Chancellor.

We have a duty, which it is perhaps not an exaggeration to call a sacred duty, to make sure that anything that goes forward from this place on to the statute book has been thoroughly examined. If we see something coming from the House of Commons which we believe

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to be anomalous or improper, or not up to the highest standards of a democratic legislature or false in any way, we must do everything possible to modify and improve the text before it leaves this House.

Equally, there is really no doubt that there is something very false about the text of this Bill. There is something very artificial about the language of the question. We all in this House think that we understand the English language. We think that we understand the difference between the verb “to be” and the verb “to remain”. We know perfectly well in any context, be it a newspaper or a novel, that if we changed every use of the verb “to remain” to “to be”, we would fundamentally change the meaning and produce complete chaos and nonsense in many cases.

If I were to say to a friend of mine, “Do you think that I should be a member of a trade union?” or “Do you think that I should be a member of my local rotary?” or “Do you think that I should be a member of the Mormon church?”, and if, subsequent to the conversation he discovered that I was already a member of a trade union or a member of the local rotary or a member of the Mormon church, I think that he could come to only two conclusions. One would be that I was going slightly mad, perhaps showing the advanced symptoms of Alzheimer’s; I can see some noble Lords who have felt for years that I have had that. Alternatively, he would feel, with reason, that I was being very disingenuous and slippery and that he needed in future to be very cautious in his understanding of everything that I had said. That, I am afraid, is the position of the Government, or the position of the Tory party, or the position of the proposers of this Bill. They have subscribed to a use of language which is clearly very slippery and disingenuous, and we have to ask why they have done it.

I have no doubt that they have done it because the spin doctors have said that people confronted with a question will be inclined to vote for the status quo, particularly if it is a matter not of immediate concern to themselves or their families—we know that Europe is not a matter of immediate concern to most people and their families—and particularly if it is a slightly complicated matter. That is the easy option—some people would say the lazy option—so that, if you want to get an answer against membership of the European Union, you imply, although it would be quite false to do it, that our membership of the European Union is something new and is not the status quo. We all know that that is the game that they are playing. The question is whether the Government, or the Tory party more precisely, should be allowed to get away with that or whether the House of Lords should feel it wants the Government of the day to get away with that. That is the question that we have to weigh very carefully, because on that depends the integrity to a very large extent of our processes here.

If it becomes known in the country that the Government of the day can get away in a referendum with posing an obviously slightly bogus and biased question, what does that say for the integrity of our democracy? What does that say for people’s confidence in our political processes? There is already enough cynicism in this country about politics without adding to it in this fashion.

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Even if there was no such thing as an Electoral Commission in this country, quite openly and straightforwardly on the basis of the two texts we are comparing this morning, the one put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, is undoubtedly the one we should go for. However, there is an Electoral Commission. We have established it as an umpire to deal with precisely these matters, to give better confidence to the British people that politicians cannot get away with dirty tricks. Here, the sponsors and supporters of the Bill propose that we should simply override the views of the Electoral Commission—the umpire. Two things follow from that. First, it would be quite clear that there is no point at all in having an Electoral Commission. Why are we spending public money on an Electoral Commission if the Government of the day—or anybody who can get a majority in the two Houses—can always override its views? There would be complete cynicism about the Electoral Commission. Secondly, there would be even greater cynicism about all our political processes. I have my name to several amendments in this group but I am delighted to support the amendment put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch (UKIP): My Lords, I do not know if others of your Lordships are in the same position as me in that I remain confused about procedure between your Lordships’ House and the House of Commons on this Private Member’s Bill. I am fairly sure that very large numbers of the British public would be similarly confused having listened to this debate so far. I refer here particularly to the helpful interventions from the noble Lords, Lord Forsyth and Lord Elystan-Morgan, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern.

I will not make more of a speech on the Bill itself except to remind your Lordships, yet again, that the Bill passed through the House of Commons unopposed and is on a subject upon which a very large majority of the British people say they want a referendum. Of course, it would be a very foolhardy Government in future who dared to repeal this Bill if we passed it.

I still have a question on which we need an authoritative answer from the government Front Bench. I regret that the noble Baroness the Chief Whip is not in her place but the noble Lord the Leader of the House is—or perhaps it is the duty of the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, to answer this. The question is, quite simply: what happens if we pass any amendment to this Private Member’s Bill? Will there be time in the Commons to consider it and get it back to us, or will we in effect kill the Bill? What are the prospects of a similar Bill in the next Session and before the general election? Even if the wording in the proposed question may not be perfect, are we in effect killing this Bill if we vote through this or any other amendment? We should be very clear about that before we vote.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, a spectre haunts the Conservative Party—the spectre of UKIP. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, must glow with pride about that. He may have heard—as the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, said—the speech of

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the Prime Minister at Bloomberg. That was a damascene conversion. I invite Members of your Lordships’ House to listen to or read the speeches made by the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, extremely eloquently, rejecting an “in or out” referendum prior to that Bloomberg speech. Indeed, the Foreign Secretary used phrases, which I will not quote now, saying what a disaster it would be in trade terms. Of course, that sentiment is echoed now by the CBI, the Japanese Government and a whole series of businesses—many Japanese, German and others—that recognise that there would be considerable uncertainty between now and 2017 if this Bill was passed.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, gave as justification for his stance that to pass this Bill would give an assurance to the British public, but an assurance of what? We have said on many occasions that the constitutional principle is clear: no Parliament can bind its successors. Will there be a clear assurance that there will be a referendum before 2017? We know for example that the Prime Minister has said very clearly that he would not intend to start negotiations with our European partners until after the next general election. Anyone who knows anything about the European Union knows that its wheels grind very slowly and there will be long and tortuous negotiations. Some countries that we believe now to be allies may no longer be—for example, the Czech Republic. Its Government have claimed for some time that they would be an ally in terms of reforming the European Union but it recently had a change of Government. The old, very Eurosceptic Government have changed to one far warmer towards Europe and so unlikely to be an ally. Poland, Bulgaria and Romania are, after the recent utterances of the Prime Minister, hardly likely to be particularly supportive. One could go on.

Lord Trefgarne (Con): I wonder if the noble Lord would refresh his memory with paragraph 4.25 of the Companion, which appears on page 65. It says:

“Debate must be relevant to the Question before the House”.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: I invite the noble Lord to read what I am saying. I am replying to points made by other Members of your Lordships’ House during the debate, so if I am not being relevant, nor were they.

As I am sure everyone recognises, the truth is that this would involve a great constitutional change. As a Welshman, I have considerable experience of referenda. The first referendum I was involved in was on Sunday opening in Wales. I went from London, where I was then working, to Wales and voted against Sunday opening. I have campaigned in many referenda since and have reached the conclusion that the result of a referendum depends, first, on who poses the question and whether the Government are popular at the time. Secondly, it depends on when the question is posed. Thirdly, it depends on the question. I end on this point: in my judgment, the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, made a highly succinct and powerful speech, inviting us not to allow the Tea Party to—we have used a lot of dog analogies—be the tail wagging the dog, but to follow the body set up specifically for this purpose, namely the Electoral Commission.

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Lord Wright of Richmond (CB): My Lords, I raise two very short points. First, I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster. Like many Members of this House, I look forward to hearing the views of the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean (Lab): My Lords, I would like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, a question that I do not think has been put so far. Does he not feel a little uneasy about bringing forward this enormously important Bill in full knowledge that by doing so at this time this House would be unable to do its constitutional duty—its foremost and most important one—which is to suggest amendments to legislation without our being accused of killing the Bill or frustrating the Commons? Why did the noble Lord not bring forward his Bill earlier in the Session, when this House could do its duty to suggest amendments in full knowledge that the other place could do its duty and consider our suggested amendments before taking its decision?


Lord Triesman (Lab): My Lords, this is a vital issue and I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, and others for introducing the amendment. So that there is no doubt about it, let me start by saying that I fully support the amendment. I think it would produce a question that is far fairer. As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, described it, it would produce a level playing field. That is extremely important, given the significance of the decision that we are being asked to take.

I received a letter from a sixth-former complaining about the speech that I made at Second Reading. She said that there was no point in us rehearsing the different arguments for and against the European Union, as that was something that would come out in a referendum, and that the real issue, as some noble Lords have characterised it on Second Reading and today, is about democracy itself, the chance for the people to have their say. The noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, made the point at the very beginning that his amendment would have no impact on that democratic intention.

The fact that we need to address, if I may say so, is what we really mean by “democracy”. It is not just a word, it is a process which we intend to serve—a better and higher purpose than any autocracy could achieve. It is about how we do things to get a result; it is a process that should lead to a decision. That requires clarity on the issue to be decided. The issue should be capable of being decided beyond doubt and beyond ambiguity, and this decision is a very profound one, so we had better make sure that when the country is invited to take the decision, it can get it right.

I do not believe that there is ever a Bill that is so unimpeachable that it cannot or should not be changed. The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, made the same point a few moments ago. It is not an appeal to democracy to say that we should not try to change the Bill; indeed, I think that that would be a rather disrespectful silence, as far as the people of the United Kingdom are concerned. The role of this House, as several noble Lords have said, is not to embrace expediency in these circumstances but to ensure that we have got the ethics right in providing the people of this country with the decision. It is true that we are not elected,

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but that does not in these circumstances mean that we are not relevant. I invite the House to embrace its relevance.

In May 2015, any party can say in its manifesto and put it to the people that there will be a referendum in 2017, should it wish. The mechanism to get that legislation through can unquestionably be achieved between May 2015 and 2017, quite aside from the possibility that noble Lords have canvassed of the Government, or at least a part of the Government, making time in the House of Commons to reconsider any amendment that comes from this House. It is very important that there should be a reconsideration, because it is conceivable—just out of prudence, I do not rule out the possibility—that somebody may conclude that it is important to have the referendum well before 2017. A bad set of results this May, with UKIP apparently doing better, may very well persuade a Prime Minister who has regarded this as a moving target all the time, to move the target again, if he believes that it is politically the right thing to do. I understand that these political pressures come on people.

It would be quite wrong for this House not to challenge the Bill. It would be quite wrong because it is not a party point; it is a point about the interests of the people of the United Kingdom being served fully and properly. The eminence of those who have tabled the amendment shows just how significant and broadly spread the support is. It is sometimes a courtesy to refer to colleagues in this House as being very eminent, conjuring that up as a turn of phrase, but if we look at the genuine experience of those who have tabled the amendment and the significance of the roles that they have played in this country, we can see just how important it is to take their views with the greatest seriousness. It is the basis of the Electoral Commission’s view. It is the basis on which the Select Committee on the Constitution has given advice. I know that I have only been here about 10 years, but I cannot recall circumstances in which all the advice of that kind has simply been ignored.

The fact that the Electoral Commission made two suggestions is not a reflection of its inability to decide, but an observation that either would be far better than the proposal in front of us. It invites us to do what we are supposed to do in political life: to take a decision. The one thing that is not in the Electoral Commission’s mind is to fall back on the worst of all the possible solutions, rather than to choose one of the better ones, as the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, to the great help of this House, has done. Indeed, the Electoral Commission is not entirely disregarded in the Bill. When it is useful to refer to it, in Clause 3(1), lines 6 to 7, and Clause 3(3), lines 14 to 15, those supporting the Bill find it very convenient to rely on the Electoral Commission. Let us rely on it properly for all the advice it gives, if we may.

I will mention Scotland briefly—but not, curiously, in the context of the referendum to be held on a far more sensible question than the one that Alex Salmond originally proposed. I will briefly mention the referendum which led to devolution in Scotland. It was a very big process. There was a constitutional conference, a major campaign and a fair question. It took a long time and

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it was done very thoroughly. We should reflect for a moment on the reason that was so. I recall the words repeated time and again during that process, because I believe that they are central to a decision as large as the one that this House is being invited to take. What was aimed for was that the people of Scotland should come to what was called a determination of their settled will. They were going to make a change where it was critical that they had fully explored and understood the whole of it and had settled on another solution for the politics of Scotland which would not be challenged or pulled apart in a matter of weeks, after people had decided that it might not have been the right thing to do.

The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, made the point about encouraging a larger number of people to vote, and I share that view, but even more important—I hope that he will not feel that I am making a contrast here, because I am not trying to—was the fact that the people of Scotland would know precisely what they had decided and whether they wanted to live with it. That was what was most important. This is a fundamental constitutional change and also needs certainty.

A number of comments have been made about the confusing nature of the words, the fact that they are tilted and the fact that they are ambiguous. I will not repeat those arguments; that would be tedious for the House and inappropriate. I know this: often, people ask me whether I think that something is the case. I may think it, but it does not always give rise to a purposive decision to change it. We go through all sorts of ambiguities in the cognitive process before we conclude that something has to be changed in a particular way. This question really will not do in arriving at a settled view. I ask those on the Conservative Benches to think again and to accept the amendment. It is always painful to change a position in politics, but it may none the less be right to change position on this occasion.

Finally, of course, the House of Commons will get its way. The Conservative Party, which is dominant in the House of Commons in this respect, can most certainly make the time for everybody to think again.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: When the noble Lord says that the House of Commons can act accordingly, can he give us an assurance that if the Bill is amended and goes to the House of Commons, the Labour Party in the House of Commons will be pressing for more time to consider the Bill?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, any time that I have control over the affairs of the House of Commons would probably be regarded—

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Triesman: My Lords, I am not sidestepping the question. The number of times that noble Lords on all sides of the House have said that the affairs of the House of Commons are determined by the House of Commons, and that we are not the right people to try to do it, is a statement about the proper constitutional

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relationship that we have with them. That is not a trivial point; I would not presume to do that with the elected House.

I wanted to say that the pressures to act precipitately and move repeatedly, as I think Mr Cameron has, are not the right way. We will have to live with this Bill and it had better be the right Bill. I believe that this change will give it at least a chance of being the right Bill.

The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi) (Con): My Lords, the House has now been sitting for more than two hours and I will therefore try to deal with the amendments in this group with some general summing-up statements. A number of issues were raised today about the question in the Bill, and whether it is one which the public will understand and which will allow the people to have a say—an opportunity to decide and to reconnect with politics, as my noble friend Lord Phillips said.

Lord Lipsey: Before the Minister proceeds to address the amendments, will she please inform the House whether she is speaking as a government Minister or a spokesman for the Conservative Party—or in what other capacity she is addressing us?

Baroness Warsi: My Lords, it is as spokesman for the Conservative Party. The Bill’s wording of the question—

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon (Lab): My Lords, this is a Private Member’s Bill and in the usual circumstances it is normal for the Minister to give just a general view. It is not for the noble Baroness to give the Conservative Party’s view on each of the amendments. That would be entirely improper, in my view.

Baroness Warsi: My Lords, I was not proposing to give the Conservative view on each of the amendments. I was going to make some general points. The Bill’s wording of the question is, I submit, fair and clear. It is the right question to put to the British people.

Lord Lea of Crondall: We have been going for more than two hours, as the Minister said, yet in one sentence she has just said that she will not respond to the point about why the question is the wrong one and why the Electoral Commission’s is the right one. How is that, unless there is no answer to the question—in which case she should accept the amendment? What is the justification for not accepting the question put by the Electoral Commission? That has not been answered from those Benches.

Baroness Warsi: My Lords, clearly the House wants to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, so in those circumstances I will simply finish by saying that the Electoral Commission’s key finding was that the question in the Bill did not lead voters to favour one answer or the other. Its concern was that some voters who do not know whether we are currently in the EU would be

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confused. However, we feel that following a full referendum campaign, the number of people this would affect would either be very few or none.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am terribly sorry, as I know that the noble Baroness has a job to do, but when she says things like, “We believe”, that is extremely difficult. I know that the noble Baroness is in a difficult position. I do not know whether she is there as a government Minister or as a Conservative, but great care has to be taken.

Baroness Warsi: My Lords, the Bill is about the British people having their say on the UK’s membership of the EU. That is what they want to decide upon and this is a simple binary choice: in or out. I will leave the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, to respond.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: Before the noble Baroness sits down—

Noble Lords: Dobbs.

12.15 pm

Lord Dobbs (Con): My Lords, thank you. I have listened carefully to this debate and have given this particular issue a great deal of thought over recent weeks. I have also taken note of the fact that 81 amendments have been put down so far to the Bill. This is but the first group of amendments and we have already taken well over two hours in discussing it—which is why, at the risk of seeming discourteous to the House, I do not intend to take any interventions. I want to get on with this. Although I simply do not have time—

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Dobbs: Well, we have just seen five interventions on the noble Baroness in three minutes.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords—

Lord Dobbs: No, I am sorry, I am not going to take—

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition and I would like to be heard. The difference between the noble Lord who has sponsored the Bill and the Minister is that it is the noble Lord’s Bill. It is a Private Member’s Bill. I think that the whole House would therefore expect the noble Lord to answer the questions that have been put to him—and if noble Lords who have intervened previously in this debate feel that there are additional questions to be answered, that is entirely appropriate. I think the House would find it appropriate if the noble Lord answered those questions.

Lord Dobbs: If I may be allowed to make progress, I will do my best to do precisely that and to answer the questions that have been raised. They are about the questions in the amendment which the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, tabled. I am afraid that I simply do not have time to acknowledge all those who have spoken, although I thank noble Lords for their, by and

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large, reasoned and reasonable contributions, and in particular for the elegant way in which the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, introduced his amendment.

I am not entirely unsympathetic to what has been said. As I said at Second Reading, the case about the question is arguable but not overwhelming. Although some noble Lords have implied that we are standing at the gates of hell, and that almost any question would be better than this one, it is worth remembering that the Electoral Commission did not condemn out of hand the question that stands in the Bill. Some of the references to the commission’s findings that were made during this debate were hugely exaggerated. I have its findings here and have read every word. The commission said:

“We found that the wording of the question itself”—

the question contained in the Bill—

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

not that it was confusing and misleading, as the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, suggested. The Electoral Commission had its reservations, of course—

Lord Kinnock (Lab): Since the noble Lord is quoting from the Electoral Commission’s report, his quotation, in order to be accurate, should be precise. Exactly after the phrase which he has quoted, the words of the Electoral Commission are,

“however … the phrase ‘be a member of the European Union’ to describe the referendum choice is not sufficiently clear to ensure a full understanding of the referendum as a whole … The question wording does not make it clear for some people what the current status of the UK is within the EU, and the referendum choice as expressed in the question is likely to lead to confusion”.

If that is not a clear dismissal of the version of the question that the noble Lord is offering, I do not know what is.

Lord Dobbs: I thank the noble Lord. That is precisely why I do not wish to take too many interventions.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Dobbs: It is precisely that point which I am about to address. If noble Lords would do me the courtesy of listening, they might actually learn a little about what I feel about this, rather than what the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, feels about it. That is more time wasted. I will get on to the time-wasting in just a minute, if noble Lords will allow me.

As I was about to say, the Electoral Commission had its reservations, of course, and we have already heard much of that from noble Lords. However, I believe that the commission’s concern that some voters might be confused, because they are unaware that we are already members of the European Union, is a little oversensitive. Yet the role of the commission is to be cautious, and I do not criticise it for that. I understand that in the past we have made a habit of accepting the commission’s recommendations about any referendum question, but it is worth remembering that its role in this matter is entirely advisory. It is not an umpire or a judge but, as the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, has just pointed out, a source of advice. At the end of the day,

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it is up to us. The other place debated almost this exact same amendment as we are dealing with here and, after a lengthy debate, rejected it by a majority of 241.

It is also worth remembering that the commission was not able to offer a clear single alternative question. It is hugely significant that this amendment, which mirrors the second alternative suggested by the commission’s report, has not been properly tested by the commission; it clearly states in its report that it did not have time. So it is entirely possible that if I accepted this amendment, the commission might come back at a later stage and tell us that this wording was not good enough either. That would put us in a most awkward position and embarrass so much of what has already been said here today.

At Second Reading I mentioned other potential weaknesses in the commission’s report. I do not want to go back over too much of that ground but many noble Lords have expressed their concerns today. It is perhaps a pity—I put it as no more than that—that not a single Member of this House expressed any concern while the Electoral Commission was undertaking consultation at a stage that might have avoided the need for this amendment in the first place. Indeed, only 19 individuals and organisations offered any comment whatever. If this is a serious issue, it has been a long time coming.

It is also a fact of life that currently 81 amendments have been tabled to this short Bill. We know that some of the Bill’s opponents are determined to use any means to kill it. While I want to make progress, I hope that the House will allow me a moment to deal with that central issue because it gives a context to all else that we do here. Right from the start, the moment that the Bill came to this House, it has been true that, as the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, who sadly I do not see in his seat, told the BBC—and I am grateful for his frankness about this—the opponents will use every trick in the book to derail it. It was put to him in an interview by Mr Mark D’Arcy that the aim would be to keep this Bill running in one form or another pretty much right up to the election. The noble Lord replied: “What they do not want to do, I do not think anyone wants to do, is to have their fingerprints on the dagger that kills it”. There we have it—death by a thousand cuts, or at least by 81 amendments, and that is what undermines the rights of this House.

I hasten to add that I am not accusing the sponsors of this amendment of any hint of deviousness. Many of them have made their points with charm and eloquence, as we would expect them to. However, we all know what is going on. We cannot deny the presence of an elephant in the room, a very large and unreasonable elephant—those who have no intention whatever of working to improve the Bill but who are solely intent on trying to kill it. They claim to be trying to improve the question but in fact are trying to ensure that no question is ever put.

We all know that if the Bill is to survive—if we are to give people the referendum they want—we have to get the Bill through this House in reasonable shape and in very short time. That timetable is not mine; it is simply another fact of life. It is a further fact that after

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six days of detailed consideration, the Bill went through the other place at every stage with a huge majority or no opposition whatever. We could all speculate why Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs ran for cover, but the fact is that they did. So, in the belief that what was good enough for Labour and Liberal Democrat geese down the other end of the Palace must surely be more than enough to satisfy their noble ganders, I ask the noble Lord, who is not party to any of these games, to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Armstrong of Ilminster: My Lords, my modest, innocent little amendment has given rise to a long, interesting and wide-ranging debate, and after more than two hours I do not propose to try to deal with every point. We are being told that the Bill must pass unamended to go back to the House of Commons in order to be concluded in time to be passed into legislation in this Session. As to that, although I am not an expert in procedure, it seems that if the House of Commons is sufficiently keen to see the Bill passed, it can change its procedure as a matter of exception in order to deal with it. I therefore hope that your Lordships will not be put off by that threat.

We are told that the Bill is a necessity as a guarantee or, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, said, an assurance that there will an “in or out” referendum about our membership of the European Union in 2017. With the greatest respect to those who are saying so, I cannot see it. It is impossible for this Parliament to give a cast-iron guarantee or assurance about something that is going to happen after the next election. Suppose that in May 2015, after the next election, there were to be a change of Government and the new Government decided that there should not be a referendum on this matter. The new Government would be free to introduce legislation in the House of Commons to give effect to that decision; the House of Commons would pass it; and then it would come back to this House, and no doubt we should be told that an unelected House ought not to challenge the view of the House of Commons.

I am with those who feel that we should not shirk our duty to scrutinise the Bill and, if we can, improve it, and that, with the greatest respect to the House of Commons, if that House feels that the Bill is so important, it should then adjust its procedures in order to deal with it. I do not think that the Bill provides the kind of guarantee or assurance that we shall have a referendum, because no one can know what will happen in 2015. If it is a guarantee at all, it is so only until May of that year. In fact, the best assurance that the people of Britain can have that there should be a referendum will be the commitment by the present Prime Minister to hold a referendum in 2017. As I said at Second Reading, that is a commitment that he can enshrine in a manifesto. No doubt the manifesto does not have the force of a statute, but at least its shadow stretches beyond the next election and would govern what the new Parliament did. I might almost argue, if I allowed myself to be political, that if the British people thought it so vital to have a referendum, as I am sure they do, their best means of assuring themselves of getting it would be to return Mr Cameron, who has given them this commitment.

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The time has come for us to take a decision on this matter. I am afraid that I am not persuaded by the procedural arguments that have been deployed from the Benches here, and I think there is a strong measure of support for the amendment that I have proposed. Without any further ado, I should like to test the opinion of the House.

12.30 pm

Division on Amendment 1

Contents 245; Not-Contents 158.

Amendment 1 agreed.

Division No.  1


Adams of Craigielea, B.

Addington, L.

Ahmed, L.

Alli, L.

Anderson of Swansea, L.

Andrews, B.

Armstrong of Ilminster, L. [Teller]

Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, L.

Avebury, L.

Bach, L.

Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, B.

Bakewell, B.

Barker, B.

Bassam of Brighton, L.

Benjamin, B.

Berkeley of Knighton, L.

Best, L.

Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury, B.

Boothroyd, B.

Bowness, L.

Bragg, L.

Brennan, L.

Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.

Brookman, L.

Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, L.

Browne of Ladyton, L.

Butler of Brockwell, L.

Campbell-Savours, L.

Carter of Coles, L.

Chandos, V.

Chidgey, L.

Christopher, L.

Clancarty, E.

Clarke of Hampstead, L.

Clement-Jones, L.

Clinton-Davis, L.

Collins of Highbury, L.

Craig of Radley, L.

Crawley, B.

Davies of Coity, L.

Davies of Oldham, L.

Davies of Stamford, L.

Desai, L.

Dholakia, L.

Donaghy, B.

Doocey, B.

Drake, B.

Drayson, L.

Dubs, L.

Dykes, L.

Elder, L.

Elystan-Morgan, L.

Erroll, E.

Evans of Temple Guiting, L.

Falkland, V.

Falkner of Margravine, B.

Farrington of Ribbleton, B.

Faulkner of Worcester, L.

Fellowes, L.

Ford, B.

Foulkes of Cumnock, L.

Gale, B.

Garden of Frognal, B.

German, L.

Gibson of Market Rasen, B.

Giddens, L.

Glasman, L.

Golding, B.

Goudie, B.

Gould of Potternewton, B.

Graham of Edmonton, L.

Grantchester, L.

Greaves, L.

Grender, B.

Grenfell, L.

Hamwee, B.

Hannay of Chiswick, L.

Hanworth, V.

Harries of Pentregarth, L.

Harris of Haringey, L.

Harrison, L.

Hart of Chilton, L.

Hattersley, L.

Haworth, L.

Hayter of Kentish Town, B.

Healy of Primrose Hill, B.

Henig, B.

Hennessy of Nympsfield, L.

Hilton of Eggardon, B.

Hollis of Heigham, B.

Howarth of Newport, L.

Howe of Idlicote, B.

Howells of St Davids, B.

Howie of Troon, L.

Hoyle, L.

Hughes of Woodside, L.

Humphreys, B.

Hunt of Kings Heath, L.

Hussain, L.

Hussein-Ece, B.

Inglewood, L.

Irvine of Lairg, L.

Jolly, B.

Jones of Cheltenham, L.

Jones of Whitchurch, B.

24 Jan 2014 : Column 890

Jones, L.

Kennedy of Southwark, L.

Kennedy of The Shaws, B.

Kerr of Kinlochard, L. [Teller]

King of Bow, B.

Kinnock of Holyhead, B.

Kinnock, L.

Kirkhill, L.

Kirkwood of Kirkhope, L.

Knight of Weymouth, L.

Kramer, B.

Lea of Crondall, L.

Leitch, L.

Lester of Herne Hill, L.

Liddle, L.

Lipsey, L.

Loomba, L.

Low of Dalston, L.

McAvoy, L.

McFall of Alcluith, L.

McIntosh of Hudnall, B.

MacKenzie of Culkein, L.

McKenzie of Luton, L.

Maclennan of Rogart, L.

McNally, L.

Maddock, B.

Manzoor, B.

Massey of Darwen, B.

Mawson, L.

Maxton, L.

Mendelsohn, L.

Miller of Chilthorne Domer, B.

Mitchell, L.

Monks, L.

Morgan of Drefelin, B.

Morgan of Ely, B.

Morgan of Huyton, B.

Morgan, L.

Morris of Handsworth, L.

Newby, L.

Nicholson of Winterbourne, B.

Noon, L.

Northover, B.

Nye, B.

Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, L.

O'Neill of Clackmannan, L.

Ouseley, L.

Paddick, L.

Palmer of Childs Hill, L.

Palumbo of Southwark, L.

Parekh, L.

Paul, L.

Pendry, L.

Peston, L.

Phillips of Sudbury, L.

Plant of Highfield, L.

Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.

Prescott, L.

Prosser, B.

Purvis of Tweed, L.

Quin, B.

Quirk, L.

Radice, L.

Ramsay of Cartvale, B.

Ramsbotham, L.

Randerson, B.

Razzall, L.

Rea, L.

Redesdale, L.

Reid of Cardowan, L.

Rendell of Babergh, B.

Richard, L.

Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.

Rogers of Riverside, L.

Roper, L.

Rosser, L.

Royall of Blaisdon, B.

Sawyer, L.

Scotland of Asthal, B.

Scott of Needham Market, B.

Sharkey, L.

Sharp of Guildford, B.

Sherlock, B.

Shipley, L.

Shutt of Greetland, L.

Simon, V.

Slim, V.

Smith of Basildon, B.

Smith of Finsbury, L.

Snape, L.

Soley, L.

Steel of Aikwood, L.

Stephen, L.

Stern, B.

Stevenson of Balmacara, L.

Stirrup, L.

Stone of Blackheath, L.

Stoneham of Droxford, L.

Storey, L.

Strasburger, L.

Suttie, B.

Symons of Vernham Dean, B.

Taverne, L.

Taylor of Blackburn, L.

Temple-Morris, L.

Teverson, L.

Thomas of Gresford, L.

Thomas of Winchester, B.

Thornton, B.

Tomlinson, L.

Tope, L.

Triesman, L.

Truscott, L.

Tugendhat, L.

Tunnicliffe, L.

Turnberg, L.

Turnbull, L.

Turner of Camden, B.

Uddin, B.

Wall of New Barnet, B.

Wallace of Saltaire, L.

Wallace of Tankerness, L.

Walmsley, B.

Warnock, B.

Watson of Invergowrie, L.

Wheeler, B.

Whitaker, B.

Whitty, L.

Wigley, L.

Wilkins, B.

Williams of Crosby, B.

Williams of Elvel, L.

Willis of Knaresborough, L.

Wills, L.

Winston, L.

Wood of Anfield, L.

Woolmer of Leeds, L.

Worthington, B.

Wright of Richmond, L.

Young of Hornsey, B.


Ahmad of Wimbledon, L.

Anelay of St Johns, B.

Arran, E.

Ashton of Hyde, L.

Astor of Hever, L.

Astor, V.

24 Jan 2014 : Column 891

Attlee, E.

Baker of Dorking, L.

Balfe, L.

Bamford, L.

Bates, L.

Berridge, B.

Black of Brentwood, L.

Blencathra, L.

Borwick, L.

Bottomley of Nettlestone, B.

Brabazon of Tara, L.

Bridgeman, V.

Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, L.

Brougham and Vaux, L.

Browning, B.

Buscombe, B.

Caithness, E.

Carrington of Fulham, L.

Cathcart, E.

Cavendish of Furness, L.

Chadlington, L.

Coe, L.

Colwyn, L.

Cope of Berkeley, L.

Cormack, L.

Courtown, E. [Teller]

Crickhowell, L.

De Mauley, L.

Deighton, L.

Dixon-Smith, L.

Dobbs, L.

Eaton, B.

Eccles of Moulton, B.

Eccles, V.

Eden of Winton, L.

Edmiston, L.

Elton, L.

Empey, L.

Faulks, L.

Fink, L.

Finkelstein, L.

Flight, L.

Fookes, B.

Forsyth of Drumlean, L.

Fowler, L.

Framlingham, L.

Freeman, L.

Freud, L.

Gardiner of Kimble, L.

Gardner of Parkes, B.

Geddes, L.

Gold, L.

Goodlad, L.

Goschen, V.

Hamilton of Epsom, L.

Hanham, B.

Henley, L.

Heyhoe Flint, B.

Higgins, L.

Hill of Oareford, L.

Hodgson of Abinger, B.

Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, L.

Hooper, B.

Horam, L.

Howard of Rising, L.

Howe, E.

Hunt of Wirral, L.

James of Blackheath, L.

Jenkin of Kennington, B.

Jenkin of Roding, L.

Jones of Birmingham, L.

Jopling, L.

Kalms, L.

Kilclooney, L.

King of Bridgwater, L.

Kirkham, L.

Lamont of Lerwick, L.

Lang of Monkton, L.

Leigh of Hurley, L.

Lexden, L.

Lingfield, L.

Liverpool, E.

Livingston of Parkhead, L.

Lucas, L.

Lyell, L.

MacGregor of Pulham Market, L.

Mackay of Clashfern, L.

Maginnis of Drumglass, L.

Mancroft, L.

Marlesford, L.

Mawhinney, L.

Mayhew of Twysden, L.

Miller of Hendon, B.

Montrose, D.

Moonie, L.

Morris of Bolton, B.

Moynihan, L.

Naseby, L.

Nash, L.

Neville-Jones, B.

Neville-Rolfe, B.

Newlove, B.

Noakes, B.

Norton of Louth, L.

O'Cathain, B.

Oppenheim-Barnes, B.

Pearson of Rannoch, L.

Perry of Southwark, B. [Teller]

Popat, L.

Powell of Bayswater, L.

Rawlings, B.

Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, L.

Renton of Mount Harry, L.

Ridley, V.

Risby, L.

Seccombe, B.

Selborne, E.

Selkirk of Douglas, L.

Selsdon, L.

Shackleton of Belgravia, B.

Sharples, B.

Shaw of Northstead, L.

Sheikh, L.

Sherbourne of Didsbury, L.

Shrewsbury, E.

Skelmersdale, L.

Stedman-Scott, B.

Sterling of Plaistow, L.

Stevens of Ludgate, L.

Stewartby, L.

Stoddart of Swindon, L.

Stowell of Beeston, B.

Strathclyde, L.

Swinfen, L.

Taylor of Holbeach, L.

Trefgarne, L.

Trenchard, V.

Trimble, L.

Trumpington, B.

Verma, B.

Waddington, L.

Wakeham, L.

Warsi, B.

Wasserman, L.

Wei, L.

Wheatcroft, B.

Whitby, L.

Wilcox, B.

Williams of Trafford, B.

Willoughby de Broke, L.

Wolfson of Aspley Guise, L.

Younger of Leckie, V.

24 Jan 2014 : Column 892

12.44 pm

Amendment 8

Moved by Lord Wigley

8: Clause 1, page 1, line 3, at end insert—

“( ) The referendum shall not be held before 1 October 2014.”

Lord Wigley: My Lords, Amendment 8 has appeared rather more quickly than noble Lords perhaps expected. I make it clear from the outset that Amendment 8 is purely a probing amendment and, if noble Lords have not realised the significance of the date in the amendment—

“The referendum shall not be held before 1 October 2014”—

it is to ensure that the referendum does not take place before the outcome of the referendum on Scottish independence has been determined.

Clearly, if the Scottish people were to vote for independence, there would be a significant impact on the Bill. As far as I can see, no provision has been made in the Bill to deal with that matter, to which we shall no doubt return in debate on other amendments which impinge on that question. We do not know what the outcome of the referendum in Scotland will be. Therefore, in passing legislation to deal with the period through to the end of 2017, which is not only after the Scottish referendum but, if there were a yes vote, also after the fulfilment of independence for Scotland, it would mean that the United Kingdom was a very different entity from the one it is now. That must surely be taken on board in the Bill.

I am not opposed to a referendum in all circumstances. I have no doubt that there are circumstances when a referendum is needed. If a referendum is going to be meaningful, clearly the definition of the units—of the people who are taking part—has to be clear; it has to be determined. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, who is in charge of the Bill, will be able to tell the House how it would respond to the possibility of a yes vote in Scotland.

It may well be that the opinion polls at present say that it is likely to be a no vote, and I think we all recognise that. However, I think we also recognise that a week is a long time in politics. One cannot rule out the possibility of a yes vote. Therefore, we need to have some provision that deals with it. There are implications in terms of the voting and negotiations that may need to take place between the United Kingdom and the European Union for any new deal that may be the basis of a referendum in 2017, and that has to be thought through. I get the impression that the drafters of the Bill just have not thought of the implications of the Scottish referendum result. For that reason, I beg to move.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and I go back a long way. We are of different parties and we come from different parts of Wales, but on this as on most things he speaks eminent sense. There is an elephant in the room, the elephant being the Scottish referendum. We do not know what the result of that referendum will be but, if it be for independence, it will clearly have profound

24 Jan 2014 : Column 893

implications for this Bill generally and for a number of facets of the Bill. Therefore, I am pleased to follow his wise words.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, I, too, express my support for the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. The Bill as drafted has not taken account of the Scottish referendum in any way whatever. That is why there are other amendments in my name in relation to eligibility to vote for 16 and 17 year-olds and in relation to the count, and a number of other matters.

I take the opportunity to say now to the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, because I did not want to interrupt his fine reply to the previous amendment, that at the same stage in the consideration of the Equality (Titles) Bill, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, nearly 90 amendments were tabled, and in exactly the same stage of the passage of the Bill proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, to further reform the House of Lords, 160 amendments were tabled. Therefore, 80 amendments is not an excessive number, and it ill behoves him and others to criticise Members of the House of Lords for tabling amendments that seek to improve a very bad Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, has done and I have done.

Lord Triesman: My Lords, this is a helpful amendment, and I have only one very brief comment to make. We have had a number of proposals coming through this and the other House over a period of time that have changed our unwritten constitution in quite significant ways. It is very difficult to know how they all mesh together, because they are almost never spoken of in terms of taking a helicopter view of the whole set of proposals. That probably leads towards the laws of unintended consequences on occasions because we do not have a holistic view. It would be incredibly hard before the Scottish referendum, allowing for one of the possible outcomes of that referendum, to make any intelligent decisions in this area. I do not think that we would be thanked by the people of Scotland, as it might very well be that they would feel that it took an element of their choice away from them, in the full sense of a choice about their future in Europe, in relation to the currency, and so on. It is a very sensible proposal, and I hope that the House will give it proper consideration.

Lord Dobbs: My Lords, dates are very difficult, are they not? We have this particular amendment, which talks about October 2014, and other amendments that suggest 2020. We have talked about the Scottish referendum, yet at other times in debates on the Bill we have heard that we cannot have this or that date because of what is going on in Germany, Brussels, and so forth. Dates are difficult, and I acknowledge that. There is no ideal date; it is a bit like trying to find the right time to suggest that your wife should start a diet. There is never going to be a right time for that, which is why—

Lord Radice: Then why is there a date in this Bill at all?

Lord Dobbs: It is very simple, and I was about to get on to that. That is why the date in this Bill is very flexible. The Bill says that the referendum must be held

24 Jan 2014 : Column 894

any time up until the last day of 2017. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, has spent so much time instructing us, this is not the last time that this Bill and the measures for this referendum will come back to this House.

Dates are difficult, which is why the Bill has a very flexible date contained in it. However, I believe that, to put it this way, while many people might understand why the House took the view that it did on the previous amendment, I suspect very few would understand why we would twist and turn the Bill around to pass this amendment. It is unnecessary and perhaps misguided.

Lord Wigley: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving away, and I understand part of what he is saying. However, were Scotland to vote yes, although that may be an unlikely outcome as things stand, would he accept that for the period after the referendum, perhaps even up to 2016, when independence would become a fact, it would be difficult to hold the referendum on the EU?

Lord Dobbs: I like to deal with the practical world, rather than hypotheses, and the Prime Minister has already said that he needs this time to undertake the fundamental renegotiation that is behind all this. That is why he is going to campaign at that referendum on the basis of staying in, not getting out. He has already started that process of renegotiation, which will take time. There is no chance, in the practical, real world, that we could encounter a situation in which this referendum would be begun before the date that the noble Lord suggests. So this is really an unnecessary amendment, and I ask the noble Lord to consider withdrawing it.

Lord Wigley: My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity of having at least put the point on the record that there is an issue here to which we may well return on later amendments, as the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, indicated. I am grateful to noble Lords who have participated in this short debate. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 8 withdrawn.

Amendment 9

Moved by Lord Roper

9: Clause 1, page 1, line 3, at end insert—

“( ) The holding of a referendum under subsection (1) is subject to the condition set out in section (referendum condition) below being met.”

Lord Roper (LD): My Lords, Amendment 9 is included in the group we are discussing, along with Amendment 74, and is not part of the second group headed by Amendment 2 as it appears in the groupings list, because Amendment 2 was pre-empted by your Lordships’ decision on the previous amendment.

Amendment 9, together with Amendment 74, has the same effect as Amendment 2 would have done. As the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, said of the amendment he moved some time ago, this amendment in no way

24 Jan 2014 : Column 895

goes against the principle or the objectives of the Bill—nor does it have any effect on the date—it merely tries to ensure that if a referendum takes place, it will be more satisfactory.

The two amendments in this group in my name and those of the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, and the noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Anderson, seek to ensure that effective impact assessments are undertaken of the effect of the United Kingdom ceasing to be a member of the European Union. Throughout our discussion on the previous amendment and on Second Reading, everyone was clear about the importance of the decision which the British people would be taking in such a referendum. If the British people are to take such a decision, they need to take it with the necessary knowledge before them. Therefore, Amendment 74 suggests that the Government should publish such information and lay it before Parliament.

However, unlike what is suggested in a subsequent amendment, the Government are not necessarily expected to prepare the reports on the impact assessment. They may ask other bodies to do that, such as the Office for Budget Responsibility or the National Institute of Economic and Social Research. We are anxious that objective information should be made available to the public so that serious discussion of the impact of the UK ceasing to be a member can take place.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: I think that the noble Lord was referring to my Amendments 5, 6 and 7 in relation to the renegotiation, the balance of competences and the transfer of powers, where the Secretary of State will have to report, which we will come to later. I hope he is not saying that he thinks those are unnecessary, and that he is saying that the impact assessment would be in addition to the reports by the Secretary of State.

Lord Roper: My Lords, the noble Lord is right. We will come to his amendments with their new numbers, which I think are 42A and 43A. I was going to refer to them a little later—Amendments 5, 6 and 7, like my Amendment 2, having been pre-empted. Those amendments refer to reports being prepared by the Government, and the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, refers to an assessment being prepared by the Secretary of State.

Amendment 74 suggests that it is necessary to provide the electorate with information on four matters, the first being an assessment of the impact on the UK economy of the UK ceasing to be a member. I was encouraged to read in the press this morning of the speech which the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury, Sir Nicholas Macpherson, made to the Mile End Group earlier this week, in which he pointed out that the Treasury would certainly provide information on what it considered to be the negative impact of the UK leaving the European Union. In recent weeks we have seen the information which bodies such as the British Bankers’ Association and other banks based in the United Kingdom have submitted to the Treasury as part of the balance of competences study. It is important that this information is brought together so that people know what the effect of our ceasing to be a member would be.

24 Jan 2014 : Column 896

Secondly, we believe that a report ought to be produced showing the impact of the UK leaving the European Union on the rights of individuals within the United Kingdom. Individuals, our fellow citizens, at the moment have various rights as part of our membership of the European Union, including—as has been discussed recently—the right to free movement of labour, as well as other rights. Those, again, would be affected by our ceasing to be a member. It is important that people should be aware of the implications.

1 pm

Thirdly, what would be the impact of our leaving the European Union on the rights of citizens of other member states of the EU who live in the United Kingdom? Again, there is a strong case for information to be obtained and put forward on an objective basis before the referendum, so that this matter can be clear.

In the fourth category, we believe there is also the impact on our fellow citizens who live elsewhere in the European Union. This matter came up in several speeches at Second Reading, including in relation to the impact on the variation of pensions for British pensioners living elsewhere in the EU, when compared with the pensions of British citizens living elsewhere in the world. It is important that we have information put before the electorate on the impact that our leaving the EU would have on this group of citizens.

I hope that our debate on this subject will not necessarily be as long as our previous debate, and I have tried to set out the major points that need to be covered in these reports. We will also, at some stage, need to consider the best way in which such information can be made available to the public. I beg to move.

Baroness Quin: My Lords, as a signatory to the amendment, which has been so well moved by the noble Lord, Lord Roper, I should like to say a few words in support of it.

Given that the House has just decided to amend the Bill, I hope that this amendment in particular will be looked at very sympathetically because it is designed to improve the circumstances surrounding the referendum for the benefit of Parliament and our citizens, if that referendum takes place. The amendment would ensure that Parliament and the public get the best possible amount of information about the consequences of their vote either for or against. It is a principle on which we should all be able to unite, and I am glad that the amendment has attracted support from around the House.

As the noble Lord, Lord Roper, has said, the amendment relates to getting information to Parliament and the public on a variety of issues that will be crucial during the referendum campaign. The first relates to the possible effects on the economy of staying in or withdrawing from the European Union, and we know that there is a good deal of discussion about this issue. We all know that businesses have expressed a great deal of concern about the prospects of withdrawal from the EU. I was interested to see only yesterday, for example, it was reported in the newspapers that concerns had been expressed by JP Morgan, BAE Systems, the British Bankers’ Association and Unilever, which is quite a cross-section of economic interests.

24 Jan 2014 : Column 897

Concerns on economic grounds have been expressed in many parts of the country, including the City of London. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, is very much aware of City publications expressing concern about the uncertainty surrounding Britain’s future membership of the EU. Concerns have also been expressed in my part of the country, the north-east, where, as I mentioned in previous debates, we have large, successful firms such as Nissan exporting to the EU. The people who work in those firms will be concerned to make sure that their future will be as guaranteed as much as it can be, following any referendum. I think economic information is going to be vital for those reasons.

The noble Lord, Lord Roper, also mentioned—and indeed the amendments contain—references to other aspects of our membership of the European Union where we need to be fully informed about the consequences of either staying in or withdrawing. That is particularly vital for citizens’ rights. The noble Lord, Lord Roper, quite rightly mentioned the freedom of movement provisions, which many citizens in the UK benefit from on a day-to-day basis. Indeed, it is interesting that in consideration of this Bill I, and I am sure other Members of the House, have been lobbied a great deal by European Union citizens living in Britain and also British citizens living in other parts of the European Union wondering if they are going to be able to take part in this vote and what the future means for them and their rights as citizens. These are important matters that we need to take into account.

We know that the rights of citizens and, indeed, the rights of people in employment have been affected very considerably by membership of the European Union. A large number of European directives have been brought in to guarantee, for example, paid holidays, increased maternity benefits, paternity leave and so forth. People will want to know what the future holds on those issues following a referendum vote.

Although this is a straightforward amendment and is reasonable in asking for full information before such an important decision is made, it actually says a lot. Indeed, we could have days of debate on each of the matters mentioned in the amendment, but that is not what we are trying to do today. We are trying to make progress with the scrutiny of this Bill. I hope that my few comments have explained why I so strongly support what I believe is a very reasonable and sensible amendment to the Bill.

Lord Taverne (LD): My Lords, I support the amendment for slightly different reasons. If there is to be a meaningful decision, the choice must be clear. Unfortunately, I think it is extremely likely that if the 2017 date survives in this Bill the choice will be anything but clear because, for reasons that I shall advance later when we come to Amendment 10, it is extremely unlikely that the negotiations that Mr Cameron wishes to enter on, which he has not entered on so far, will be concluded by 2017. There are many reasons why fixing a date is the last way of getting effective negotiations.

What could be the result? We do not know. We will not know in 2017 what kind of choice we are facing. What sort of Europe will we be invited to stay in or to

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leave? What sort of eurozone will there be? Personally, I believe the eurozone will survive but this is by no means certain. However, suppose it does survive, how big will the eurozone be? How tightly knit will it be? What will be the relations between that eurozone and the single market? There may be several countries which do not wish to support the British expansion of the single market.

There may also be several countries in the eurozone which may not wish to come to an agreement that will be favourable to the City. Certain forces in Germany would like Frankfurt to be the financial centre of the eurozone while others in France will want Paris to be it. All sorts of problems will exist and we will need some sort of knowledge about the assessment. There is a great danger that the City would be sidelined and that is something to which the impact assessment would have to draw attention.

What would happen if, as seems possible but not certain, the banking union will then be complete? What will be the relations between the banking union and British banks? I certainly get the impression that there is a growing movement among bankers that they would rather like to join the banking union. They are not as afraid of the new regulations because our regulations are tighter than theirs and they fear being excluded from these vital decisions.

I think that we will face a very difficult decision if we have a referendum in 2017. Negotiations should take place first and then there should be a referendum, rather than facing a decision at a time when it is very unlikely that negotiations will be complete. The whole question of whether to stay in or leave will need a very careful impact assessment, certainly if the date of 2017 is preserved.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, I add my support for the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Roper. My name is added to the amendment and I want to explain briefly why I think that it makes very good sense, both for those who are extremely keen to see this legislation on the statute book and for those who are less keen to do so. I think that both should be united.

I doubt whether anyone in this House would assert that the information provided in the press and on television and so on about the European Union is very satisfactory. It is highly partisan in many cases and I fear that in the context of a referendum, if and when one takes place, that will continue to be the case. I may deplore that but, as an absolutely fundamental believer in a free press, I am certainly not going to go around saying that something should be done to stop that.

This amendment seeks to ensure that there is available to the voters objective information about the consequences of a no vote in a referendum. The consequences of a yes vote are less problematic because our membership would be entrenched further and we would, I hope, move on. I support the Prime Minister’s wish to see a reformed European Union and I hope that we would carry on in a reformed European Union. However, I suggest that the electorate—our fellow citizens—should be given a lot of basic facts about the consequences of a no vote.

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The reports that we are suggesting should, in my view, under no circumstances be government policy; they should be produced by an objective body or bodies capable of assessing these things. No attempt is made in the amendments to suggest which they should be—that would be far too prescriptive—but a body such as the OBR could produce some of the information. I do not know; it would be for the Government to organise that in the context of a referendum but not to produce it themselves. There is a case for the kind of information on the four or five issues that we have suggested should be set out in this Bill, and there should be an obligation on the Government of the day, if and when a referendum is called, to organise that and to make sure that it is available to the electorate.

We have now crossed a watershed—perhaps not as determinant as the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, told us a few minutes ago it would be; nevertheless, it is a watershed—and I hope very much that the noble Lord will see that, as the Bill is being improved by this House, this is an amendment that he can accept. It does not cross any watersheds and it does not seek to do anything that those on his side of the House who have spoken very strongly in favour of a referendum should be in any dispute over. They surely want this objective information to be available to the electorate, and this is the best way to ensure that it is, although of course I am not suggesting that at this stage we should write out what that information would be.

Lord Inglewood (Con): My Lords, I support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Roper, which is entirely sensible.

I have fought European elections as a candidate. One of the characteristics of that experience was that most of the electorate have a vague idea of the actual issues as opposed to the emotional issues. On something as important as the country’s future membership of the European Union, whether you are in favour of it or opposed to it, there is a great need to ensure that the decision, whatever it might be, is taken on the basis of an understanding and knowledge of the real issues.