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Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, and concur with the previous speaker. It would be in the Government's own interest to consider the amendment favourably. After all, we are being told by the Prime Minister and others that there is no intention of having a European superstate. What could better convince people that we shall not have a European superstate than to make it illegal for what some term to be the European superstate to intervene directly or indirectly in referendums in this country? There is no doubt that the European Commission finances the European Movement in many ways. Indeed, until 1994 our own Government were subsidising and making contributions to the European Movement. That fact was elicited by questions that I asked. It was no small sum--£320,000. Since the Government make it clear that no government agencies in this country should be permitted to intervene unfairly or on one side of any argument, that should surely be extended to what is becoming increasingly the government of Europe in Brussels.
Viscount Astor: My Lords, in principle we support the amendment. It seems somewhat bizarre that in a referendum campaign no Minister of the Crown, government department, local authority or any body funded mainly from public funds is allowed to take part, whereas the Commission may do so. It would seem sensible to put the issue beyond doubt. Presumably the Government would not want interference in this way. It would be dangerous to tilt the argument.
Amendment No. 44 concerns donations. It seems a sensible amendment. I shall listen to what the Minister says. During the passage of the Bill, we have had debates about donations. We have been accused of seeking to have, for example, different rules for English companies than for foreign companies. Our argument did not prevail. However, this amendment makes the rules the same for everyone. There seems some sense in it.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, we have been round this part of the course several times. As I have said before, this is specifically not a Bill to make provision for the holding of a referendum on the euro. We do not want to add extraneous provisions designed with that referendum alone in mind. If a referendum on a particular issue warrants special rules, they can be provided for in the separate legislation that is needed to enable that referendum to be held.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I was going to say that a government could have a change of heart and there could be a referendum on, for example, the EU charter of fundamental rights. The euro is not the only issue. A number of other issues connected with the European Union or in which the European Union might be interested could also be involved.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: Yes of course, my Lords. Specific measures would have to be taken to deal with such an eventuality. I have developed that point on other occasions--rather successfully, I thought--and I reiterate it this evening.
Amendment No. 21 would apply the restrictions on the publication of promotional material set out in Clause 125 to European Union institutions. As a result, the European Commission would be prevented from publishing promotional material about the euro in the 28 days before the date of the poll.
As I have previously made clear, any decision to join the euro will be for the British people alone. It would be wholly counter-productive for the Commission to become embroiled in a referendum campaign on the issue.
Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, my noble friend says that the Bill is not about the euro. All right, let us put the euro aside. If the Government felt that an issue such as whether qualified majority voting should apply to taxation across the board were so important that a referendum should be held on it, such a referendum would come within the Bill. Would it not be right to forbid the institutions of the Union to finance one side?
The Commission knows that it would be wholly counter-productive for it to promote one side, as does the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke. In some ways, given his perspective on the issue, he might want the Commission to seek to get involved, because that would strengthen his line of argument, but I do not believe that it would want to do so. The commissioners are rational and sensible people who realise that the decision on such matters is for the people of our country.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am aware that the European Union has an infrastructure, but I am sure that most of its work is directed towards explaining the institutions of the European Union. Given that successive governments have ensured that we are party to the European Union and have signed up to participation, it is logical that the Commission should continue its informational role.
The red herring of the Commission being involved in the Danish referendum has been much raised in the debate. In fact, it did not seek to engage in the debate in Denmark. The example of the Danish referendum ought to lay any lingering fears on the subject to rest.
Some realism is required on the Commission's intentions. That should go hand in hand with realism about what such prohibition could achieve. An explicit ban on referendum expenditure or the publication of referendum material by the institutions of the European Union would beg the question of how such a ban could be enforced. The territorial application of the Bill is confined to the United Kingdom. It could not bite on expenditure or the publication of material on the Continent. That argument has been deployed from the Conservative Front Bench on other aspects of the Bill. Given the provisions of the Protocol on the Privileges and Immunities of the European Union, the
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I hope that I have misunderstood the Minister. I wonder whether he could confirm what he has said. Is he saying that even if we wanted to stop the institutions of the European Union undertaking propaganda activities within the boundaries of this country, we could not do so because of the immunities that we have given them?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, that is the point that I have been making. I shall happily repeat it, or perhaps the noble Viscount--less happily from his point of view--can read it in Hansard. Those immunities have been given to the European institutions in various protocols in the past. Indeed, the noble Viscount was party to the government that provided those immunities.
The purpose of Amendment No. 44 is to prevent a permitted participant accepting a donation made by or on behalf of an institution of the European Union. The amendment is unnecessary for the simple reason that an institution of the European Union does not constitute a "permissible donor" as defined in Clause 54. The amendments have no place in a generic referendums Bill. I once again urge the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Willoughby de Broke: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, will he tell us first on what subject he envisages having a referendum if not on the euro? Secondly will he answer my question about whether he is on the council of the Britain in Europe movement?
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, in response to my noble friend Lord Cranborne, he said that certain immunities had been conveyed. As that may come as a shock to some of us, will he undertake to put in the Library a memorandum confirming exactly where we have given such immunity to the European Union? I am sure that that would not be very difficult and would help the debate.