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Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, given the weight of legislation that now arrives in this House from another place completely unscrutinised and very often even undebated, is it not time for the Government to consider seriously a reform of the House of Commons, particularly as regards the number of Members of Parliament and whether it can still be justified to have over 650 Members sitting in that House?
Lord Weatherill: My Lords, I am sure that the Minister is aware that earlier in the year I introduced a Bill that wasI am sure she will agreedesigned to be helpful to the Government. Will that Bill have the Government's support?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I have to reply in the way in which I have replied the whole afternoon. Those are matters that the Government will take into account. We shall take those matters into account and respond when we respondshortly.
Lord Boston of Faversham: My Lords, as the Minister has told your Lordships that Her Majesty's Government are giving these matters anxious consideration, can she say what is the nature of that anxiety?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we have known the way forward. It is right to say that this House is now in good order. An argument has raged backwards and forwards in this House and elsewhere as to what the next step is. That matter is under consideration. The committee has helped us and we are deliberating on our response, which, as is quite clear from the debate today, your Lordships' House is most anxious to hear. I am sure that all those responsible will take keen note of this debate.
The Minister for Trade (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, there is no decision in principle about all European Union matters. That the next European treaty will be dealt with through our system of parliamentary democracy is entirely consistent with the way in which all previous EU treaties have been laid before Parliament and subjected to vigorous scrutiny and debate by Parliament before ratification. I look forward to that debate.
Lord Renton of Mount Harry: Yes, my Lords, quite. I think that noble Lords will share my view that it will be difficult to forget the pained look on the Prime Minister's face yesterday and his anxious consideration as he listened to the Chancellor put pro-euro trimmings on to an anti-euro speech.
In that context, does the Minister accept that, whatever happened in the past, the new European convention to be announced this Friday potentially has greater political implications for this country than the debate on the five economic tests? On that basis, does she accept the view that we need an extensive public debate on the issue, not just a lot of propaganda from either side or phobic fury? Because of that, will the Minister at least keep an open mind about the possibility, if there is to be a paving Bill for a referendum, that the referendum should first be on the new European convention and then on joining the euro?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I cannot agree that the political implications of the discussions going on at the convention are of greater moment for us than a decision about the euro. The euro is a once-in-a-lifetime decision. The discussions in the convention at present have not yet been completed. We hope that they will be completed towards the end of next week and that the convention findings will then be published at the end of next week. But, as the noble Lord will know, thereafter there will be an IGC, at which a unanimous decision will have to be taken about the way forward, and, after that, the drafting of any treaty.
The noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, has got rather ahead of himself on the issue. We cannot judge what the implications will be, first, until the convention reports, secondly, until an IGC unanimously decides the way forward, and, thirdly, until there is ratification on a treaty. It would be sensible to look at the issues then.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I deliberately did not close the door on all possible changes ever. That is why I said in the first sentence of my Answer that there was no decision in principle about all European Union matters. But I must say to the noble Lord that this Government today are as reluctant as the party opposite was when it was in government to have a referendum on the Single European Act or the Maastricht Treaty.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, leaving aside the fact that the Oxford English Dictionary states that the correct plural of "referendum" is "referendums" and not "referenda", which is a gerundive rather than a gerund, did my noble friend hear the interview given by Kenneth Clarke on "The World at One" on 27th May? He said:
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is no longer satisfactory to contemplate the prospect of a referendum vis-a-vis the convention in isolation, and that it must be considered in context? Is it not true that the political context in this country of matters relating to sovereignty in the European Union is of profound public mistrust about the manner in which Parliament has dealt, and continues to deal, with those matters? Is it not fair to say that there is a constant sniping match, a partisan battle, going on between the Conservative and Labour parties about who has done worst vis-a-vis the holding of referendums? Will not the Government please seriously contemplate how public trust in government in this country can be restored, perhaps by having a referendum on the convention, in view of the crucial importance of the issues to the future of this country in Europe?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am bound to say that, if the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, thinks that a debate on a referendum would of itself stop parties arguing about who has done better and worst, I am afraid that we live in very different political worlds. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, was right in saying that there must be a public debate. There should be a public debate about all matters European. Indeed, that is what the convention is being designed to do. It is why we have had parliamentary representatives as well as government ones. We have been well represented in this House in that respect. Doing this through our parliamentary democracy on the basis, in the other House, of those who are elected, and, in this House, of people with considerable experience, is the right way forward for this country.
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