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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: No, they are clearly not the same. If the noble Lord really does think that, it is no wonder we are in a muddle. I assure the noble Lord that the words Xnot legally binding" are not the same as Xhaving no legal standing". He need not take my word for that. I believe that any reputable lawyer would give a similar view.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: I thank the Minister for giving way. Perhaps I may say that, on the other hand, she agreed that the Luxembourg Court was free to take the charter into account in its judgment as from now, as it is.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: That is, indeed, the difference between legally binding and being taken into account. We have gone over this matter several times in your Lordships' House, but by all means let us do so again.
I, too, have held meetings on the 2004 IGC and on the Bill. Perhaps I may say that such meetings were noticeable for the lack of noble Lords attending. That is one of those things. One can give people information but even Members of the Committee do not attend, with the notable exception of the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke. Certainly, he was there but he will know that many of his colleagues were not.
Members of the Committee were also told that the matter was merely mentioned in the Labour Party manifesto. The treaty was published on 26th February. There was an election at the beginning of June. In our manifesto, the Labour Party said:
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: I thank the Minister for giving way. The point we made in debate in Committee was not that the Treaty of Nice was not mentioned in the Labour Party manifesto but that it was only one of the better part of 200 commitments; that only 59 per cent of the people voted in the general election and a minority of the people supported the Labour Party. We really want to underline the fact that one cannot take the result of the general election as any sort of approval by the British people for this treaty.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: In saying that, the noble Lord is flying in the teeth of every constitutional convention of this country. I was careful to write down what was said. The word used was Xmentioned". I do not think that a commitment is a mention. It was specific, clear and unequivocal. As I am sure the noble Lord noticed, the Labour Party clearly won the election as opposed to his party, which said that there would be a referendum on this issue and which did not win the election.
This is a matter which Parliament should decide. It is a matter of national importance. However, it is our convention that we decide such matters by the parliamentary democracy in which we live. I believe that in our centuries-old system people elect representatives to make this sort of decision on their
Lord Blackwell: I shall be brief. I thank those Members who have taken part, but I am not satisfied or mollified by the Government's response. They have not established that the treaty contains purely technical measures for enlargement as opposed to measures about deepening the Union. They have not explained why such a treaty requires so many powers around extensions of QMV and parliamentary competency or why it contains so many measures about reinforcing central institutions. Nor have they explained why, given the significance of those changes, it is inappropriate to hold a referendum.
The Minister, together with the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Richmond, made great play of the fact that there were no referendums on Maastricht and earlier treaties. In those days, we did not have the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.
Furthermore, there is the point about the Opposition not having a referendum when in government. It is purely a party political point based on the fact that the Conservative government of the time did not hold a referendum and therefore no Conservative can call for one now. That is a very weak argument on a constitutional issue of this importance. I put that to one side.
The noble Lord, Lord Watson of Richmond, made the point that the Irish only had a referendum because it was in their constitution. Again, it is rather odd to argue that because the Irish only held a referendum because they were forced to means that because we are not forced to we should not hold one. We have a right to decide whether it is an issue that calls for a referendum under the Act that Parliament has passed for that purpose.
The Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, made the point that the Labour election manifesto contained pledges on the issue. The Minister read out the passage. Similarly, the previous Labour Party manifesto had commitments about devolution. That did not stop us from having referendums on those issues.
The Minister makes arguments about parties' past records. If the party opposite had written a manifesto with no change from any policy it has previously advocated its last manifesto would have been rather thin.
I am not satisfied with the Government's response. This is an issue of significant constitutional importance. It is one on which this House has a right, indeed an obligation, to take a view and to try to hold
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
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