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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?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, thankfully, I can say that that is not a matter for me.

Lord Weatherill: My Lords, I am sure that the Minister is aware that earlier in the year I introduced a Bill that was—I am sure she will agree—designed 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 respond—shortly.

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, to do that which is right for this country. We hope that we shall discharge our duty in the exemplary manner in which we have done so far.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: My Lords, if the Government still do not know the way forward, can the noble Baroness say why they started down the road in the first place?

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.

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EU Developments: Referendums

2.59 p.m.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have concluded that referenda are in principle unsuitable for major decisions on European Union matters.

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.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, nobody wants to get ahead of themselves. We can all understand the

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Government's reluctance to commit themselves to a referendum on the convention and its proposals at this stage. But why has the door to a referendum on possible constitutional developments been closed completely for all time? I would be grateful if the noble Baroness could explain that mystery. Why is it being closed when it is almost certain that there will be constitutional implications of some kind from the convention, when eight other member states will have referenda, and when Brussels officials say that the forthcoming constitutional treaty will be more important than Amsterdam, Nice and Maastricht combined? Why is the door being closed so soon?

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.

I have been subject to a little insomnia recently, and I have done some very interesting night-time reading. I was reading a biography, from which I shall quote:

    "For all the rhetoric of sovereignty and nationhood, by her"—

that is, the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher—

    "agreement to the documents that were to be enshrined in the Single European Act she transferred more sovereignty to the European Community (as it was then known) than anyone has done before or since".

The Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary did not say that; it was the former Deputy Prime Minister, Michael Heseltine, now the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine.

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:

    "If parliament can't analyse the ultimate version of this treaty, which we all knew was going to come once we enlarged the union, then parliament isn't much use for anything".

Is that not entirely consistent with what the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, said in his interview in the Financial Times a couple of days later? He said:

    "Referendums should be a rare exception if we are not to weaken still further our system of parliamentary democracy".

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend for his guidance on the use of "referenda" and "referendums". I did not hear "The World at One" on 27th May. I suspect that I was preparing for Questions in your Lordships' House on that occasion. I agree with what Mr Clarke and the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, said. We have a sophisticated system of parliamentary democracy in this country. It has been my experience, when debating in your Lordships' House the treaties that have gone

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through—the Nice Treaty and, before that, the Amsterdam Treaty—that they attract a great deal of very knowledgeable discussion. I believe that it is through that parliamentary debate that we shall find a way forward on any possible future treaty coming out of an IGC.

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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