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Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I remind the noble Lord that, at the same time as the referendum in France, there was a referendum in the Netherlands. The electorate
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Lord Hunt of Wirral: I think that we have probably gone as far down that road as is necessary. I want to return to the speech of my noble friend Lord Leach of Fairford, who was also bombarded by the noble Lords, Lord Hannay, Lord Kinnock and Lord Clinton-Davis, but who stood his ground. My noble friend had an important point to makeit has been reiterated by my noble friend Lord Forsyth and conceded to some extent by the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinsonabout why this issue has arisen in this way. It is because there is a lack of public confidence in the Governments ability to deliver the referendum that has been promised. That is the context.
Lord Tomlinson: The noble Lord knows that I conceded no such thing as a generality. I conceded a specific party commitment on the euro and I said, with equal clarity, that the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, which we seem to have stopped debating in the past 10 minutes or so, was entirely wrong in terms of locating this matter in the Bill. That is the issue that the noble Lord should be addressing.
Lord Hunt of Wirral: But I am addressing that issue. Why do we need it in this Bill? Because, as I was saying when the noble Lord interrupted me, the people lack confidence in the Governments ability to deliver a referendum. Both the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats have shown that it is perfectly possible for them to break a commitment to deliver a referendum. I could go down that road, but it is for the next debate. They have both broken promises for a referendum on the constitutional treaty. The simple fact is that I strongly support my noble friends amendment because the Government are breaking their bargain with the people. We must remind them of that and put this to the test.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: I say to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, for whom I have highest regard, as he well knows, that that was an interesting but rather scratchy contribution. I hope that, when he rereads what he said to my noble friend Lord Kinnock, he will perhaps have a conversation with him outside the Chamber. Whatever the intent, what was said was not like the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral; let me put it like that.
I am going to avoid getting into what is actually the next debate. It is always a temptation, because we will be discussing the question of a referendum, the constitution and the reform treaty in the next group of amendments. I will therefore stick to debating the amendment that the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, moved extremely well when we began. I will be brief.
The Governments commitment to a referendum on the euro stands. It was made clear in 1997 and has been reiterated recently by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister at Prime Ministers Questions. That is what we would do. Members of the Committee
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Sometimes I feel quite irrelevant in the debates, for which I have great fondness, on the Bill. I enjoy reading some of the discussions that have taken place, often between members of the same political partiesnot least the opposition party, which has a variety of distinct views on its Benches.
Having been the keeper of many pieces of legislation through your Lordships House, I was surprised to find that the amendment was accepted for debate. I queried it, not because it is not a perfectly reasonable issue to debate but because I did not think that it was relevant to the Bill. That remains my view. The amendment got through on a technicality in a sense, because there are some technical changes to preserve the UK opt-in and ensure that we are clear on a number of monetary policy issues, on to which the amendment has quite reasonably been hung. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, made sure that it was appropriate, so I say nothing to him on that. None the less, I was surprised. However, I agree with my noble friend Lord Tomlinson and other noble Lords that this is not the place to have this amendment. For that reason, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw it.
Lord Blackwell: I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate and to the Minister for her response. A number of arguments have been put against the amendment. First, my noble friend Lord Brittan, the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, and others have argued that referendums are wrong in principle. Those who believe that should clearly oppose the amendment. I disagree with them for the reasons eloquently set out by my noble friend Lord Leach, but clearly if you think that a referendum on the euro is wrong, you will oppose the amendment. The vast majority of contributions from around the Committee have indicated that the amendment should, in principle, be agreed with, but noble Lords have questioned whether it is in the wrong place and whether it is needed. Perhaps I may briefly address those points.
This is a treaty of Europe. The provisions on the euro and monetary union are major components of the treaty of Europe, the treaty on the functioning of Europe and the protocols that accompany them. As I made clear in my introduction, the Lisbon treaty amends those protocols to say that Her Majestys
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The other argument, put forward by the noble Lords, Lord Tomlinson, Lord McNally and Lord Hannay, is that the amendment is unnecessary. This goes back to the point about trust. I was delighted to hear the Minister reaffirm the Governments commitment to a referendum on the euro and I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord McNally, on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench confirm, under interrogation, that the Liberal policy to support a referendum on the euro is unchanged. However, as I said in my opening remarks, it would not be surprising if the public were suspicious about commitments to referendums being met, which is why I think it necessary, in the interests of public trust, to include this in the Bill.
I wish to clarify a point made by my noble friend Lord Brittan. He said that I had suggested that a referendum on the issue would take the matter out of political debate. I did not suggest that a commitment to a referendum would make the issue non-political; I suggested that, if it were clear that all parties were committed to a referendum, the question whether or not to have a referendum would be taken out of political debate. However, there are clearly those in this Chamber who, despite agreeing with the notion of a referendum on the euro, want to find a reason for not including it in the Bill. If there are any doubters, I should make it clear that agreeing to this amendment would not in any way invalidate the treaty or prevent it from being ratified; it would simply be a procedural issue within the United Kingdom.
Those who oppose the amendment must accept that they open themselves up to the electorate questioning whether their reason for doing so is that they wish to leave themselves some degree of freedom. That may not be their intent but I do not think that they can blame anyone but themselves if that is what people read into their motives. That is a decision for them. I think that it is in the interests of political trust and democracy in this country that we make it clear that, before we enter the euro, all parties are committed to a referendum on the matter. For that reason, I wish to test the opinion of the Committee.
The noble Lord said: With this amendment we come to the core of our many debates, although I must confess that we seem to have come to that core several times already. I have no doubt that we will come to it again. We all know what it is. These Benches question why the present Government resist a referendum on the Lisbon treaty while we believe more strongly than ever that there should be one. I say more strongly than ever because perhaps I did not start with enough faith and commitment, as I should have done, about the nature of this treaty text. When I have read it through line by line as we have come to the amendments and looked at Open Europes The Lisbon Treaty and the European Constitution: A side-by-side comparison, I have been absolutely staggered by the fact that word after word, line after line, sentence after sentence and paragraph after paragraph are exactly the same. It is the same document.
Even if not everyone agrees with that, the father of the convention on the constitutional treaty, Valery Giscard dEstaing, saw the point immediately. He announced very firmly that allI emphasise allof the earlier proposals were in the new text, although he did candidly admit that some of them would be disguised. The point was also happily and enthusiastically conceded by a whole range of European Union leaders. In fact, almost all of them did except our own in the United Kingdom.
It is curious to be told day after day that something is not which clearly is. It is as though the Governments case has fallen into the hands of some child fantasy storyteller, and not a very good one at that. The story seems to zigzag from argument to argument and scene to scene in different parts of the forest. First we are told that it is different because the constitution concept has been abandoned; then we are told that, anyway, even if it is a constitution, the red lines will protect us. That, of course, is the classic Billy Bunter argument: I did not steal the currant cake, and anyway it did not have currants in it. Anyway, the European Scrutiny Committee in the other place said that the red lines leaked like a sieve. It said that the opt-out from the charter was non-existent, which turns out to be true; that the tax danger was mostly never there, at any rate not for direct taxation; and that the protection for foreign policy is highly debatable. Anyway, the Government made all those claims last time for the constitutional treaty which preceded this one.
Then, we were told: Never mind about that. If that doesnt stand up, its not constitutional. Well, it transparently is constitutional, and our own Constitution Committee confirms it. It says that it has inevitable constitutional implications. Are we to dismiss our own House of Lords committee on that? Then, the Government said: Well, even if its constitutional, we should not really go for referendums. I admit, having listened to the earlier debate and the stentorian arguments of my noble friend Lord Brittan of Spennithorne, that I am not a fan of referendums either. I must confess that I took a referendum Bill for Northern Ireland through the House of Commons many years ago, with the total support of all my colleagues, even those who were not very keen on referendums. Nevertheless, it was felt to be justified in that case. Heaven knows that we have had enough of them recently. The current Government have used the referendum weapon very frequently, and now I understand that it is proposed to use it in Scotland. That is what I read in the newspapers. If people do not like referendums, that is understandable; but if it is raised into being a principle against referendums, it becomes totally unintelligible.
If that argument does not stand, then it is argued that other countries are not having a referendum. Well, Ireland is having one very shortly. And do we always have to be the copycats? Do we always have to say, If they are not doing it, we must follow suit? Then, we are told that it is too complicated for the British people to understand, although the Irish are apparently managing to understand it and the French and the Dutch managed to understand it. I know that some lively words were exchanged on that in the previous debate, and I do not want to stir them up again. However, I do not think that that proposition can survive for two seconds without raising questions about the intellectual capacities and sheer shrewdness of the people when carefully and properly consulted about an issue.
As for the concept of the constitution being abandoned, this is where we reach the edges of credulity. We know that it is just the wrapping that has been abandoned. I am all for pretty wrapping and doing up parcels beautifully. When I visit Japan I think how marvellous
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Having listed all those arguments that are paraded, there is one reason above all why none of these pleas should be accepted: the Government promised a referendum, as did the Liberal Democrats and my own party. We did it in our manifestos in 2005. The parties went even further than the promises in the manifestos. In the Sun, the former Primer Minister, Tony Blair, said,
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