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All three parties faithfully promised to grant the public a say on such a fundamental and overtly constitutional project: all my honourable friends, opposite Members honourable friends, all noble Lords themselves, all in the Liberal Democrat Party, all in the Labour Party and, for that matter, all in my own party. The Government have now defaulted on their promise; they have defaulted on their pledge. As for the Liberal Democrats and their rather bizarre conduct during the course of our debates, I frankly do not lie awake at night worrying about the future of the Liberal Democrat Party, but I do lie awake worrying about the future of your Lordships House if it cannot even keep a Government to their manifesto promises. If we cannot muster any amendment
Baroness Ludford: My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord and thank him for giving way. He is talking a lot about promises and pledges. To go back to the substance of this argument for a referendum, in 1973 the Conservative Government did not offer a referendum on our entry into the then European Community. Can he explain why not?
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I am sorry but I did not hear every word that the noble Baroness said. She is experienced in these matters but it has been the argument all along that first, we have here an accumulation of powers being transferred from Parliament and secondly, as I have tried to explain, this is a uniquely open-ended Bill. People say, What about the Maastricht treaty? or What about the Single European Act? Yet this treaty is unique in its open-endedness. That is why it has got such a chunk of attempted accountability in it. It is not nearly enough but it has admittedly got some accountability phrases and provisions in Clause 6. We believe that this is a development beyond what is sensible for the future of Europe and that is why we argue as we do.
If we cannot muster any amendment to such a momentous Bill, which, after all, has implications right across national life and which the other place, frankly, skimmed over, as everyone has pointed out, then we are obviously and plainly failing in our duty here in your Lordships House. That worries me and leads me to the view that we have handled this matter wrongly or some of your Lordships have taken the wrong approach. All public and political leaders agree
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Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, the noble Lord has argued his case well and deserves tribute from all of us for the way in which he and his colleagues, often with limited resources, as he said honestly, have subjected this Bill to considerable scrutiny. He has also put forward the key arguments for consideration by your Lordships Househas there been a broken promise in respect of the referendum and, more generally, what is the case for a referendum which should be addressed by us now and in the future?
I personally disagreed with the Prime Ministers apparently snap decision, with limited consultation, to promise a referendum on the constitution, and in my conclusion I do not rely on the argument that politicians are entitled to change their minds or, indeed, on the American line that promises are meant to run on and not to stand on. The argument stands on its own merits that a promise was made on the constitution and, therefore, quite properly the noble Lord poses the question: is this effectively the same as the constitution, save for the symbols, the flag and so on? In short, how significant are the differences?
We can of course have the war of quotations and I give the noble Lord credit for not entering into that during his address today. I start from the proposition that there is an arguable case on both sides and it is a matter of judgment. I am prepared to accept that the Lisbon treaty is sufficiently different for the UK, with new elements safeguarding our interests, and that those differences include the protocol in respect of the charter, the key undertakings in respect of the common foreign and security policy and the new safeguards in justice and home affairs.
Lord Lamont of Lerwick: My Lords, the noble Lord says that a new element is the freedom of the Government to have their own foreign policy, but if he looked at the Labour Partys manifesto containing the pledge that there would be a referendum, it said that the constitutional treaty already preserved freedom for this country on foreign policythat is, the red line on foreign policy was achieved at the time that the Labour Government promised a referendum.
Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, that red line was maintained. If the noble Lord took the trouble to read the report prepared by the European Union Committee of this House, he would see that our essential interests were wholly safeguarded in respect of CFSP. There were only two relatively minor elements, for example, in which the European Court of Justice was able to have a role in CFSP, which were much debated in this House. I have come to that conclusion on those areas and I am fortified in my view that there is a sufficient change by the fact that at least nine of the 27 members of the Union proposed to hold
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The second issue is that in my judgment the democratic case for a referendum is very weak indeed. I believe that the noble Lord said that the outcome may well depend on the weather. That is hardly a strong democratic argument. Looking over the experience of referendums in this country, the proposal has little relevance to the merits of the case, but rather to the tactical decision, depending on which side of the argument one is. I confess to the House that as regards the referendum in the 1970s on Wales, I was among those who opposed the Government at that time and I arguedI think the noble Lord nods to thisfor the referendum, in part, on good tactical reasons. I suspect that the Conservatives failure to hold a referendum in respect of the Single European Act and on Maastricht was based on similar tactical reasons and not on the merits of the case. Clearly, the case for referendum bristles with problems in practical terms. It depends who puts forward
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, who has impeccable democratic credentials. Can he not see the point that, because every single political party in the last general election made a commitment that there would be a referendum, this was not an issue in the general election campaign and that people sought to have the debate at a later stage? By denying a referendum now, that debate is denied the people on this vital issue.
Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, my judgment is that this treaty is sufficiently different from the constitution to merit a different approach. I should just give headlines on the other matters: the practical difficulties. It depends on who poses the question and the wider context. My experience of the Welsh referendum in 1979 was that 80 per cent of the people of Wales were against the devolution proposals of the Government. In 1997, 50 per cent were in favour and 50 per cent were against. Does one imagine that there was some mass conversion over that period? No, it was the fact that, in 1997, an incoming Labour Government with an overwhelming majority put forward the proposal, so it depended very much on who posed the question and the wider context. There was a weak Labour Government in 1979, who was highly unpopular, and in 1997, there was a popular Labour Government with a very substantial majority. It depends when the question is put. For example, in Sweden there was general antipathy to the European Union. There was only a brief window of opportunity when the pendulum of Swedish opinion swung in favour of the European Union and by happy chance, or unhappy chance, the Swedes had their referendum at that time. So public opinion can be highly volatile, as we saw in Sweden.
There can be problems in interpreting the result. If there is a very low participation rate, does one ask what is sufficient in terms of public opinion? Perhaps the real issue is that one cannot reduce such a complex matter to a single issue. I recall that President Mitterrand said that in referendums the French people always answer the wrong question. I was one of those who, on the French referendum on Maastricht, appeared on platforms in France arguing for a yes vote at that time. It struck me that the issue was not that of Maastricht, but whether or not one liked President Mitterrand, and there were issues about immigration and textiles which were wholly unrelated to the Maastricht treaty. In the Irish referendum tomorrow, there are questions about abortion, defence and neutrality, which do not appear in this treaty. The question cannot be reduced to a single issue. The fundamental issue is that although in Parliament one can debate and negotiate with opposing groups, in the popular vote one cannot negotiate with the people. If, perchance, the Irish people were to vote against tomorrow, who would know what the particular issues were on which they rejected the treaty?
Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, I am interested in learning from the noble Lord how one so ascertains; should one have another public opinion poll and on which issuesthey may be abortion, neutrality or the threat to the system of corporate taxation in Ireland. But it is clear that various devices have been usedthat was the case in Denmark, for example, and it led to the second referendum on opt-outs; in Ireland, there could be yet another chance as on the previous occasion. But one cannot negotiate with the people to find out what their main reasons were for rejecting a particular proposal at the time.
In conclusion, what is portrayed as a democratic advance, particularly when the rules of the game have been changed, is less impressive on close examination. We are in a parliamentary democracy and, in my judgment, Parliament should decide.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, we on these Benches must start by congratulating the Conservative Front Bench on correcting the Welsh spelling of the question in this amendment. Just before we came here, we had done a little research on what Libson was about, but the spelling was corrected yesterday.
I hesitate to criticise the Conservatives because over the past week my party has been bombarded by letters from various Conservative leaders in the Commons and Lords. The letter that we received yesterday from William Hague made it quite clear that he had not read Mondays Hansard when he wrote to protest at the position that we had taken. I hope that the Conservative Front Bench in the Lords will occasionally manage to get their colleagues in the Commons to pay more attention to the way in which we discuss, debate and revise in this House in Committee and on Report.
Perhaps I should start by criticising the Labour Government. We are where we are because the Labour Government have, for the past 10 years, failed to make a constructive case for British membership of the European Union. Since they have failed to make that constructive case, the British debate has slipped further backwards towards what one has to call the Daily Mail viewof European integration as a threat. We have heard echoes of that from the noble Lord, Lord Howell. We heard of the Convention of Cintra and had the image of the poor British holed up in a corner of the Continent and forced to submit to humiliating conditions dictated by the French. That is what he implied by that reference.
I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that, as I have worked through the details of the BillI speak as someone who has worked on the European Union for a long timeI have been struck by the relative modesty of the changes that it makes. They are useful and constructive changes, but this is not a revolution. This is an evolutionary process of amendment.
I want to make a passing comment, since the Irish referendum campaign is clearly preoccupying us, on the Irish no campaign. The Irish Times has made it clear in two or three articles in the past few days that there is a peculiar coalition of eccentric right-wing millionaires with strong links to the American neoconservatives and left-wing socialists and nationalists in Sinn Fein, and that is not itself such as to encourage enthusiasm, particularly in view of the fact that it has refused to say where its funds have come fromperhaps from non-domiciled and offshore people, as with some people in the Conservative Party.
I note that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, has added his name to this amendment and, from the tone of his introductory speech, I assume that if there is to be a referendum, he will campaign actively for people to say no. I note that his colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, does not have his name to the amendment and, from the number of things that he has said in the course of our discussions in this House, it is quite clear that he will be campaigning for a yes. So we have a Conservative Party that is likely to be divided on the issue, which is very reminiscent of Harold Wilsons Labour Party.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, I ask the noble Lord to return to the point that he himself raised, which was the right honourable William Hagues letter to him. Can he explain why Liberal MPs get sacked from the Labour Party?
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, I mean the Liberal party; the two are very difficult to distinguish in this House. Why do Liberal MPs get sacked for refusing to abstain on the referendum question? In this House the noble Lord and his colleagues are going to vote against the referendum, whereas their colleagues told the British people that they would support it.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, has not seen the letter that William Hague sent yesterday, which referred to Mondays debate and suggested that the Government had made no concession whatsoever on parliamentary scrutiny. I will answer the other question as I continue with my speech.
If one is making a comparison between Harold Wilson and David Cameron, I note that Melanie Phillips, in Mondays Daily Mail, drew the comparison between David Cameron and Hamlet. She stated that the opposition leaders stance,
As we know, there is a range of opinion on the Conservative Benches. On Monday, the noble Lord, Lord Vinson, said that the European Union is incompatible with British democracy. That is a fairly strong statement.
We look forward with interest to hearing the range of views on this referendum on the treaty. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, that it is a referendum, not the referendum; there are different sorts of referenda and we shall hear various views from the Conservative Benchesfrom the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, for example.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the noble Lord may have misunderstood me. Many on his Benches want the next Conservative Governmentif there is to be oneto promise that, if elected, they will renegotiate the Lisbon treaty. I remind the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, that this is exactly the position taken by Harold Wilson in 1973-74 with his referendum promise to cover up the divisions within his Labour Party, if and when it returned to government. But Harold Wilson, at the very least, had the sense to offer his party, and the public, a referendum on the underlying issuedo we stay in the European Community, as it then was, or leave it?
The Conservatives are attempting to avoid that question by offering a referendum only on the treaty. The position of my party, as we have made entirely clear, is that if we are to have a referendum it should be on the underlying issuedo we stay in, or do we leave? The Conservative Party is unable to answer
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, the Liberal Democrat policy is more bewildering. The other day we had an amendment on precisely that matter. The Liberal Democrats did not vote for it; they voted against it. Where on earth are we?
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, was in the House at that point. I think I observed a number of Conservatives voting against that amendment. We made it entirely clear in the House when the noble Lord, Lord Howell, was presentand, I think, awakethat we were not prepared to vote for a UKIP amendment based on a strongly anti-European line. I know that the noble Lord sits there on the Front Bench having to feed the UKIP monster and he does it relatively well. He puts stuff into the UKIP mouth and it is still not entirely satisfied, but much of what he saysand I have to say that we have some mutual confusion
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, the noble Lord simply cannot get away with this. The Conservative Party is in a quite different position from his own. If I am not mistaken, his own party moved an amendment in the House of Commons calling for an in or out referendum. The Conservatives did not do that, so they cannot be criticised for not supporting an amendment which the Liberal Democrats moved in the House of Commons. However, the noble Lords party most certainly can be criticised. Why does it not make up its mind?
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I do not wish to detain the House. I simply wish to say that the position of my party throughout has been that it is in Britains long-term interests to remain a member of the European Union. The present position of the Conservative Party is that it wants to stay half in and half out. However, William Hague, who used to say that the Nice treaty would bring about the end of British democracy, now says that the Lisbon treaty will do that and that the Nice treaty is just about acceptable. When the treaty is ratified, we need an intelligent debate in this country on Britains long-term future in the European Union and how that fits with Britains position in the world and our foreign policy. My party will lead that debate and we hope that the Government will be willing to join it. We shall be very interested to know where the Conservative Party stands on this altogether.
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I must not interrupt too much but in 1973 I took through the House of Commons a Bill for a referendum in Northern Ireland. That happened with the full support of my party and, indeed, the noble Lords party as well.
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