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Our enacting this Bill will have two effects. One is that there will be substantive damage done to the interests of this country in specific areas. In an amendment on Report, I raised the issue of a single market in the defence industry. That is quite clearly in our national interests, but we would not now be able to agree to it unless we had a referendum. I went through that and explained that we really would shoot ourselves in the foot-that was the expression I used-if we went ahead with that. The Government did not seriously argue against that case at all. They simply said, "Sorry, we are embarked upon this course and there may be a few things to be thought of". The noble Lord, Lord Howell, was nice enough to say that I may have some arguments there but that they would carry on regardless-that was more or less the response I had.
Let me give another case, because it is important to look at specific, concrete cases where it may be in the national interest to transfer powers or competences to the institutions of the European Union, particularly the Commission. A few years ago the Commission made a proposal that it should have the right to audit and monitor the accounts of member states. That was opposed by a number of member states, including ourselves and the Germans, and it did not go through. Had it been able to go through on a qualified majority voting basis then we would have had the Commission monitoring the national accounts of Greece. The scandals and mistakes that have occurred with devastating consequences-going into tens of billions of euros, as we all know, and the threat of a banking crisis which undoubtedly will affect us if it arises, and so forth-would have been avoided, because somebody else would have been able to go through those accounts. The European Commission would have been able to do so. Of course all the Eurosceptics in this Chamber and in the other place would have said, "Oh, this is a terrible thing
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Such occasions can easily occur in the future. We all know that we cannot predict the crises and challenges of next year or even six months hence, let alone five or 10 years hence, but we are now denying ourselves definitively an effective possible weapon to deal with such challenges and crises. That is the effect of the Bill. I totally agree with the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell: there ain't going to be no referenda on this Bill. We all know that was complete rubbish. What this Bill is actually doing is enacting a complete blockage so far as we are concerned.
The second consequence of this, of course, is that it will give a great boost to the enhanced co-operation agenda in the EU. Our partners will know in advance that there is no point in bringing the Brits into the discussion-because they are paralysed; because they have got to say no; because no Minister could possibly even say yes subject to a referendum, because no Government are ever going to want the referendum. Therefore they will not want the Brits in the room from the beginning: that is quite clear. So, they will say we have got to make progress on this, we have got to take a decision on this, we have to do it ourselves, under the enhanced co-operation procedure-which is now of course available under the treaty. We are going to give a tremendous boost to that. This means, of course, that we will not be present at that discussion. We all know that the European Union is a horse-trading organisation, and agreements are often in terms of packages-a perfectly natural thing in human affairs. If we are not part of the discussion in one particular area, it may make it much more difficult for us to do an advantageous bargain or deal in another context which is very important for us. We are going to be steadily and progressively left out of the mechanism of decision-taking in the European Union. That is a very serious prospect and we are bringing it not only closer but so close that it is a damned racing certainty if we enact this Bill in its present form.
Lord Brittan of Spennithorne: My Lords, at this stage in our proceedings we have to do two things. First, we have to decide whether we are persuaded by the arguments put forward in the other place that what we have decided here should not stand up. Secondly, we have to decide, if we are not persuaded, whether we stand by what we have done or whether we acquiesce in what the other House has decided.
My fundamental objection to this Bill and my support for the amendments that we passed is based on a view which has not much to do with European affairs at all, but a great deal to do with the British constitution. Up to now, we have had a constitution in which the referendum, until modern times, had no role whatever. We had sufficient confidence in parliamentary government to believe that the representatives of the people should be responsive to the people but not slaves to the momentary wishes of the people, and that that was the right way in which decisions should be
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The amendments that were passed by this House mitigate what I consider the damage to the British constitution a small degree. The question is, are we persuaded by the arguments put forward in the other place that the mitigation that we introduced is something which we should no longer support? I am not so persuaded, because the amendments that we put forward were quite modest, still leaving a Bill which breached-in my view unnecessarily and undesirably-the principle of parliamentary government, but they were mitigatory amendments and therefore we supported them in this House, and we passed them in this House. Nothing that was said in the other House persuades me that we were wrong to do so, because the balance of the constitution in which a referendum is a rare instrument, applied only in exceptional circumstances, is one which I continue to support. I am not persuaded by the arguments put forward in the other House that the modest amendments that we put forward, which would reduce the plethora of amendments and other referenda from a flood to a trickle, were undesirable. I was persuaded last time we discussed this that they were desirable, and I remain of that view now.
Lord Pannick: My Lords, I too support this amendment, because I see it as a considered response to the views of the other place. It supplies a criterion which identifies when it is appropriate for a referendum to be held. Since mention has been made of the views of the Constitution Committee of your Lordships' House, of which I am a member, I will remind your Lordships of the three points that the committee made in its report on this Bill.
First, we noted that, in our earlier report on the use of referendums, we concluded that if referendums are to be used they should be confined to fundamental constitutional issues. Secondly, we noted that this Government had expressed agreement with that criterion in the context of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act. Thirdly, we concluded that it could not be said that every treaty change which would, under this Bill, require a referendum, would involve a fundamental constitutional issue.
My answer to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, is that I understand this amendment to impose a duty on the Minister in good faith to consider whether the issue is one of economic or constitutional significance, and if so to lay a Statement before Parliament. I do not accept that this leaves matters entirely to political judgment: it imposes a criterion, it is a considered response to the Commons view, and I hope we will support the amendment today.
Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, I support the amendment. The main consideration is that if the Government do not relent on this question they will be in denial on issues to do with the workability of the scheme. I will give some examples.
First, it is proposed that these referenda be mandatory on the Government. Secondly, it was said by the noble Lord in a previous session that it might be rather inconvenient if there were a whole string of different referendums and so they could be grouped together in some way for the purpose of having them on a certain date. The issue of EU energy taxation being extended or some other legal question on an industrial matter might be put together for the purpose of the referendum day. This taxes the imagination. I have tried to imagine that I am sitting listening to a conversation in a pub in Burton-on-Trent. After all, this is the demotic that we are all being asked to say is so much more important than parliamentary democracy. So, I am sitting in a pub in Burton-on-Trent, and after a discussion on what is running in the 2.30 at Newmarket, Fred says to his mate Alec, "What are you doing on this thing that they want us to vote on tomorrow?". "No idea, Fred, it's all Greek to me", replies Alec.
How do we know that the people want all these referendums? How much time would elapse in Brussels if we simply, as the awkward squad, sat for several months on a whole string of items until the famous day when they could be brought together? That looks so totally unreasonable that people in Europe-they are friends of ours, presumably; we are in a Community-might say, "If you are a member of a club, you ought to be more co-operative than that. If you carry on as you are, you might as well get out". If we held a referendum on staying in or getting out, I am pretty confident that the staying in vote would win. There might be consensus on that, but it is not the subject of this amendment. This is a vicious circle. If you want to be a member of a club, you have to co-operate. If I carried on like this in my tennis club, it might be suggested that I joined another club more suited to my temperament. The Government do not have the candour to say what they want to do because I do not think that some of their members would agree with that position. However, they want to go as near as they can to implying what they want to do.
Lord Taverne: My Lords, I will be very brief. I do not think that it can be disputed that the Bill in its present form makes it infinitely more difficult to stick to the constitutional principle announced by the Scrutiny Committee that referenda should be restricted to matters of fundamental constitutional significance. Why would a spread of more plebiscites be so dangerous? It is because the system of parliamentary government has been far superior in preserving certain rights, particularly minority rights, than would be the case with referenda and plebiscites. For example, one can imagine the populist propaganda that would pour out further to restrict asylum seekers and make this a less civilised country. That would apply also to those suspected of committing terrorist offences. We have heard some examples of that. However, this goes beyond minority rights and individual rights. What about protectionism? "British jobs for British people" was Mr Brown's ill advised slogan. If protectionism had spread throughout Europe or throughout the world after the crash, we
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Lord Deben: My Lords, my problem with this amendment is that it seems to me to meet precisely what the Government want. The Government have been arguing that this clause would apply only to matters of constitutional value and that those who have worried about various aspects of it are worrying unnecessarily. We now have an amendment which specifically says that the Minister must say publicly that the referendum concerns a matter of constitutional or economic importance. That seems to me not an unreasonable thing to do when it is precisely what the Government say this clause is meant to do. Although I do not believe in referenda in any circumstances, I am not approaching this from that point of view. Frankly, I am trying to help the Government because it seems to me that they have not convinced all of us that their explanation of this clause is precisely right.
My noble friend Lord Blackwell is entirely wrong: this is not a wrecking amendment-unless the Government's proposal is a wrecking amendment-in fact, it enhances what the Government have asked for. Your Lordships should say to yourselves, "Whether we are Eurosceptics or enthusiasts for Europe"-as I am-"whatever our view may be, it is not unreasonable to say that referenda should be held on matters of considerable importance, not ones which are not of considerable importance". It is not unreasonable to put that in the Bill.
As regards the way in which we have approached this, I believe that there are real issues for our stance in the European Union. Those who are Eurosceptic ought to be just as concerned as those of us who are of a different opinion, because unless we are able to argue about minor matters with the freedom which a representative Government have, we will do ourselves down on many of the issues that have been raised. If this amendment merely allows for that freedom, it is important and valuable and certainly does not in any way wreck the proposal.
There is truth in the argument that says that we should watch any constitutional change of this magnitude with great care. I say to the noble Baroness behind me who spoke on the Liberal Democrat position that the more she read what the Constitution Committee of this House said, the more she made the case for the amendment, because the Constitution Committee said that if you are going to have referenda, you should make sure that they are on serious matters. Sometimes it is difficult to decide what are serious matters. We have produced an amendment which says to the Minister, "You have to make up your mind, you have to agree to it and you have to say that publicly". After all, most of our Bills have a statement on the front that the relevant Minister knows that it accords with human rights. It is not unreasonable to ask Ministers to make that choice. I think that is what the Government want. Why, therefore, have they not accepted this amendment, or something like it?
I end with a plea to my noble friend. He knows that many of us are not entirely happy with the logic of saying that we have to have all this in order to reconnect with the public. Could he not move towards us just a little and be prepared to put in the Bill what he has told us is actually there? That would make us feel that the Government had listened to us and that there was a two-way discussion on this. If he does not do that, I am afraid that I cannot even begin to reach out to the concept that this Bill enhances our relationships and I shall begin to recede into a position of wondering whether it is not intended to make people like my noble friend happier. I am not sure that that is what we should be debating.
Lord Flight: My Lords, does the Minister agree that certain noble Lords are perhaps a bit out of touch with British public opinion? It is clear that the British public are against Governments surrendering any further sovereignty to the EU without the consent of the people. That was very much reflected in the attitude taken to the previous Government's signing up to Lisbon, having promised a referendum and then having ratted on it. The whole point of the Bill, clumsy though it may be, is to provide a deterrent to stop Governments of any political hue giving away yet more sovereignty, and the British people not having a say in that. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, gave the game away. He was arguing that he wanted a situation where Governments could fudge it and give away a bit more sovereignty and was very unhappy that they might be deterred from doing that through fear of losing a referendum. The whole point of the Bill is to provide an effective deterrent to Governments giving away sovereignty. This amendment would weaken that principle.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I took part in virtually all the debates that we have had so far on this Bill, and it seems to me that the amendment would be a wrecking amendment. I understand that the Government and the coalition brought forward the Bill after long consideration and to provide assurance to the British people before they surrendered any powers-powers of the people and powers of this Parliament, if we are talking about parliamentary democracy-to the institutions of the European Union. Indeed, we had long discussions about these provisions, and after hearing all the debates I believe that the Government were right to try to get it through this House. Unfortunately, they did not do so.
The Bill went to the House of Commons and I have read the debates. The Labour Party did not oppose these clauses in any reasonable way and did not support Amendments 6 to 13. There was very little discussion on them, as a matter of fact. If it was Labour Party policy, as the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, assured us and as is contained in his amendment, why was it not moved in the House of Commons? That is where it should have been done, but it was not done. What is the gain? If the Labour Party believes in restricting the effect of Clause 6, why did it not try to do that in the elected House? In the circumstances, this House ought to take note of what the other place has done.
Lord Lea of Crondall: The noble Lord spent many years in the House of Commons. Is it not the position that the Labour Party was looking at the Bill, as amended by the House of Lords, and that it was not incumbent on the Labour Party to do anything along the lines he suggests?
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: It was not incumbent on the Labour Party to do so, but it had the opportunity to do so and did not. If it believed, as the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, said when he moved his amendment, that this should be its policy, why did Members not do it when they had the opportunity in the House of Commons? That is the question that has to be answered. I assure the noble Lord that I know the procedures in the House of Commons. I was a Whip in the House of Commons and I have sat on a number of committees dealing with amendments that have come from the House of Lords. The House of Commons was perfectly entitled to move an amendment but it did not do so.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: The House of Commons is entitled to amend amendments that we have made in this House, but did not do so. The Labour Party did not do so because it did not want people outside to get the impression that it was against consulting them about losing further powers to the European Union. That is the real reason behind it.
I know that the House wants to get on, but I just want to say that the noble Lord, Lord Davies, referred to Greece. Of course, it is very clever to do that because we know the appalling state that the eurozone is in at present. He made the reasonable point that if it were a unitary state the Commission would have examined the accounts of the Greek Government. It had the opportunity to do so before Greece was admitted to the eurozone, but it did not do it because it was a politically driven decision. It wanted as many countries in the eurozone as possible, whether they were broke or, like Germany, prosperous. We should be very careful when using the present crisis to undermine the Bill. I would like it to go further but it is the best we are going to have, and I hope that the House will not insist on the amendments on this occasion.
Lord Lamont of Lerwick: My Lords, I had not intended to speak in this debate and I will be extremely brief. I rose to speak only because so many of my noble friends have made rather powerful speeches, but ones with which I disagree. I take very seriously the point made about moving too far in favour of plebiscitary democracy. One has to agree that that is a real danger. Balanced against that has to be the fact that the seeping away of the power of Parliament to the European Union is also an extremely serious issue. I agree in general that referendums should be held largely on
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We had quotations from the side opposite and from Cross-Benchers in earlier debates from Edmund Burke and the judgment of members of the legislature. One might quote back at them Tom Paine, who argued that constitutions belong to the people: that it is not for politicians to decide the rules by which government is conducted-sovereignty comes from the people. While I think that referendums should be on constitutional issues-important constitutional issues, as has been said-the totality of our relationship with Europe is a huge constitutional issue. It is therefore right that referendums should play a part in that.
That poses the question: is it right that we should have in this Bill so many different powers and so many different issues all rolled into one that might, as has been said, give rise to a flood of referendums on trivial issues? I do not believe that that will be the consequence of this Bill. That has been said before in our proceedings on the Bill, so I shall not go on about it at any great length. I will say, however, that that will not happen because: first, these measures are likely to come in packages; and, secondly, there are reserve powers-reserved to the nation state and left out of the previous treaties of Lisbon, Nice and Maastricht-because individual countries in the past have wanted to preserve them, and not necessarily Britain. There are other countries in the European Union, and one can look through the minutes of the constitutional convention leading up to the Lisbon treaty to see how some other countries in the past have argued for the veto to be preserved in certain areas. This is not just at the insistence of British politicians.
Baroness Quin: The noble Lord said that he could foresee referendums dealing with issues in packages. In those circumstances, how are people who agree with one issue but disagree with another supposed to vote?
Lord Lamont of Lerwick: That question was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, earlier in the debate. The answer is: just as they vote in elections. They have to decide on five or six issues in an election. In the past, there were referendums in other countries on treaties in which they had to decide on a series of questions raised by those treaties. I repeat my point that where a veto exists, it is not necessarily just at Britain's insistence but because other countries, too, wanted it.
Thirdly, I think we will have referendums only where a British Minister agrees with the proposition that will be put to the people of this country, and where the Government believe that they can win the referendum. For that reason, and with great respect, I do not agree with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that our flexibility in negotiations will be impeded because a certain area is covered by the possibility of a referendum being held on it. If a Minister wishes to argue in favour of something, presumably he is confident that he can sell it to the public. If he cannot sell it to the public, and they are
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Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I hope that I will be forgiven if I say that I have a faint feeling of having been here before-and forgiven also for not responding to every strongly held view and argument put forward in this debate that was put forward again and again in the past. The Government and I regard some of these arguments as deeply flawed and consider that they do not understand or come to grips with the realities of political life today, either here or in the rest of the European Union. I will also deal briefly, as is the custom, with the Motion-it is not the custom to make long second speeches on a Motion-and with the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, which goes very much further than anything standing against the Government's Motion that the amendments be resisted.
On the decisions involved in Clause 6, none is in the grey or insignificant category. They are all there for very strongly established reasons that are largely supported by many other countries. Many vetoes are maintained because the signatories to the Lisbon treaty did not want them to go into the QMV category. They are there because their use could only ever provide for a transfer of competence and power from the UK to the European Union-for reasons that we have explained from this Dispatch Box and that many of my noble friends have explained again and again-and so should be subject to the referendum requirement.
It is difficult to accept that any of the decisions in Clause 6 would not be significant in constitutional or economic terms. Those who say that it stretches their imagination to understand the significance of the measures listed in Clause 6, or Schedule 1, which springs from it, surprise me. Surely a decision on whether to give up our vetoes on, for instance, the multiannual financial framework, border controls or joining the single currency-I refer now to the amendment of the noble Lords, Lord Liddle and Lord Triesman, not to the main one that accepts them-would all fall, under Amendment 13B, into the bracket of something that had to be judged according to whether or not it was significant. This is a completely unnecessary process. Clearly they are of the most profound significance.
I know that the shadow Minister for Europe said on Monday that he considered other items in Clause 6 to be not so important. He exempted the important three-border controls, the European currency and one other-but dismissed the others as paperclips and minutiae. We do not accept that analysis. We firmly believe that the other issues are also of great significance and, when understood in terms of their impact on jobs, work and the processes by which our law system operates, certainly could be subjects of conversation in the pub in Burton-on-Trent, where the noble Lord, Lord Lea, has been listening to conversations.
On the European public prosecutor, I know that it is regarded by some of my noble friends, and by some noble Lords opposite, as not being of constitutional or economic significance. However, it is because it involves affording a supranational body the ability to prosecute citizens of this country within the scope of its own criminal justice system in respect of alleged crimes affecting the EU's financial interests. Someone must decide what that financial interest is and whether the crime has been committed. Is that a paperclip or minutiae issue?
What about the vetoes listed in Schedule 1? Why are they not significant when they all relate-that is why they are there-to the red lines adopted by successive Governments, fought for very hard by the previous Government and sustained by this Government, covering foreign affairs, security and defence policy, economic and tax policy, including issues of the EU's budget, which all of us admit is a red-hot issue, social security, employment policy, justice and home affairs policy, and citizenship and elections? Are these all minutiae, paperclip decisions and things that are never discussed in any pub? I have to ask where some of my noble friends, and some noble Lords, have been if they think that these matters are of no significance, because they include not only domestic issues, where after all Parliament can make and unmake laws, but transfers of power, sovereignty and competence that would almost certainly be irrevocable-in fact, they would be irrevocable.
The amendment before us would, for instance, allow the British Government to relinquish their veto over decisions relating to the multiannual financial framework without first getting the consent of the British people. That is a hugely important decision that Members in the other place were particularly concerned with, and rightly so. The Minister for Europe rightly pointed out that the forthcoming decision on that framework will in effect set budgetary decisions and ceilings for the next five to seven years of the EU's life and development. Are these minutiae, paperclip decisions or matters that people will not understand? I ask my noble friends and noble Lords who think that these matters are insignificant to think again. Their significance is obvious.
It is vital that these matters remain subject to unanimity and that whichever British Government are in office-this matter should be above party-continue to have the right of veto. Similar views are taken in almost every other country in the European Union. We all know what happens when one gets casual about the veto and lets it go. This was the case in the surrender of the veto on Article 122 of the TFEU, which opened the way to fearsome, huge and titanic new financial commitments to the funding of Europe in its present financial difficulties.
The amendment before us would reduce precisely the clarity that we all seek. It would also risk the possibility of judicial review on a decision by the Minister not to consider one of these clear-cut decisions to be significant. The so-called pragmatic flexibility that the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, keeps reminding us about and seeks could well be impeded by his own amendment. He would end up in a quagmire of pragmatic flexibility of his own making. It was too much of this pragmatic flexibility approach in the past that caused
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Lord Goodhart: Would my noble friend accept that it is impossible for a court to make decisions on what is done in the Houses of Parliament? If the Minister declares, therefore, that he believes something to be-or not to be-a matter of importance, it is not a matter that could then go to the courts. It would be settled by the House itself.
Lord Howell of Guildford: Ministerial decisions are open to judicial review. That is not a matter that we discussed much in Committee or one that we would necessarily want to see operate very fully in this or any other area of ministerial decisions on any aspect of policy. However, judicial review is there and ministerial decisions can be challenged.
I do not want to take further time meeting the marginalisation argument. Frankly, it is a chestnut, as there is absolutely no impact on Ministers' discretion and flexibility merely because they have sanctions behind them. Most European member states' Ministers have sanctions of various sorts lying behind them on the decisions that they reach.
The plebiscitary democracy issue, frankly, belongs to the pre-internet age, before the web and the internet system. We see all around the world the wider public's insistence on having a say where major issues about the transfers of power and competence away from their sovereign control are involved. That is exactly what would happen here. The idea that there would be 56 different referenda coming along is pure fantasy and does not relate to the actual way in which these issues would arise. There would be no great frequency of referenda; this is not the pattern for the future. It will not be the result of this Bill and it certainly would not be the outcome of the way in which the European Union has operated, is operating, or is likely to operate in the future. It is not in the interests of the 27-maybe soon 28-members to proceed in that way.
I think that the noble Lord would be wise to accept the Motion and the view taken in the other place. He would be wise to reject the amendment and therefore I ask him to withdraw it and accept the Motion so ably moved by my noble friend.
Lord Liddle: My Lords, we have had a full debate, and I do not want to take up the time of the House. I just want to make one comment on what the Minister has said. As you know, I believe in the noble Lord's integrity in putting this Bill forward. I do not believe he is putting it forward for anti-European reasons. I do not think that that is what he thinks, but the truth is that the list of referendum locks contained in this Bill far exceed any reasonable person's definition of issues of fundamental constitutional significance. On that basis, I would like to test the opinion of the House.
14B: Line 7, at end insert "only by virtue of that Act or where it is required to be recognised and available in law by virtue of any other Act".
The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Wallace of Tankerness): My Lords, we have had a number of interesting debates on Clause 18 at every stage in your Lordships' House and in the other place. We have heard from those who sought to ensure that the clause was more than declaratory and from those who expressed concern that Clause 18 might somehow affect our obligations as a member state. As my noble friends Lord Howell and Lord Wallace of Saltaire have said, and I have made clear, that is not the case. I hope we have assured your Lordships' House very effectively that this clause is declaratory and is intended to be declaratory. It underlines the existing legal position and confirms how directly effective and directly applicable European Union law takes effect in the United Kingdom, no more and no less. It will certainly not change in any way the constructive activist/pragmatist approach that this Government have and will continue to pursue in our engagement with our European Union partners on the priorities that matter to the people of this country.
"It is important that this declaratory measure should be made because of the theory sometimes propounded that Community law in the United Kingdom derives from the treaty alone by virtue of the European Union legal order. I believe that it is right that we should make it plain at this juncture that that is not so".-[Official Report, 15/6/11; col. 790.]
I welcome the acceptance by your Lordships' House and the other place of the principle underlying Clause 18. What we have before us, as we did on Report, is the question as to how we apply that clause and whether the 1972 Act should be the only Act which is to be covered by Clause 18. In this, I fully recognise the reasoning behind the approval which your Lordships gave to the amendment on Report.
The aim in doing so was quite rightly to make the clause as specific and clear as possible, an aim which is wholeheartedly one which one could support. But, as I have already said, I recognise the concerns expressed by noble Lords that Clause 18 should make more specific reference to the European Communities Act 1972. When we debated this on Report, I made it clear that the reason we could not accept the amendment was because we were of the firm belief that a number of other Acts of Parliament also give effect to directly effective and directly applicable European Union law independently of the 1972 Act. Therefore, to accept a provision that referenced the 1972 Act alone would be to accept a change in the existing legal position, which could go beyond what we had always intended.
Although the European Communities Act 1972 is the principal means by which directly effective and directly applicable EU law takes effect in the United Kingdom, the amendment agreed by your Lordships' House could have created a significant risk that the courts might interpret the clause as restricting the ability of the other Acts of Parliament to incorporate directly applicable or directly effective EU law into our United Kingdom law.
The amendment accepted by your Lordships' House also removed the phrase, "It is only" from the clause. This wording is intended to make it explicit that it is only by virtue of Acts of Parliament that directly effective and directly applicable EU law takes effect in the United Kingdom. Removing this reference leaves open the possibility of arguments to be made that directly effective and directly applicable EU law could enter into United Kingdom law by other means, which undermines the very rationale behind the clause.
Nevertheless, we have reflected on the amendment and the Government have demonstrated already that we wish to listen to arguments put forward by noble Lords. When there are grounds for a change to be made, we are prepared to make the change. In doing so, I wish to put on record our gratitude to my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern, with whom we have discussed in depth possible alternatives to his amendment to ensure that any amendment in lieu addresses his concerns sufficiently.
The Government subsequently proposed amendments to your Lordships' amendment in the other place, which we believe achieve these two objectives. These amendments are before us today. It may help your Lordships if I set out how the clause will read if these two amendments are added:
"Directly applicable or directly effective EU law (that is, the rights, powers, liabilities, obligations, restrictions, remedies and procedures referred to in section 2(1) of the European Communities Act 1972) falls to be recognised and available in law in the United Kingdom only by virtue of that Act or where it is required to be recognised and available in law by virtue of any other Act".
As I have indicated, we are particularly grateful for the engagement of my noble and learned friend and for his advice. My understanding is that he is content with the amendments to his original change.
I am also pleased to note that the other place voted overwhelmingly in favour of the government amendments by 485 votes to 22. These amendments were supported by the Opposition, with the shadow Minister for Europe calling them,
I therefore beg to move that this House acknowledges the considerable support of the other House for these two amendments to the amendment that was proposed by this House. I ask your Lordships to support these amendments today. I beg to move.
Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, as the one who took the main argument on Clause 18 on Report with an amendment which was carried by quite a reasonable majority in your Lordships' House, I am happy to assure your Lordships that this debate need not be anything like as long as the previous one because I am entirely happy with the proposed amendments and the resulting Clause 18.
The amendments restrict the matter to directly applicable and directly effective EU law. We are not concerned with other Acts which introduce EU law directly-for example, where it uses a particular provision of EU law to make law in this country. We do not need to concern ourselves with that. Originally, in an attempt to meet with the Government, I drafted an amendment which covered that as well as this. But I understand that it is now agreed that we just need to deal with directly effective and directly applicable EU law.
I am not 110 per cent convinced that there are other Acts which do this but, using the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Flight of the belt and braces, there is no harm in adding this because the 1972 Act is now specifically referred to. There is no doubt in my mind that it is the key to this aspect of EU law in this country. I hope that your Lordships will accept these amendments and my gratitude to the Government for their acceptance of the principle of the amendment which was accepted here, and for defending me from various allegations that were made in the other place about my motivation.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, in respect of the amendment that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, successfully passed in this House, I agree with him that the clause now before your Lordships is entirely satisfactory. I just want to say a few things about it. First, I do not think that Clause 18 was ever necessary, except in a political sense. Secondly, I do not think that the law was ever unclear. Thirdly, it is one of the comical aspects of our unwritten constitution that if you ask a group of lawyers or law students the origin of the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty, they never know the answer. The answer of course is that it comes from the common law. That answer is most unwelcome to a certain kind of thinker, who thinks, "Oh dear, if it comes from the common law, the courts might take it away again". We do not have to go into that today.
This amendment states the position as has always been made clear in the case law and therefore does no harm. I only wish that it had not been necessary in the first place. I also wish that the original Explanatory Notes that the Government introduced had not been maintained instead of being withdrawn for political reasons for another set of Explanatory Notes, all of which shows the unfortunate aspects of a Bill which is a politically cosmetic exercise in this respect.
Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, I express gratitude to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, for his work on the previous amendment
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"This clause does not alter the existing relationship between EU law and UK domestic law; in particular, the principle of the primacy of EU law. The principle of the primacy of EU law was established in the jurisprudence of the European Court of Justice before the accession of the United Kingdom to the European Communities".
"Thus this clause is declaratory of the existing legal position. The rights and obligations assumed by the UK on becoming a member of the EU remain intact. Similarly, it does not alter the competences of the devolved legislatures or the functions of the Ministers in the devolved administrations as conferred by the relevant UK Act of Parliament".
It would be very helpful if the noble and learned Lord could confirm that those Explanatory Notes, only as Explanatory Notes, remain as they were originally applied to a different Clause 18 from the one that this House is about to accept.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern, my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill and the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, for the support that has been given to these amendments. With regard to the Explanatory Notes, I can confirm to the noble Lord and the House that, as is customary, the Government will review the Explanatory Notes in their entirety. The notes on this clause will be considered as part of the exercise and we expect that there will have to be some consequential change to reflect the new wording of the clause. But that apart we have reviewed the Explanatory Notes in the light of proposed changes and consider that the notes, as drafted, accurately reflect the purpose and effect of Clause 18. I hope that that gives the reassurance that the noble Lord is seeking. In the belt-and-braces spirit which my noble and learned friend mentioned, I hope that the House will support these amendments.
Lord Howell of Guildford: This is the issue of the sunset clause. I believe there is another amendment to be moved which is related but with a slightly different emphasis. We debated this proposition at considerable
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With the Bill there has been a rather different line of argument. There are those who have a general dislike of the Bill, which they are perfectly entitled to have, and there have been arguments put forward in favour of a sunset clause because, it is claimed, this legislation seeks to bind future Parliaments. I repeat what was observed in another place-I perhaps have not comprehended the value of any counterarguments to it-that all legislation by a Government can bind future Governments, and maybe the Government of the day wish it would. All legislation is reversible. The need for additional provisions in the Bill seems weak.
"All Parliaments legislate for the future. Laws passed by one Parliament do not contain a sunset clause at the Dissolution. The real point is whether a government can, in law, make it difficult for a future Parliament to amend or repeal the legislation it has passed; in our view it cannot. Our conclusion therefore is straightforward-that an Act of Parliament applies until it is repealed".
Again and again there has been the proposition that somehow this type of legislation weakens Parliament, but Parliament remains central to the whole pattern of agreeing by Act of Parliament whether there should be referenda. The argument for the sunset clause is that each Parliament should be given the chance to decide whether its sovereignty has been curtailed by the Bill. We do not accept that case. As the Minister for Europe said in another place:
Parliament would have the opportunity on each occasion to approve a transfer of competence or power and to approve the holding of a referendum. In contrast this provision would actually reduce the control that Parliament would have on treaty changes and passerelles until the Government of the day decided whether to revive Part 1 of and Schedule 1 to the Bill. It would actually have the counter-effect of that, which I believe is the intention of those who put it forward. In any case, we have a system that is designed precisely to review how all Acts of Parliament are used once they are enacted. The previous Government introduced a system of post-legislative scrutiny. Well done them, because under that the Government of the day are required to publish a memorandum to Parliament on the operation of each Act of Parliament up to five years after the commencement of the Act. This is considered by relevant parliamentary committees, which can decide whether to conduct a detailed examination of that legislation. I ask again: what is the point of this additional proposed provision?
I am happy to repeat the commitment of my friend the Minister for Europe and say that this Government agree that this system is a useful tool that should be exploited and that a future Government must publish a full report on how the Bill has been used within five years of this legislation becoming law. This will result in the clarity and the reflection that colleagues in the other place rightly seek, but without arbitrarily depriving the British people of their say at the end of this Parliament.
This has now been considered by the other place, which has disagreed with your Lordships' amendment by a very substantial majority of 89 votes. Therefore, it falls to your Lordships' House to consider whether to insist on the amendment or accept the clear and considered view of the other place; and whether to accept, in the light of what I have said, that this is a necessary amendment or challenge to the Government's Motion that needs go forward. I personally doubt that it need go forward and I urge your Lordships to let the Motion stand.
In Parliaments subsequent to the Parliament in which this Act is passed the Secretary of State may by order approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament provide that any provision of section 6 or Schedule 1 shall be suspended for the duration of that Parliament or for any lesser period."
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, Amendment 15, which the other place rejected, provided a kind of sunset clause for the whole of Part 1 but gave power for future Parliaments to restore the Bill. Amendment 15B replaces Amendment 15 with more limited powers. In the first place Amendment 15B applies only to Clause 6 and Schedule 1 and not to the rest of Part 1. Secondly, the original Amendment 15 cancels the operation of Part 1 and Schedule 1 at the end of the duration of the present Parliament and leaves incoming Governments to revive those provisions of the Bill. Amendment 15B leaves Clause 6 and Schedule 1 in force unless and until a new Government wish to suspend them, and suspension cannot go beyond the duration of the Parliament which suspended them.
Thirdly, the original Amendment 15 is all or nothing. Part 1 and Schedule 1 either are entirely out of action or are entirely in force. Amendment 15B provides for the suspension of any one or more of provisions contained in Clause 6 or Schedule 1. Amendment 15B is therefore much more flexible than Amendment 15, and that is a very important difference. It is surely plain that some of the decisions that may lead to a referendum under the Bill will not be appropriate for such a referendum because of the limited importance for ordinary citizens of that particular decision or because of the uncontroversial nature of that decision.
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We need flexibility. Without it we may waste money because a decision which is not controversial has nevertheless to go through the process of the referendum. Without flexibility we may lose the benefit of useful decisions because a referendum is of little concern to the majority of citizens who have no objection to it and therefore a small minority are able to defeat the Government. Without flexibility the Government may decide not to go ahead with a decision which is useful and non-controversial but not important enough to justify the cost and effort of a referendum.
Nothing in Amendment 15B would affect the referendum lock in the present Parliament, but future Parliaments should have some control over it. I recognise that the amendment would give the Government and Parliament power in theory to avoid referendums on matters where a referendum would have wide support-especially, for example, in the case of adopting the euro-but there is no likelihood whatever that any Government would refuse a referendum in cases of that kind. In any event, if your Lordships' House accepts the principle of Amendment 15B, I can see no objection to amending it so that it does not apply to those categories where there is likely to be a strong demand for a referendum.
This Government propose to rely on favourable referendums in specified circumstances. So be it, but we should not enforce the same restriction on future Parliaments-that is for each Parliament to decide. Does the Minister recognise that it is impossible for the Government to prevent a future Government exercising their power without a referendum to bring in legislation? If that is so, it makes the situation somewhat different, but it seems nevertheless desirable for Amendment 15B to be included, because it makes simpler provision for varying the Bill now being enacted.
Lord Willoughby de Broke: My Lords, this is again a wrecking amendment, which is how the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, described the previous amendment. It goes to the very heart of the Bill and would neuter it completely if it produced a sort of son of a sunset clause. People outside this Chamber and outside Parliament will simply not understand what the House of Lords is doing if it votes for it. The Bill is intended to give British people a voice and protect them from further laws and further integration produced by Europe. They will not understand if the House of Lords supports this amendment, which goes against the whole tenor of the Bill.
On the earlier amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, made some great play about the lack of trust in politicians and Parliament in general. Although he would not interpret his remarks that way, I take them to support the use of referendums, precisely because of the lack of trust in Parliament and government in general in this country. The noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, prayed in aid the people of Slovenia, who apparently trust their Parliament and say that they do not want referendums. But that simply is not the case in this
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Lord Radice: The House of Lords is a very effective revising Chamber and has proved that on this Bill by making it better and more manageable than it was at first. However, the House of Commons has not accepted our amendments, except in the case of the definition of parliamentary sovereignty-I congratulate the noble Lord who so ably pioneered the provision that we have now just passed. We have just rejected the idea of confining referendums to major issues. Therefore, there is a case for a sunset clause.
This Bill is an attempt, as the people who introduced it in the House of Commons have made quite clear, to bind successor Governments, and it involves a major extension of referendums. In a sense, it is a major constitutional innovation. Noble Lords who have so ably supported Governments of the past in Europe have said to us that we should take seriously the danger of marginalisation that might arise from the Bill. Therefore, there should be a reassessment mechanism in it. I consider that we have a new, mild and flexible version of that in this amendment, which it would be very useful to Parliament to have. We should go beyond what the Labour Government introduced, which has been mentioned already; that is, a committee report on whether a Bill has been effective. Perhaps that should be part of the process, but we should then go on, as the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, said, to have a mild version of a sunset clause.
Lord Lamont of Lerwick: My Lords, sunset clauses are appropriate in some legislation: for example, when one has emergency legislation and Governments take exceptional powers. Those powers may have an effect on civil liberties for instance. Counterterrorism Bills sometimes have such an effect. However, this is not emergency legislation; it is legislation that seeks a long-term and permanent change in our relationship with Europe.
There is another reason why a sunset clause would be inappropriate. It is in effect, as proposed, a reversal of primary legislation via a resolution. It is a fast-track procedure for removing legislation. In a way, it is a bit like the Article 48(6) provision in the European Union treaty which this Bill is designed to act as a safeguard against.
One is either for or against this legislation, and many noble Lords have given reasons, powerfully and eloquently, why they are deeply opposed to it. However, they cannot have it both ways. To suspend the legislation, either in whole or in part, is to fudge the decision. If noble Lords do not agree with the legislation, they cannot hide behind amendments that would allow the referendum requirement to be taken out while maintaining the appearance and the structure of the legislation giving effect to consultation and decision by the people.
As the noble Lord who speaks for UKIP said, this will arouse suspicions among some members of the public that Parliament is taking away the right to be consulted while giving the appearance that that right still remains. I can think of nothing that would be more likely to undermine trust than to maintain the legislation on the statute book but incorporate into it a provision that would take the guts out of it.
Two versions of the sunset clause have been put forward: Amendments 15 and 15B. Amendment 15, of course, goes very wide, because in effect it allows the disapplication of the whole of Part 1 and of Schedule 1. I do not agree with the clause for the general reasons I have given, but in addition to the general reasons, Amendment 15 has some unintended consequences. It removes not just the referendum lock but the Act of Parliament lock as well, in some instances. Passerelles and parliamentary control under Clauses 7 and 10 are to be removed.
Many noble Lords who have been against the Bill have said, "Oh, but we approve of the parliamentary control; we approve of the need to have an Act of Parliament if there is a transfer of power", but under this wider version of the sunset clause, that, in many instances, will go. Not only the referendum lock will go, but the parliamentary lock as well. That might be why the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goodhart, has put forward a narrower version of it that concentrates on Clause 6 and Schedule 1. Of course, that is even more pick and choose, because it says that any provision-not the whole of Clause 6 or the whole of Schedule 1, but any provision within Clause 6 or Schedule 1-could be suspended. Again, I put it to the House that this will give the appearance that the referendum lock remains, but it will in effect be removed when the Government decide that it would be convenient to remove it. It also, in some instances, does away with the parliamentary lock where that falls under Clause 6. For example, there would be no requirement for parliamentary approval if there was a decision to join the European public prosecutor, or no parliamentary lock as regards the passerelles under Clause 6.
The noble Lord pointed out that this was just for the duration of the Parliament; it would have to be renewed in future Parliaments and would be suspended only temporarily, but if you suspend a particular provision temporarily and give away the power under the temporary suspension of that provision, you have given it away permanently. There is not much use in having the power back after you have given away the power that you originally wanted to protect. This is very dangerous. It is far-reaching and would give rise to a very cynical reaction among the public if carried.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, always argues very effectively and has done so yet again. He invariably falls back on logic and argument rather than on attempts to raise emotional feelings of one kind or another that are inappropriate, but I want to put to him a rather different point. He said, which was fair enough, that this kind of sunset clause often applies to emergency legislation, in particular to emergency legislation that
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There is another very different factor about this legislation. It is highly speculative legislation. It makes assumptions about the kinds of issues that are likely to come up over the next few years. We know enough from what we are reading even today that major issues are likely to come up. These go all the way, as John Major said at the Ditchley Foundation only a few days ago, to the question of how one changes eurozone practices-whether one will look again, for example, at the tendency towards an increased or enhanced stability pact. These issues will have the greatest impact on the UK, even though we are not, of course, a member of the eurozone. In this respect the noble Lord, Lord Radice, was absolutely right to say that we cannot know what might arise. The whole point of the sunset clause as we are presenting it is that it gives the British public, in the broadest sense of the word, an opportunity to see what the impact has been of this speculative legislation, which some say will make it very difficult for our representatives in Brussels to represent our own national interests. That is an untested statement. The other untested statement is how far they will feel heavily dissuaded from expressing British national interests for fear that it might set off a referendum.
The great beauty of the sunset clause is that it will unquestionably turn the Bill into a general election phenomenon-an issue that will have to be considered at the next general election-which is, in the mind of many of us, exactly what it ought to be. The British public will be able to consider in the round whether it is wise or unhelpful legislation and to do so in what will undoubtedly be a very substantial turnout, and because this will be an issue about whether this legislation will continue, it will come at the right moment and in the right way before the British people so that they can decide.
Lord Empey: My Lords, I said on Third Reading that the proposal for a sunset clause was ill conceived. I believed that to be true then, and I believe it to be true now. While I was not present for the debate in the other place, I did read it today and unfortunately a lot of unkind things were said about this House, which is unusual. A consistent theme throughout the discussion on the amendments was that a number of them were wrecking amendments. That is how this amendment was seen by a number of Members in the other place. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said that only a small number were there, and that was undoubtedly true, but to some extent that makes the point, because if Members in the other place were actively supportive of the decisions of your Lordships' House some weeks ago, why did they vote with their feet and not turn up to debate some of these amendments? They obviously did not see merit in them. That is the only reason I can think of why they would abstain in such a way.
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I point out to the noble Lord that Amendment 15B was not put to the Members of the House of Commons. It is a newly introduced amendment and what he is saying has very little bearing on this issue.
Lord Empey: I was referring to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and commenting that of course very few people participated in the debate, so that point is valid. The noble and learned Lord is right to say that this particular amendment was not before the other place, but at the end of the day the purpose is the same. The noble Lord, Lord Radice, described it as a "soft sunset". Well, whether you have a hard sunset or a soft sunset, it is still a sunset, and at the end of the day I just wonder, in view of our discussions in this House about our own future, whether it is wise for Members of this House to send anything back to the other place that contains the word "sunset". It is probably not the best thing for us to do. There is no constitutional imperative to send this back to the other place. If we believed that there was, it would be the duty of this House to do so. I just do not see that in front of us.
On the continuous use of the word "flexibility", we all like flexibility in government, but it is a euphemism for something else. It means that Ministers can go on to take decisions, and it is precisely that flexibility that has existed for the past 35 years that leads to the Bill being in front of your Lordships' House tonight. It is unfortunate that we have to go through these procedures, but I see no alternative but to go ahead with the Bill, and I believe that the amendment as currently drafted, or in its original form, casts a dagger at the very heart of what the Bill stands for. I hope that noble Lords will reject this proposal.
Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, I support the Motion of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goodhart. I preface my remarks by referring to my noble friend Lord Empey's statement about not angering the House of Commons. It would be unwise, frankly, if we went into a pre-emptive cringe at this stage. I am not sure that that would help us very much in the difficult debates ahead.
No noble Lord in the House today has addressed Amendment 15. We accept that it was voted against by the House of Commons, and in any case it is not permissible for us to return to the identical amendment again. That is not being suggested. The amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goodhart, is meant to produce what has been called by the noble Lord, Lord Radice, a "soft sunset".
I listened to the debate in the other place and one of the things I heard there quite surprised me, although on reflection I think it was entirely valid. The Minister for Europe was questioned by one of the not terribly friendly members of his own party who would rather see us outside the European Union. He was asked whether it would be possible for this Parliament or a future Parliament to insert a referendum requirement in the primary legislation that approved the matters in this Bill that are not subject to a referendum but are subject merely to primary legislation. He replied, "Yes, absolutely. No problem. If that is what Parliament decides, you can add another referendum-just like
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When the Minister replies to the debate, can he say whether the converse is also true? In the primary legislation that would have to be introduced in the House of Commons on the back of a decision by the government in Brussels to go ahead with one of these matters, could Parliament simply waive in that legislation the requirement that is in this legislation? It will be interesting to hear what he has to say about that. I do not see that the proposition that the Minister for Europe agreed to-that a referendum requirement could be added where one was not required under this legislation-could be valid if the contrary proposition, which I have also put, was not valid. Perhaps the Minister will reply to that.
Frankly, with some of the arguments that have been introduced about how flexibility is a dirty word, my heart fails me when I think of people strapping themselves to masts, waiting for the ship to go down and saying, "Thank God I am tied to the mast and I cannot swim". It is not a very good argument. The circumstances in which flexibility could be exercised are extremely limited and will be difficult to invoke; this amendment simply suggests a way of doing it. We would be very wise if we were to once again ask the Commons to think again about this matter. This is not a wrecking amendment and, for the reasons I have given, I do not think it takes the matter much further than it is already, with the possibility of the House of Commons varying the provisions at the moment that it enacts the primary legislation. I hope that some further thought will be given to this and that we will not all turn ourselves to the belief that this is a wrecking amendment, which it is not intended to be.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, I shall speak against Motion D1. The reasons for doing so are quite straightforward. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, commented on flexibility and how important it is that in going forward in unpredictable circumstances we should have flexibility. While I agree with him there, I am not clear that Amendment 15B provides that flexibility because, in order to have a suspension of Section 6 or Schedule 1, it would require us to have the approval of both Houses. Does the noble Lord believe that the approval of both Houses could be arrived at in a manner which did not revisit all of the contentious issues in Section 6 or Schedule 1? If they could have been debated without extensive deliberation or scrutiny-call it what you will-we would not have spent as much time as we have on the Bill. On the other hand, flexibility nevertheless exists in the ability of a future Government to repeal either the entire Act, as it will be by then, or sections of the Act.
My noble friend Lady Williams spoke of the importance of the people of this country having their say on a sunset clause-I prefer to call it a suspension clause-in a general election. If the Act went forward unamended, the people could still have their say because there could equally easily be a debate on whether or
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The theme of the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, throughout the course of the Bill has been his anxiety for the Liberal Democrats and whether they feel awkward and embarrassed by it. The presumption underlying those comments-and the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, has been a member of my party, the Liberal Democrats -is that we are reluctantly going along with these measures and that there is no philosophical underpinning whatever. During the passage of the Bill we have had commentary about Burke and parliamentary democracy, and about an hour ago the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, referred to Tom Paine. The philosophical underpinning for why the people should be trusted comes from no less a person than John Stuart Mill. He said:
Lord Liddle: My concern throughout the Bill has been for the position of Britain in Europe and that it should remain an active partner in the European Union. I fear that the provisions of the Bill will ultimately prevent us from being so. I am sorry that some Liberal Democrats appear to think that this was not a matter of high principle: it is a matter of high principle to which I have committed my political life.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: When the noble Lord's party returns to government, we look forward to it engaging with the country in debating whether the provisions of this Bill should be repealed. We look forward to engaging with it in that debate.
Lord Armstrong of Ilminster: My Lords, I fear that some of the speakers in this debate are guilty of a terminological inexactitude. If we wait here for another hour or two, as seems quite likely, we shall find that the sun sets and there is nothing we can do about it. That was the effect of Amendment 15-the sun was going to set when there was a general election and there was nothing we could do about it. Amendment 15B is quite different. It is not a sunset at all: if it is, it is a voluntary sunset-something I have never heard of before.
The Act, as it will be, remains in force after an election and unless and until a Minister wants to amend Section 6 or Schedule 1, partially, not at all or wholly. That seems to be eminently sensible. It leaves the discretion after the election entirely in the hands of the new Minister, the new Government if there is one, and a new Parliament. It does not force anybody to do anything-it gives them the opportunity to do it. It is a much easier way of doing it than having to go through the process of repeal or partial repeal. It seems to me to be eminently sensible and flexible and I hope the House will give effect to Amendment 15B this evening.
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, if the purpose of this Bill were gesture politics, with no outside effects, then perhaps it would be possible to go along with it. However, the provisions proposed in this amendment are reviewable by a Government and are by no means gestures alone. They are bound to have a significant effect on the ability of our Ministers negotiating in the Council to decide issues of massive importance to the people. We have been told that none of those issues will be considered by the people in the lifetime of this Parliament so the Government appear to be putting on ice any questions about improving the efficacy of the working of the European Union until the end of this Parliament.
My noble friend who opened this debate said that a subsequent Parliament could amend this Bill or throw it out. He is right, but he also said in an earlier debate that the Government have no intention of using this Bill in this Parliament. If that is the case, why are we having to legislate at all? It seems to me that the appropriate time to do that would be in the next Parliament if that is when these measures are supposed to bite. The notion that we are legislating for the future in this way is bound to have almost no effect on public opinion beyond putting up scaremongering notices about the possibility that after the next election we will all collapse in a heap and be walked over by our fellow members of the European Union. That is guaranteed to make the issue of Europe a very divisive one at the next election.
The amendment of my noble friend Lord Goodhart seems to be eminently sensible. It has not been rejected by another place. It is new and it is not merely differently phrased but differently conceived. I supported the sunset amendment as it was drafted but I am happy to support my noble friend's revision. It would allow Ministers to decide, in the light of the circumstances at the time, whether the issue before Europe and before this country was of such massive importance that it would be inappropriate to prepare a referendum. My experience of dealing with European matters in Parliament suggests that debates are long and thorough about European issues. The public are made completely aware, by debate and deliberation, what the issues are. Surely some of those who are supporting this Bill must remember the debates on the Maastricht treaty-the hours after hours in which Members of Parliament considered these matters. To suggest that the public were not aware of it is simply to deny the facts of history.
The noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, suggested that this was a wrecking amendment. It is not-it is an amendment that enables the Government of the day to decide whether the national interest is better served by legislative process-by debate, as we had over Maastricht-than by having a prolonged debate in public leading to a referendum.
Lord Willoughby de Broke: My Lords, I took part in the debates on the Maastricht treaty. I remember them very well. The central point about those debates and about the way the treaty was pushed through is that we were not given a referendum. There was a big debate here on whether we should have a referendum on the Maastricht treaty. Unfortunately, that Motion was
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Lord Maclennan of Rogart: We live in a representative democracy and elected Members of Parliament are put into that position of authority to act in the best interests of the citizens of this country. The notion that by not having referenda we are somehow denying the fundament of our parliamentary democracy seems to be a complete and utter nonsense. It is not only the Maastricht treaty that was carried through by Parliament in that way. Mrs Thatcher, when she was Prime Minister, also introduced the Single European Act which introduced majority voting and there was no question of a referendum about that. If you look at the opinion polls of those years, and indeed of the years around Maastricht, the public were far more supportive of our membership of the European Union than they are now.
I heard the remark of the Minister for Europe, Mr Lidington, that it is only people of my generation who are supportive of the European Union. When we were active young Members, supporting the European Union, the public listened and believed what we were saying-that it was in the interests of the people of Britain. Now we have a new generation, a whole generation younger than me, who claim that it is our fault that the public are not with them. The nonsense of that is that they have never seriously tried to explain what the purposes of the European Union are; what its achievements are and what its goals are. That is why we are wasting our time with this ridiculous piece of legislation, which is a waste of parliamentary time in scrutiny and is deceiving the public. We have been told it will not be voted on. There will be no referendum this side of the next election and after that the picture will all change.
Lord Judd: My Lords, the noble Lord knows by now that I have unlimited respect for his consistent contribution on European matters. This peroration of his is very powerful. Would he not agree that the trouble with this wretched piece of legislation is that it could not be better designed to undermine our influence on the mainland of Europe?
Lord Triesman: My Lords, we are taking part in this debate this evening because the House of Commons did not accept Amendment 15. The noble Lord, Lord Empey, made the point that the other place may have been indifferent because relatively few Members were there. I ask him not to make that judgment in general about things that happen at the other end. When most debates are conducted, you see the camera sweep around without many people being there. It is entirely possible that you could regard this as indifference to almost everything, or you could say that it is the nature of the life of this place. I certainly do not think that the House could accept what he commended to us-that we should send no messages that are in any sense disagreeable to people in the other place. Such a supine response from this House to matters on which we feel amendments are needed would surely be exactly the opposite of the role that this House should play, and ample argument for its having no role at all.
What is fundamental at this stage is that this legislation takes us, in several constitutional areas, into waters that are-I candidly submit to the House-unknown. We are being invited to change from a system that is fundamentally parliamentary in the main thrust of its work to a system that is plebiscitary. It will on one reading lead to a significant number of plebiscites-that is entirely possible-or on another to very few, as the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, suggested. That is also entirely possible; I do not know which it will be. What I do know is that it will be fundamentally different from the way in which we have conducted parliamentary debate on key issues over many generations.
There is a fundamental constitutional change in that Parliament will offer the public votes-either frequently or infrequently, depending on which reading one takes-on whether to overturn the decisions that it has taken as a result of major debates and major opportunities to review changes in Europe in both Houses. Inevitably, there will be a fundamental change in how we conduct our relationship with Europe as a whole. That is what is intended. Some people advocate that, while others of us believe that this is a disproportionate way of trying to do that. None the less, these are all fundamental changes.
I suggest to the House that, in sailing into these waters, the reality is that we do not know how it will play out. Least of all do we know in what circumstances it will play out. We do not know which things will provide the most significant changes, although we
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I entirely understand the argument that there are some things, even against the background that I have described, that are so important to the people of the United Kingdom that they will insist on having a say on them. It is also true that the Government of the day will be bound, in those circumstances, to try to make judgments of their own about what the interests of the country are at any time. There is no point to a parliamentary democracy where the Government of the day say, on some quite critical issues, "We will not be finally responsible for taking judgments about what the interests of our country are". That would be a peculiar country to live in and one in which the notion of fundamental democracy had been considerably eroded. Variations by subsequent Governments in subsequent Parliaments, of the kind that are suggested in this amendment, seem just to be prudent as a means of allowing the possibility of dealing with circumstances as they arise in a way that is more flexible-I am not afraid of that word-in all of those circumstances.
I am wholly in agreement with the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, when she says that a significant number of these issues will be judged in general elections. When people look at the questions that must be resolved, they will look at them in general elections. For those who say "Trust in the people", my trust is at its highest point when they decide which Government they want in a general election. That is a fundamental form of trust. I accept that there will be circumstances in which a referendum would be absolutely right. I hope I have been clear from this side of the House that these include such matters as defence policy, Schengen and the euro. There is a raft of policies where I can see that that would be entirely true. However, I do not believe that, in comparison with a general election and the decisions that are taken, the people of the country-in whom, inevitably, trust must be placed in all such circumstances-believe it is somehow better to replicate "The X Factor" than to deal with real politics in real circumstances. "The X Factor" may be fine as a form of entertainment, but it is hardly a way of dealing with the national interest when it must be dealt with under stress or duress.
I also agreed with the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, when she responded to the noble Lord, Lord Lamont. This is an important point; I hope the House will not mind my repeating it. The noble Lord, Lord Lamont, is right when he says that the case for clauses that limit the life of legislation is far clearer in dealing with emergency legislation. You do not know whether you will need it in the future, and you are not 100 per cent sure that it will meet the intentions for which it was introduced. However, there is also a completely reasonable case for saying that, when we are taking such significant steps into the dark in constitutional terms, there needs to be a way to say, "How do we make sure that we've got the balance right in the interests of the country? How can we make sure that we are taking the right
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I cannot stand at this Dispatch Box and claim that I know with certainty where those new balances will lie. It is precisely my point that none of us knows where they will lie. However, this generation of politicians or the next will have to make those judgments. They will come around and they will have to be made. Politicians should be in a position to make them with the greatest confidence and authority that they can. It is critical to our country that they are successful in doing so.
I hope we will accept Amendment 15B. It is a much more limited suggestion than Amendment 15. It seems, in every respect, to grant flexibility without overriding the key provisions of the Bill in any significant way. It commends itself strongly to me on that basis. Most of all, it commends itself on the basis that, if it is true that the cause for dissatisfaction is the belief that Parliament has let too many of its roles and responsibilities go toward Europe and for those reasons fundamental constitutional change is needed-because that is the argument for this kind of fundamental constitutional change-let us be certain as time goes by that we have got it right, that the balances are right and that whatever the causes were we have not backed ourselves into a cul-de-sac or something worse.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: If anyone wishes to challenge me and move that I no longer be heard, let them do so, but I wish to ask a question. If I had been allowed to do so without the very rude interruption of the Whip on the Bench, noble Lords would have saved themselves a lot of time. What I wanted to ask-and I am going to ask it now-is whether, when the amendment states that a future Government "may", it means "shall". We often have debates about what "may" and "shall" should mean, and I think it is important that before noble Lords vote, if there is going to be a vote, they know whether they are voting for something that commits the next Government to something or is permissive for the next Government. Now I will sit down and be quiet.
Could I just add that the Whip on the Bench did not intervene on the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, who widened the debate on this very narrow amendment to the extent of whether we should be in or out? I think I have been extremely badly treated, and I hope that the Whip will apologise.
Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, I would not want to upset the noble Lord. I was taking the view of the House. In this business of a self-regulating House, occasionally we have to use judgment, and it was my judgment that we were ready to conclude this debate, and I believe that is the case.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, for the careful and conciliatory way in which he moved the amendment, now some time ago. I do not regard this as a wrecking amendment, but I do see it as an amendment that will confuse and complicate the principles behind this Bill, weaken their role and not help to reassure our sceptical citizens.
In answer to the insistent question of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, my reading of this amendment, which I am sure is that of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, is that it is intended to be a permissive power and not an obligatory power for the Secretary of State, which is why it says "may" and not "shall".
In its favour, the amendment rejects the passive approach proposed by Amendment 15; that is to say, the amendment in lieu requires the Government to take a positive decision to seek to suspend some of the provisions of the Bill. It is permissive in that respect. A Government taking such a decision would undoubtedly be mindful of the possible reaction of the British people to such a move. It would therefore be open to a greater degree of transparency in terms of the motivation of the Government of the day that the original sunset clause would not, to the same degree. As the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, noted, it allows for the suspension of the requirement for an Act of Parliament before any of the decisions in Clause 6 are taken, depending on the terms in the order. So it risks diluting the increased engagement for Parliament, which is an important part of this Bill. The level to which Parliament and the people would be involved in these important decisions would then be in the hands of Ministers, a principle that runs against the spirit of the Bill.
A number of noble Lords suggested that the Bill was intended only to apply to future Governments. I remind noble Lords that in the next Session of this House, we will consider legislation under the terms of this Bill on Croatian accession and the European stability mechanism, and that the conditions of the Bill will apply to those.
Let me offer some reassurance to the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, and his supporters on the context in which the Bill will operate once translated into law under future Governments and Parliaments. I remind your Lordships of the principles of parliamentary sovereignty-that no Parliament can bind its successors. If for any reason a future Parliament wished to suspend, disapply or repeal any of the provisions of this Bill, it could do so, unconstrained by the wishes of this Parliament. Most likely, it would decide to do so at a time when it was considering an Act of Parliament required under the terms of this Bill. At such a time, the particulars of that draft decision would be clear and so might the question of whether to disapply this Bill, or not. If I may say so, that is a Clause 18 statement, which is declaratory and in no sense changes the basis of how we operate. No future Government would venture to do so unless they had made real progress in regaining the trust of the British public in the processes of European co-operation that have been so seriously weakened in the past 15 to 20 years.
I set out earlier the Government's support for the previous Government's new system of post-legislative scrutiny, which would allow a detailed, proper and timely examination of this legislation after five years. I repeat again the commitment of my friend, the Minister for Europe in the other place, that this Government are committed under the now accepted procedures of post-legislative scrutiny to the principle that a future Government must publish a full report on how this Bill has been used within five years of this legislation becoming law. I hope that that offers reassurances to the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, and his supporters. We believe that this is the most effective approach, rather than installing an instrument that would not re-engage the people of this country and would remove the transparency and certainty that this Government have adopted from the start as watchwords for the Bill.
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, let me start by making a small and not very serious comment. From time to time my noble friend Lord Lamont and others have referred to me as being learned. Unfortunately, I am not. If I was in the House of Commons, I would be, but in your Lordships' House I am not.
On more serious matters, I start by thanking my noble friends Lord Howell and Lord Wallace of Saltaire for their balanced and serious response to the debates that have taken place on this matter. So far as an incoming Government are concerned after the next general election, they will, whether or not Amendment 15B is present, have the power to repeal all or part of the EU Act, as it will then be, without a referendum. If Amendment 15B is adopted, the incoming Government can use that amendment as an alternative to repeal and replacement of the complete Act. Members of Parliament will be involved either way, either in supporting a new Bill or in approving the making of the order that will need to be passed under this Bill. This is not a big step.
The noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, made a very good point on this and explained very clearly the distinction. Amendment 15B just gives a simple way of dealing with an action that could be done without it. I see no reason why Amendment 15B should not be included in the Bill. While I seriously considered the question of whether we would pass this amendment without going to a vote, I think this falls short of that. It is therefore my intention to ask for the decision of your Lordships' House.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, it would be helpful to the House if the noble Baroness could give some indication of the Government's intention. My reckoning is that there are 18 groups left to be debated on Report. Can she tell me at what point she intends that the House be adjourned tonight?
The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Browning): My Lords, I come to the Floor of the House tonight ready to complete Report. I do that particularly for this reason: there have been times during the course of this Bill when we have made quite rapid progress, with the co-operation of both sides of the House, but noble Lords will know that I have amended this Bill so that Members of your Lordships' House could apply for and carry out the function of a full-time police and crime commissioner. During that debate, I was persuaded by Members of this House that your Lordships could not only carry out their functions in this House but hold down a very demanding full-time job as PCC as well. Everybody will know that people who engage at that level are people who do not clock-watch but get the job done. They stay until the job is finished; that is what I intend to do.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I found that the most remarkable response. The Opposition have been very co-operative on this Bill. We agreed to do Committee in six days and Report in four days. We did not agree that the clock should start at 8.35 of the evening. On average, we have taken about half an hour per group. At that rate, we would be meeting for another nine hours. I regard that as wholly unacceptable, as I am sure that other noble Lords will do. I suggest to the noble Baroness that a discussion should take place in the usual channels on an appropriate way forward. It is not acceptable to say to the House that, at this time of the night, we should start a full day's debate on Report.
Viscount Astor: My Lords, before my noble friend replies, will she bear in mind that some of us who have amendments tabled for debate this evening intend to keep our speeches very short so that we will be able to conclude this stage of the Bill?
Baroness Tonge: My Lords, I, too, add my protest to what is going on here this evening. We have just spent several hours on what many people in this House considered to be a completely useless and totally unnecessary Bill. We are now faced with a Bill in which, from my point of view, the most important issue that we are yet to discuss-universal jurisdiction-is right at the end. That will probably come at something like 2 am or 3 am. That is an insult to all the people who have died by the actions of international war criminals and I am absolutely furious that the House has organised the business in this way.
Lord Carlile of Berriew: Well, my Lords, I am certainly not furious and I always listen to my noble friend the Minister with great care but I say to her that there must be a preparedness on the Government's part to stop at a reasonable hour. This House has a justified reputation for considering legislation with great care and revising it on the basis of knowledge and a solid evidence base. I fear that once we pass a very late hour today, that power of this House will be lost.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, it may be helpful if I remind the House that we are moving into Report and that nothing may be resolved at this moment. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, pointed out that the Opposition have always said that they would complete Report today. That is part of a firm agreement. It was also for the convenience of the Opposition Front Bench that the exchange on Lords consideration of amendments on the EU Bill was moved to today.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I am not going to take an intervention from anybody in the Chamber at the moment. I would be grateful if the noble Lord could sit down because it is a courtesy of this House that two persons do not stand at the same time. I would have thought that somebody who was a Member of another place and of another Chamber might be aware of that. I am pointing out-
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: I did not stand up while anybody else was talking. I do not carry out that kind of breach of conventions. I am trying to assist the House by pointing out that the Government have tried to schedule business for the benefit of the Opposition and for the whole House. Clearly, we are always prepared to have discussions. We have done little else over the past week. Those discussions can continue but it is a matter of this House that they do not continue on the Floor. Of course, the Motion may be now put that we do resume Report stage. I invite noble Lords to agree to that, pending that there can then be discussions elsewhere. I understand, by the look of it, that the noble Lord the Opposition Chief Whip will be happy to reply to that.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I take that, in the end, as a very positive intervention by the noble Baroness the Government Chief Whip. I am more than happy to have some discussion off the Floor of the Chamber because it is pushing it to start a day as late as this. The noble Baroness is quite right to remind the House that we certainly signed up to try and complete Report in four days. I do not think that anybody expected the European considerations to go on for as long as they did. We tried to play our part in keeping them as short as we possibly could, but it is unreasonable to expect the House to debate serious issues such as universal jurisdiction, or issues that are a passionate concern for some, such as licensing, and the rest. As it happens, we have tabled only four or five groups of amendments for this stage of the Bill. We have tried to keep our opposition to the Bill within reasonable bounds and have done so. We have kept to our side of the bargain but, particularly on a Wednesday-and with a Thursday sitting starting at 11 am and a Friday sitting at 10 am-it is not right to keep the House beyond reasonable hours.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, I will make two points. First, it is my understanding, in terms of procedure, that in this House as well as in other Houses if a noble Member wants to intervene in the speech of another noble Member it is appropriate to stand, and for the other Member to consider whether or not to give way. I am sure even the Government Chief Whip would recognise that that is the normal procedure.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, we have just carried out that procedure correctly, because I did not stand until the noble Lord gave way. I made it clear I was not taking interventions. The noble Lord and I have exchanged views on that on other occasions. This is continuing a debate which leads nowhere. Discussions outside can be fruitful; discussions by the noble Lord continuing now may jeopardise the success of those discussions. Perhaps we might continue in the proper manner in a House that takes its procedure seriously.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: I was making two points. I made my first point and I gave way to the noble Baroness, as appropriate. The second point I want to make-it is open to Members to make these points and I say that to my own Front Bench as well as to
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Baroness Paisley of St George's: My Lords, I would like to add my voice and appeal that we leave this matter until tomorrow. At this late hour, no one can make guarantees. Although speeches may be short, when there are interventions it lengthens the thing out far too long. Those of us who are past our green years need to get home and get a bit of rest before coming back early in the morning. We will then have a fresher mind and more patience than we have at this hour of the night.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, it has been said that the Liberal Democrats are protesting. I hope it is understood that it is not all of those on the Liberal Democrat Benches. I urge the speedy start and, I hope, conclusion of talks outside the Chamber to see how we go.
(1) Where a police and crime commissioner is unable to perform his or her functions under this Part, the relevant police and crime panel must appoint an acting police and crime commissioner from amongst its members.
(2) A person who is appointed to the role of acting police and crime commissioner under subsection (1) has the same powers and is subject to the same requirements as a police and crime commissioner, in accordance with this Act and any other enactment.
(a) in the event that the police and crime commissioner is able to resume his or her functions under this Act;
(b) at the end of the maximum term stipulated by the police and crime panel; or
(c) as otherwise stipulated in this Act or any other enactment."
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, we come to a very important matter: the appointment of acting police and crime commissioners. Whatever our views on this Bill, one thing is clear: the police and crime commissioners will have considerable power and authority over policing matters in their local police force area.
A second point is that, with the numbers so elected, inevitably there may be circumstances in which a police and crime commissioner may become incapacitated: they may be suspended, they may decide to leave office voluntarily, or they may die in office. Quite rightly, the Bill contains provisions for the appointment of an acting commissioner. That is well and good. However, the problem with Clause 63(2) is that an acting commissioner, appointed by the police and crime panel, can only be appointed if they are a member of the police and crime commissioner's staff at the time of the appointment. The acting commissioner can exercise all the functions of a police and crime commissioner, other than issuing or varying a police and crime plan under Section 6, so the acting police and crime commissioner can dismiss the chief constable. They can set the precept and, as my noble friend Lord Beecham has reminded us, that can be around 9 to 11 per cent, depending on whether you are in England or Wales, of the total council tax bill.
I find it quite extraordinary that a staff member-perhaps the chief executive, the director of finance, or the chief of staff-can be appointed to exercise the powers of an elected police and crime commissioner. The reason that this Bill is so constructed is because the Government have decided on this extraordinary concept of a corporate sole. Instead of having sensible governance where it would be clear who might be well placed to be appointed as an acting police and crime commissioner, the Government are flailing around and have come up with this wonderful idea that if the police and crime commissioner in some way cannot carry out their office, a member of their staff should be appointed to do so. That is unacceptable, and I can think of circumstances in which in fact it would be wholly unacceptable. What if the commissioner was suspended because they were charged with an offence which carried a potential imprisonment of more than two years? What if the commissioner were charged with corruption? What if that corruption involved members of their staff? We must remember that there are no corporate governance safeguards over who the police and crime commissioner appoints as a member of their staff: it is wide open for corruption in any case, and corruption will occur. It is inevitable in these arrangements that there will be corruption. We have a situation where an acting police and crime commissioner has to be appointed from among the staff, in the circumstances I have described, of a police and crime commissioner charged with corruption. In those circumstances what possible confidence could the public have in those arrangements and in the acting police and crime commissioner?
My amendment seeks to put in place a much more sensible arrangement which allows the police and crime panel to appoint a panel member to serve as the acting police and crime commissioner. That would provide a much greater safeguard in terms of public confidence. We had a good debate on this in Committee. I very much hope that the noble Baroness will be sympathetic to my amendment.
Lord Condon: My Lords, I support the amendment. We discussed this in Committee. I can think of virtually no circumstance where every member of the police
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Lord Shipley: My Lords, I add my voice to those who support this amendment because I see it as a critical part of the necessary checks and balances on the powers of the commissioner. I say that for two reasons. First, the acting commissioner could be in post for eight to nine months-that is, for up to six months as permitted in the Bill, together with the period during which a replacement is elected. Frankly, to have an unelected acting commissioner for that length of time is unacceptable as they will set the budget and the precept. Although there is a veto on the precept, nevertheless they will be responsible for making the proposal on the precept and they will make a decision about the budget. All those functions should be undertaken by people who have been elected as opposed to people who have not been elected.
Secondly, the commissioner will have appointed the staff member to their substantial post. The only power that the panel will have is over which staff member is nominated, although they have to bear in mind the advice given to them by the commissioner who is incapacitated. I regard this as an absolutely fundamental issue. The panel must be able to appoint from among its own members. Between now and the next stages of the Bill, I very much hope that my noble friend the Minister will make clear to colleagues in the other place that this matter is of fundamental concern to a large number of Members of your Lordships' House.
Lord Beecham: My Lords, I correct my noble friend Lord Hunt, who has underestimated the extent of the precept as a percentage of the local council tax, which would fall potentially to the acting commissioner to levy. It is 11 per cent in England and 15.5 per cent in Wales-even greater than my noble friend indicated. I respectfully suggest that there is potentially an equal underestimate in relation to the period of vacancy. As I read the Bill, the six-month period after which a vacancy would have to be declared and a new election take place, which would add to the length of time in any event, arises in connection with incapacity. However, there are other grounds on which a vacancy might arise. In particular, there is the possibility of a police
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There will be no such democratic element in the event that the procedure currently in the Bill is enacted. There would be no democratic mandate of any kind-direct or indirect. It is intolerable that that should be the case when within the police and crime panel, there will be people with a mandate-not the complete mandate-that will be claimed for the police and crime commissioner in as much as he or she will be elected for the whole force area. There will at least be some democratic mandate for those elected local councillors who will constitute the majority of members of the police and crime panel. In those circumstances I can see no argument for allowing-indeed requiring-the appointment of somebody who has no mandate when there are those available within the structure who would have at least some mandate.
I hope that the Government will think again. The noble Baroness was unlike her old self, if I may say so, at the beginning of this debate when her rather surprisingly peremptory statements were made. I would like to see her return to what your Lordships might think is the much more acceptable Browning version.
Lord Harris of Haringey: This is an extremely important issue and not one that we should rush through simply because we are fed up. I am sure that I have just as much stamina as the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, although I am not required to take the whole Bill through this House. We have to consider and debate these issues seriously because, after all, that is the function of this House.
This is a problem of the Government's own making in that, having decided that police and crime commissioners-and for that matter MOPC in London, although the issues are slightly different-have substantial, individually held powers, the question then comes: what do you do in circumstances when there is a vacancy or someone needs to act while that happens? The Government cannot have it both ways. They cannot say, "Actually, it will be okay and we can have a member of the staff of the police and crime commissioner's office to act in this function", and at the same time say, "The police and crime commissioners are so important and will be so busy that they have to work full time on these functions". What are they working full time on?
They are presumably setting direction-I am sure they are not intervening in operational matters because the Government are clear that they will not be doing that. They will be providing guidance on what is
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This is one of the most important decisions and it is one that will matter very much to the public in the area concerned. The task of being an elected politician is to balance what you believe are the important aspirations that you might have for the public service concerned and how much money can readily be raised in taxation. That is an issue that this and previous Governments have struggled with, and those who are actively engaged in local government struggle with it each year. You have to make a judgment and you can make it only if you see both sides of the equation. You see the side of expenditure and you see the side of what it will mean in taxation. Only somebody who is elected will have that perspective of what the public want in terms of services delivered and what they are prepared to buy through taxation. The public are not always single-minded on these matters. We are all aware of those stresses and strains, which is all the more reason why it must be an elected politician who makes that judgment. Only an elected politician with the authority of being elected can strike that balance knowing what the electorate of the area feel.
The difficulty with this is that an official will see this only from the point of view of the need to spend. Through this practice, the Government are creating a ratchet effect that will push up public spending. Officials will see this as entirely about the need to spend, about how many police officers and services they should have and about how much information technology should be purchased. Those will be the sorts of issues that they will see, because they will not be individually accountable to the public for the level of local taxation. That is why this is such a dangerous precedent. By saying that people who do not have elected authority will make those judgments, the Government are creating an effect by which only one side of the equation will be seen by those who make the judgment. That is why the principle of having an elected person carrying out this role is so important. Their idea is that a chief executive or a chief finance officer-before one even considers whether it might be a chief of staff of a police and crime commissioner-will make those judgements. Those individuals by their nature will probably never face an electorate, will never stand as a candidate and will never have to balance the need to spend against the need to tax.
I turn to the other powers of the police and crime commissioner. I am not talking about day-to-day matters, where the understanding of how an electorate feel about an issue would be so valuable, but about the extreme, major powers that one hopes will not be exercised very often-for example, the power to dismiss or appoint a chief constable. Again, one would expect the person concerned to be accountable in quite a different way. It will be at the moments of highest
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I will try to predict the Minister's arguments so that I will not have the temerity to interrupt her later when she is in her new, forceful mode. No doubt she will argue that to have a member of the police and crime panel suddenly taking on this responsibility will blur the distinction between the police and crime commissioner and the police and crime panel. That may blur a distinction, but is that a more important concern than the concern of blurring the line between elected accountability and someone who is appointed to carry out the functions of raising and setting local taxation? I have to say that it is not a significant argument.
The matter could be addressed in other ways. The Government could have come forward with proposals that would have enabled a deputy to the directly elected police and crime commissioner to be elected to fulfil those functions. They chose not to do it. They could have created a clear, corporate structure around the directly elected individual that could have taken on this responsibility-but they chose not to do it. Therefore, the problem is of their making. They must not tell the House that it is not an important problem, because it is vital. I wait to see what will be the reaction in local communities the first time an acting police and crime commissioner-an appointed official-sets the precept and the level of local taxation, because there should be no taxation without representation.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: Before my noble friend sits down, perhaps I might ask whether he has given any thought to the situation of a police officer in the force who has received money from tabloid journalists. Would that be the responsibility of the chief constable or of the commissioner? If it would be the responsibility of the commissioner, how would someone standing in from the panel be able to deal with that?
Lord Harris of Haringey: If such a circumstance were to exist-and clearly this is all very much in our minds at the present time-I suspect that the first people who will recognise the level of public concern that is going to exist are going to be individuals with a personal, direct elected mandate in an area. Under the Government's model, where you have an elected police and crime commissioner who has not been disqualified, removed from office or incapacitated, then maybe that works and that individual would express concerns.
There is a fascinating article by Daniel Hannan, who I know is of enormous influence within the Conservative Party. He complains, incidentally, that the Government have got the nomenclature wrong; they should not be called police and crime commissioners but should be called sheriffs. He points out that there is a historic British tradition of the local sheriff, who is not the guy with the five or six-pointed star badge, but an ancient, semi-feudal office. The City of London
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In those circumstances, the directly elected individual -and this again is the point of the Government's proposals-is going to be the person who will sense that this is something of deep concern to the public and that something should happen. In the circumstances of my noble friend Lord Hunt's amendment, the point about it is that, rather than have some official who has never had to face an electorate making those judgments and decisions, it would at least be someone with a personal electoral mandate, albeit not for the whole force area, but for a part of it, who would be reflecting the public concern about such matters and taking the appropriate action in those circumstances.
Again, I think the Government's arguments are flawed and they really need to address what is actually a very serious problem, which would manifest itself most seriously in circumstances where something is seriously going wrong.
On the previous intervention, the issue of offers of payment by the media to certain police officers is very much on our minds at the moment. In my view, this issue is not-and never has been-a really central and massive problem, but it has always been there. When I introduced my Freedom and Responsibility of the Press Bill 20-odd years ago, we looked at it then but it has never been dealt with so I would say it should be considered, particularly in the structure that Government are setting up. There will be a temptation for certain police officers to be paid by journalists. Usually, the journalist makes the approach, in my experience, when any offer is made. Journalists will talk about what they do on a confidential basis-"Do not quote me" and so on-but such things are said. Usually, the sums of money are not huge-perhaps £20 for a bit of information and a bit more for another piece of information.
We all have two or three concerns about this Bill, but on this particular aspect there is a danger of what you do if there is an issue of corruption, however small it is overall, and how it is dealt with. I hope that the Minister will deal with that point, which my noble friend made very adequately from the Front Bench, but has just been added to by my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey.
Baroness Henig: Before the Minister replies, I have a brief query that I would like to ask. Between discussing this in Committee and on Report, the Minister has laid an amendment about deputies, so I think we have covered this. I am therefore assuming that it is possible that the noble Baroness might be saying-and it was certainly what I understood when it was first mentioned-that a deputy might assume this role of acting commissioner.
When I looked at this in some depth, it seemed to me that this deputy post was not one that would be exempted from Section 2 of the Local Government and Housing Act. In other words, it was going to be a
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Lord Dear: If an allegation of corruption or any other crime is made against someone, whoever the officer might be, the procedure is well laid down, and I do not think that the Bill would change it in any way. The complaint is made to the chief officer of police, who has to record the complaint, which is automatically notified to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. The IPCC can take over the inquiry or supervise it, and discipline remains a matter for the chief officer. If, in the doomsday scenario, the chief officer does not deal with the complaint properly, then it is for the police authority or, in this instance, the police and crime commissioner, to step in. I do not think the procedure would be changed by the Bill.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: I fully understand. That was an exceptionally clear explanation. However, if the commissioner was not there, and someone was standing in for the commissioner, would it be appropriate for the member of the panel who is standing in for the commissioner to deal with the issue in the same way as the commissioner would?
Lord Dear: In the theoretical instance cited by the noble Lord, I do not think it would work that way because the chief officer of police would have to demonstrate that he had not dealt with the complaint properly, and that would take some time. We are talking about six months plus two months before an election, so by the time that doomsday scenario occurred, you would have an elected individual in place as the PCC, as I understand it.
Baroness Browning: My Lords, this amendment seeks to secure the appointment of an acting PCC from the panel rather than from the PCC's staff. I recognise the points made today and previously in Committee and remain open to suggestions about how we might secure a process of appointment for an acting PCC which provides the safeguards and political neutrality that I have described in previous debates and which would also provide assurance to a PCC that any appointment of a temporary stand-in would not endanger the continued delivery of the police and crime plan and objectives. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, that I am very happy to consider taking forward the situation with the deputy, but the deputy is not politically restricted.
Baroness Henig: When I looked at the government amendments, there was no suggestion that there was an exemption under Section 2 of the Local Government and Housing Act. If there is no such exemption, is that post not restricted? It does not say that.
Baroness Browning:My Lords, I will come back on that specific point, but I want to make the point that although I am not able to accept this amendment, I am aware of the genuine concern that has been raised, not just on Report but at previous stages, and I am still trying to find alternative solutions. I shall explain to the House why I do not feel able to accept this proposal. I understand what is trying to be achieved, but plucking the acting PCC from an inherently political body is not the right solution to this issue. Some may say that I am overplaying the need for political neutrality in these situations, but I point to the debates in the other place and in this House regarding the potential risks of politicisation. If, as was put forward, politicisation is such a key risk, then I would argue that establishing an acting commissioner from within a very political pool of people with a different mandate is the worst of all worlds and likely to lead to conflict. The PCC's staff are politically neutral and, in the absence of any other person with a political mandate spanning the force area, we envisage that the PCC's chief executive would be best placed to continue to secure the maintenance of an effective police force with the close support and involvement of the police and crime panel for the interim period.
As I have indicated, I cannot agree to the amendment for the reasons I have given, but I keep an open mind on coming back to the House on this issue with other suggestions, and I will consider the proposal put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Henig. On this basis, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, one of the Minister's concerns is plucking-I think that that was her term-someone from a political pool. I understand the argument that the commissioner may be independent, but nevertheless he or she will be a politician because it is a political job. I speak very much off the top of my head, but is it worth Members of the House considering whether an appointment from the panel, but made by the commissioner, could be a candidate for this? Heads are being shaken across there and there are nods around here as to this being a possible way forward. Given the stage of the Bill, I felt that it was worth throwing this suggestion into the mix.
Baroness Browning: I am grateful to my noble friend, as always, for making a constructive suggestion to resolve this issue. I will, of course, with other points that have been raised, take that into consideration.
Lord Boswell of Aynho: My Lords, would an alternative approach, which would be not unfamiliar from board practice, be to establish through the panel a nominations committee, which could provide an element of filter, rather than a direct overtly or covertly political appointment?
Baroness Browning: I am grateful to my noble friend. I have explained to the House that I am very happy to take this forward without closing the door on it tonight, even though I cannot accept the amendment. I will return to the House at a later stage with this.
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