This is an important Bill for me, not so much because of its substance as because of the position that the House of Lords should take on a Bill of this sort. The previous referendum Bill was passed in the Commons by a majority of 64. At that time, many noble Lords, particularly on the Labour Benches, took the view that although they were totally opposed to referenda, it was not the role of the House of Lords to seek to overturn or delay the will of a democratically elected House of Commons if it wanted to consult the people. In 1975, I voted against the referendum Bill, but then I was a Member of another place. I am no great fan of referenda, but then I was a democratically elected representative.

The Bill we are considering today was passed in the Commons by a majority of more than 300, and I find it very hard indeed to think of a proper justification for opposing or delaying it here today. We know that, in practice, any amendment—I would vote for some of the suggested amendments if we could—would almost certainly be detrimental to the Bill’s progress and so it would be lost. An amended Bill would go to the bottom of the list in the House of Commons and never be reached.

I do not think that it is proper or right for us to seek to reject the Bill, or to alter it in such a way as to achieve its rejection. If I remember correctly, in 1975, your Lordships gave Second Reading to the Bill on 6 May, Committee on 7 May, Report and Third Reading on 8 May, without a Division, and shortly after it received Royal Assent. That seems to me to set an example that your Lordships would be well advised to follow.

1.17 pm

Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab): My Lords, the substance of what the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, said, is surely that this House has no serious role in the debate; we should pack up now and go home. The normal position of this House as an advising House, looking coolly at what comes from another place, would be thrown out of the window. We should simply say. “They have decided, full stop. We should go home,

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because any amendment might scupper the Bill”. Is the noble Lord really saying that we should not pass any amendment because of that danger?

Lord Wakeham: I did not say that at all. If noble Lords want to vote against it, they can vote against it, but they should not pretend that there is any alternative.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: I am not pretending at all; any amendment may well have certain consequences.

I am reminded of the noble Metternich, the great leader who, when news was brought to him of the death of his opposite number, the Russian ambassador, was alleged to have said, “What was his motive?”. We are quite entitled to ask of the Bill: what is the motive? What has changed the view of the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary over the past two years? Can it be anything other than the rise of UKIP? I congratulate the UKIP representative on the influence that the party has had on the Government.

Is it just the result of looking at opinion polls or the taking of soundings by a well padded Lord? Is it the fact that the Conservative Party has no confidence in the word of its leader, who has said that he would certainly have a referendum, and wants to tie him down? Equally, surely the Conservative Party has no confidence that it will win the next election. As many Members of your Lordships’ House have said, no Parliament can bind its successor, so this is a total charade. It may be a signal, but it is a signal only of the divisions within the Conservative Party. This is a partisan Bill and should be treated as such.

I could linger on the details of the Bill, but they are matters for Committee: the Electoral Commission, the wording of the question, whether there should be a threshold and the precise electorate. I just want to make three brief reflections at this stage.

First, there is the problem of the alternative. The Prime Minister put it well when he said that,

“the problem with an in/out referendum is it … only gives people those two choices: you can either stay in with all the status quo, or you can get out”.

Surely, if we seriously wanted to ascertain the views of the great electorate—Rousseau’s “popular will”—we should ask them, “What is the alternative?”, and therefore have questions on that. Is it the fact that you, the people, would want to be wholly alone? Is it the fact, as the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, said, that you would wish to evolve some sort of new, free-trade relationship with the Commonwealth? It is not clear that any members of the Commonwealth seriously want to do that. Certainly India would not. Perhaps Canada would, but you really need two to tango and there is no traction in that.

What about the Norwegian example? There is a continuing debate in Norway—I am part-Norwegian—and the Norwegians certainly know that with the single market, they are told without any serious input what they should accept. That is hardly democratic, but it is the current reality of the Norwegian relationship with the European Union. What about the Swiss? No—surely, rather than going into the emptiness of a void, there should be some way of ascertaining, if that be the case, what it is that the people want. What are the so-called alternatives?

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I shall not linger on my second reflection, because the point has been made often, but the date of 2017 is wholly arbitrary and unrealistic. Since the Prime Minister has said that any negotiations will not start until after the 2015 general election, can the position be such that we will know clearly what is on offer from our European partners and that all the various ratification processes will have been gone through? The only question that can be put is: do you, the people, believe that the Government should continue along the course they have set? What are the prospects of a radical new deal and of it being done and dusted and ratified by 2017? The Prime Minister is not going about it very well. He must have read over Christmas the book, How to Lose Friends & Alienate People, because he has already put off a potential ally in Mr Sikorski of Poland and harmed his relationship with Monsieur Mitterrand.

Noble Lords: Monsieur Hollande.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: I am sorry, Monsieur Hollande. Already, the Prime Minister has given a clear signal to our partners in terms of the opt-out on justice and home affairs. If you are serious about the European Union, you have to be seen as part of the team if you are to achieve your objectives—so how would he define success?

Finally, it is an illusion to imagine that having the referendum would result in closure. Many colleagues have confessed, and my own confession is that in the 1974-75 campaign, I stood on campaign platforms with Mr Heath. I have not changed my mind and it is an illusion that we can somehow get rid of the spectre of Europe from our body politic. I recall Mr Benn at that time telling me that it would lead to closure, yet almost immediately afterwards he was campaigning for an exit from Europe. The separatists in Quebec, who almost succeeded in the Quebec referendum of 1995, have not suddenly forgotten their separatist ambitions because they keep on losing referenda. No, the clear message—I see the clock—is that, yes, the Prime Minister is right to seek to negotiate, but he should seek to negotiate in the right spirit, showing that he is a member of the team, and not bring to this House a narrow, reckless Bill for partisan reasons.

1.24 pm

Lord Crisp (CB): My Lords, my personal view is very straightforward: we are inevitably and intricately linked with Europe, and we need to work out our future in it through negotiation. I am also very clear that change is needed; I agree with my noble friend Lord Turnbull about the range of issues that need to be tackled in our relationship with Europe. There may be a place for a referendum in that process but I would not start with one. There will be consequences of doing so, as many noble Lords have spelt out today.

However, in the course of this debate I have been very impressed by the points that have been made about the will of both the Commons and indeed a significant part of the public. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, spoke about the House having the power to defy the will of the Commons but asked whether it

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has the authority. The noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, spoke about us having that power but having the tradition of exercising it maturely. In some ways, I was most impressed with what the noble Lord, Lord Owen, had to say, and if I may summarise it to him, although he is not in his place, it was that there is a political inevitability about the process of having a referendum and we should get on with it—there was a political dynamic in place. I have some sympathy with that. Let us have the real argument, not these shadow ones about process.

Scrutiny has to happen, though. As a Back-Bencher, I rather feel—“resentment” is not quite the right word—slightly taken aback by what I think I am hearing: that we may discuss the Bill but may not put forward amendments or vote on them, which seems to be a very peculiar position for us to be in, particularly when there are two very clear issues that need to be scrutinised. They are the most fundamental points about any such Bill, which are, put simply: what is the question, and who gets to vote? Those are the two that have come up from a number of people. On the point about who has the right to vote, the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, raised an interesting point about the position of the 1.5 million British citizens living in Europe, which clearly needs debate and discussion.

With regard to the question, I have not yet heard what is wrong with the independent Electoral Commission’s version of the question. I have heard that there is not time to discuss it but I have not actually heard what is wrong with it. Parliament needs to have a good reason to overrule a group of independent experts which it has set up to advise it, and we need to understand what that good reason is if we are to go ahead with the question that is currently in the Bill. Very simply, my view is that we need to respect the will of the Commons and there is an inevitability about moving towards a referendum, but we need to have the power and the time to scrutinise these important issues and get answers.

1.27 pm

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes (Con): My Lords, I confess from the very first that I am Eurosceptic and always have been. I voted in 1971 against the principle of joining. However, this Bill is not about Euroscepticism; it is about giving an opportunity to the people of this country, who are very confused in many ways about various things that have happened. It is crucial that they should be given this opportunity and should be given it at a time when the principles of what had been accepted have been discussed, expressed and investigated. They need to be informed and they need a referendum because at this moment in time they are very puzzled indeed.

We all know what the main issues have been—it is not a question of UKIP; these things have come up over and again—which have been disturbing to the general public and have never fully been explained. I remember that when we were on the Benches opposite there was a huge question of millions and millions of pounds, or rather euros, that had been spent or not spent and had vanished down some black hole. There never was a proper explanation. My only slight dismay

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is that I do not think this should be an issue of a very narrow number of situations about which people have concerns, any more than it should be about the nitty-gritty. I was extremely impressed by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Owen, with a whole part of which I found myself in great agreement.

I believe so strongly in referendums that when we faced the question of entering Europe, I told my constituents at the time that they would get the benefit of my advice. I visited all the cities twinned with my constituency of Gloucester and held a referendum at my own expense, which was organised and carried out by the Hansard Society.

I do not want to rake up a lot of old and certainly worrying issues that have occurred over the years or any of the matters which I believe have left the people of this country worse, not better, off. I will be very satisfied indeed if this Bill is given a Second Reading in this House. I regard it as a very important step that should be taken as soon as possible, as long as the British people are given the right answers.

A young lady working for me yesterday wanted to see me today. She is a very—I shall not say ordinary—normal person. She has just got her mortgage, and she is very pleased. I said, “I can’t come tomorrow because of this European debate”. She replied, “I just don’t know about Europe. Do you?”. That is it.

1.31 pm

Lord Giddens (Lab): My Lords, I am a strong and committed pro-European, and if noble Lords will forgive me, I shall describe the reasons for that as three Ps and an S. First, I am a pro-European because of peace. Many people say that dealing with conflict in Europe is a thing of the past. That is manifestly not so. There was a bloody and horrible war in the Balkans some two decades ago. It is highly important for Serbia, Kosovo, Albania and the Balkan countries to enter the European Union. Secondly, I am a pro-European because of prosperity. It sounds an odd thing to say given the travails of the eurozone, but the single market adds something like 2.6% to the GDP of its member nations, and the eurozone is in the process of basically positive reform.

Thirdly, I am a pro-European because of power. In our globally interdependent world, if Europe cannot collectively exert an influence over the rest of the world, we will live in a kind of G2 world in which we will be a backwater and will simply be subject to the decisions of others. Fourthly, and this is important in this debate, I am a pro-European because of what I call “sovereignty plus”—that is, because, contrary to what many people seem to imagine, each nation gets more sovereignty from being part of the European Union than it has outside it. This was recognised in the Prime Minister’s Bloomberg speech where he said that in foreign policy we get much more clout from being a member of the European Union than we would otherwise. This can be generalised to most aspects of EU membership.

I am a committed pro-European, but I am not one of those who hold that it would be economic and political suicide for the UK to leave. I think that the UK could at some point leave the European Union

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and could survive outside it, but the conditions of doing so would be extremely damaging indeed. Like most other noble Lords who have spoken, I think that at some point the people should decide. I am therefore in favour of a referendum, which would be sensible and democratic to hold at some point.

However, no one should doubt that if Britain were to exit the EU, there would be a wrenching and protracted process of readjustment. Other noble Lords have drawn attention to this. The idea that the country would magically retrieve lost sovereignty is superficial and foolish. What matters in the contemporary world is not paper sovereignty but real sovereignty in a world that has been transformed out of all recognition over the past two or so decades. For example, the European economies and the American economy are likely to be transformed by the transatlantic free trade agreement. This is very much on the books; it is likely to happen within the next two years. There is very strong support from the Obama Administration. You cannot tell me that if the UK were outside the EU and had to negotiate individually it would have more sovereignty than it would inside the EU.

This is not a trivial thing; a tremendous process of transformation is envisaged here. Essentially, the country would have to reinvent itself and the reinvention that would have to follow would be the opposite of UKIP’s “beer and cigarettes, back to 1950s” version of Britain. It would have to reinvent itself not like Switzerland or Norway but, if you want a really positive model, like Canada—as a kind of open, small economy, heavily dependent on a much larger one to which it is adjacent and to which it must orient its actions, with far less influence in the world than the UK has at the moment, but nevertheless a society that survives well. That could be a model for the future but it would be a dramatic process of transformation. The country would have to be anti-UKIP because it would have to be much more cosmopolitan and open-looking. There would have to be more immigration, rather than less, just as Canada has.

I think a referendum should be held but only if certain conditions are satisfied. Since these have been widely discussed in the debate, I shall zoom through them fairly quickly. First, as many noble Lords have noted, it should not be driven by short-term political concerns but by the long-term interests of the country. As I have just stressed, it would be the biggest transformation that the country has faced for more than 60 years. It would be quite different from the 1975 referendum, which was held when Europe was in the process of being formed. We would be leaving an entity of 520 million people, which is still moving forward. It would be a very dramatic and consequential step to take, and the whole country should realise that.

Secondly, a referendum should not be held until it is clear what shape the EU, and specifically the eurozone, will assume. This point has also been made previously by noble Lords. Europe is in flux and in movement; we do not know what the outcome will be. What we can be sure of is that there will be treaty change; I think that is inevitable. That treaty change is likely to happen within the next five or six years. That is the process to

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be monitored at the time when people should be asked to decide in an “in or out” referendum in this country.

Thirdly—I feel this very strongly as I am very worried about it and I do not like the impact of the Bill on it—there must be a full and fair open public debate. It takes a long time for such a debate to be set in motion. What really worries me is that the UK could drift out of the EU without most citizens fully understanding the consequences and implications. I think a great deal of attention needs to be given to this because it would be the very worst outcome for anyone.

In conclusion, I am strongly against the Bill because not one of the three conditions is realised. It deserves, at the minimum, to be substantially overhauled in this House and I am strongly persuaded that it will be.

1.38 pm

Lord Wigley (PC): My Lords, it is surely ludicrous that a debate of this significance is limited to just one day and for us to be told that we cannot amend the Bill. I make it clear where I stand in the context of the Bill: I am as passionately pro-European as I am committed to Wales. Wales is a European nation in language and religion, in history and culture. We belong to Europe. This year we remember how, twice in the past century, our continent tore itself apart in two bloody wars in which millions of innocent people were killed. The vision of European unity was born to ensure that never, ever again does that happen. Anyone who mindlessly jettisons the structures that have helped to ensure peace over the past 60 years does so at his peril.

I believe in the value of nations but mine is a civic, not a racial, nationalism. Everyone who chooses to make their home in Wales, whatever their language, colour or creed, is a full and equal citizen of our country. Yes, we want to see as many decisions as possible that affect Wales taken in Wales. That chimes in with the European principle of subsidiarity, that decisions should be taken as close as possible to the communities on which they impact, and that principle certainly needs to be strengthened. But some decisions—environmental ones and those relating to the single market—must be taken on a European level, and we must be there, arguing our corner, whether that “we” refers to Wales or to Britain.

Of course there are things that need reforming in the EU, but that does not mean that we chuck our toys out of the pram and throw a tantrum if we don't always get our own way. It should mean that we argue our case, without the implicit blackmail that unless we get our own way we quit. That is the fundamental problem with the Bill: it is driven by UKIP, which wants only one thing—for Britain to quit the EU. For them, it is not about getting better terms, less bureaucracy, quicker decisions, less waste. It is simply about getting out.

The Bill does not attempt to establish what would be the acceptable terms on which to remain in the EU. It does not accept the logic that if reforms to improve the EU can be achieved, why should we need a referendum at all? The Bill will clearly need to be amended in Committee to ensure that everyone living in Britain, whose well-being may be at stake, can vote. The Bill as

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currently drafted does not deal with the possibility of a yes vote in Scotland’s referendum. It does not provide for the results to be published in each of the constituent nations of the UK. It is our duty, as a revising Chamber, to consider such amendments and to make them if we deem it appropriate.

The fact that the Bill comes to us late in the parliamentary year is not our fault. Since the Bill proposes a referendum in 2017, there is no reason why such a Bill should not come next year for proper discussion and debate. A Bill of such enormous implication should never be steamrollered through Parliament. My fear is that that is what we are experiencing today.

1.41 pm

Lord Balfe (Con): My Lords, I support the Bill and look forward to it passing. However, I also look forward to campaigning for a yes vote in the inevitable referendum. Although some people have said, “This isn’t the right Bill”, there is an undercurrent that there should be a referendum, and there is, again, a need to get the will of the British people expressed. That, of course, is one of the inconveniences of living in a democracy—from time to time you just have to let the people say what they want to do. This Bill is a vehicle for that.

I spent 25 years in the European Parliament and the overwhelming impression I got was the failure to understand and to engage between both sides. As an MEP I constantly felt—having, of course, the joy of serving in both parties—that neither party knew what to do with its MEPs. They felt that they were a bit of a nuisance and a bit of an irrelevance. However, seriously, if you look at other European member states you find a much better level of integration between what is going on in Brussels and what is going on in the member state than you do in the United Kingdom. We have consistently failed to engage, and that comes down to very petty things. When do you ever see an MEP wandering around this House? I see the former leader of the Opposition, who will know the Danish Parliament well, and if you go to the Danish Parliament you will often find MEPs wandering around it because there is a structure for them to relate to it and be there. Therefore we need to settle quite a lot of things.

We also need to look at what would happen if people vote no. The question will be, “Do you want to be in the European Union?”. That would start a long process of disengagement, which would be messy. On this side of the House our Conservative Party is not best served by not being in the European People’s Party, which contains a lot of people who have influence. We need to be in a position of influence, because if we were on the path to withdrawal—and I sincerely hope that we are not—the European Parliament plays a very central role in the settlement that is reached, because there will be a huge number of financial overhangs.

I still serve as president of the European Parliament Pension Fund. If you look at the liabilities towards European public servants, they are considerable and would have to be met. Other liabilities that would have to be untangled are also considerable—and, with all of them, the European Parliament would have budgetary

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authority. My noble friend Lord Tomlinson is much more of an expert than I am on that matter, and he will know that the European Parliament would have a considerable say in what happens.

I draw attention to the role of European civil servants. We sometimes bemoan the fact that British nationals are not getting their fair share in Europe. But what are we offering them in terms of a career? We are saying to the brightest and best of our graduates, “Well, yes, if you go to Europe we might help you and we might not—or we might withdraw tomorrow”. Is that how you get people to the top? There was a time when we held the general secretaryship of the European Commission; indeed, the noble Lord who held that is a Member of this House. We held the general secretaryship of the European Parliament, with the distinguished Sir Julian Priestley, for many years. We have held the general secretaryship of the European Economic and Social Committee. Today we hold no senior positions in any European institutions that would be worthy of the weight of this country; we are slipping behind.

We are always talking about numbers, but this goes beyond numbers. Britain has a moral duty in Europe to lead and to join. There is a long queue of people wanting to join; there is only a small queue—and then not a representative one—of people who want to leave. Our job and our duty is at the heart of Europe, campaigning and helping the emerging democracies in the European Union, setting an example, bringing them forward and welcoming them into the family of European nations. We should not be going on in the xenophobic way that the British press has been so fond of recently, which frankly I feel ashamed to be associated with, when I read it. We need to pass this Bill, we need a positive yes vote, and we need a full and thorough engagement with the European Union.

1.47 pm

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab): My Lords, while I cannot congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, on bringing this Bill before us, for reasons that I shall go into in a moment, I commend him on his energy and diligence, both qualities that he will need in Committee, when we deal with all the amendments that will come before us. However, I was slightly surprised to hear him on the Radio 4 “Today” programme this morning describe the European Union as a pestilence and a poison. While I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, said—

Lord Dobbs: I hate to interrupt, and I promise that it will be the last time, if I possibly can, but I did not say that. I was quoting other people and reflecting the mood out there, which I wish to resolve not to emphasise.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: Even picking up from other people and repeating that it is a pestilence and a poison gives a certain tenor to the noble Lord’s argument.

I agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, in his criticisms of the European Union. However, on the so-called renegotiation, when the Prime Minister was being gently interviewed by Andrew Marr on his programme and was asked what the issues were that he

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wanted renegotiating, he could not answer the detail of any of them. That is one of the great problems that we have.

As my noble friend Lady Liddell, said in her excellent contribution, the idea that we may have a referendum creates uncertainty. We get that argument in relation to Scotland. I ask this House to contrast and compare the comments made by the Conservative Members opposite and in the other place in relation to the referendum in Scotland with what they are saying in relation to this referendum. They say, rightly, that the referendum in Scotland is causing and will cause uncertainty about the future of the United Kingdom and that people will not invest in Scotland. Exactly the same applies to a referendum on the United Kingdom’s place in the European Union.

I want to deal with the point raised by Members opposite that there is great demand for a referendum. Okay, if you specifically ask the question, “Would you like to be consulted on Britain’s membership of the European Union?”, most people will say yes. But if you ask, “What is the most important issue facing you today?”, the latest Ipsos MORI poll said that only 7% thought it was Europe—24% thought it was the health service. Of course, one reason why the Government want to do this—we have heard the other reasons—is to deflect our attention and that of the public away from the manifest failures that they are having in other areas. It is a distraction.

The main point I want to raise is that a number of Members opposite, almost all the former Ministers who have been lined up—the good old trusties who have been brought in early on to support the Bill—have been saying, “No, no, you must not even consider amendments. You are not allowed to, the House of Commons is supreme”. My noble friend Lord Richard dealt with some of this earlier. “Scrutiny procedures should not be used”, they said. First, I remind the House that we scrutinised the Bill relating to the alternative vote and the boundaries review. If the other place had paid attention to what we said in relation to that, they would have saved a lot of time and money and another referendum would not have taken place, with all the cost that that involved. That was discussed during government time—all that time we took to deal with the amendments.

What has happened now is that by asking the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, to bring forward this Bill, the Government are hijacking Private Members’ time. By doing so, they are imposing an arbitrary deadline on us, an artificial timetable, and saying that if we do not get it through this House by the end of February, it is going to be lost. That is not our decision; we have not imposed that timetable; it is an arbitrary timetable imposed upon us. At the same time, they have hijacked all the time for Private Members’ Bills. Have a look at all the other Private Members’ Bills that are waiting for a Friday to come forward. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, that I have kept all my Fridays free for the next few months—just a little indication to him. But look at all the other Private Members’ Bills that are waiting: on mental health services, crime, care—a whole lot of other areas. No, this is a misguided effort, which is why I could not congratulate the noble Lord,

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Lord Dobbs, however much I like and admire him. In fairness to this House, this issue and the other Private Members’ Bills, he should think again and perhaps decide to withdraw the Bill.

1.53 pm

Baroness Suttie (LD): My Lords, like anyone born after 1958 in this country, I have never had the opportunity to vote in a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union. Some noble Lords, with all their experience of actual referendum campaigns, may tell me that I am being a little optimistic, but as a pro-European I have always believed that a referendum campaign could allow the positive case for membership of the European Union to be heard—or at the very least provide the opportunity to correct many of the more ludicrous Euro-myths that have gained currency over the years.

I very much agree with the speech made earlier by my noble friend Lord Garel-Jones. He said it is a matter of considerable regret that successive UK Governments have failed effectively to make the positive case for EU membership. Instead of arguing for much needed EU reform from a position of strength as a committed European leader, we have consistently weakened our negotiating position by giving the impression that we really do not know whether we want to be in or out.

There is therefore a good case for a referendum, which is why the Liberal Democrats supported the 2011 referendum Act and why we are in favour of an “in or out” referendum the next time there is a further transfer of power from London to Brussels. I agree with many of the noble Lords today who have said that they believe that a referendum is now inevitable. However, the Bill in front of us today is flawed in many important respects and leaves a great many unanswered questions. Indeed, it reads like a Bill drafted in haste for purely party-political purposes.

In particular, I ask those noble Lords who support the Bill to ask themselves the following questions. Do they believe that the referendum question in the Bill, as currently drafted, is genuinely fair? Is it not a leading question? Do they not agree with the position taken by the Electoral Commission on this issue? What is the justification for the somewhat arbitrary date of 2017? Is there not a danger that setting this random date in law will provoke economic uncertainty at a time when the fragile economies of the UK and our EU partners are only just beginning to recover? What is the justification for the inconsistencies of who will actually be allowed to vote in this referendum? In Scotland later this year, 16 and 17 year-olds will be allowed to vote in the Scottish referendum on the basis that it is very much their future at stake. Surely the same logic should apply to a referendum on our membership of the European Union? Also, should the electorate not be based on local election electoral lists, as it will be in the Scottish referendum?

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, that it is not acceptable for this Parliament to attempt to mandate a future Parliament on an issue of this magnitude. At the very

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least, should the enactment of the Bill not be subject to an affirmative resolution of both Houses following the next general election? I look forward very much to discussing these and other issues in more detail in Committee and on Report over the next few Fridays.

1.57 pm

Baroness Hooper (Con): My Lords, as one of a very small number of current Members of your Lordships’ House to have been elected to the European Parliament in the first direct elections in 1979, a time when the ideals and opportunities of the European Economic Community gave rise to much more enthusiasm than they appear to do now, I feel that it is important to state my support for my noble friend’s Bill. As a Minister in your Lordships’ House well over 20 years ago now, I, too, participated in meetings of the Council of Ministers and saw at first hand how it was possible to influence and to work with Ministers from other member countries for the benefit of our own.

I wish it were not necessary to hold a referendum, particularly given the clear result of the previous one in 1975, which I acknowledge was only two years after we had joined the then EEC. However, institutions change and develop, and sometimes need reform; that is true even of our own, venerable, mother of parliaments. I therefore see it as now inevitable.

As someone who believes, like others who have spoken today, that we are inextricably linked in and cannot and should not detach ourselves from full membership of the European Union, and that the United Kingdom has an appreciated and influential role as a leading member, I would be working for a yes result in any referendum. It is therefore of the utmost importance that the case for our remaining in the European Union should be made in a clear, calm and measured way, and illustrated with the many social, trade and economic benefits of our membership which have been cited today. I hope that this will result in a resounding yes for remaining in.

Apart from my noble friend Lord Balfe, few speakers have referred to the European Parliament, or indeed to the European Parliament elections which are due on 22 May this year and which in themselves provide an opportunity for the electorate to voice their views and vote on the issues. The party manifestos for that campaign should therefore give the British public the chance to understand the pros and cons and the differences between party policies. Let us hope that the apparent keenness on the part of the British public for a referendum will be reflected in a better turnout than usual at those elections.

Given the fact of the European parliamentary elections this year and the need to make absolutely clear the implications of our membership and of the alternative, the referendum campaign should not be rushed. I therefore cannot agree with those who wish to bring forward the proposed date. As for binding future Parliaments, my noble friend Lord Garel-Jones disposed of that worry very effectively. Good arguments have been made for altering the wording of the question to be put to the electorate—I prefer the proposal of the Electoral Commission—but that is a matter for Committee.

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It is clear that, when asked, the British public want a referendum. While I have been disappointed by the hectoring tone of some of those who have written in demanding a referendum, I believe that there should be one and that is why I support my noble friend’s Bill. However, let us not forget that no country has yet seceded from the European Union—Greenland is only a partial precedent, but there can be no comparison there. I certainly do not want the United Kingdom to be seen as the only country that cannot cope and wants to drop out.

2.01 pm

Lord Whitty (Lab): My Lords, I share some of the constitutional distaste for referenda, and I share the dismay of many of my pro-European colleagues about the toxicity with which the European issue has infected British politics for the past few decades. However, I am also a political realist and, like the noble Lord, Lord Owen, I recognise that it is pretty much the settled will of the British people that, at some point, there will be a referendum on our future relationships with Europe. The noble Lord, Lord Balfe, and I shall campaign again on the same side, and I believe that the campaign is winnable.

Between then and now, we have a very interesting political period; that is, interesting in the Chinese sense. We have European elections coming up this year, the outcome of which may well determine—or, rather, the relative success of UKIP may well determine—the vehemence with which the Conservative Party approaches the general election; later on in the year, we will have a referendum in Scotland that will irretrievably determine the future of the United Kingdom; and with this Bill and the referendum in 2016 or 2017, we will be voting on something that will irretrievably determine the future geopolitical position and influence of the United Kingdom.

In between all that, we have an old-fashioned general election. As my noble friend Lord Grocott, who takes a rather different view from me on Europe, pointed out, no Parliament can bind its successor. It has been argued on this Bill that the Lords should not attempt to dispute the will of the House of Commons, but it is the will not of this House of Commons but of the next one that will determine the nature of the referendum. This Bill attempts to determine now the timing, the question and the electorate—although, as the Electoral Commission and Delegated Powers Committee have pointed out, it fails to deal with the basis of conduct of that referendum. Whoever the next Government are and whatever the balance of the next House of Commons, we will need a new, comprehensive Bill if we are going to carry out any referendum. In that sense, although we have a very good attendance in the Chamber today for a Friday, we are all wasting our time.

However, there are aspects of the Bill that I want to address, because, apart from the valid objections from the Electoral Commission, any referendum will follow only a treaty change or the outcome of a bilateral negotiation. Given the turbulence in the eurozone, we do not know what kind of treaty changes are likely to be proposed, and we have no idea, not even from

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Mr Cameron, what the objectives of any bilateral negotiation will be and therefore in what context the possibility of a unilateral withdrawal will arise. The referendum and politics surrounding it will be utterly dependent on the outcome of one or other of those negotiations.

The present formulation of the question in the Bill does not allow for any reference to the outcome of negotiations or to any treaty. The outcome, will, of course, determine how many people vote. Under certain outcomes, I would find it difficult to vote for staying in. If the Tea Party totally takes over the Conservative Party and it wins the next general election and we opt out of many of the more beneficial aspects of the European Union, I would hesitate. I would probably still vote to stay in, but it would be a very different European Union. The outcome of the negotiations is important, and the way that it is sold to the electorate will determine the vote. That effectively makes the Bill redundant, although improvements could be made to it in this House regarding the conduct of the referendum, the electorate and the question itself. If the powers that be insist on giving substantial time—unprecedented time—to the Bill, the House will need to insist on conducting its normal scrutiny of Private Members’ Bills.

The Bill will not be the basis for a future referendum. There will be a prolonged period between now and then, and the world will inevitably change. All the passage of the Bill will do at this time is aggravate discord with our EU partners, and cause dismay in Washington, uncertainty and a reluctance to invest among global investors, as my noble friend Lord Monks graphically pointed out, and a reduction in Britain’s influence in the world. That is not a very good use of our Fridays, now or in the next few weeks.

2.06 pm

Lord Jay of Ewelme (CB): My Lords, I say at the outset that I am strongly in favour of Britain’s membership of the European Union. As the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, said a little while ago, in this year of all years we should surely be conscious of the need for an effective, endurable network linking the member states of the European Union east and west, and removing the risk of conflict—as, indeed, the European Union provides. Is it perfect? Of course, it is not perfect. My noble friend Lord Turnbull explained very elegantly the defects that it has. However, the European Union entrenches democracy and the principles of a market economy in much of our continent and, in so doing, benefits this country, too. I will take just two examples.

Membership of the European Union enhances the projection of our foreign policy. What would be our influence on Iran, Syria or the Middle East if the Foreign Secretary were not engaged fully in EU councils, where Britain and France are by far the most influential countries in the European Union on foreign policy matters? Membership benefits our economy, too. Other noble Lords have made this point, but we should imagine the impact on jobs in Sunderland if Renault-Nissan were to stop investing or to switch its investment elsewhere—as it well might were we not a member of the European Union.

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Therefore, our national interest surely lies in working with like-minded partners within the EU to ensure that the European Union is, indeed, an open, democratic Union, enhancing the security and prosperity of its members, as, in their rather different ways, Lady Thatcher and Sir John Major did so effectively when they were Prime Minister—at least in the 17 successive European Councils at which I had the pleasure and honour of accompanying them. I would infinitely prefer that we fight our corner in the European Union, using our undoubted influence to do so, in the way that they did rather than through the threat of renegotiation followed by referendum.

However, I accept that the mood of the country favours a referendum and that the Commons has voted by a large majority for the Bill—the noble Lord, Lord Owen, made those points very forcefully—so the question, it seems to me, is how to ensure that, if there is to be a referendum, it is properly prepared and thought through. To do otherwise on a subject of such profound importance for the United Kingdom would surely be wholly wrong.

That leaves me with two major concerns. The first is timing. The process and the outcome of the renegotiation are uncertain—but so, crucially, is its timing, which may well not fit with the timing proposed in the Bill for the referendum. The final decision on when to have a referendum must surely depend on the progress of the negotiations—something that we cannot possibly know now.

My second point relates to the view of the Electoral Commission, as other noble Lords have mentioned. It is unwise to go against the view of the commission on a matter as important as this. Those two questions—the question of the referendum itself and of the timing of the decision on when to hold it—will need to be considered further in Committee. That is the constitutional duty of this House as a revising Chamber.

2.10 pm

Lord Inglewood (Con): My Lords, I have been a Conservative almost all my adult life, and, during that period, a supporter—but certainly not an uncritical supporter—of UK membership of the European Union, which is, as my noble friend Lady Warsi commented to your Lordships earlier this week, in the national interest. That perspective is shared by hundreds of thousands—no, millions—of other people in this country.

In the Bill, I am being asked to support a course that could put that at risk. I understand that and the reasons for it; and I am not on my feet now to oppose a plan for a referendum on this country’s membership of the European Union during the next Parliament. That is probably going to be the most important political decision taken during the next Government’s term of office. For that reason, it seems to me that the procedures and context of that decision have to be handled with the greatest care and wisdom.

Two points are absolutely central. First, the Prime Minister is absolutely correct to negotiate and see what changes might be forthcoming in the arrangements within the European Union, both looking to our country’s best interests and to the Union’s. That is what he is doing and I fully support him. Secondly, we

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must remember that we are talking about the future and not the past, whatever problems there have been and whatever mistakes have been made. In addition, it is important that the public must be able to handle the goods before they buy. We must know what the options are before any decision in this direction is taken. Let us not forget that we had a referendum on EC membership and it did not bring closure to the issue.

Whatever we do must be handled wisely and even-handedly. The problem we face is that the Bill’s authority has been damaged by the criticisms made by both the Constitution Committee and the Delegated Powers Committee, as well as by a number of criticisms made in this debate. Even if we as individuals think that the criticisms do not matter, many electors are going to think that they do. Even if the authors of the Bill do not think that the criticisms matter, millions of people who will inevitably find after a referendum that the outcome for them is unsatisfactory and not to their liking will use that fact to keep the issue alive.

I confess that I am also concerned about the circumstances of the Bill’s conception and birth, which are weird. Its passage through the Commons as a Private Member’s Bill strikes me as being extraordinary and irregular for a Bill of such significant constitutional and political importance. I really do not like the prospect of throwing poison pills through the next general election into the legislative programme of the next Parliament. I feel very strongly that process and procedure matter because they provide a framework for important decision-making and send out a message to those affected about the even-handedness and integrity of what is involved.

One of the interesting conclusions of our debate thus far suggests that had the Bill been drawn up slightly differently from the way in which its authors saw fit to do, it would probably have moved on to the statute book relatively seamlessly. However, against that background, am I, and we as a House, prepared to acquiesce to the prospect that we must set aside our revising and amending role because the Bill is so important? Surely the more important the Bill, the more important it is that one exercises that role.

Equally, I say to my noble friends Lord Dobbs and Lady Warsi that, because the Bill is so important, they should get up, show a bit of can-do and find a way of enabling this House to amend it so that it can proceed in a proper manner. The ball is in their court. This is a very important issue and, whatever one’s views, I find it extraordinary to be told that I should not propose or vote for amendments. At the end of the process, we need something that is simple and straightforward, and that—as they say in Cumbria, where I come from—does the job right.

2.15 pm

Lord Tomlinson (Lab): My Lords, this is an inadequate Bill. However, it is worse than that because it is a grossly premature Bill and a shabby political manoeuvre to appease UKIP and Tory Back-Benchers in another place. It has nothing to do with the quality of governance but everything to do with appeasement. I hope that we treat this exactly as we would treat any other Private Member’s Bill. That means that we have 45 minutes.

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A noble Lord:Then sit down.

Lord Tomlinson: I will sit down sooner than most of the people who have spoken. Everybody who has taken part in this debate favours reforms but we have not had any statement about what those reforms are, how we are intending to progress them and how we do these things. We have often been told by people coming back from Brussels that they have achieved reform. For example, we have had a vast expansion of qualified majority voting, which in many ways I regard as a reform. Is that what Members in the Conservative Party view as a reform? It involves losing our veto, which they seem very much to want to keep.

I know what I have asked for. I have asked this question of the noble Baroness on several occasions, and I ask it of her again today because she is speaking for the Government. Is she prepared, as a fundamental and much-needed reform—one pursued previously by my noble friend Lord Kinnock and by me when I was in the European Parliament—to get a system of zero-based budgeting? It is the only method by which we will be able to get a proper evaluation of the quality of expenditure and its value for money and direct resources as they are needed, rather than in this across-the-board way that happens at the moment.

I want to reply to two people who have spoken in this debate. One is the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, who, having given of his wisdom, has now departed, although I shall make sure on Monday that he reads the bit that I am going to say about him. He implied that we have no right whatever to challenge in any way any piece of legislation that comes from the other place. In fact, that is saying that we might as well pack our bags and go home. It is always our job to challenge views if we believe that they are wrong, and nowhere does that responsibility lie heavier than when we are challenging a major constitutional reform, fully backed by the Government but wrapped up under the illusion and pretence of it being private Members’ business. We have to examine this Bill in Committee thoroughly and fully and, if necessary, pass amendments to it, irrespective of the significance of any date, such as 28 February.

This Government still have more than a year to run. If they do not get their way in this Session, they should have the courage to bring forward their own Bill in the next Session of Parliament, when we will subject it to full scrutiny, including the tabling of amendments. Of course, ultimately the Government must get their way on a government Bill, but that is not the same as saying that we will always bow our knee to whatever Motion, in whatever form, comes from the other House. This is a means of trying to cheat the people of this country and it is a cheating process that we will not go along with. I hope that, having properly given the Bill a Second Reading, on Report we will take every opportunity to challenge it in every way necessary.

2.20 pm

Lord Armstrong of Ilminster (CB): My Lords, I do not intend to spend time today on the intra-party or inter-party shenanigans of this Bill. I propose to underline

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only two points, which have already, of course, been made in this debate. There are only about three points to be made throughout the debate.

On the first point, the Prime Minister has made a clear commitment that if he returns to office after the election next year he will enter into negotiations for changes in this country’s relationship with the European Union with a view to concluding them by 2017 and in time for the outcome to be the basis for a referendum. He needs no legislative reinforcement for that commitment, although of course he will be able, if he wishes, to reiterate it in his party’s manifesto in due course. If he is returned, he will be able to use his best endeavours to fulfil his commitment whether or not the Bill is passed. He does not need to have his feet held to the fire by a law.

If he is not returned in the election, his successor will not be bound by his commitment. It is the established convention that no Parliament can bind its successor. If another Prime Minister after the 2015 election decides that a referendum is not necessary or called for, he will be entitled to invite the new Parliament to pass a new Bill—one of those mythical one-clause Bills—and guillotine it, repealing this legislation if it has been passed by this Parliament. The Prime Minister’s commitment is quite as binding as it need or can be without legislative underpinning. This Bill is unnecessary and, I might almost say, pointless.

The second point I should like to underline—it was made a few moments ago by the noble Lord, Lord Jay of Ewelme—is that the Bill is, in some respects, bad policy. Negotiations within the European Union for major changes in the constitution of the Union can take a very long time. This is particularly the case at a time when many other member countries will also be looking for changes and wide-ranging reform seems likely. It is impossible to predict either the form in which or the date by which the Union will emerge from the process of renegotiation.

It is admirable for the Prime Minister to say that he intends to achieve changes by 2017, but he cannot be sure of being able to do so in complex negotiations which will involve 27 other member countries as well as the United Kingdom. It is not likely to be conducive to constructive negotiations and he is not likely to be assisted in his negotiations if he goes into them with a time bomb in his briefcase which he says that he must detonate if he does not get the result he wants by a fixed date in 2017.

He would do better to take a leaf out of the book of Mrs Thatcher. When she wanted to get a satisfactory outcome on the British rebate, she did not threaten her partners with an “in or out” referendum if she did not get her way by a certain date. It took her five years to get an outcome which she was prepared to accept, but she stayed in there until she got what she wanted or, at least, what she was prepared to accept. There are some of us who still bear the scars received in the course of that bruising process; but it worked.

If the Prime Minister is returned to office in May 2015, he should be allowed to take whatever time it requires, even if that is more than two and a half years, to stay in there and get the result he wants or at least a result that he is prepared to commend to the

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Parliament and people of this country. He would no doubt try to achieve that outcome within two years—and I should wish him the best of British luck in doing so—but the issues at stake for this country, and for the European Union, are too great, too important, to be confined by this kind of deadline. It is not in the best interests of the United Kingdom for Parliament to send the Prime Minister into these negotiations with a fixed two-year deadline.

I conclude by saying that this is a funny old Bill. I am not sure whether it is a government Bill masquerading as a Private Member’s Bill, or how you should define it, but in a sense it is a one-off and a unique thing that defies the conventions. All your Lordships will accept the rule—it is not just a convention—that the will of the House of Commons should in the end prevail, but that should not, in this case, be allowed to override the duty of this House to exercise its own responsibility to revise and improve the Bill if it sees fit to do so. If the Government really feel very strongly that this Bill has to be completed in this Session and cannot wait, as the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, suggested, until the next one, I suggest that the Government make room in business for the proceedings that would be required to enable the Bill to complete its passage in this Session.

2.26 pm

Baroness Browning (Con): My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord Dobbs in championing this Bill in your Lordships’ House. In the contributions today from noble Lords, who clearly hold diverse views not only on this Bill but on the wider subject of our membership of the European Union, the common theme has been the recognition that the people of this country are in the mood for a referendum on the subject. It is worth drilling down a bit to ask why that is. My own view is that people now feel so much more strongly about the need for a referendum because, as other noble Lords have already mentioned, of their lack of confidence and trust in the body politic, for which many of us—all of us perhaps—should take some responsibility.

On the specific subject of our membership of the EU, in the quiet corners of the Conservative Party, when my name is mentioned in conjunction with the subject of the EU, I might perhaps be described as one of the “usual suspects”. I agree that that would probably be the correct terminology, but I have noticed today that the language we use when discussing Europe and people’s different views on it is not the language that one would expect to find in a debate on education, health or any other big political issue. It is very personal, very subjective and, sometimes, very unpleasant. I am one of those in the Chamber—looking around, I see other noble Lords who have had this experience—who have been subject to name-calling over the years because we have taken a certain view. For example, we have warned against our membership of the single currency and of the dangers of a central European bank, and argued that we should not readily give up our gold to buy up euros in order to prop up that currency. When these things have been discussed, they have not been discussed in a very mature way across the parties in either House.

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That has influenced the way in which the public no longer have any confidence in what any of us say about promises to do with Europe. Prime Ministers of both parties have successively prayed in aid their negotiations in various treaties when they have gone to the electorate in a general election. We have come up with all sorts of politics-speak about subsidiarity and things like that, which we hoped would comfort the general public and suggest that, somehow, we were still in charge as politicians. However, the nub of this, and the reason why this referendum and this very specific promise of a referendum are so important in this Bill, is that the general public out there believe that the power that they thought they had through the ballot box—not the power we as politicians have—has gradually been eroded. We have conspired across the parties to use language to defuse and to try to subjugate the real discussion that was needed so that people could have a very clear understanding of what was being done, in successive treaties, in their name. Gradually you erode from people the opportunity to hold their elected representatives in another place to account. Increasingly, when those elected representatives then quite rightly hold the Ministers of the day to account, those Ministers have to defuse matters and cannot answer straight questions.

A classic case in point before us in the debate today is the question of our borders. It does not matter what a Minister says about our borders. No Minister here or in another place can do anything to control immigration across our borders as far as EU citizens are concerned, and yet anybody who has raised that issue in the past few years has been name-called in a way to stop that debate. In the end, the general public see through that and realise that they are the loser here. The general public cannot get answers from their democratically elected representatives, who in turn cannot get answers from Ministers. That is the end of democracy as we know it and have understood it for many years. That is why we need a renegotiation to bring some balance back into what was an agreement that we voted on in 1975. I put my hand up to being one of those who voted for us to go into a Common Market, as I understood it, but over the years the EU has changed. That is why the renegotiation is needed and the British people now want the guarantee of a referendum.

2.31 pm

Lord Stoddart of Swindon (Ind Lab): My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, on picking up this piece of legislation from the House of Commons. I am very pleased to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, on this subject.

I shall certainly support the Bill on the basis, first of all, of pressuring government and opposition parties to ensure that the issue of a referendum and our place in Europe is dealt with in their manifestos and by whoever forms the next Government. Secondly, we should not seek to frustrate the will of the House of Commons on this particular issue, which surely must be a matter for that House—not us. Of course, we should have had a referendum over the Lisbon treaty. Mr Blair promised that we would have one and then, through a device, broke that promise. Had it been

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kept, we would not be bothering ourselves on a Friday with this particular Bill because the issue would have been settled in 2009.

This issue transcends party politics. It is not about party politics and never has been because all parties are split on the issue. The issue is about who governs Britain: whether we govern it from Westminster through our own Government and institutions or are governed from abroad by an undemocratic Commission and the institutions of the European Union. Many people describe those such as me as Europhobes. We are not: I love Europe. The problem is that the way Europe is governed, and is likely to be governed in future, will injure Europe. Europe is Europe and has its great history because it has been a collection of different people, countries and borders. To merge this into a great conglomerate will do the interests of Europe very badly indeed.

I have to confess that I was never in favour of joining what was then called the Common Market, and I still believe, despite all I have heard today and hear all the time, that we would be better off out on our own, as a country with a great history which still has a great deal to offer to the world. I believe that very sincerely.

We had a referendum in 1975. The people were urged to remain in what was then known as the Common Market and they did exactly that—they voted to remain in the Common Market. As so many people have said today, things have moved on since then. Treaty by treaty, powers have been transferred from our Government, from our Parliament, to the institutions of the European Union.

I will finish on this point. We now have the vice-president of the European Commission, Viviane Reding, really telling the truth in a speech, blowing the gaffe, because she wants a United States of Europe in which the powers, the sovereignty of this Parliament would be transferred to the European Parliament. Of course, the sovereignty of Britain would be transferred with it. I am very much against that. I feel quite sure that the people of this country are very much against that. That is why the people of this country should and must be consulted on our future in the European Union, or whatever it may become.

2.37 pm

Lord Spicer (Con): My Lords, I begin with a confession. I have form on this matter as one of those who opposed the Maastricht treaty when it came before the House of Commons. It is always a bad thing to say that one was right or that I told you so, so I will not do that, but I will say that what was clear in those days has become a fact of life in many cases now.

Take for instance the linkage between fiscal policy and monetary policy, which is absolutely clear after the events of last year. It is quite clear that if you have a monetary union, you have to have a fiscal union as well. If you transfer your tax policy, your expenditure policy and your monetary policy to another institution, you have at the very least created a circumstance of constitutional change for which a referendum is highly appropriate. That is in the context of something irrevocable, not changeable, being written into the

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treaty and therefore for ever—that is the key issue about Parliament having given up its sovereignty: a successor Parliament will not have the powers because the previous Parliament has given them away.

That has been put forward as a situation which would be created by the Bill. Actually, it has already been written down in a treaty which we have signed. We have already signed away the power of Parliament to keep sovereignty for itself. The two eminent former Permanent Secretaries raised that as an issue about the Bill. They were fighting each other, by the way—I do not know if anyone else noticed—because the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, was saying that it is a bad thing because we were binding another Parliament, and the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, said that it was a bad thing because we were not. Leaving that aside, it has been done already. We are already giving away powers to control the economy and we are doing it for ever. If that is not something which requires a referendum, I do not know what is.

There is one remaining question: does this apply to Britain? Is Britain, because of its opt-out, perhaps the only country which does not need a referendum? It might be argued that all the other countries need referendums and we do not. The answer to that, in my view, concerns something I asked a Question about yesterday: the acquis communautaire. That is endemic to the treaty of Rome. It is stated clearly throughout the treaty that any change in the treaty must be in one direction, towards European statehood. That is absolutely clear. It is written in there and it will, incidentally, sweep Britain along with it in a great tidal wave.

That is the answer, by the way, to the “Waiting for Godot” people who say that we must wait for some great event to take place in Europe before we have a referendum. A dynamo already exists in the system, and if I was keen on preserving a move towards a federal state of Europe I would just leave things alone as it is all there already. It is a very strong argument, they usually say, for us to wait for some great event to happen before we have the referendum. They are absolutely wrong about that—but right in their own terms because a federal state of Europe is what they want. If you do not want that then at some point the British people will have to be consulted. That time should, in my view, be here as quick as possible, but the Bill is certainly a step in that direction.

2.40 pm

Baroness Goudie (Lab): My Lords, in the 1975 referendum campaign, I voted and campaigned for yes. I am strongly in favour of the European Union but I am not in favour of the Bill that has been brought to the House today. It has been brought as a Private Member’s Bill instead of the Government and the Prime Minister having the courage to take it to the Cabinet and get the Cabinet on side. In spite of that, I will ensure that the Bill is dealt with in this House. I will participate in the Committee so that it might be so and be scrutinised. I really am upset, in a way, that the Bill has been brought here. Also, having looked at the Bill, there is no real substance on how we tell the British people what the European Union is about and what we would be going into a referendum about. It is

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wrong for a future Government to have their hands tied. For all those reasons, I would vote against the Bill at the end of its Committee in this House.

I agree very much that the European Union needs reform. It has changed dramatically, in some ways for the good and in some for the bad, since 1975. But the way for us to do that is by giving leadership from the centre of Europe, not from being on the outside or threatening that we will leave. We must be there and we have to be part of that. I will not go into what the right honourable William Hague said in the other place, because I do not want to take up too much valuable time in this Second Reading, but I agree with what he said. If we continue to go down this road, as the Bill would have us do, we will put at risk everything that Britain has in this difficult economic time. We will put at risk jobs, growth and investment. We all know how investors are global and if there is any chance that something is jittery about Britain plc, they will move out and other companies will not think to reinvest. All this makes us very vulnerable.

At the same time, we have to remember that part of the reason that the European Union came together all those years ago, before we were rejected and then allowed in, was because it was about peace and security. It was all about Britain and Europe’s role in the world. If we were not part of Europe, the American Government would not look at us a second time and we would have no traction in the ASEAN countries, as they are today. The Commonwealth would steer away from us. Where would our trading be? Where would we be going with our e-learning or our legal learning? Where would we be in the Middle East? Would they wish to continue to invest with us? No, we have to be part of the European Union for us to survive and it is for all those reasons that I feel really strongly about this referendum Bill.

2.44 pm

Lord Watson of Richmond (LD): My Lords, this is not so much a declaration of interest as a declaration of pride. I worked with the late Lord Jenkins when he was President of the European Commission, its only British President to date, and during that period I was enormously impressed by the professionalism and effectiveness of the UK Permanent Representation in Brussels—the so-called UKRep. As many of us know, at the end of last year Sir Robin Butler passed away. He was an outstanding civil servant who worked within UKRep as well.

Noble Lords: Sir Michael.

Lord Watson of Richmond: Sir Michael Butler; I am so sorry. Sir Robin Butler—the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell—is still here. Sir Michael was closely involved in the negotiations that led to the rebate.

If you look at the track record of British membership of the European Union in its various stages of evolution, you see that UKRep has been remarkably effective. I absolutely do not accept the inherent pessimism and lack of self-confidence that we keep hearing that somehow

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we are fated to lose every argument that we join. The track record of this country in the EU simply does not bear that out.

One of the reasons why what is proposed in the Bill is in many ways a dangerous course is that it weakens the diplomatic power and effectiveness of this country in its negotiating position in Brussels. We should not make the mistake of believing that there is an indefinite tolerance among other member states of the British position on this. The results of a poll published last week stated that only 16% of Germans and 26% of French believed that they would favour a special deal for the United Kingdom. Whenever these negotiations take place, they are not going to be a pushover; they will be really difficult, and we will have to persuade our colleagues in Europe that it is clearly in their interests to participate in them and to progress with further reform.

In that, incidentally, the position of Germany is particularly important. The Germans have gone a long way, as they did over the rebate, to give support to British positions, but if you say to the German Government, “Well, here it is, we’d like your full support and if you do not give it to us we’re going to press the button and we may be out”, what is the end result of that attitudinal position?

If there is a threat, certainly implicit, to our diplomatic effectiveness as a result of committing ourselves to an “in and out” referendum in this Parliament to bind the next, what is the likely effect on our economic and industrial strength? Many of the figures have already been rehearsed in this debate, but one struck me the other day that I had not picked up on before: one-half of all non-EU companies operating now in Europe are headquartered in the UK. That is a far greater proportion in total than those headquartered in either Germany or France. Do we really believe that those companies would continue to be headquartered here were we to exit from the EU? I very much doubt it. Goldman Sachs, Hyundai, Toyota, Siemens and so on—the list is endless and I assure the House that it will get longer and more strident as this debate continues.

The noble Lord, Lord Garel-Jones, was quite right to say in this debate that were the referendum to result in an out vote, it would not be the end of anything; rather, it would be the beginning of an extraordinarily difficult, painful and protracted process. That is why I am glad that my own party, in its own commitment on a referendum, has been very specific, not generic. We are committed to an “in or out” referendum the next time that there is a significant transfer of power from the UK to the EU. That is a specific commitment.

I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, said in his fine speech at the beginning of the debate that if there is a fundamental change in our relationship with Europe, in many cases the reality is that the statutory power to have such a referendum already exists, so the Bill is unnecessary.

I find that the proposer of the Bill has made a very odd argument. If I have understood it right, and he also said it on Radio 4 this morning, the reason for this referendum now is that no one in the UK under the age of 60 has had a chance to vote on EU membership. If you think about other vital elements of our

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constitutional and societal arrangements in this country, in many cases no one alive today has ever voted on them either. Have we voted on the Hanoverian succession? Have we voted on the monarchy? Do we need to do both in order to legitimise the present position? I do not seriously think that anyone would propose that in this House.

We are engaged in something which is inherently foolish and significantly risky. If our main concern is about how we are viewed by the British people, I think the expectation of the British people is that this House does the job that it has been given, which is to review legislation and to do it with integrity, honesty and thoroughness.

2.50 pm

Lord Cormack (Con): My Lords, this has been quite a debate. We have seen Mitterrand reincarnated and the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, buried. I am bound to say that, like the proverbial Irishman, I would not have started from here, but there is a very serious issue to address and I will seek to do so in a moment. Let me just make it plain that I am one of those who have for many years—indeed, since the Maastricht treaty ground its way through another place when my noble friend Lord Spicer and I were in opposite corners—advocated an “in or out” referendum to lance the boil and have made it quite plain at the same time that in any such referendum I would campaign, as I did alongside Labour parliamentarians in 1975, for this country to remain within the European Union. That is my position.

I am somewhat tempted by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, to recount a story. I was standing outside this House, before I entered it, talking in Prince’s Chamber to the late Lord Carter, the Labour Chief Whip, much loved by many people in both Houses. One of his colleagues came up to him and said, “They’re going on in there. It’s all been said”. “Yes”, said Lord Carter, “but not by everybody”. One is reminded of that in this debate.

I want to address the most serious subject to arise: the position of this House as a revising Chamber. I do not think that anyone in this House could reasonably accuse me of not being devoted to it or of not being prepared—as indeed I did on Wednesday this week—to vote against the Government of the day if I felt that the legislation before us could be improved, but we are dealing with something rather special here. We are dealing with a Bill that had a fair amount of time in the other place and was never seriously opposed by either the Official Opposition or our partners in the coalition. If noble Lords need to be reminded of that, all they need to do is look at the figures and the Division lists. In other words, this Bill has come to us with the other place having had the time to revise and amend it but having decided, for a variety of reasons, not to do so.

In a sense, what the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats have said to us is, “Let the House of Lords do our dirty work for us. Let them be the ones to defeat this Bill by making it run out of time”. I believe that any constitutional arguments have to be measured against that. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, may be

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shaking his head, but he cannot deny the figures or the fact that this Bill was not properly scrutinised, even though there was an opportunity for it to be scrutinised, in the other place.

Lord Richard: The noble Lord said it was not scrutinised in another place. It may be so. Is that not an additional argument for it being scrutinised properly here?

Lord Cormack: No, because it came to us—and the noble Lord, Lord Richard, ought to know this as a former distinguished Member of another place—with massive majorities. In other words, they said, by their votes, “We don’t want to do anything about this. Your Lordships’ House should have it”. Your Lordships’ House having been given the Bill, it now has a duty to allow the people of this country to have the referendum. I would not have tackled it in this way but, in those famous words, we are where we are. We are confronted with a particular situation and we have to respond to it.

I hope that it may be possible for the Government to devote a little more time. I would not be against having amendments debated, but for this House, by whatever means, to kill this Bill would not be acting in the best interests of our parliamentary system or of this House. I believe that I am entitled to say that, having played a reasonable part in ensuring that the malevolent schemes of the Deputy Prime Minister were seen off, as they rightly should have been.

I find the position of the Liberal Democrats, our beloved partners in the coalition, for many of whom I have individual affection and regard, a little queer. If your Lordships’ House found itself the butt of criticism, the Liberal Democrats would quite welcome it, because it would advance their case for abolishing this House and replacing it with an elected second Chamber. Therefore, do not let us be deceived by those who sit by our side and let us not be seduced by those who sit opposite. Let us say that this Bill is imperfect and has got here by a most peculiar route, but let us speed it on its way so that those outside this House cannot say that the House of Lords stood between them and having their say on perhaps the most important international issue of modern times.

2.56 pm

Lord Davies of Stamford (Lab): My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, made an excellent speech in introducing this Bill, as he invariably does. He is a very respected and popular Member of this House and I quite understand why the Prime Minister asked him to be his standard bearer in bringing this difficult piece of legislation before us. I hope, therefore, that he will not think it in any way a personal attack on him if I say that the Bill he has brought before us is a very bad Bill. It is not a good Bill at all. It is a very dubious Bill that, in at least three respects, purports to be something that it is not. There is an English word for that but it is not a parliamentary word so I will not use it. It is, at the very least, a cynical Bill, which we should treat with considerable scepticism.

The first example of the Bill purporting to be something that it is not has not escaped the attention of many colleagues in the House on both sides. We

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have already discussed it at length today. It is the fact that it is a Private Member’s Bill that is really a Prime Minister’s Bill. Prime Minister’s Bills that are whipped through the House of Commons and will be whipped through the House of Lords—and are said by the Prime Minister of the day, to his supporters, to be essential for the credibility of the Government, as has been said in this case—are not Private Members’ Bills. If the Government have chosen to bring the Bill forward in this camouflage, two things follow.

First, they must accept the rules of the game—the rules that apply to Private Members’ Bills. They have chosen that route; it is their fault. Under no circumstances should we allow ourselves to be blackmailed by being told that there are difficulties with Private Members’ Bills but the Government need to get this one through by 28 February, otherwise there will be difficulties. It was the Government’s decision to bring forward this Bill as a Private Member’s Bill and they must take the consequences. Under no circumstances should we be blackmailed along those lines. Indeed, if I am still speaking at 3 pm, which I probably will be, I hope someone will interrupt me. If they do not interrupt me at 3 pm, I hope that will be established as a precedent for future Private Members’ Bills going through this House, which should equally be allowed additional time if there is particular interest in speaking on them on the part of the House as a whole.

The second thing that follows from the Government’s voluntary decision to bring this forward as a Private Member’s Bill is that, clearly, we should not treat it with the respect and regard with which, normally and naturally, the second, unelected House treats government initiatives. Normally, we operate on the basis that we can hold up legislation—we can put forward proposals for amendment to the House of Commons—but, at the end of the day, the Government of the day tend to get their business through. This is not, by the Government’s own choice, a government Bill. We therefore do not need to regard it with quite the same respect and consideration that we would give a government Bill. We should, of course, be sceptical and we should do our duty. If we come to the conclusion that the Bill needs to be amended, we should be even more confident of our duty to amend it than we would be if it were a government Bill.

The second aspect of the lack of straightforwardness to which I referred—of the Bill being presented as something that it is not—is again a matter that has, unsurprisingly, received quite a lot of attention in this debate. This is a Bill that purports to be a democratic, altruistic initiative designed to give the public their say. That is a phrase that we have heard several times. In fact, it is nothing of the kind. Only 18 months ago, both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, were bringing forward arguments for not having a referendum in this Parliament. They were powerful arguments, which have already been referred to—some of them have been quoted today. I had it in mind to bring in a whole sheaf of quotations, but I thought I would not burden the House with them because it is very familiar with the words concerned. Only 18 months ago the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and other members of the Tory party in the

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Cabinet said that we should not have a referendum in this Parliament, giving all those reasons—uncertainty of the economy, and so on and so forth—why we should not do that. They were absolutely right about that.

Why did they suddenly switch? We all know why—there has been a purely party politically orientated initiative to try to buy off the Eurosceptics in the Tory party and keep them quiet until after the election and to prevent Conservative voters slipping over to UKIP because UKIP is offering a referendum, so the Government thought that they had to offer one too. Of course, no sane or sensible person would ever go to the public and ask them to decide on something and say, “It’s important that the public have their say—but you can’t do it for the next four years”. Nobody knows what will happen in the intervening four years; in fact, there is quite a large probability that there will be a new treaty under negotiation—not concluded—by 2017. It cannot possibly be concluded in practice before the French and German elections in that year, which have already been referred to. How absurd it would be if we had a legal obligation to hold a referendum before the end of 2017, but there was another treaty in gestation and we were part of that negotiation, so we would have to have another referendum on that in 2018 or 2019. That would be absolutely absurd.

From a practical point of view the whole idea is ridiculous and any sensible person would have been able to see that it was ridiculous. Indeed, I have no doubt that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary know that it is ridiculous, and that that is what they would have said a year and a half ago in public. However, they have decided on this slightly squalid party political ploy, which is why we have the Bill before us today.

There is a third aspect to this lack of frankness about the Government’s legislative proposal this afternoon, which has not been referred to at all. That is, although the Government purport to wish to give the public a free choice, to consult the British public about our future in the European Union, there is one obvious choice—not just a coherent or a theoretically possible choice, and not even a practically possible one. It is an obvious choice that has been the default choice, the consensus choice and the automatic choice of 17 out of the 28 members of the European Union. That choice is to be a full member of all aspects of the Union: to be a member of the core, if you like, of the Union—which, of course, means being a party to Schengen and to the euro and so forth.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Davies of Stamford: Noble Lords opposite may well think that that is an appalling prospect, and they are entitled to feel that. However, they cannot deny that that is a possible choice. They also cannot deny that that is a choice that many of our partners in the Union—the majority of them—have taken. They cannot fairly deny that there are good theoretical arguments for all those proposals. It might very well be argued that now would be a very good time to join the euro, before interest rates and the parity go up, but we are not having that discussion today. However, that choice is being denied to the British people. Other

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people have had the choice of doing that, but we have not—our electorate have not.

Clearly, both parties in this rather squalid transaction between the extremist Eurosceptics in the Tory party and the Prime Minister have been at one, I am sure, in wishing to exclude any possibility of going down that road, which they would call the federalist road. So democracy has not reached that far, and democracy will not include giving the opportunity for that particular choice to be expressed in the referendum. There may be practical reasons: people would say, “Well, you can’t have more than two questions in a referendum”—but that is nonsense. If there was an aggregate majority of those who were in favour of our joining the core of the European Union on the one side and those who were in favour of joining the Union with the various derogations negotiated by the Prime Minister on the other, and if those two votes together came to a majority of the vote, clearly you could not argue that there was a majority in favour of our leaving the European Union. So in practical terms this is a very real possibility.

I notice that I have gone beyond 3 pm. Quite disgracefully, no one from the Front Bench and none of the Whips sitting there has interrupted me, which of course they should have done. Therefore, I have no bad conscience at all in delaying the House a little longer. That is their fault, not mine. They are in breach of the rules. What is more, this precedent is something that we should not forget, and one that should be applied in all fairness and in all honesty to all future Private Members’ Bills. Otherwise, this will just be seen as a very underhand procedural trick by the Government. Of course, it also blows the cover completely about this being a Private Member’s Bill. It is nothing of the kind.

Lord Trefgarne: My Lords—

Lord Davies of Stamford: No, I am not going to give way. I know perfectly well what the noble Lord is going to say, and I am not going to give way. I am going to finish my remarks, and I am not going to give way. I make that absolutely plain. There has been scandalous conduct in this House this afternoon, not by me or anyone on my side but on the part of the Members of the government Front Bench sitting opposite, and I am certainly not going to allow them or any of their minions to interrupt me.

What do we do in the squalid circumstances that I have described? We do our duty, and look at this Bill thoroughly, sceptically and responsibly. If we can improve it, we improve it. There are one or two particularly scandalous aspects of the Bill, notably where the Government try to override the decisions of the Electoral Commission on the formulation of the question. That amounts to appointing an umpire and then rejecting the umpire’s decisions. It is a scandalous thing to propose and, obviously, something that this House needs to look at very sceptically, along with many other things. We will not do our duty if we do not do that.

3.06 pm

Lord Bowness (Con): My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Dobbs for his introduction to the Bill and his explanation of why your Lordships should not attempt to scrutinise and maybe as a consequence

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amend this Bill. As you would expect, he told a compelling story, but I regret to say that, despite advice to the contrary from many distinguished colleagues on this side of the House, I remain unconvinced that we should accept a Bill of this importance without proper consideration. Opposition to giving the electorate a referendum on any terms is not to seek to deny them that referendum, but this Bill in its current form may well be detrimental to all our interests.

I share with other noble Lords at least two concerns about the Bill. The first is about the question, which has been referred to many times. It is clear from the report of the Electoral Commission that it has concerns about the neutrality and clarity of the question. My noble friend questioned the consultation, but with respect he cannot question the unambiguous recommendation, and no doubt this will be pursued in Committee. If there is indeed a referendum and a future Conservative Government are campaigning in favour of the United Kingdom’s continuing membership, they may well find themselves at a disadvantage if the question leans against a yes vote, since I fear that it is almost certain that the Conservative Party will not be united behind a recommendation to stay in on any terms which retain the essential principles of the European Union. I do not seek a question which leans the other way, merely one which is neutral and fair.

My second concern relates to the date. This could put a negotiating Prime Minister at a huge disadvantage if critical negotiations were not complete by the time when the date for the referendum arrived. The timescale is in my view unrealistic. If we are seeking significant changes, which may well involve treaty change, the fast-track procedure in the Lisbon treaty will not be available, and the normal procedures under Article 48 take time. I have asked in previous debates how it is anticipated that this will be resolved in two years, between 2015 and 2017, but I have not received an answer. I hope that the Minister or my noble friend Lord Dobbs may address that when replying.

For those reasons and others, I do not believe that we should abandon our usual scrutinising role. I know—I am not comfortable about it—that many of my noble friends will consider this an act of considerable disloyalty to the party but, more importantly, detrimental to your Lordships’ House. I regret that.

However, perhaps we might examine the history of this issue without calling into question anyone’s motives. Originally the Prime Minister resisted calls for a referendum but after a large vote, against a three-line Whip, it was promised for the next Conservative manifesto. Those who, like me, question the wisdom of referenda generally accepted the position, as I do today, although I would campaign for a yes vote and for the UK to stay in the European Union. A Bill to provide for the referendum was then demanded and when it was not included in the gracious Speech, government Members in large numbers, unusually, voted against their own gracious Speech. A Bill was then produced, to be taken up by any Member successful in the Private Members’ ballot.

The question in that draft Bill was very close indeed to the suggestion and recommendation of the Electoral Commission, unlike that which is in the Bill before

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your Lordships today. But even if that were not enough and the potentially skewed wording of the question in the Bill were substituted for that in the draft, we are now in this position. In the latest instalment of this story, we are being asked to accept a position into which we have been placed because some people have been unwilling to accept the word and leadership of the Prime Minister.

I cannot accept accusations that concerns about the Bill, if it is pursued, amount to an attempt to deny the people a vote. The pressures of time were not of our making but of those who precipitated a Bill despite the original policy of my party. I hope my noble friends will at least understand that I find that unacceptable, and therefore my unwillingness to accept the Bill as it stands, and that, upon reflection, my noble friend Lord Dobbs and the Minister may engage as they would in connection with any other Bill to see how the question of amendments and timetables might be resolved within the proper proceedings of not only this House but the other place.

3.12 pm

Lord Lea of Crondall (Lab): My Lords, this debate has proved far more interesting than many would have expected. A number of points have become politically clear. One is the central point made in his magisterial speech by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, whose conclusion was that this Bill could almost be described as pointless. He was pretty forensic in describing his reasoning; namely, that whoever is Prime Minister after the next election will not in practice be constrained either way by this Bill.

Presumably, if it is a Conservative Prime Minister—although there are all sorts of variations of the configuration—you can write the script. There might well be some sort of timetable of negotiation leading up to a referendum. However, if it is a timetable that looks like blackmail, saying to Angela Merkel and Mr Hollande, “I have got only 18 months to come back with the goods, you must help me”, is that really the best sort of diplomacy? Other colleagues have put it in terms of an unrealistic, artificial timetable but I would like to put it in terms of the personal relationships between the party leaders.

I would like to put this in the context that was going through my mind as I was listening to the noble Lord, Lord Jay of Ewelme. It is now exactly 100 years since the misunderstandings—let us put it that way—which led to the First World War. All these splendid books on the origins of the First World War which have been published in the past three or four months show that the total absence of a context of regular meetings between Russia, Serbia, Austro-Hungary, France, Germany and Britain had a considerable impact on the causes of this catastrophic event 100 years ago in Europe, with 50 million, or whatever, killed as a consequence. Even leading up to the declaration and mobilisation of the First World War, there were misunderstandings as to who was doing what as well as mutual suspicion between all the capitals.

Helmut Kohl said about 15 years ago to one of my colleagues, in my presence, that Germany must continue

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to be locked into Europe and that it was vital that Britain was the country that ensured that Germany was always locked in. That is the relationship. The noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, will corroborate that the late Lady Thatcher did indeed have a good working relationship, as, I think, did all the other Prime Ministers from Edward Heath onwards—certainly the late Lord Callaghan and the Labour Prime Ministers who followed had good working relationships. That point seems to be given no consideration at all by those who want to play the nationalist card. Europe is not about the nationalisms of 1914; we are in a different world.

The noble Lord, Lord Howell, gave his standard speech, which is very interesting, about China and the emerging nations. However, the European economy is twice as big as China’s. Our relationship with China is mediated through the fact that it invests here because we are part of the European Union. You do not need to take my word for it, as somebody said earlier: take the word of the Chinese President; in the case of Japan, take the word of the president of Toyota; take the word of the chief executive of BMW.

It may well be, as has been said by several speakers on the other side, that it does not matter too much if there is a different balance of trade. We will have trade with the rest of Europe, yes, but with the balance of trade deficit growing and growing. At that time the pound probably would sink to the level of the euro—not the scenario envisaged by my noble friend Lord Davies of Stamford but one which could come about.

Finally, the Bill should be considered in the proper way. We cannot have a position where the famed democracy of Parliament has to be put aside when we are considering a matter of this import. I suspect that to go to the British people and say that we have brought in some legislation which has not properly gone through Parliament would be an impossible proposition in any case. I trust that this rearguard action, that we cannot have a proper examination in Committee, will dissipate.

3.19 pm

Lord Selsdon (Con): My Lords, I have rather enjoyed myself, which is quite usual in your Lordships’ House. However, when I first came here something over 50 years ago, I was told, “Don’t worry, my dear chap. You will be used as cannon fodder for a period of time”. There were two great people who used me as cannon fodder: the late Lord Jellicoe and the late Lord Shackleton.

On one occasion, Lord Jellicoe said, “Look, this European lark is getting rather interesting. We are going to shove you on the Council of Europe”. I could not possibly admit to him that I did not know what the Council of Europe was. Lord Shackleton said, “Well, I’m getting involved in eastern European matters and things of that sort and, soon, part of the Soviet bloc will come back and become part of Europe”. This was all right for me, but I had a full-time job with two weeks’ holiday, and swanning off to Strasbourg was not really part of the game, so I agreed with my employers that I would not take a rise in salary and would have only one week’s holiday.

As I went off to Strasbourg, I suddenly realised that what we were talking about was people who had a

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fear of war; almost everybody you met had fought in the war. That was something that I had not thought about. As you moved on over a period of time, so trade became important.

I thoroughly enjoyed that period but began to wonder where it would lead us. We then came to the referendum of earlier days, and I would like just to quote Alec Douglas-Home, who in 1971 said:

“In this House and out of it, there is widespread recognition that we have reached the time of decision, and that the proper place for that decision to be taken is Parliament”.—[Official Report, Commons, 21/10/71; col. 912.]

That is what we are talking about today. James Callaghan, at the same time, said:

“Tonight is no more than the first skirmish in the struggle, in the course of which we shall, I hope, by debate and discussion between ourselves, establish what is Britain’s correct relationship with Europe and what is our role in the world ahead”.—[Official Report, Commons, 28/10/71; col. 2202.]

Again, that was in 1971.

In the middle, I got dropped in it again—it was not really due to my noble friend Lord MacGregor—because I suddenly found that I was, effectively, treasurer of the Conservative Group for Europe. I was the one who was meant to find money and, in particular, money for the referendum. Of course, a lot of mistakes were made in those early days and, suddenly, you found to your surprise when everything went through that the Labour Party refused to send a delegation to Strasbourg. As a result, the Conservatives had a problem in that they did not have any money, because you could not get any money for a vote of that sort. So what did they do? They turned to the treasurer of the Conservative Group for Europe, who with his secretary found himself in difficulty. I suggested that we should hold a great event. We managed to get the Banqueting House—Geoffrey Rippon was very kind and helpful—to hold a big event for the first time so that those in industry and the financial world would understand the difficulties that we were in, would understand that I had been dropped in it and would agree to subscribe.

Unfortunately, a certain leading Conservative figure made a speech during that period, when life was pretty bad, and said that everything was good, so no money was forthcoming. So I had a brief moment wondering whether I would be sued, but somehow the great and the good turned up and gave me a cheque and we managed effectively. But they were the problems in those days.

When Sir Alec Douglas-Home made the suggestion in that debate that a decision should be made by Parliament, Stanley Orme said:

“No. Ask the people”.—[Official Report, Commons, 21/10/71; col. 912.]

In the time when I was involved, we went through the EEC, the ECSC and all those areas and finally thought, “Well, could we not actually call it Europe?” and then, “Where does Europe begin and end?”. Without doubt, in all my time there, the key factor was bilateral trade, which in due course became immigration. But suddenly, we ask ourselves the question: “What is it all about?”. It is really about economic rather than political affairs, and I would be most grateful if any one of your

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Lordships would be kind enough, quietly over the weekend, to sit with a piece of paper and draw for me the current map of Europe.

3.24 pm

Lord Grenfell (Lab): My Lords, it is always a pleasure to listen in this House to the autobiographical discourses of the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, on accepting a challenge that even Eddie the Eagle would have balked at, but he made an elegant speech.

The outstanding feature of this debate so far has been the total failure of the Bill’s supporters to address, let alone answer, any of the flaws in the Bill repeatedly identified by speakers around the House. The Bill will need serious amendment if it is to serve any purpose beyond that of attempting to quell unrest within the ranks of the Conservative Party. To appropriate a matter of such high constitutional importance for so narrow a purpose is, in my view, not worthy of the senior partner in a coalition Government.

We on these Benches will apply to this Bill what we apply to any other Bill before us, which is a thorough scrutiny of it clause by clause throughout its legislative passage through this House. We will table sensible and responsibly framed amendments which we judge would materially improve the Bill, and seek their acceptance. That is our constitutional duty. The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, appears to disagree. I found his intervention on this point incredible, coming from someone with such a long career in Parliament.

There is absolutely no reason or justification for granting the Bill special treatment, which is what its promoters seek in their efforts to ensure that not a single word or number in the text is amended. What is so sacred about this text that it has its promoters so paralysed by fear of any attempt to tamper with it? From the degree of panic visibly permeating their ranks in the face of this perceived vandalism, one might think that we were daring to rewrite the opening bars of the Fifth Symphony or draw a moustache on the face of the Mona Lisa. No, we are not vandals, and they know that. The cause of their fear is of their own creation. Mismanagement of the timing of the Bill has resulted in a time-bind that could lead to the loss of it. If that is the outcome, they will have only themselves to blame, and the prospect of that can neither excuse this House from its duty to scrutinise properly nor deprive it of its right to propose amendments to improve the Bill. The Bill cannot possibly be allowed to go on to the statute book in its present form. There are serious questions surrounding: the timing of a referendum; the almost unfettered powers granted to the Secretary of State to appoint the day on which the Act would come into force; the wording of the question to be put to the people; the need to spell out a turnout threshold and a voting age; and the Bill’s inappropriately restrictive policy on voter eligibility—and there are other issues which time does not permit me to enumerate.

Many of the amendments will be tabled, and supported, by Members drawn from all sides of the House. We fully expect them to be resisted by the promoters of the Bill because that is their blanket response to any attempt to amend it. They will dismiss them as the confections of troublemakers bent on

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obstructing the Bill’s passage to the statute book. However, I ask them to consider carefully this: are they going to toss aside the conclusions and recommendations of such important Lords committees as the Constitution Committee and the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee on such crucial questions as the exercise of the powers conferred by the Bill on the Secretary of State? Are they going to reject the Electoral Commission’s recommended wording of the referendum question? I cannot believe that they would follow such a risky course but, if they do so, it will confirm in my mind, at least, that the Bill’s Conservative promoters are not acting in the national interest but only in the narrow interest of a party divided on Europe.

We on these Benches do not believe that an “in or out” referendum by 31 December 2017, at the latest, is in the national interest. That is why we oppose the Bill. As my right honourable friend the shadow Secretary of State said in the Second Reading of the Bill in another place:

“The Bill reflects an arbitrary date unrelated to the likely timetable of major treaty change”.—[Official Report, Commons, 5/7/13; col. 1181.]

That can hardly be in the national interest. What is the purpose of holding an “in or out” referendum at a point when we will almost certainly not yet know what treaty changes will need to be agreed to reform the EU, and thus what kind of EU, and what our negotiated relationship with it is, is the subject of the question to be put to the people? In the same Second Reading debate in the other place, the Secretary of State, Mr Hague, repeatedly said that his Government’s policy was to seek reform of the EU. The noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, said it at least twice yesterday, and will surely say it again this afternoon. We all want to see effective reforms. Our European partners want to see effective reforms, but why risk a British exit at a time when reform is work still in progress, in which we are all—and should be—actively participating ? It makes no sense at all, so why the rush?

I conclude by suggesting to our Conservatives on the other side of the House, particularly to its leadership, that they heed the words of a formidable European statesman:

“In the European card game we must not allow ourselves to be forced from the phase of waiting into the phase of premature action by impatience, complaisance, vanity or the provocation of our friends”.

The greatest political truths have long lives. That was Otto von Bismarck.

3.30 pm

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB): My Lords, when speaking at number 59 in the list one can reflect, as one hears all of one’s points made by others, on how very much better one would have made them oneself. One can also keep score. I have to tell the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, whom I greatly admire for his cavalry officer skills, that it begins to look a bit like Balaclava. At the present rate it is 2:1 against, counting on the side of the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, those who are all-out supporters of his Bill and those in the Cormack school, who believe that the Bill has warts but, warts and all, it must be “waved on its way”—I think I heard

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that. That school combined amounts to half those who have spoken in favour of the House of Lords doing its job and amending the Bill.

I had intended to try to deal with what seemed to be the two central heresies in the brilliant speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs—the heresy that if one gets this Bill one is guaranteed a referendum, and the heresy that if one does not get the Bill one does not get a referendum. Those are both nonsense but that was clearly explained most recently by my noble friend Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, so I see no reason to trouble the House with that.

There is a third argument lurking in the House, about which the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, needs to think as he considers how he proposes to handle Committee and Report. That is the feeling in the House, from the bias of the question, from what the Bill says about the franchise and from what it does not say about the rules, that it is all slightly slanted—that this is a Bill to produce not just a referendum but a referendum result whereby the UK is to leave the European Union. That feeling is quite prevalent in the House and it would be good if the promoters were to consider what adjustments to the Bill could be made to deal with that point.

I want to add only two points that I genuinely think have not been made so far in this debate—one on timing and procedure and one on perceptions. On timing, the big point is the one made by the noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Owen. You would be plumb crazy if you seriously thought that the right year to bring to a climax a renegotiation of the terms of British membership of the European Union was the year of a French presidential election and a German federal election. You would be mad if you thought that the last thing Mr Hollande would like to do before he seeks re-election is make concessions to the British in order to, in his judgment, increase his electoral chances. You would be mad if you thought that the SPD in the German coalition which will be in office for the first half of 2017 would be likely to agree to the changes to, say, the human rights or social elements of the treaty, or to the free movement of persons, all of which government spokesmen have told us in the past four weeks are to be elements in our renegotiation strategy. The noble Lord, Lord Owen, also made the important point that it would be quite a good idea, if renegotiation were intended, to start now defining what we want rather than going with whatever the Daily Mail suggests this week is the right element to be in the renegotiation.

Our foreign friends greatly enjoyed the Bloomberg speech and admired a lot of things in it, but they are very puzzled that, in the year that has passed since the speech, no papers have been produced and no attempts have been made to secure allies. Indeed, in recent weeks it has rather looked as though we have decided that it is essential for domestic reasons that we have a major row with the Poles, the Romanians, the Bulgarians and all eastern Europeans.

I turn to the issue of procedure. I do not know why we want to amend the treaty. Mrs Thatcher secured the rebate after five years’ hard work, as my noble friend Lord Armstrong reminded us, without any

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treaty change. However, if we have decided that it is really important that the reforms we need are changes to the treaty, we have to go through four stages. First, we have to secure a simple majority. That means that we need to find 14 member state Governments who agree with us. We have not started that task and it looks as though we are not going to start it until after the election. Secondly, we have to get a consensus in the necessary convention. The last convention took 18 months. The third stage is that we have to get unanimity in the intergovernmental conference—Maastricht took a year—and the final stage is ratification.

This Bill tells us that the referendum will happen in 2017. Even if renegotiation finished in 2017, would we really want to have our referendum before we knew whether everybody else could sell the deal in their countries? Supposing that we have our referendum and the Latvian or Luxembourg referenda go the wrong way. What would then happen in this country? What would happen to our position in the European Union and the world? All four stages have to be gone through and it is crazy to lay down a deadline now, in advance—a point which I think is almost bound to come back in Committee.

I turn to my point about perceptions. This concerns what foreigners think. I do not know what all foreigners think but those whom I meet—I am sorry but from time to time I do meet some—find this all very puzzling. They are waiting for the British proposals. They are sorry that the British seem to be slightly out of the game and will clearly be staying out of the game for another 18 months. It is their treaty too and they all need to get ratified whatever changes we secure. We need to buy their consent and they need to get their publics to buy it. They find it very odd that this Bill appears to be slightly slanted towards producing a no vote and that it appears to lay down a deadline which they know—because they are going to be in the IGC and the convention—is impossible.

They are beginning to wonder about our motives and about why the Prime Minister, in the year since the Bloomberg speech, has not filled out the speech or produced anything to follow it up. They are beginning to find it very sad that the party of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, Alec Douglas-Home, Ted Heath and Margaret Thatcher is behind this kind of Bill, which they find, as a minimum, surprising. They suspect our motives. This has an immediate effect. I am talking not merely about the future but about today and our negotiating clout in Brussels. Eleven months ago, Herman Van Rompuy, the President of the European Council, came to London and made a speech at the Guildhall in which he warned us about the effect of our present position on our negotiating clout in Brussels. He asked us:

“How do you convince a room full of people, when you keep your hand on the door handle? How to encourage a friend to change, if your eyes are searching for your coat?”.

He was right. This Bill is not just nugatory; it is also noxious because it increases that perception abroad.

3.38 pm

The Earl of Dundee (Con): My Lords, on his introduction of this Bill, I join with others in warmly congratulating my noble friend Lord Dobbs.

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The Government and those supporting the Bill have stressed the current necessity for European Union revision, arguing that otherwise European democracy and quality of life will increasingly suffer. However, as we have also heard today, detractors claim that this position is adopted only for political gain, with the United Kingdom and our Government thereby trying to attain some narrow advantage. Also that renegotiation, and thereafter a British referendum, are said to be both disruptive and mistaken expedients.

Yet what is intended and proposed is not in the least irresponsible; instead, it is much overdue—that is, if European Union revision should remove competitive burdens and restrictions while completing the single market. Few would dissent from this and the majority of member states would welcome that changed direction.

To colleagues and fellow member states, clear presentation of the case is of course a separate matter. Can the Minister say what steps the Government are taking to communicate this simple prescription, and to date which measure of European consensus may have been achieved?

To some extent the distinction between renegotiation and reform is semantic. In other respects it is extremely important. No doubt the aim of single market completion is already common ground, but many other aspects are not. Over them, and with our European partners, progress will continue to demand constant diplomacy, and by us a determined programme of give and take.

Another shared perception is that reform will revitalise European democracy. If so, what different role do the Government envisage for national Parliaments? Internally, within regions and communities, how far will they advocate and promote more active citizenship, and externally, in what ways will they encourage working synergies between different European cities and localities?

There is also the connection between reform of the European Union of 27 states and that of the Council of Europe of 47 states, of whose Parliament I have the honour to be a Member. Does the Minister agree that the Council of Europe’s much respected and necessary functions in human rights and the rule of law ought to remain as they are and thus should not be tampered with by a reformed European Union? Not least is that so owing to the Council of Europe’s link to the Court of Human Rights, and in political democracy, owing to that institution’s unprecedented achievement which has managed to put state and citizen on an equal footing.

Nevertheless, a European Union reform process can now considerably benefit from that of the Council of Europe. The latter, for example, has recently slimmed its bureaucracy and, for the first time in its history, in real terms cut its budget. Also, in common with the Council of Europe, a reformed European Union should now seek to advance those things that really matter to individual people. Equally, it must come to sharpen its focus upon what it does well and upon areas where, for the British and European citizen, it can have proper meaning and impact.

3.42 pm

Lord Berkeley (Lab): My Lords, I shall not detain the House very long but, having listened to virtually all the speeches in this debate, I am, first, surprised at

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the lack of supportive speeches from the Tories for the Bill and, secondly, I am still not persuaded why we need the Bill at all.

The noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, mentioned the war. I hope that we are not going to go onto the war again—I shall not—but I go back to when I lived in Romania in the 1970s in the communist period and was struck by the complete lack of liberty of all the people who lived there. The European Union has given eastern Europe liberty and peace and we must never forget that. We need only look at what is going on in Ukraine at the moment to reflect on whether they will or will not come.

My interest now is, and has been for many years, in the single market and in particular in the rail sector. Some 40% or 50% of our trade is with the European Union now. Of course, we can gain a great deal of benefit from the rail industry exporting and from train operators—particularly passenger ones but also some freight ones—operating on the continent.

When you get into negotiations with the Commission and other member states you find many of the other member states—the big ones, France and Germany, come to mind—blocking everyone else coming in. They are obstructing the single market and the Commission, bless its heart, is doing a great job in infraction proceedings. However, the point I am making is that with all this trade potential we could do an awful lot more.

The smaller member states, in particular, look to us as an example and for support and leadership, as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, has just said. This will all stop if we leave. If we want trade, we will have to conform to their standards, which of course they set to protect their own domestic industry, not European industry. As I have said, the French and the Germans are particularly good at this. We will probably lose an awful lot of our trade and exports.

When the Government have decided what it is they want to renegotiate—which, as I said, is not clear to me—I hope that they will negotiate from the inside. They should do it not in an arrogant way—it is not as if we are still a global empire, addressing one of our small colonies—but as one member among equals. We will go a long way that way, but let us do it from the inside and forget about this Bill completely.

3.45 pm

Lord Thomas of Swynnerton (CB): My Lords, I have been a supporter of Britain being in Europe ever since I was at Cambridge and I had the honour and duty of showing Mr Robert Schuman around the university. Mr Schuman wanted to talk about religion, while I wanted to talk about politics. We are not talking today about the benefits or disadvantages of membership of the European Union—we shall presumably leave that until later, to our campaign in relation to this referendum. Most of us are concerned about the need for radical revision of the rules and practices of the European Union, something which has not really divided us today either, and we look forward to having elaborate discussions on the matter later on. We are instead concerned with the very

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narrow issue of whether or not to have a referendum on the country remaining inside the European Union. We need to have more thought on this issue than we have had.

British politics has always seemed to me to be a garden, with many diverse streams, rockeries and rose beds, but also animals, including monsters. The referendum is the monster which we have now discovered, to our surprise, is in our garden. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, on the subject of referenda. He seemed to place the position of the monster of a referendum very clearly. I largely agree with what he said and regret that I also agree with, and realise the importance of, what the noble Lord, Lord Owen, said when he talked about the role of referenda in Northern Ireland.

A referendum is a curiously foreign concept to all political philosophers whom we know about. We talk of Burke, Peel, John Stuart Mill, Salisbury and even Churchill and Disraeli. None of them has anything to say about referendums—or referenda—and all of us are obliged, when we look up the subject in encyclopaedias, to rely on the Swiss or, perhaps, if we are lucky, Napoleon III. Noble Lords may say that the names I have mentioned are from very long ago but, nevertheless, most of us would think that the definition of the relationship between a Member of Parliament and his constituents was put better by Edmund Burke than by anyone else. Mr Callaghan—Lord Callaghan as he was known for so long in this House—said more or less the same thing in 1975 when he pointed out that Parliament makes decisions, not the people.

We have not discussed, in this debate, in what circumstances the adventure of a referendum should be embarked on. At some point, as the noble Lord, Lord Spicer, said, the British people have to be consulted. But is a referendum really better than an election? The noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, would not agree. The risks of a referendum in normal circumstances are very considerable. What would the public have said about the question of a referendum on capital punishment, membership of NATO, or support for Israel or Iran? All those are issues on which the public would be entitled to insist on a strong point of view.

I recall two statements made in relation to the referendum of 1975. First, Harold Wilson said that the decision in consequence of the campaign would have to be final and binding. We all realise that the reverse happened. Lord Callaghan said in his memoirs that, in the end, he looked on the referendum as a life raft on which both sides in the Labour Party might take refuge. In the end, they both did.

3.50 pm

Lord Howe of Aberavon (Con): My Lords, I contemplated making a comment on what the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, raised just now but on further reflection I think my comment would be a diversion. I had better restrain myself and allow the House to proceed without any further ado.

3.51 pm

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton (Lab): My Lords, I place it on record that those of us who wish to consider this Bill properly are not defying the will of the Commons. Also, at least one noble Lord referred

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to the fact that by agreeing to a Second Reading, the House would accept the principle of the Bill. That is not true. I accept the conventions and accept that this Bill should have a Second Reading. I also believe that it ought to be revised in many ways. All the issues—such as who votes and when the timing of the vote is right—need to be debated in depth by your Lordships.

If there is to be a referendum, some of the most recent speeches would indicate that there needs to be widespread public explanation and debate about the complementary but differing roles of the Council of Europe and the European Union. Far too many people confuse the two. Among those who are asked about continuing membership of the European Union, many of the replies are actually to do with the Council of Europe and not with the Union. I enjoyed the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, enormously. Of course, all the changes that he thought should, might or would be introduced are already protected under the 2011 Act because they involve revision of treaties.

The most important thing that has been debated is the perception of Britain’s allies in the European Union. In a very minor way, I had experience of that—the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, was present—as a founder member of the Committee of the Regions. The first thing I learnt was that to secure agreement in a pan-European forum one had to speak quietly, build alliances, listen to people’s concerns and consider the needs of northern Europe, central Europe, centralised countries, decentralised countries, small countries and large countries. Our Prime Minister will have to do that to secure any sort of hope of getting agreement to changes. That is a painstaking situation. It is not something secured by grandstanding or throwing down the gauntlet in advance.

Like virtually everyone who has spoken, I believe that aspects of current European Union policy and practice do not always work in the interests of this country. However, to look at the interests of this country in a calm, rational way, one has to have regard to the timing of political events. The Bill looks at the timing of political events in this country. We are not alone in having political events; political events are occurring all the time. I cannot find it in my heart to accept any argument that we here ought to agree that other people will fall into line with our timing, our needs and our wishes just to suit a Bill which has not even got the title of a government Bill.

I am pleased to be speaking towards the end of the debate. I did not expect to be in a meeting discussing the details of Tory manifesto commitments, how they were worked out in the past and they will be worked out in future. I would say that I leave this debate pretty startled. I have heard many subjects repeated, rightfully at length, in your Lordships’ Chamber. I ask those noble Lords who have always fought for the interests of the CBI and the financial status of the City of London: where were you?

3.56 pm

Lord Teverson (LD):My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, made the interesting comment that this issue is not party political. I agree that the fundamental issue is not party political, but the Bill is completely

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party political. It is not a government Bill, it is certainly not an opposition Bill; it is a Bill of the Conservative Party.

In the past—certainly during my membership of the Liberal Democrats—we have been accused of being the party that obsesses about Europe. We were always accused of putting Europe or discussion about internationalism first and our own nation second. As a party, we have grown up. We have gone through that adolescent stage. We are now a party of government, but a party that puts things in proportion. I regret that our coalition partners seem to have gone in the opposite direction in terms of obsession which, together with our popular press, gives a very tempting and addictive formula that means that the issue of Europe starts to dominate our politics in a negative fashion.

Some of the most interesting e-mails I get, which do not go into my junk e-mail box, come from a member of my fellow coalition party, the noble Lord, Lord Ashcroft. He does some very interesting polling, which I am sure all of us in this House read. I congratulate the noble Lord on making his information public. He wrote:

“As I found in my research … Europe is not much of a priority even for those who say they might vote”,

for us;

“the EU is just one of the (many) things they are cross about”.

He continues:

“For most voters … Europe barely registers on their list of concerns”.

Those are the poll findings of the noble Lord, Lord Ashcroft.

What are those other concerns? The economy and jobs, welfare payments, migration, which is related to Europe, the deficit and the National Health Service. As someone who believes in democracy and, in some ways, in Parliament reflecting public views, I might ask: what about all those constituencies who want important decisions, whether different decisions or to endorse decisions on those areas? I see no request for referenda in those areas. I therefore question why this issue is quite so urgent as to bring a Bill to this Parliament at this time.

I will clarify the Liberal Democrat position again. My noble friend Lord Watson of Richmond did that absolutely adequately but there seem to be some questions about it. Before I do that, let me move on to two other things. A number of proponents of the Bill have said that we should not in any way contest the sovereignty of the House of Commons. Clearly, that is a good principle. However, I remind a number of those proponents that there was a Second Reading vote in the last Session of Parliament which had a parliamentary majority of 338. That was for the House of Lords Reform Bill. Why did that not come into this House? It was because a cabal of Back-Benchers within the Conservative Party had a discussion with the Prime Minister and that Bill went no further whatever. So I question the sanctity of majorities in the other House. I believe they are important, but in that case it certainly did not happen.

In terms of amendments to the Bill, I, too, agree that until this House is abolished or changed—I would certainly welcome a change—it needs to carry out its responsibilities. We are always reminded of the Dangerous

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Dogs Act and the bad legislation that has been passed, although maybe some Members of the other place would see it more as the dangerous frogs Act in this case, given the difficulties that we have with some of our European partners.

What is the Liberal Democrat position? First, I make it absolutely clear that our manifesto in 2010 said:

“Liberal Democrats … remain committed to an in/out referendum the next time a British government signs up for fundamental change in the relationship between the UK and the EU”.

We pretty well have that now in legislation, having worked with our coalition colleagues to deliver it through this House. We were successful as a coalition in passing that legislation. We as a party have always said that it needs to be about not just that treaty but an “in or out” question. I suspect that my coalition colleagues would agree with that as well. We are united; so I question the need for the Bill.

We also agree that Europe requires change and reform, whether on budget expenditure, the ridiculous situation of having two parliamentary seats, the common agricultural policy or employment issues. There is also the obtaining of all those worldwide free trade agreements, such as the one with North America. That started with Canada and we wish now to conclude it with the United States. All those are important but we need to negotiate with our 27 other partners. We saw under the fiscal pact back in December 2011 what happens when you tell your partners that you will do something different—they will go off and get on with it themselves, except maybe for the Czech Republic on that occasion. We were then isolated and that is not the way to approach these matters. I suggest that there is also a golden rule in negotiation: that you do not insult the citizens of the nations that you are trying to negotiate with, because internal conversations and debates within the United Kingdom are looked upon carefully in other member states.

The key issue at the moment is that, yes, we will at some point have to have a referendum about the EU. That is a Liberal Democrat policy and I believe in it strongly. We need to lance that boil. We also need a negotiation which is led through real leadership to show that we are a European nation that can meet the expectations of our partners, let alone our own. So we should show real leadership, obtain a real negotiation and a real improvement for all of Europe. Rather than having a referendum now, we can achieve one then. I am sure that it will be positive, but I am also willing to take the risk that it might be negative.

4.05 pm

Lord Lawson of Blaby (Con): My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will be delighted that we are close to the end of what has been a very long debate. It has been a good one, with a number of very interesting contributions. A number of noble Lords have referred to the problem of those British subjects who live on the continent of Europe. As someone who lives in France, I strongly support the principle of this Bill so ably introduced by my noble friend Lord Dobbs.

Among the other contributions—unfortunately, there is not time to mention many—I shall refer to two. To show my complete and customary impartiality, there

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will be one from each side of the House. I single out those noble Lords because they made good points that, remarkably, have not been made by anyone else, and they each drew the wrong conclusion from them.

The first point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, who alone referred to the importance of banking, finance and the City of London to the British economy, and the relevance of the regulatory proposals that are coming out of Brussels that will affect us. However, he then said that if there is something we do not like there, we can veto it. I have to tell the noble Lord and indeed the House that we simply cannot do so. This is a very serious point because in my opinion the destiny of this country is not European; it is global. In the City of London, we have one of the only two global financial centres, and it is the only one in the European time zone, which is tremendously important. I have to tell noble Lords, and to some it might come as a shock, that even if we were to leave the European Union we would still be within the European time zone. Our global reach is particularly important—this point has frequently been made by my noble friend Lord Howell—given the great opportunities that will continue to arise in the coming decades in the emerging world.

The other point was made by my old friend— I do not see him here but I am sure he is—my noble friend Lord Garel-Jones. Oh, he is here. He likes to come close to me, I know. He made the important point that there needs to be a debate about how we as a nation are going to conduct ourselves should there be a referendum and should we choose out. That needs to be considered. His mistake was to say that we will be in the position of Norway. No way Norway! I have a high regard for Norway and the Norwegians. I got to know them very well when I was Secretary of State for Energy and we had a lot of discussions about North Sea oil, which we shared. They were very amicable discussions and I was immensely impressed by the calibre of the Norwegians. But Norway is a very small country while we are a pretty sizeable one, and anyone who is as interested in realpolitik as my noble friend will know the enormous difference.

Lord Garel-Jones: My Lords, will my noble friend give way?

Lord Lawson of Blaby: No, I do not have time to give way.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Lawson of Blaby: If I may add this, official demographic projections suggest that within a few years’ time, because of the declining population of Germany and the increasing population of the UK, this country will be the largest in Europe in population terms. Even now, the Americans are interested in a free trade agreement with the EU, and I hope that this happens. Even today, before we are as big as we are likely to become, exports from the rest of the EU to the UK are even greater than exports from the rest of the EU to the United States. We are an even more important market than it is, so to compare us with Norway is ludicrous.

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Another argument which has been raised is that we should not have a referendum. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, was very much against referenda. In most cases, that is a perfectly valid argument, but not in this case. I recall my maiden speech in your Lordships’ House some 20 years ago. The subject on which I made it was an amendment proposed by Lord Blake calling for a referendum on the Maastricht treaty. Lord Blake was a distinguished political historian and a very eminent constitutional authority. He was an old friend of mine. When I was an undergraduate at Oxford his were among the very few lectures I bothered to go to. He set out with constitutional propriety why this was the kind of issue on which it was appropriate to have a referendum.

Noble Lords ask why now, as there has been no specific change. There has been a huge change, a sea change, in the nature of the European Union since the 1975 referendum. It is not just the passage of time. I agree with noble Lords who think that that alone is not a reason for having a referendum, but the people of this country want a referendum and they are right because of the huge change that has come about following the creation of the European monetary union and the political consequences of that decision. This is fundamental. People say there is now no specific event which would trigger a referendum. The fact is that a major and fundamental change, even if it is incremental, is still major and fundamental. There does not need to be some specific event to warrant a referendum on the issue.

Some 25 years ago, when I was Chancellor, I warned in a speech at Chatham House how fundamental it would be were the countries of Europe, who were thinking about it, to move to a monetary union and what the enormous political consequences would be. That has happened, and it has been disastrous, but there it is. However, there are consequences not just for those countries which are members of the eurozone. It has changed fundamentally the nature of the relationship between this country, which rightly decided not to join the common currency, and those countries that are part of the eurozone. That is a fundamental change. This divergence is going to increase. There is no way that we can stop that unless we are prepared to embrace the common currency, which I do not think any of us, or very few of us, with the exception of the noble Lord, Lord Davies, wishes to do.

We are now in a position where a referendum is called for. Indeed, I have reached the careful conclusion that we would be considerably better off outside the European Union. I wrote this in a long article in the Times in May last year. I was reassured to see that that article was followed by a column in the Financial Times by its most perceptive European columnist, the German Wolfgang Münchau. He wrote his article under the excellent heading, “Lord Lawson is right”. I commend it to the House.

4.14 pm

Lord Triesman (Lab): My Lords, it has been a long and remarkable Friday, not least perhaps for the extraordinary role that a Private Member’s Bill has taken up. This is an issue that has generated 68 speeches, which were bound to demonstrate widely divergent

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views. However, even given the nuances of those views, I think I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, that it is still roughly 2:1 in favour of those who do not support an unamended Bill. I will settle for 2:1 every average weekend.

I doubt that my role today is to seduce Lord Cormack, or indeed any others, but I will certainly have a go at it. The Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, will undoubtedly, over the years, make people reflect on his courage. It is a poor Bill and it is a Trojan Bill. I suspect it has the unintended benefit of making us address some fundamental questions. I suspect it will also have the intended or unintended disbenefit of edging us still further towards exit from Europe, whether that is a declared intention or not.

Some of our questions go to the heart of why so many accession nations, starting with poor rule of law, a lack of democracy, overweening state bureaucracy and no viable markets, have sought to bring all these deficiencies to an end in order to join the EU. I share with my noble friend Lord Giddens the view that they have also understood the unstoppable progress to peace in Europe, historically one of the most bloodstained continents in the world. In every case, I believe those countries have honed in on the paramount issue: what is right for their nation? So should we this afternoon.

What is right for the people of the United Kingdom? I have a preference; of course I do. I want the United Kingdom to remain part of a non-nationalistic and peaceful Europe. However, the Bill would impose on that decision an arbitrary date for a referendum, which is why it is imperative to weigh the evidence. It gives a fixed year for a referendum, come what may. Is that the optimum position for the people of the United Kingdom?

The case for the United Kingdom’s continued membership is better than strong. Putting it at risk seems unwise. Starting a process that is likely to lead to exit by fixing the date in this way is still worse. Indeed, continuing membership of the EU was so compelling that, at the previous general election, nobody thought to raise it in the way that it has been described in either of the major party manifestos. There was no mention at all of an “in or out” referendum. Nor did the coalition mention it in its agreement. I think we have heard a decent explanation of the Lib Dems’ position at that time in the course of today’s debate.

Our national interest is about our ability to earn our living in a complex world. It is about families having the opportunity for prosperity rather than tumbling standards of living. It is about the best education that we can afford and the healthiest population that we can create. It is about dignity and decent standards in old age. It is about all those things because only a sound trading economy can generate the wealth that can deliver them. It is about the values of a decent society. It is about fairness and is opposed to the unfairness that always accelerates when we see any corrosion or downgrading of an economy. The interests of the United Kingdom seem straightforward enough to me.

Indeed, there has been a long-standing consensus on the issue. That was clearly expressed by Sir John Major recently—a leader who had at least won a

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general election and had dealt with some volcanic anti-Europeans in his party—who said: “I’m not in favour of Mr Wharton’s Bill”. He said that his party should focus on taxes, jobs, education, health and living standards. He recognised that in a world of 7 billion, the EU was the closest and largest of the trading groups drawing together that offered us any kind of option—an option that simply would not be available, in his words, “for our island”.

In that Sir John Major echoes the CBI, which, like all of us, most certainly sees the case for reform in Europe and the development of more appropriate institutions but which is clear that leaving the EU would be catastrophic for our economy and for jobs and that the EU provides global leverage that we, on our own, cannot exercise. He echoes business leaders such as Sir Martin Sorrell, Sir Richard Branson and very many others, leaders to whom we look for the energy to fuel economic recovery. I know that not all business leaders take exactly that view, but it is fair to say that an overwhelming proportion of them do. He echoes what has been said by businesses such as Nissan, which has been quoted several times today, which described its remarkable Sunderland plant as,

“a very competitive plant, it’s a very productive plant and it’s a European plant”—

not just simply a plant in the United Kingdom.

About a week ago, commenting on whether we are now in a period of economic recovery—we will see whether that is true over time—the Chancellor cautioned the whole country, saying that the job was not yet half done. I will take him at his word, not argue about whether we are making progress. This, then, is a period when uncertainties and instabilities are best avoided. Two days ago, a sober analysis of our major banks suggested that there is a further £28 billion hole in their far-from-repaired balance sheets. The problems of lending and the cost of lending are still serious issues. The costs of maintaining and building small and medium enterprises still rise. Europe, where we already have less influence in its financial institutions, has a long way to go to achieve overall stability. That is another instability that impacts on us. Who knows where all this will be at some arbitrary date in 2017?

It may be that, with the unresolved issues, the party speech that was given by David Cameron when he became leader of his party will now come to be seen as very significant. He told his party that they had been locked in a dispute. People have been quoting the part about banging on about Europe, but the beginning of the quote is more interesting. He said that they had for too long been locked in a dispute about being in the EU. While normal people,

“worried about childcare, getting the kids to school, balancing work and family life, we were banging on about Europe”.

I can tell the House that, as a rather elderly dad of a young child here late on a Friday afternoon, I think I know what he means. In November 2011, the Foreign Secretary said that,

“a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU … at this time of profound economic uncertainty, is not the answer”.

He then developed the case very cogently. Therefore, although there is internal dissension, which has reached

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mega-decibel level in the Conservative Party, largely giving rise to problems of party management, that has now come to trump national interest.

Let us in this House, therefore, consider this. There will probably be some economic turbulence for some time to come—possibly, even probably, including major anxieties about unemployment, household incomes and acute pressure on pensions. The British people may be asked whether to leave the EU in circumstances that might lose another 3.5 million jobs, which would be at stake, and they might reflect on whether an invigorated trade with North America and the Asians would make us more prosperous in what has been described as potentially the Asian century. All of that will be at play during the course of 1917—or, rather, 2017. It was probably at stake in 1917 as well—we have not come very far, have we? That will be very likely to turn into a referendum on the Government of the day or on any of the dissatisfactions that emerge during tough financial times.

The comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, on all the other events of 2017 are all absolutely fundamental to understanding whether progress can be made. Of course, there is always uncertainty. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, said at the beginning, “In a world of uncertainty, why not 2017? There is always uncertainty”. I hope that I do not misquote him.

The point is surely to choose the time that is least likely to rack up the degree of uncertainty, plainly set out by business for us and by many others, or a time when the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary of the day can feel most confident that the interests of the nation will be properly served and resolved. It does not drain uncertainty to have the date 2017; it makes uncertainty a certainty. As far as possible, it is our obligation to try to measure certainty and mitigate uncertainty.

I said earlier that the case for reform in Europe is powerful. There are issues that should and must be addressed, such as democratic enlargement, managing enlargement itself, the push for more liberalised services sectors, the budget, mechanisms for changing Community law and so on. It is not difficult to identify a reform agenda, but I would start by trying to reform eurospeak, which is a form of language that I do not personally understand—and I am not sure that I have ever met anyone from Tottenham who did.

The fact is that any kind of negotiation on these issues will not be helped by an arbitrary timetable with a difficult background, which, as I have said, we are very likely to face. It is always easier for the negotiator who has no time constraints than the one who has to perform to time constraints, and those of us who have earned our living over the years as negotiators know that only too well. The silence from the Government on this is alarming. I do not prejudge Mr Cameron’s future work in negotiations, although I am not optimistic, as noble Lords can tell. I always want success for any negotiator who goes to negotiate for our country. I observe only that Mr Cameron has taken on this task in the least propitious circumstances that could be created. It is a millstone that he bears from Tory EU history. Labour itself had a difficult history—it was

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40 years ago, and I remember it well. My own trade union told me to vote no, but I voted yes. It is clear that our European partners are becoming tetchier with us all the time.