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EU: Lisbon Treaty

Volume 712: debated on Monday 6 July 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will reconsider the holding of a referendum on the Lisbon treaty.

My Lords, Parliament has decided on the Lisbon treaty. The treaty was debated in detail in Parliament over 25 days and both Houses voted strongly in favour at every stage. Both Houses rejected, by clear majorities, amendments proposing to decide by referendum. The UK considers and decides on the British national interest through our Parliament, as Governments of all political complexions acknowledge and as Parliament has done with every previous EU amending treaty.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he accept that, since Parliament debated this matter, in the recent European elections the majority of UK MEPs were elected on manifestos opposed to the Lisbon treaty? Given that and the concern for democratic renewal, is there not a case for saying that those in favour of the Lisbon treaty would now be well served by calling for a referendum in order to put beyond doubt its legitimacy and democratic mandate?

My Lords, obviously we all respect the vote in the European Parliament elections but it is up to the national Parliament—the UK Parliament—to decide on the treaty. To unpick done business in this way would not be a good precedent for parliamentary government.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, if we have daft electoral systems for the European elections, we sometimes get daft results and so we should not get too obsessed by them? Equally, will he point out to the noble Lord who raised the question that the issue concerning the referendum is abundantly clear: there is no need for one; there is no majority support in this country for one; it is an issue on which the will of Parliament should prevail; and that will happen as far as we are concerned?

My Lords, it is indeed an issue on which the will of Parliament should prevail and Parliament has declared itself.

My Lords, is the Minister not puzzled by this continued and artificial anxiety among a small number of Eurosceptics? Only recently the Karlsruhe constitutional court said that the EU was broadly a democratic structure anyway because it represented a collection of sovereign member states, with their own national sovereignties as individual countries. Only Ireland had to have a referendum because that is built into its constitution. Why do these anxieties persist, other than to make mischief, when what is needed above all now, particularly in view of recent events, is building up the authority of Parliament and its rights?

My Lords, I agree that this is a matter now decided and we should move on. As to the anxiety of Eurosceptics, I leave that to their psychologists.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that this is not a matter for this Government, who have ratified, but for another Government after the election?

My Lords, let me be clear. The treaty was introduced and passed during the life of this Government, it was negotiated by this Government and I very much think that it is business to be finished in the course of this Government.

My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend can help me, particularly in view of the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway. Have we received any indication from what might be an alternative Government after the election about whether they propose holding a referendum in the event that the treaty has been implemented?

My Lords, all I can say is that, if the Front Bench wants to respond, I shall immediately defer to it.

My Lords, we have made it clear that if the treaty is not ratified, we will of course have a referendum, when the vast majority will turn it down. However, has the Minister noted the remarks of the outgoing Irish Commissioner, Charles McCreevy, who observed that, if there had been referenda in the 27 member countries of the European Union, 95 per cent of them would have delivered a no result? Does that not make him think a bit about the question of keeping close to the people and obeying the democratic will?

My Lords, with the greatest respect to the noble Lord, just in case he has to occupy the ministerial Box in the future, I do not think that he completely answered the question that was asked from behind me. On referenda, I am sure that there are many policies that Parliaments and Governments are forced to take for which instant popularity is not the proper judge. I hope that there is no suggestion that all decisions, popular and unpopular, should rest on the decisions of referenda in future.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, asked persuasively for a referendum in order to put the matter beyond doubt, but does my noble friend recollect that there has already been one referendum on the European Union, as well as several others about the Scottish Parliament and so forth, and that the losers have never once accepted the result?

My Lords, I certainly agree that there has been a history of continued challenge to the outcome on Europe, whatever it has been. After all, in 1992 we faced a situation in Denmark analogous to that in Ireland now and the Tory Government of the time felt that they could proceed without a referendum on the assurances given to Denmark.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that in all its history the Conservative Party has had only one referendum, which was on the Sunday opening of pubs in Wales?

My Lords, I say in passing that my late noble kinsman was responsible for the referendum to which the noble Lord has just referred. Is it because the Minister was living across the Atlantic in 2005 that there was no reference to the Labour Party manifesto in his initial Answer?

My Lords, the noble Lord makes a telling point. Indeed, he is right that I was living across the Atlantic, but, as he is well aware, the issue was whether Lisbon was a constitution or just a treaty; the referendum pledge applied to a constitution, which is not ultimately what was adopted.

My Lords, will the Minister take the opportunity to put the remarks of his noble friend Lord Tomlinson into perspective by agreeing that all polls taken in the United Kingdom put support for a referendum on Lisbon at around 70 per cent and that a recent poll in Germany puts German support for a referendum on Lisbon at no less than 77 per cent?

My Lords, I would certainly never think that all polls agree with each other, so I am sure that such a blanket statement is not correct. However, the noble Lord has a point—there is no doubt that polls have shown considerable expressions of opposition to the treaty. Again, it is the job of government to lead and to win the debate in this House and the other place, which we have done.