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European Union Bill

Volume 726: debated on Tuesday 22 March 2011

Second Reading

Moved By

My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that she has been informed of the purport of the European Union Bill and has consented to place her prerogative and interests, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament, for the purposes of the Bill.

In bringing this Bill before the House for Second Reading, I begin by outlining the Government’s approach to the European Union. When the coalition Government took office, we set out in our programme for government that we would pursue an “activist approach” to our engagement with the European Union. Since taking office, we can lay claim to a number of positive achievements in driving forward EU action. We led calls to set up free-trade arrangements in Pakistan, following the terrible floods there last year, and we have supported the free-trade agreement with South Korea. We have been at the forefront of the group of 25 member states that are keen to pursue enhanced co-operation in the field of intellectual property and, like the previous Government, we continue to be a prominent supporter of further enlargement.

My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has been vocal in calling for effective EU action in the neighbourhood. Recent attention, as we all know, has focused on the countries of north Africa, but we also want to ensure positive action with the eastern partnership countries—in both cases, supporting the EU’s work to foster security, democracy and good governance.

Looking ahead, there are clearly great challenges for the European Union—for example, in growth and global competitiveness. Action on better regulation and widening further markets in services, energy and the digital economy could do much to help to lift our own economic prospects at this time. The EU should also perform more efficiently—for example, in connection with its budget.

However, we also need to tackle the clear evidence, accepted on all sides of the political debate, of a growing disconnection between the people of this country and the European Union. This disconnection exists in our understanding of, and engagement with, the European Union and in popular consent for the decisions taken on behalf of the people of this country by successive Governments.

I see the Bill as strengthening our position, role and effectiveness as a member state of the European Union and as contributing to the wider aim of helping the European Union to modernise and to rest its authority more solidly on public and popular consent. With this legislation, we are plainly acting here in the spirit of the Laeken declaration in seeking to bring the EU closer to its peoples. That seems to be a timely and appropriate aim for the era in which we live. There is no doubt that British people feel shut out and isolated from the business of the European Union. Although they can vote to keep their favourite competitor in a reality TV show or on whether to have a directly elected mayor in their town or city, they have not been able to have a say on whether the Government should agree to confer on the EU further powers to act.

Therefore, in accordance with this Government’s wider agenda to shift power from Whitehall and Westminster to the people, and in accordance with the broader aspiration with our other EU partners to bring the EU closer to the people, we propose to shift power from the centre to the British people for decisions on whether powers should be transferred to the European Union. That is the primary objective of the legislation before us today.

Parliament’s ability to hold the Executive to account on EU decisions has also been limited and there have been many criticisms that there has not been enough examination of, or control over, significant decisions taken by the Government. Therefore, the Bill makes provision on the following issues. First, where a treaty change is deemed to transfer competence or power from the UK to the EU, it will in principle require the approval of the British people in a referendum, in addition to approval by Parliament. Secondly, parliamentary approval of treaty changes in all cases will mean by Act of Parliament, even those changes agreed under the so-called simplified revision procedure. Thirdly, any agreement to use certain of the so-called self-amending or passerelle clauses of the treaties will also require a referendum as well as an Act of Parliament in cases where there would be a transfer of power from the UK to the EU. Of course, that assumes that the Government of the day wish to support the use of a passerelle. Fourthly, any proposal to use other passerelle clauses that do not transfer power or competence from the UK to the EU will still require enhanced parliamentary approval, by an Act of Parliament or a positive resolution of both Houses of Parliament.

The Constitution Committee of this House published its report on the Bill last Thursday. I thank the committee for its careful consideration of the Bill in advance of today’s debate. I welcome a number of the report’s conclusions, in particular those welcoming the provisions seeking to enhance parliamentary control over key decisions. That is very valuable. Another of the—

It is very kind of the Minister to give way so early in his speech and in the debate. Perhaps he may be able to help us. When dealing with subjects for a referendum under Clause 4, he said that “in principle” certain subjects would attract a referendum. I do not know what those words mean. Do they mean that some discretion is left in relation to Clause 4 cases? Could the Government say, “We’re not going to have a referendum”? Or does it mean what it appears to mean—namely, that there is an automaticity in the process and that, if the issue falls within the terms of the clause, there must be a referendum?

Yes, I will be able to help the noble Lord on the meaning of “in principle”. He is quite right to spot that those words indicate that there are exceptions. I will explain exactly what those exceptions are. Briefly, they cover treaty changes that might not pass the significance test, which I shall explain later and help him on, and treaty changes that do not affect this country at all. I shall come to those in great detail and will be able to help him in a way that will satisfy him completely.

Another of the committee’s conclusions, consistent with its earlier inquiry, is that referendums in the United Kingdom should be reserved for matters of significant constitutional importance and that some of the matters subject to a referendum under the Bill could lead to numerous and costly referendums on small issues. I am not sure that I agree with that. First, the coalition Government have made a clear commitment that we will not agree to any treaty changes that transfer power or competence from the UK to the EU for the duration of this Parliament. Secondly, and more importantly, any treaty change is very unlikely to focus on single or individual transfers of power, for the simple reason that it must take into account the arduousness of ratifying treaty changes across all member states, of which we have vivid experience. The Lisbon treaty took 23 months to ratify in all 27 states and we expect a similarly lengthy process with the current treaty change on the eurozone’s stability mechanism and with future accession treaties. We do not believe that there is an appetite in the EU or in the member states for a further round of treaty changes that would transfer further powers, particularly on individual issues. That is our view on the matter.

Clauses 2 to 5 make provision for the process to be undertaken in the event of future treaty changes. I want to explain this and many other aspects in some detail and I hope that your Lordships will be patient with me. Clauses 2 and 3 are broadly similar but concern treaty changes agreed under the ordinary revision procedure and the simplified revision procedure respectively. Both clauses provide that all future treaty changes require parliamentary approval by Act of Parliament. At present, changes under the simplified procedure require only a positive resolution of both Houses of Parliament. Therefore, the first change that the Bill introduces straightaway is an enhancement of control in the case of so-called Article 48(6) decisions. Both clauses also provide that, where a treaty change of either type would also transfer power or competence from the United Kingdom to the EU, such a change should also be approved by the British people in a referendum. There is one exception to this—the so-called “significance condition” in Clause 3, which, as I indicated, I shall come to in detail in a moment.

Clause 4 sets out the detailed criteria that the Government of the day would have to apply to determine whether a transfer of competence or power would occur under a future treaty change. The Government make no apology for the complexity of the provisions. We want to make it clear for Parliament, the British people and, indeed, our EU partners and the EU as a whole where a referendum would be required under the Bill. We feel that a short, vague statement would leave any future decisions more open to challenge in Parliament and the courts. It would do little to increase the transparency of decision-making in the EU, which forms a fundamental part of the disconnection of the British people to these decisions—a matter about which the whole House is rightly concerned.

Whereas the principle of competence is fairly well defined in the EU treaties, the principle of power is not. Therefore, for the purposes of this legislation, I shall set out what we mean by a transfer of power. First, it means the giving up of a UK veto in a significant area of policy, because that would mean that the UK would lose the ability to block a future measure under that treaty article. Some of the vetoes in the treaties are in areas that all sides of the House consider important and sensitive—for example, foreign policy, tax, justice and home affairs. It is, and must be, right that any treaty change that would transfer from unanimity to qualified majority voting the way in which decisions were taken in those key areas of policy should require the consent of the British people before the Government could agree to such a change. These are set out in Schedule 1 to the Bill. We do not propose to hold a referendum over more minor or technical vetoes, such as any future agreement to change the number of representatives in the Committee of the Regions. The Government have therefore taken a balanced approach in deciding which vetoes should be subject to a referendum.

The second way in which power, which we are now talking about, would be transferred would be by granting an EU institution or body, through treaty change, a new ability to impose further obligations or sanctions on the UK or on individuals and organisations within the UK. It is this particular point on which, in the case of the simplified revision procedure, a Minister can determine that a future treaty may not be significant enough to require a referendum and instead rely on the requirement for parliamentary approval by Act. This is what is known in Clause 3 as the significance condition. We have provided for this test as we obviously recognise the need to be able to distinguish between important and minor changes. Therefore, we are providing a workable, sustainable solution to prevent referendums from being held on matters that we could not justify to the British public as having such significance as to merit a referendum—for instance, on giving an EU institution the power to require special statistics from a UK body or something of that nature.

I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend. We have recently had a great many debates on referendums and, for the first time ever, we have created a precedent whereby a referendum—that in relation to the AV Bill—will be mandatory. All previous referendums have been advisory, rather than mandatory. We also had a long debate on what the turnout needed to be, and so on. Could my noble friend tell us, in regard to this Bill, whether it is proposed that the referendum should be mandatory or advisory?

These referendums are mandatory. The Bill requires that these transfers of competence away from this nation to the European Union in these very important and fundamental areas cannot take place without the approval of a referendum. I hope that that clarifies the matter.

Will the noble Lord reflect on his use of the words “competence” and “power”? He seems to be talking about cases where there is already a competence and a power to the European Union but where the decisions have to be taken by unanimity, and that that might be changed to qualified majority. I readily understand that that is a significant change, but it is not the granting of a power or competence to the European Union; it is already there. I am sorry, but I think I am right in saying that he is misusing those words all the time, as he is with the word “veto”, which is not a word known to European legislation. One either takes decisions by unanimity, in which case all member states have to agree, or by qualified majority.

I do not think I agree with the noble Lord and I shall try to explain why in my remaining remarks. The word “competence” is of course very clearly defined in the treaties. There is no need to try to unravel that because it is defined in the treaties themselves. I agree that the word “power” is more difficult and I have been dealing with that. On removing the ability to veto, it may be that those precise words are not those to be found in the treaties but the action is clear enough. The removal of the ability of this country to veto certain proposals, so that they do not go to QMV, is a very clear adjustment or in some cases a surrender of power. I would not have thought that there was any difficulty about that.

Perhaps I may proceed with the explanation. I was saying that a prime example of a treaty change where we are not affected is the eurozone stability mechanism. The third is a treaty change which merely sought to codify EU practice in relation to the previous exercise of an existing competence.

In all cases, any future treaty change will need to be considered according to a set process, provided for by this legislation. In accordance with Clause 5, a Minister of the Crown would be required to make a statement within two months of a treaty change being agreed at EU level. That ministerial statement will have to give reasons why the treaty change does or does not require a referendum, by reference to the criteria set out in Clause 4 of the Bill. Like any ministerial decision, it will be open to any member of the public to challenge the Minister's judgment in that statement through judicial review. An Act of Parliament would then be required in all cases of future treaty change. So the possibility of judicial review by the courts does not displace the role of Parliament, but offers an additional safeguard for the people to hold the Executive to account.

The EU Bill would also give Parliament greater control over whether the Government can agree to use of the self-amending provisions of the Lisbon treaty, which those of us who were here a few years ago will recall very well. Those decisions, known as passerelles or ratchet clauses, allow for modifications to the EU treaties without recourse to formal treaty change. Because of the lack of a universal definition of what constitutes a passerelle, and because the Government's aim is to ensure that our proposals are as clear as possible to Parliament and the public, we have set out explicitly which treaty articles would require additional levels of control.

As I made clear earlier, Clause 6 provides that any proposal to use passerelles which would entail a transfer of power or competence from the UK to the EU would require a referendum as well as parliamentary approval by Act. There are two broad categories of provision in Clause 6. The first is the passerelles, which enable the European Council to decide to remove a veto in an area we consider to be significant and where we have made equivalent provision in Schedule 1: for example, social policy, the environment, common foreign and security policy and EU finance. Secondly, there are five specific decisions involving a transfer of power or competence, for example, a common European defence or participating in a European public prosecutor's office.

Clause 7 makes provision to require that any proposal to invoke one of the passerelles that would not involve the transfer of power or competence from the UK to the EU should nevertheless be subject to primary legislation. Clause 8 makes provision for specific parliamentary controls over any future use of the so-called broad enabling clause in Article 352 of the treaty, well known to many of us, on the functioning of the European Union.

Clause 9 makes specific provision for three passerelles in the field of justice and home affairs. The UK enjoys a protocol in respect of this field which allows the Government to decide on a case-by-case basis whether to opt in to a justice and home affairs measure. We have provided that a Motion would need to be approved in both Houses before the Government could opt in to one of those measures. Once the negotiation has then taken place on the proposal, if it is acceptable to the Government, an Act of Parliament would then be required before the Government could agree finally to the proposal in the Council. This provision does not apply to all justice and home affairs opt-ins, only to those passerelle clauses listed in the Bill which, if used, would allow EU powers to expand within the scope of the competence already conferred on the EU in the treaties.

There are some additional proposals which would require parliamentary approval by passing a Motion in both Houses rather than by an Act. These are provided by Clause 10. There are treaty articles which modify the composition or rules of existing institutions and, for the most part, are subject to QMV.

Different member states have different patterns, including, as the noble Lord will know very well, elaborate referenda procedures, all of which take a very long time. The noble Lord will also be familiar with the German constitutional court and with other constitutional provisions in other member countries. This may be too general a comparison, but I think he will agree that most countries have somewhat more elaborate provisions and controls through constitutional courts and referenda requirements than we have had hitherto in this country.

As I was saying, there are some additional proposals which require parliamentary approval by passing a Motion in both Houses. These are provided by Clause 10. A vote in both Houses is therefore a practical solution to enable Parliament to have an appropriate level of control.

I hope not to detain your Lordships very much more, but there are one or two final matters which it is right to put before you.

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. He will realise that this is a rather complex Bill, and we need to hear the expert opinions of the Government on it. I want to come back to the point that I made a little earlier, which he has not answered. What did he mean by “in principle”? If he looks at Clauses 3(4) and 4, he will see that the exemption condition or the significance point—they are the same thing—can only apply where,

“the decision falls within section 4 only because of provision of the kind mentioned in subsection (1)(i) or (j)”.

Paragraphs (i) and (j) are perfectly clearly spelt out in Clause 4. What happens if it is not in paragraphs (i) or (j)? Presumably there is no question of significance or government discretion. There is no question of it being a decision for a referendum in principle. At that stage, if it is outside paragraphs (i) or (j) it is mandatory. It is compulsory in those circumstances to have a referendum.

Yes, except, of course, where the other exemptions apply, in particular, the one I mentioned that the treaty, such as the one we discussed in this very House last night, does not affect the United Kingdom and there is no competence transfer or power transfer. In those, there is no referendum, but where there is a clear transfer of competence or power and the treaty is being changed to that effect, there is indeed a mandatory requirement for a referendum. It is on the major issues that I have described, which everyone in this House is concerned with. We have mentioned them all many times, so I shall just take one very topical one: should we join the eurozone? We feel it is right that the people should be consulted through a referendum and so do, I think, the majority of people in this country.

We also feel that it is right that at the lower level, where we are talking about matters being handled by an Act of Parliament rather than just a resolution through the House, it is right, and the Constitution Committee agrees with us, that there should be more effective parliamentary control over what is happening and the passing of powers and competences. I think the position is as I described it in considerable detail to my noble friend. If I did not satisfy him, and I suspect I have not, there will, no doubt, be plenty of opportunity in Committee to go through these things in even more minute detail than I am going through them now.

I want to refer to Clause 18 because it will be recalled that the coalition set out in our programme for government that we, the coalition, would examine the case for a United Kingdom parliamentary sovereignty Bill. Following that examination, the Government resolved to include a declaratory provision in this Bill which makes it clear that EU law has effect in the UK legal order for one reason only; namely, that that authority has been conferred upon it by Acts of Parliament and that its authority lasts only for as long as Parliament so decides. This is a principle that to date has been upheld consistently by our courts.

Nevertheless, in recent years, legal and constitutional academics and others have suggested that the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty has been eroded by, among other things, our membership of the European Union. Put another way, European law has now acquired an autonomous status within the UK legal order independent of the will of Parliament through its Acts. This argument was advanced most vigorously by the prosecution in the so-called metric martyr's case—Thoburn v Sunderland City Council—in 2002. On that occasion, the Divisional Court rejected the plea. In order to guard against the risk of any such argument gaining credence in the future, we have decided that it would be beneficial to place it beyond speculation that directly effective and directly applicable EU law owes its status within the UK legal order because statute has provided that this be so. The clause is declaratory, but lays down a firm marker about the sovereignty of this Parliament.

Finally, I reaffirm our firm belief that this legislation would have a positive impact for the people and the democratic governance of this country. We also believe it would help address the democratic deficit across the whole of the European Union today. The Government are clear that this legislation will not have any adverse impact on the influence or the engagement of the United Kingdom in the European Union. On the contrary, colleagues in the EU have agreed that it is for member states to determine how they consider and approve key decisions. The President of the European Council made precisely this point on a recent visit to London. Although they have other constitutional frameworks—this meets the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis—other member states have similar provisions to those in this legislation. Several have referendum provisions in specific circumstances and, as I said earlier, the German Parliament has a series of provisions to approve a similar set of passerelles as those listed in this Bill.

There is no suggestion that those provisions in other member states pose a hindrance to their influence, in particular in the case of Germany, and we do not accept that this will be the case with the United Kingdom either; on the contrary, as I outlined, the Prime Minister continues to lead the Government’s close engagement with our European partners on those areas of policy where the EU can make a positive difference to the people of this country. Nor would this Bill hinder the day-to-day business of the EU. The provisions of this legislation do not extend to those items of legislation that are proposed under the existing competences conferred on the EU under existing treaties save for those proposals involving passerelles listed in the Bill. These decisions remain, of course, within the scope of our existing parliamentary scrutiny arrangements.

This legislation represents a significant step forward in ensuring sufficient parliamentary and public control over the key decisions taken by the Government in the EU.

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. He passed rather rapidly over Clause 14, so perhaps I may take him back to it for a second before he sits down. I find it very puzzling. If, as most of us believe, parliamentary sovereignty is absolute, Clause 18 is not necessary. If I am wrong and parliamentary sovereignty is not absolute but could be overruled by another legal order, then nothing that we say in this Bill or this Act could change that. So Clause 18, surely, is either superfluous or ineffective.

That is a good try, but it does not quite meet the point that what we are trying to do is put the principle into statute law rather than common law. It is a change in that degree; but, otherwise, I fully concede that it is declaratory and intended to reinforce the point, which is widely but not totally accepted. So it does make some difference. However, if the noble Lord is saying that it is not a decisive, world-shattering, course-altering piece of legislation, I would have to agree with him.

I was saying in conclusion that this legislation represents a significant step forward in ensuring sufficient parliamentary and public control over the key decisions taken by the Government. The Government’s clear aim is that this will become an enduring part of the United Kingdom's constitutional framework. It will serve to re-engage the people with the decisions taken in their name. It will give greater democratic legitimacy to the pursuit of the UK’s objectives as a leading member of the European Union and will play an important part in the necessary increase in the democratic legitimacy of the European Union as a whole, not just among the people of this country but among the people of all the member states of the European Union. This is all part of enabling us, the British, to play an active and activist role in the European Union, which is, we believe, clearly in this country's national interest.

This Bill has received considerable and considered scrutiny from another place. The House will note that during that scrutiny this legislation was unopposed both on Second Reading and on Third Reading and that no amendments were proposed in Committee or on Report which affected the fundamental provisions of the legislation. The EU Bill had the support of all sides of the other place. I am therefore hopeful that this legislation will receive similar support from all sides of your Lordships' House. I therefore commend the Bill to the House and beg to move.

My Lords, I thank the Minister very much for the way in which he introduced the Bill, particularly for the painstaking explanations and the courtesy that he showed to the House in the way in which he gave them. However, as an Opposition we want to make our view clear from the start: this is a poor Bill; it is an unnecessary Bill; it is a political Bill; it is a Bill which is primarily about the politics of the coalition Government, not a Bill about Britain or about Europe. We believe that this is a bad Bill, and we shall do everything we can to improve it.

Britain’s relationship with Europe is important. It is an issue which this House has repeatedly considered in various ways over the years and on which the Members of this House have focused many times. The quality and number of speakers on today’s list indicates that it is an issue on which the House wants to focus again today. On these Benches, the hope is that the Minister has come with an open mind and is prepared to listen to this House, and that the Government will be open to the improvements that we hope your Lordships will make to the Bill as it moves through the House. These are our hopes, but whether they will be realised is another matter.

The Bill is primarily a political Bill trying to solve a political problem. Our concern is that, despite the best efforts of the Minister, whom this House holds personally in great respect and affection, politics and in particular the politics of the coalition will get in the way. That this is primarily a political Bill is made particularly clear by the context in which the Bill was generated. The manifestos from the three major political parties in last year’s general election set out that context clearly. The Labour policy on Europe said:

“We are proud that Britain is once again a leading player in Europe. Our belief is that Britain is stronger in the world when the European Union is strong, and that Britain succeeds when it leads in Europe and sets the agenda for change”.

At the election, the Liberal Democrats largely agreed with us and promised to,

“put Britain at the heart of Europe, to ensure we use our influence to achieve prosperity, security and opportunity for Britain”.

The Conservatives took a different, largely Eurosceptic approach: they promised a series of referendum locks based on the central governing notion that,

“the steady and unaccountable intrusion of the European Union into almost every aspect of our lives has gone too far”.

As we all know, the election result was inconclusive. On Europe, neither party with pro-European views—that is ourselves and the Liberal Democrats—won the mandate of the people. We on these Benches lost the election—that is plain and incontrovertible—but so did the Liberal Democrats and, despite the propitious circumstances favouring their party, the Conservatives also lost. The result was a coalition Government formed between the losing Conservatives and the losing Liberal Democrats. Neither party had a mandate from the electorate in terms of the people’s approval of their manifestos. The coalition document that was published on 20 May 2010, The Coalition: our programme for government, has no mandate either from the British people. In some areas—AV, for instance, or nuclear power—trying to join the two parties has proved too much but the effort in other areas, such as Europe, has been almost as impossible.

From the start of the document’s proposals on Europe and the EU, the parties were trying to bridge the unbridgeable. They said:

“The Government believes that Britain should play a leading role in an enlarged European Union, but that no further powers should be transferred to Brussels without a referendum”.

This Dr Dolittle’s pushmi-pullyu act is at the heart of today’s Bill. Not surprisingly perhaps, given its genesis, the Bill is, I am afraid, not the most distinguished that this House has had before it. Many aspects of the Bill are overly complex; many simply repeat the status quo. For example, Clauses 2, 3, 6 and 7 state that a treaty or treaty amendment is not to be ratified unless, among other things, the treaty or amendment is approved by an Act of Parliament. That is already the case. Indeed, it is a clear principle of international law, and our involvement in the European Union in particular, that a treaty or treaty change cannot be ratified or have force in this country until it is first recognised by an Act of the UK Parliament.

There are two issues in the Bill on which we as an Opposition wish to concentrate: namely, sovereignty and the referendum mechanism proposed by the Government. For the Eurosceptic right in the Conservative Party and beyond, sovereignty in relation to Europe is indeed a talismanic issue. Accordingly, the coalition document tries to look specific on the issue of sovereignty by stating:

“We will examine the case for a United Kingdom Sovereignty Bill to make it clear that ultimate authority remains with Parliament”.

Clearly, the proposed UK sovereignty Bill did not pass that examination because the measures in front of your Lordships today are a long way from a stand-alone UK sovereignty Bill. The Government apparently believe that many people in Britain feel disconnected from how the EU has developed and from decisions being taken in their name. We know this, of course, from the helpful fact-sheet on the Bill that the Government have produced. The fact-sheet claims that, by rolling out control on these decisions to the people of Britain by means of a referendum, the Government will be reconnecting the people to the European Union.

The reality is that this Bill is not about disconnection from Europe but about politics—the internal politics of the coalition and the internal politics of the Conservative Party. Moreover, the reality is that the Liberal Democrats have an unblemished and impressive track record on Europe, which they have been required to undermine through their participation in the coalition. In contrast, the Conservative Party, when dealing with Europe, is and remains a party which has a fault-line between the pro-Europeans and the prominent Eurosceptics. That fault-line helped to bring down John Major’s Government and the party has tried again and again to paper over it. The resulting reality in the Bill before us is what the coalition leadership judges to be a necessary move to appease the right-wing Eurosceptics in the Conservative Party through the transparently unnecessary Clause 18 on sovereignty, which the Minister has been attempting to explain, while also attempting to keep the Europhiles in the Liberal Democrat Party at least moderately happy—who, I am bound to say, are very, very moderately happy.

The Government claim that there is confusion in this area, but such claims are not borne out by the facts. Let us take the celebrated court case of Thoburn v Sunderland City Council, from which the Minister quoted a few moments ago. That case made it clear that there was no threat to the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty. Moreover, the European Scrutiny Committee concluded that the legislative supremacy of Parliament was not under threat from EU law. The Constitution Committee of your Lordships’ House has said:

“Clause 18 is self-evident: it restates, but does not change, the law”.

So the major reason we can see for restating these principles is to appease the few Eurosceptics on the Tory Benches who genuinely fear that the influence of the Liberal Democrats on the coalition will be decisive.

Does the noble Baroness accept that there are more than a few Eurosceptics? Does she realise that all the polls in this country now show that over 50 per cent of the population of the British Isles are highly Eurosceptic and want to see changes?

My Lords, what I am trying to do here is talk about what is going on in the House and in Parliament at the moment. There is widespread Euroscepticism. Different polls produce different results, but I fully acknowledge that there is Euroscepticism, and I thought that the Minister made those points clearly in his remarks. But I am addressing what is happening in Parliament.

Surely reciting the law on parliamentary sovereignty is a more appropriate activity for first-year law students than for Parliament itself. It is basic civics. It is already the law. It is just about the most basic constitutional point in British law. Parliament and the British legislative process should not be used as a piece of Conservative Party sticking plaster which the party opposite judges necessary to keep its own Eurosceptics at bay.

I turn now to the referendum issues. Part 1 proposes restrictions on amendments to the Treaty on European Union and to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It is envisaged that there will be a referendum restriction in the long list of cases in Clauses 4 and 6. These lengthy lists do not include the controversial issue of enlargement. For example, where a country wishes to join the EU, Clause 4(4) explicitly removes that subject from deliberation by the UK public unless the decision otherwise fulfils one of the listed criteria. Surely a decision which will bind our fate with the people of another sovereign country—where we will share borders, enforcement and, potentially, as the Irish experience demonstrated, even the financial fate of that country—needs greater consideration.

At the heart of this issue is what the Government call the “referendum lock”. This would ensure that when new competencies or powers pass from the UK to the EU there would be a requirement for a UK-wide referendum and primary legislation before a Minister can agree to the new powers going to the EU. It is a very powerful mechanism. Put succinctly, the Government have to hold a referendum only if they support the change. If they do not, they can block the change during negotiations with EU partners because, of course, all treaty changes of this nature can be agreed only by unanimity in the European Union. So by withholding UK agreement, the treaty changes are blocked—and blocked for everyone. This applies to treaty revisions, as we have discussed, to some bridging or passerelle clauses and other specific decisions under EU treaties.

Clause 4 specifies 13 different kinds of decisions which would trigger a referendum; otherwise, exemption from the referendum lock requires primary legislation to approve the decision that the issue under consideration is not covered by Clause 4—at least that is how I understand it. However, where a Minister decides the referendum lock is not appropriate under Clause 4, the fact-sheet states that,

“Parliament would have the opportunity to scrutinise the Minister’s assessment during the progress of the Act”,

and could add a referendum requirement at that stage. This is a very complicated procedure. There are many specifications and many treaty provisions and, as our own Constitution Committee has rightly said, the highly technical nature of the lock mechanism,

“hinders rather than helps transparency and accessibility in the law”.

This is indeed fertile ground for legal wrangling and judicial review and gives scope for many lengthy parliamentary battles between Europhiles and Eurosceptics about what amounts to competence. Is this really the way to rebuild the trust of the British people and to reconnect them with EU decisions? Will the British public really thank us for asking them to consider the extended application of a passerelle clause in a referendum, rather than doing our job in Parliament through scrutiny and decision?

The implications of the use of referendums in this Bill are unprecedented in terms of UK constitutional practices and the implications for Parliament. By means of the Bill, which is meant to enhance the relationship of the British public with the EU, the Government are in reality changing the terms of engagement between Parliament and the electorate. As the Constitution Committee made clear in its 2010 report on referendums, there are of course issues on which it must be right to hold a referendum—for example, leaving the EU, adopting a written constitution and abolishing the Monarchy or either House of Parliament—but there must be serious doubts about what the Government are proposing in the Bill. These are not fundamental constitutional issues which are appropriate for a nationwide referendum. Moreover, these provisions are contradictory to the Government’s own stated belief that referendums are most appropriate to issues of fundamental constitutional importance.

Many commentators—and, I suspect, some in this House—do not believe that there will be referendums and that a far more likely outcome is that the Government will recognise the problem early on and simply block more and more EU proposals at the negotiation stage. Some of your Lordships may welcome that, but others will see that there are real dangers involved in this country becoming increasingly isolated and pushed to the margins of the EU debate, pretty much as we were before the 1997 election. I have heard Ministers argue that the referendum lock will strengthen our negotiating position in Europe. It is possible that it may, initially, but after the negotiation point ploy has been used some three, four, five or six times, I doubt that it will be anything like as effective. Our partners will move on, leaving us shouting ineffectively from the touch-line. There is a real risk in all this of voter fatigue and low turnout which will detract from the important decisions such as the ones that this country is being asked to make on 5 May. For our part, we on these Benches will certainly seek improvements to the Bill, including a sunset provision and a limitation on the types of matter that would trigger a referendum. We shall also consider the nature of any referendums.

My Lords, could I remind the noble Baroness that her party promised a referendum on the Lisbon treaty and then failed to give it. Is that not a perfect example of how people lose confidence in the governance of their country?

We did not promise that. We promised that we would have a referendum if there were a written constitution. The noble Lord may not have sat through those debates, but I am afraid that the House agreed with me and not with him on that point.

Finding compromises and striking balances is at the heart of what this House does both as part of the British legislative process and in its role as one of the key checks and balances in the British constitution. The House knows a compromise and a balance when it sees them but this Bill is a confusion not a compromise, a botch not a balance. Britain deserves better than this Bill. Europe deserves better. Liberal Democrat Members of this House who have a proud record on Europe—including those who, 30 years ago this week, left the party on the Benches behind me largely on this issue—certainly deserve better. We shall try to give that to them.

My Lords, the noble Baroness made the comment earlier that she did not think that the Bill would help reconnect British public opinion with the EU. What does she suggest would?

During our debates on the European Union in the past, the noble Lord has himself put forward quite a few suggestions on how there could be better reconnection. There could be better reconnection through schools and in the sort of things that the noble Lord has suggested in the past, which I readily acknowledge were not taken up, of getting more information to people about the way in which the European Union can work to their advantage. The sheer complexity of what we are being asked to do and the potential proliferation of referendums under this Bill—if there are not referendums, that will be because of the use of the blocking mechanism—is not going to reconnect the people of this country with Europe at all. I hope that the noble Lord agrees with me.

My Lords, I rise with some clear indication of how interesting the passage of the Bill will be in this House, given that my party’s name has been mentioned so many times already before a word has been spoken from these Benches. It will be an amusing time.

For me, speaking on this EU Bill is somewhat daunting in the knowledge that the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, winds up for those on the Labour Benches and my noble friend Lord Wallace for the Government. By way of background, I took over as the Liberal Democrat’s EU policy officer in the early 1990s in the aftermath of the Maastricht treaty. It was in that capacity that I learnt from both the noble Lord and my noble friend how the EU actually worked in practice. I should say about the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, that I learnt even more by proxy from Dame Helen Wallace—the author, along with my noble friend—of several authoritative texts on the EU. Speaking alongside this cast of characters on the Bill gives one a sense of déjà vu, but I am sure that we will revert to some of the healthy arguments in the hours ahead about the extent to which the public in the UK have an appetite for the European Union.

If we on these Benches are known for anything it is for our internationalism and our support for our neighbours in Europe. On our Benches are several distinguished noble Lords who are not only expert in their knowledge but undiminished in their support, going back to the days of the EU accession referendum and before, and who will see the changes proposed in this Bill as matters of principle affecting our ability to be active members of the European Union. We would expect nothing less. We will also be joined by newer noble Lords on these Benches, who I suspect will bring a freshness and practical experience of selling Europe to the general public in elections. We look forward to working to improve this important piece of legislation from both aspects.

This is an important Bill. The coalition’s programme for government said that it,

“believes that Britain should play a leading role in an enlarged European Union, but that no further areas of power should be transferred to Brussels without a referendum. This approach strikes the right balance between constructive engagement with the EU to deal with the issues that affect us all, and protecting our national sovereignty”.

It is undoubtedly a compromise but, like many compromises, despite what the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, said, it is something that the British people, who are rather more pragmatic than driven by ideology, can live with. Perhaps that is why the election resulted in the way it did.

In using the words,

“constructive engagement with the EU”,

the noble Baroness’s memory might go back to the fact that the Conservative Government of that time talked about constructive engagement with apartheid South Africa.

My memory goes back even further to when the Labour Party was itself completely riven on what approach it might take to the European Union, which was rather before the apartheid saga.

The coalition programme looks forward to forthcoming legislation with a view to increasing parliamentary scrutiny of new powers and competences, and looks outwards to ensure that the demands of democratic engagement are upheld. It goes further than before by enshrining in law that for significant changes sovereignty should be ceded by those who own it, the citizens or people of our country. It is therefore a far cry from the wording in the Conservative manifesto, which stated:

“We will work to bring back key powers over legal rights, criminal justice and social and employment legislation to the UK”.

The Bill takes the treaties, as amended most recently by Lisbon, as the starting point. While the coalition agreement gives a commitment to examine the EU's existing competences, and particularly to work to limit the application of the working time directive, this is not in my view a dramatic change. In fact, in an age of austerity, it might seem sensible to review the need for greater labour flexibility. However, it does raise the question of what other competences there will be and when. I wonder whether my noble friend could explain when winding up the debate the timeframe to which the Government are working in their examination of competences, and what role Parliament will play in scrutinising their conclusions.

Let me now turn to the substantive parts of the Bill. Clauses 2 to 5 will no doubt attract considerable scrutiny, as they deal with the procedure to be followed for treaty amendments and changes. They change the current situation in now requiring an Act of Parliament after the Government have signed up in principle to the change. This will no doubt add a considerable time lag to EU decision-making. We had an example of a draft European Council decision only last night on the European stability mechanism, and I wonder what useful purpose might have been achieved by a country that is not in the eurozone holding up those that are in it doing something that tidies up an existing situation and seeks to put it on a permanent footing. The way in which we dealt with that last night would no longer be possible if these changes go through.

I accept that every change of treaty requires an Act of Parliament, and I am in no way opposed to that level of parliamentary approval for significant and substantive treaty changes. Yet I wonder whether raising the test for an Article 48(6) decision—the simplified revision procedure—as set out in Clause 1(5) is necessarily the way to go. Clause 4 sets out a rather long list of criteria whereby a future treaty change will be judged and changes the situation whereby qualified majority voting ensues. I understand that the list is so comprehensive due to our lack of a written constitution in the United Kingdom and therefore to the relatively open-ended possibilities of judicial review. Can my noble friend explain whether that is the rationale behind this prescription and, if it is not, why we are spelling out our parameters in such detail? Does that not reduce the flexibility of the Government of the day to evaluate each decision on its merits and to go forward on that basis?

I turn to that other area of controversy, the so-called use of the referendum lock. The potential use of referendums will cover large numbers of procedures, including ordinary and simplified revisions and passerelles. The Constitution Committee, in its report on the Bill, lists some 50 treaty provisions that might attract a referendum. I accept the Government’s premise that a significant disconnect has developed between the British people and EU institutions. In fact, I wrote a thesis in the early 1990s on British attitudes to European federalist integration, and that disconnect had been there for some decades before. The challenge for succeeding Governments is to improve education about the EU and its institutions rather than just lamenting the lack of support for them, as put out by noble Lords on the opposition Benches a few minutes ago.

As we moved to a federal settlement in the UK in the 1990s with the establishment of a Parliament in Scotland and an Assembly in Wales, one would have expected that we would have also taken the opportunity to talk of our rightful place in Europe. Yet the Opposition became obsessed instead with impregnable tests on the euro and whether the ill-fated constitutional treaty would get through. In the mean time, another generation has grown up knowing the European countries better than ever before but not feeling the common solidarity that should unite us, other than in the most instrumentalist manner.

That distrust of EU institutions now leads us to the logic of the referendum lock. As noble Lords will know, the Constitution Committee defines a limited set of conditions in which, in its opinion, a referendum would be warranted. The committee goes on to say that this Bill is a radical step-change in the adoption of referendum provisions. As a Lib Dem who was privy to several animated discussions in our own party over whether to commit to a referendum before joining the euro, I know how difficult it is to agree what constitutes a fundamental shift in power. I was proud of moving to that promise and am overall a supporter of referendums for significant changes. Other European countries have their own scrutiny and control mechanisms in place. I come from a view that every generation should be able to have a voice on the direction of its country’s stance on sovereignty. At this stage, I am not inordinately concerned about these clauses. As the Constitution Committee reminds us, Parliament could repeal or amend any or all of the control mechanisms established by the Bill, including the referendum lock provisions.

On the significance condition, therein will lie the practical issues of how frequently referendums will be held. First, let us be clear that this condition in the Bill will enable Ministers to judge whether a simplified revision procedure change that gives an EU body the power to impose sanctions, requirements or obligations on the UK would not require a referendum. If this reading is correct, can the Minister give us examples of the sort of changes he has in mind that would then fall under ministerial judgment under this test? In other words, what would he consider insignificant?

On the subject of referendums, my recall is that if a treaty change would have triggered a referendum, we would have had about five in the past 25 years. Does the Minister expect a similar number in future? The other contentious area—

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. She has touched on the difficulty of significance —of what is significant and what is insignificant—and has asked the Minister to give examples. Does that not hint at the real possibility that the difference between significant and insignificant will be before the courts virtually every time this issue comes up?

The Constitution Committee made clear in its report that this would not necessarily be a matter for the courts but a matter of political judgment. We will probably hear from the Minister in his closing speech, and I will leave it at that.

The other contentious area in the Bill relates to parliamentary sovereignty and the status of EU law. I know that this has exercised the other place considerably and that its European Scrutiny Committee has commented on this at length. Given the number of speakers in this debate, I will comment on Clause 18 as we deliberate on it in Committee.

I conclude by stating the obvious. Ultimately, the Bill is about a political perspective on how to protect the UK’s interests in the EU. It is not a political Bill, as the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, suggests, but it goes to the heart of political judgments about what is right by our country.

There are elements of compromise on which in our coalition, as I suspect there are in parties themselves, there are opinions on all sides. What is essential for us in this House is that in scrutinising this legislation we end up with a product that achieves greater confidence among the public in what their Government will and will not do in their name. We look forward to the Bill in that spirit.

My Lords, from the outset I declare an interest as a practising surgeon and professor of surgery at University College. The matters that I wish to deal with are not as grand as the overall principles of this important Bill—I am grateful to the Minister for having outlined its important purpose in establishing an opportunity to reconnect our people with the European Union—but on matters of unintended consequences of past European legislation and regulation and how this or future legislation might better protect against these problems. I shall do so by giving examples from my own discipline and area of practice, that of medicine and healthcare.

We have heard mention of the European working time regulation, for instance. It is an important piece of legislation, designed to improve the safety of workers in the workplace and their rights overall by restricting working time to 48 hours. However, its application to the practice of medicine has led—in an unintended way, I believe—to detrimental effects on the training of our junior doctors. We hear stories continuously about the way, and I have experience of this, that it has eroded the training of those particularly in craft specialities, such as those like myself in general surgery, to the extent now that the training offered within a 48-hour week is quite inadequate and we are producing generations of doctors who potentially might not feel sufficiently confident in the structure of the way that we deliver healthcare in our country, compared with the delivery of healthcare in other European systems, to practise independently and provide the standard of service and care to patients in the National Health Service in future. That is clearly an unintended consequence but it could have serious implications.

Another example is the application of employment law, driven by the principles in legislation derived from Europe. It is good in many ways to ensure that there is a free movement of labour across the European Union, and that has brought many advantages to our country. However, it has created a serious and important problem regarding the end of medical school undergraduate education. By tradition, the first year of employment after graduating from medical school—the so-called “house job”, now known as the foundation 1 year—is a year where junior doctors take up a post under the continued supervision of the dean of their medical school. They have to complete that post before they can be fully registered with the General Medical Council and be in a position to practise independently in our country. However, because that first year is a year of employment, it must now be open to competition throughout the EU for applicant doctors from anywhere in Europe. As a result, we now run an increasing risk of our successful graduates being unable to find posts in their first foundation year because they have been taken by others. They will therefore not be able effectively to complete their undergraduate education, and will never be able to register with the General Medical Council and serve the people of our country. Again, this is an unintended consequence of previous legislation and regulation from Europe that has had a detrimental effect.

I turn now to the primacy of our regulatory body for medical practice in the United Kingdom—the General Medical Council. There is a European medical directive and it is a requirement that the Medical Act passed by this Parliament be consistent with the requirements of that directive. The directive covers several areas, such as defining what specialties exist in the European Union with regard to medicine, surgery and so on. It deals with the number of hours that are required for a recognised undergraduate medical course. It deals with the question of the duration of postgraduate training for doctors, surgeons and others. However, it also ensures that an EU national—a qualified doctor registered anywhere in the European Union—has the right to practise here, in the United Kingdom, by seeking registration with the General Medical Council. That, in itself, is fine. However, it also therefore prevents the General Medical Council determining the quality and content of the training schemes that those doctors have been subjected to. It prevents something that we all well recognise the importance of now—the ability to test the English language skills of those doctors before they come to practise in our country. As a result of that, there have been some serious problems—unfortunate events where our own citizens have died as a result of poor medical practice that could have been avoided if these unintended consequences had been foreseen. It is interesting that the General Medical Council is able to deal—

Can I just clarify that? Surely it is the responsibility of the employer to make sure that the person is competent to speak English and carry out their duty. They have the right to do that. It is surely a primary responsibility of any employer to make sure that the people they employ meet the standards of that organisation or business.

Indeed it is but it is not always done. I was coming to the point that the General Medical Council has the obligation to do this for doctors who come from outside the European Union. It must ensure that they have the language skills, that they have sufficient competence in skills, and that their training programmes and undergraduate medical education are of a sufficient standard and quality.

Will the noble Lord reinforce his point by endorsing the FAB exam, which has resulted in more than 2,000 Iraqi medical professionals staffing the National Health Service very successfully? Could the FAB exam be transferred to European Union member state applicants who come to the General Medical Council?

Indeed it could. There should be consistency in the standards that are required for doctors to practise in our country. There is another point: if a practitioner registered in another European Union country is struck off, suspended or undergoing investigation by that country’s regulator, those regulatory authorities have no obligation to inform our own—the General Medical Council—that it has happened. A doctor from elsewhere in Europe, having qualified there and been registered here, could continue to practise while not being able to do so in their original member country. This, again, is unacceptable.

I make these points just to reiterate that, in trying to achieve the objective of reconnecting the people of our country with the European Union, the proposals outlined in the Bill are very important. However, it is also important to ensure that we protect the standing of the European Union in areas such as the practice of medicine and healthcare by ensuring that the problems we have experienced so far are not repeated in the future; and that, as a country, we overcome these problems so that the purpose of the General Medical Council—to protect our patients and ensure the highest standards—is not inadvertently frustrated by European legislation.

My Lords, in the light of the confusion and controversy over the ratification of the Lisbon treaty, some clarification of procedure for agreeing to our ratification of important European Union decisions and treaty changes becomes obviously desirable. Indeed, as the cross-party agreement on the need for a referendum on entry into the euro indicates, there appears to be broad agreement that key decisions should entail a referendum lock-in. I also welcome the extended provision for parliamentary decisions in relation to the European Union.

However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, has said, commenting on her own Constitution Committee report, the rather extensive provisions for referenda could pose a significant challenge to our constitutional settlement in the long term. The sovereignty clause states what is already the case, as has been reiterated in your Lordships’ House this afternoon. EU law takes effect in the UK primarily by virtue of the European Communities Act 1972. Nevertheless, would not a large extension of the principle of decisions by plebiscite risk evacuating the principle of parliamentary sovereignty of real meaning?

Moreover, I would argue that referenda can work well for big things about which people feel passionately, but rather less, I suspect, for detailed, technical and complicated issues. We shall see shortly, for example, whether the public have a real grasp of the technical differences between the present electoral system and the proposed alternative voting system, and whether the latter will also be hopelessly confused with the proportional representation that others favour, as I fear. We shall see.

Granted the lamentable endemic low view of Europe in the United Kingdom, is there not a serious risk that extensive referenda on necessarily complex European issues matters could lead, as the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, indicated, through low turnout and referenda fatigue, to a multispeed Europe in which the UK is confined to the hard shoulder? In the context of debate on the Lisbon treaty, the Bill looks appropriate; but could it have unintended negative long-term effects?

I have another question of a rather different character. At the time of the Lisbon treaty, application was made to the courts on the then decision not to seek a referendum. The cases were dismissed on the proper grounds that they were,

“an attempt to pursue a political agenda through the court”.

Yet the Bill at Clause 5, as interpreted by the Explanatory Notes, makes it clear that a ministerial determination on whether a treaty or amendment is “significant” would be open to judicial review. I would value the legal wisdom of your Lordships’ House in this apparent invitation to the Appeal Court or the Supreme Court to determine what the courts have only recently stated to be political questions.

To conclude, I reiterate that the Bill appears to be a necessary post-Lisbon debate clarification. However, I ask whether the apparently very extensive provision for referenda on complex issues may, if applied, put us on a slow train in Europe, while diluting parliamentary sovereignty in the longer term.

As the Government and the Minister have said that they do not intend to use the referenda provisions during this Parliament or, one understands, to use them widely, I am partly reassured. I would welcome further reassurance, but I still wonder whether the provisions for referenda are drawn too widely in the Bill as it stands.

My Lords, it is ironic that I am speaking in this debate, which was opened by my noble friend Lord Howell. Many years have passed since we first addressed this question, at a time when he was handing over to me, or rather vice versa, the editorship of Crossbow in 1968. That distinguished journal is still with us. It published a 20-page supplement on the Rome treaty and the law, written by Dennis Thompson, which set out clearly the direct impact on the law of this country of accession to the treaty. There is no mystery; it has been there all the time. I congratulate my noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, on their speeches, in which they addressed the problem with lucidity and balance, although without agreement.

I find myself dismayed by the persistent degree of schizophrenia implicit in the Bill, which is foreshadowed in the coalition agreement. Perhaps the coalition is by definition likely to suffer from schizophrenia. There are two themes running through this. First, there is the oft-repeated proposition that we want Britain to play, in the words of the coalition agreement,

“a strong and positive role with our partners, with the goal of ensuring that all the nations of Europe are equipped to face the challenges of … global competitiveness, global warming and global poverty”.

The text echoes the comparable but much more dramatic phraseology of Winston Churchill in 1950, when he called on Europe to unite.

Alongside that encouraging part of the agreement is the negativity of two commitments. The first is that no further powers shall be transferred to Brussels without a referendum. That is an absolute, comprehensive proposition. The second commitment is to examine the balance of existing competences and limit the application in some respects, and so on. What emerges from that has been commended by some people on the basis that we will live in an atmosphere with a host of referendum locks. The phrase “referendum locks” distresses me in the approach towards referenda.

The noble Baroness, who has now returned to her seat, referred to the difficulty of understanding the purpose of referenda. All of us who are sincere about this would be anxious to see an enhancement of the understanding of the British people of what the Community is about and how it works. We have failed to deliver as much of that as we should over the years, although great statesmen have endeavoured to do so. It could be the case that referenda by the score would be instructive and educative, but I am doubtful about that in the technical context in which we live.

Referenda are not being commended in this legislation because of their constructive effect. I am afraid that they are there, in one way or another, as effective locks that illustrate the belief that the extension of European jurisdiction is more likely to be unwelcome than welcome. That is my anxiety, and that is why I am apprehensive about the concentration on them in the Bill. There is no reason, as several noble Lords pointed out, for concern or dismay about the nature of Community law as it applies to us and as it has applied since the 1972 Act. It was under Section 2 of that Act that the impact of Community law was established and has been sustained ever since. It has a direct application to this country to the extent specified. That is important for a very positive reason. It is not something imposed just on us. The heart of the treaty is that the body of Community law should apply throughout the Community. If it imposes obligations and rights on our country, so be it, because for the most part those rights and obligations are advantageous. However, likewise it imposes obligations and rights on our fellow member states and enhances the opportunity for the states to work together. That is the very concept of the single market.

Had it not been for that core provision for the direct application of Community law and our ability to handle that and negotiate on it through successive European Councils, it would not have been possible, for example, for my noble friend Lady Thatcher and me to go through various summit meetings and achieve by agreement and negotiation not just the easy—he said laughingly—propositions about recovering part of the “bloody British budget” but, more importantly, those in the Single European Act. We were not able to foresee every detail or pre-emptively to get the propositions reviewed domestically either in Parliament or in referenda; we were working forward, as has to happen in negotiations of that kind in that organisation.

Referenda can be used as a means of informing the British people or encouraging them to understand the way in which the European Union is working as Churchill hoped it would—enlarging and expanding our resources and our ability to work together, although that need not be seen as the dominant impression of the European Union. However, there might be adverse impacts in certain areas and in certain cases, which is why I am apprehensive about frequent and, in many cases, unnecessary referenda.

We had one referendum in 1975, which resulted from the fact that a succession of Heads of Government —starting with Churchill and going through to Macmillan, Heath and Wilson—all came to accept the need for Section 2 of the 1972 Act, which is reaffirmed in Clause 18 of this Bill. Until the 1975 referendum, Harold Wilson, who had challenged the concept of the 1972 Act—I made the winding-up speech at the end of that debate—had been trying to expound the proposition that it was quite unnecessary to embrace Community law into our own law, as we did with Section 2 of the Act. He had been advised to the contrary by distinguished lawyers such as Lord Gardiner and Lord Elwyn-Jones. It has always been necessary for that to be part of our agreement and that is where we are today.

I can see the importance of considering the possibility of referenda if one wants matters to be acceptable to the country when we are making negotiations, but I do not think that they play a really valuable part. I do not think that they can be justified on their educational role alone, but it is of course important, as my noble friend has pointed out, that, a fortiori in those circumstances, Parliament should understand what is being sought and agreed and what is going to happen. I suspect that sometimes in the past we may have gone to European Council meetings having been a little less than candid about what we were seeking to achieve in our pre-Council presentations to Parliament, largely because we did not know quite what we would be able to achieve.

It is certainly right that Parliament should be consulted and be allowed to intervene and there may be provisions in the earlier clauses of the Bill in which a parliamentary survey of what is going to be agreed and what has been agreed should be strengthened. I do not accept that with great enthusiasm. My fear is that the shower or flurry of clauses that require referenda mean that the referenda are going to be obstructive rather than instructive. That is why it is important for Parliament to be given a larger role as we move forward, building up the effectiveness of Community law and working together in the kind of Community that we would like to see.

However, I do not like the emphasis in the Bill—an emphasis not made, I hasten to add, by my noble friend —on having referenda locks. We do not need referenda locks. We may need some referenda considerations, but I suspect very few. We certainly need to ensure that Parliament is consulted and plays an effective role in the negotiations that take place. We need to exploit the existing conditions whereby Community law applies throughout the Community, to our advantage in many areas, in this country and in others, and the extent to which the Community can work as a collective organisation on behalf of the whole of Europe. If only it had been able to do so on the Iraq crisis, for example, how much happier we would have been.

Let us favour that and ensure that the Bill adds a positive component to what is necessary, but please let us not clutter ourselves with undue and unnecessary referenda in too many cases and too many places. I hope that that is not too simplified a summation of the way in which I think we should handle this important legislation.

My Lords, I am very happy to follow the noble and learned Lord because, when I was a Commissioner, he was enormously helpful when we met. The reason was that he cared about the European Community and still does.

Reference has been made to the debate in the House of Commons. Unfortunately, I do not think that the other place gave this Bill the consideration that it deserves. I do not share the view of the Bill taken by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford. I think that it is an abomination. It reflects a suspicion on the part of the Government about most of the things that the European Union does. In the other place, we had the usual suspects: John Redwood, Bill Cash and the somewhat ambiguous Foreign Secretary William Hague, aided and abetted by a minority of Labour Eurosceptics. They characterised the Bill as a “show Bill” and a “mouse of a Bill”, and the Foreign Secretary was depicted as being “all over the place”. Those criticisms are not entirely without foundation.

Of course, in the Commons, maybe a majority of the Conservative Party desire to come out of the European Union altogether or to render it insignificant. This Bill is not exactly a disappointment; it is exactly what many of us thought it would be: a smokescreen for those in government hoping to camouflage their true intent regarding the European Union.

In this House we have heard the noble Lord open the debate in a very calm and dignified way; it is exactly what we would expect. But does he really believe in this Bill? I remember when he unreservedly supported the situation of the EU and he wanted us to go in. Now he wants the reverse. Of course, I think Britain should adopt a decisive role in Europe, helping to mould it, particularly at this time when the EU could play a significant part in global affairs. In Europe, the Conservative Party has chosen to align itself with some extremely dubious people. That is not irrelevant; that shows how it really thinks. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, cannot possibly approve of that alliance.

Where does the Liberal party stand in that regard? The Conservative Party in the European Parliament has left the European People's Party altogether, favouring instead what Chris Huhne once said were the “wackos and weirdos” in the Parliament. There the Conservative Party remains. Was that the pursuit of an “enlightened self-interest” which is writ large across its so-called European policy? That is what William Hague said. I do not believe it.

The Bill is short, but it has the capacity to be complicated, confusing and contradictory. Even from the Government's point of view, the ambition to initiate a referendum should be clear and decisive. Instead it is the very opposite. That has been reflected in our debate, particularly by my noble friend Lady Symons. That is no accident. It stems from the Government's attitude and confused stance towards the EU. The Government endeavour to satisfy both the antipathetic attitude of the majority of their supporters and the obvious requirement to be a worthwhile member of the EU. It is impossible to reconcile those objectives.

The Government are quite unable in the Bill to indicate when a referendum will be required. A mass of contradictions and difficulties have been raised in the debate today. We do not know whether Parliament or the courts will be able to determine that important issue. That is not an academic point; it goes to the very heart of what we ought to be debating today.

We should also be directing our concern to other vital issues, such as jobs, cross-border crime, trade and climate change—all essential matters in which the EU can play an increasingly salient role. In a world of blocs of power and influence, the EU must be heard on all those issues. The Government prefer it to be ineffective. The EU speaks for about 500 million people and therefore occupies a significant role in Europe and the world. We should be part of that process, but this puny Bill fails to promote that ambition.

Where, in all this, stand the Liberal Democrats? I was, frankly, very confused by the speech of the noble Baroness, for whom I normally have a lot of time. Are they in favour of the Bill? Are they against it? I emerged at the end of her speech without any guidance whatsoever. Are they prepared to fight for the EU, a cause about which they once cared enormously deeply; or do they now propose to take the ignoble course, alongside their Tory allies, of administering a potential death blow to the EU?

Before the general election, David Cameron described himself as the son of Thatcher. Well, Margaret Thatcher said that referendums sacrifice parliamentary sovereignty. They represent, she said, political expediency. So where stands the Liberal party as far as that is concerned? It is important that the Liberal Democrats should be able to respond to that criticism.

The Bill should not have been submitted to Parliament. It is fatally flawed. It is introduced primarily to placate the Tory anti-EU campaigners, but even this miserable Bill will not achieve its misconceived objectives.

My Lords, I was about to thank the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, for what he said about the very disappointing performance of the other place in the discussion of this Bill. We have to say that in many ways the other place passed up its deep obligation to the people of this country to discuss with real seriousness and in detail a Bill of this kind which has such very far-reaching consequences. It was, and I think the noble Lord would agree with me, disappointing that so few Members of Parliament rose to their feet to question the extraordinary claims and statements being made in the House by some of those who are particularly sceptical about the European Union. It would be better in many ways if we ask the other place in future to consider more carefully the repercussions on a Bill of this kind. I also want to say that I shall be more than happy to try to add to what has already been said by my noble friend Lady Falkner of Margravine to respond to the questions that the noble Lord asked us.

In order to do so, let me go back just a little while. Several noble Lords have already referred to what they describe as the deep division between the British public and the British attitude towards the European Union. It is about time that we said very clearly that this country has laboured under two major difficulties in even beginning to understand what the European Union is all about. We are virtually unique in Europe in having a print press that is overwhelmingly antipathetic to the European Union and does not even attempt to describe in objective terms what it tries to do. We know without naming names that there are very large press barons in this country—incidentally, most of them do not come from this country—whose great aim is to try to sour the relationship between this country and the European Union.

The second major handicap we labour under is the fact that our education system does very little to recognise that we are citizens of Europe as well as citizens of the United Kingdom. I am not going to take responsibility for that because I recall trying to introduce a foreign language in every primary school when I was Secretary of State—mostly the likelihood was that the language would be French—and a second language in secondary schools. I am afraid to say that over the past 30 years, we have almost completely abandoned the study of European languages, with great damage to the relationship that we are able to establish with our neighbours and colleagues on the continent of Europe. It is all very well to visit frequently and fun to go for holidays, but if one cannot speak at all in the language of the country which one is visiting to those who inhabit it, there is always going to be a very great weakness in the relationships of friendship, colleagueship and understanding that can be established.

I hope that when the new Secretary of State for Education, Mr Gove, looks, as he is looking now, at the syllabus for our schools, he will take very seriously into account the need to teach something about citizenship of Europe as well as citizenship of the United Kingdom and will also look very closely at the need for this country to begin to grasp some foreign languages. Many noble Lords will, like me, feel that it is positively embarrassing when one goes to Holland, Belgium or even Germany and discovers that they can all speak excellent English when we can say, at best, “Good morning”, “Good day” and “How much will a room cost?” when we assail them in their language.

One of the things that I find quite astonishing is the inability of this country and, particularly, of its media to recognise the staggering achievements of the European Union. Perhaps I may very briefly, for reasons of time, in not more than a sentence each, mention those attainments.

The first and perhaps greatest achievement is that now, on the anniversary of the First World War, we cannot imagine another war in western Europe. It is simply beyond the understanding of our children and grandchildren to think of another war between Britain, Germany, France and Italy. It is, quite straightforwardly, no longer part of their practical understanding of what life is all about.

The second great achievement was to help bring the whole of central and much of eastern Europe back to democracy after the collapse of the Soviet Union. No one should underestimate the magnetic power of the European Union in that scene. For the first time, outside of the United States, the central and east Europeans could see the possibility of real security and an end to their long period of suffering under dictatorship. Today, in most of those countries—not all, but most—democracy thrives. One reason it thrives is British support for the concept of an association agreement which has made possible the transition of those countries from communist domination to membership of a democratic European community.

The third achievement is much more recent and of great importance. The European Union—to an extraordinary extent which is hardly recognised at all in our country—has undertaken the burden of being a very good neighbour indeed to countries much poorer than itself. The EU is the greatest giver of aid in the world, and by a substantial margin. The EU has gone out of its way to help bring democracy, and training in democracy, not just to central and eastern Europe but far beyond it as well. The EU has given massive support, incidentally, to a scheme in the Mediterranean which has assisted those countries that are now in turmoil in northern Africa. No other country in the world has gone out of its way to try to create that kind of relationship

I do not know why we fail to recognise these staggering achievements of which we are a part, though a diminishing part. I should therefore like to say, loud and clear, that anything that makes the development of our relationship with the continent of Europe more difficult will not be helpful in meeting some of the most crucial problems in the world.

What are those problems? Let me mention some of them very quickly: climate change; the attempt to develop renewable energy; the decision to repatriate the energy market so that it is not dominated almost entirely at present by Russia; the attempt to deal with organised crime, and no one in this House should underestimate the scale of the organised crime that we are up against, although perhaps last week’s debate on corruption, money-laundering and the like will give us some insight into the gravity of the problem. I could cite many more examples, such as the drugs trade, and issues concerning our relationship with China and with India, both of which have massively improved as a result of their desire to have good relations with the European Union. All of these things are problems that we should confront—problems, incidentally, which have often been described by my noble friend the Minister when he has spoken about the rise of emerging countries; and problems where these countries have increasingly been looking to a relationship with the European Union which could not conceivably exist in the same way with each of the individual European states, including even the three large ones of Britain, Germany and France.

I shall move on very quickly. The noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, made a very interesting speech about the medical training and education of young doctors. I feel that this issue should be taken up between him and the Government and pressed within the Council of Europe and, in particular, within some of the sub-committees of the Council of Europe. He also spoke about the law of unintended consequences, and I should like to say a few words about that. What are those unintended consequences? If we suppose that attaching conditions to almost every significant change that might be made—but only where the Government are not in favour, to oppose the change; only as a lock and never as a key—we will introduce into our relationship a negative aspect that I believe will be seriously damaging. What will happen?

My noble and learned friend Lord Howe, in his thoughtful and typically reasonable speech, touched on one of those possibilities. Our neighbours in Europe will find every possible way to get around the difficulties presented by trying to carry the United Kingdom with them. How will they do that? People should not forget that under the Treaty on European Union and the TFEU there is a provision for enhanced co-operation. It says that if one-third of the member states agree to work together within the spirit of the treaties, they may go ahead and do so. That is an open invitation to our neighbours in Europe to bypass us, although it was never intended that way, but how useful it will be for that purpose.

In addition, there is not only the law of enhanced co-operation but also the invitation and encouragement to countries to work together where they cannot get full agreement across the board. Noble Lords will recall that when the previous Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, attempted to enter a discussion between the eurozone countries on crucial financial matters, he was politely told that he could not do so because we were not a member of the eurozone. I am not suggesting that we should be now a member of the eurozone, although the day may come. I am saying seriously that we will be cut out of the most significant decisions on financial matters within the whole of the European region because of the attitude that we have taken towards not accepting a wider relationship.

As regards the real dangers of referendums, the first has already been mentioned by a number of noble Lords; that is, the possibility of an endless series of obstacles to moving on within the European Union. But there are two additional dangers. It would be terrible for us to be in a situation whereby we have to have a mandatory referendum and perhaps a quarter or less of our country votes. That would be a real problem, which would lead to endless legal arguments as to whether that could be a valid and proper statement of public opinion.

The other danger, which perhaps is even more dangerous, is the strong possibility, which is growing all the time, that the different parts of the United Kingdom would vote differently by large margins. All of us in this House know that Scotland and Wales are more inclined to vote in a pro-European development direction than England and certainly more so than Northern Ireland. One would be bringing about a fissure in the United Kingdom if one has referendum after referendum, some of them being to no great purpose.

In conclusion, I find it very depressing that the European Union, to which the United Kingdom has made such a huge contribution, instead of being seen as a real model for the future—a model of dealing with issues that go beyond the nation state in a way that is politically acceptable to all nation states but also capable of going beyond that—should now be under great threat from this country, which under Winston Churchill was one of the major initiators of the whole European Union process. We owe more to the world than that. Our potential and capacity is greater than that. I am certainly speaking very clearly to the question asked by the noble Lord. I am proud to say that my party continues to be, and consistently has been for many years through election after election, the most pro-European party in this House and in this country, and I see no reason at all why that should change.

My Lords, as this is our first major debate on EU matters since we finished with the Lisbon treaty three years ago, I must start by making an apology. At the end of those proceedings, on 18 June 2008, I regretted that, with one honourable exception in the shape of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, noble Lords in receipt of an EU pension had not declared that interest. Many of us, including your Lordships’ Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests, chaired by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, felt that such pensions should have been declared because they can be taken away if a holder breaches certain obligations arising from their time in office. This applies to former members and officials of the European Commission, but I made the mistake of saying that it also applies to former MEPs, which it does not. I therefore apologise now to those I named, particularly to the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, with whom I subsequently corresponded.

It is regrettable that the nomenklatura in your Lordships’ House has since confirmed that even former EU Commissioners do not need to declare their forfeitable pensions in our debates. They tend to be some of the most blinkered and enthusiastic advocates of our EU membership. It is not helpful to the public if they do not know where those noble Lords are coming from, so I hope that they will do so anyway, although I have to say that the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, has already failed the test. I would have thought, too, that former MEPs might also want to mention this experience because it suggests that they might have—

I do not have to declare it every time, but it is well known that former Commissioners get some sort of allowance by way of pension. It is not as vast a sum of money as the noble Lord suggests.

My Lords, the test of whether it should be declared is what a reasonable member of the public might think, and I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, has now passed the test.

My Lords, can I invite the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, to pass his own test? I once asked him whether he was prepared to declare the interest that he got for forestry land that he owned from the FEOGA—the European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund. All I got from him was an abusive letter and no declaration of interest. I wonder whether he wants to catch up with us now.

My Lords, the noble Lord is coming close to misleading the House. I put the matter straight in a letter to the Guardian newspaper, which had suggested that I had taken this grant. It is not a grant. The noble Lord might like to know that when something goes wrong with a plantation, for instance if it burns down, you have to repay the money or replant the thing at your own expense. He will be delighted to hear that the plantation in question has burnt down and I have had to replace it.

I was suggesting that even noble Lords who have been MEPs might want to mention that experience because it suggests that they may have a better understanding than most of the complicated world of Brussels, but of course it is up to them.

I am interested in what the noble Lord says. I spent a much longer time being a Member of the other place. Do I need to declare that every time I get up to speak?

I think I said that the noble Baroness does not need to declare her pension as a former MEP. The difference is that pensions from the other place are not removable, whereas pensions for former EU Commissioners are removable. It is removable from former Commissioners but not from MEPs. That is what I thought I had said and that is why I went out of my way to apologise to the noble Baroness for putting her in the wrong category before.

My Lords, the noble Lord has for years been worrying at a very old bone, and it does him no credit that he returns to it. Could he perhaps tell us how many members of the Commission have had their pensions withdrawn for having expressed political opinions in a place like your Lordships’ House? He continually rests the whole of his case on the fact that they are at risk every time they speak in debates such as this if they do not take the line that, presumably, has been dictated to them in e-mails from Brussels. That, frankly, is completely absurd, and he is just wasting the time of your Lordships’ House.

My Lords, I do not think that I am the one who is wasting the time of your Lordships’ House. I suggest that the noble Lord reads the opinion of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, and of our Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests, and any other noble Lords who are interested in the subject should do that. I think it lowers the tone and skews the quality of your Lordships’ debates if people who are exposed, however remotely, to losing a very substantial pension do not continue to fulfil the obligations they had when they were Commissioners. In that, I think the EU pension is unique. It is a great shame.

It was extremely handsome of the noble Lord to start his remarks with such a fulsome apology, but I hope that he might now address the Bill.

The interventions have not added anything to what I have to say.

The Government are holding up the Bill as a “thus far and no further” Bill, which it probably is, and to that extent I welcome it. However, I cannot help seeing it more as a “shutting the stable door” Bill. Your Lordships’ House remains a very Europhile place; only perhaps a dozen noble Lords are prepared publicly to advocate withdrawal from the European Union out of a membership of some 800. This makes the subject of Europe unique in your Lordships’ House. In every other area of our national life, your Lordships have your fingers very much on the national pulse—often far more than the House of Commons—but when it comes to Brussels, most of your Lordships are solidly out of touch with popular feeling. This has grown steadily more Eurosceptic since our Lisbon proceedings, to the extent that now around 75 per cent of our people want not only the improbable referendums proposed in the Bill but a referendum on our EU membership, and around 50 per cent say that they want to leave anyway.

I hope that noble and Europhile Lords will not be tempted to suggest that this is because the gullible public have been conned by the wicked Murdoch press, to which I would reply that our national press is more than balanced by the entrenched Europhoria of the BBC. For instance, the BBC has yet to fulfil the promise it gave in 2005 after the Wilson inquiry to explain to the British people how the institutions of the EU interact and their effect on our British way of life. The inquiry had been into whether the BBC was biased in favour of our EU membership and it found that it was—so in view of their opening remarks I hope that the noble Baronesses, Lady Symons and Lady Williams, will agree that it is a great shame that the BBC has not fulfilled that commitment. Perhaps we can work together to encourage that.

Anyone who doubts the BBC’s continuing bias should consult the website or listen to the BBC’s director-general, who admitted before Christmas that the BBC had been what he called “weak” on Europe. He also said that views that start off as extreme can become the prevailing view inside five years.

Does the noble Lord have anything to say about the role of Mr Rupert Murdoch, who is undoubtedly biased? The BBC’s bias is in the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson. Is it not obvious that a great part of the media—now further reinforced by Mr Hunt—is under the control of an American-Australian, who is enormously biased and would influence any referendum?

Does the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, agree that this is a debate about the Bill and not the British press?

My Lords, in that case I shall not reply to the noble Lord, Lord Lea. I do not know about it anyway.

This is also a debate about British public opinion—what the British public want, what the Bill supplies and what the Bill which the British public have been promised could supply. Who would have thought five years ago that a major national newspaper, the Daily Express, not owned by Mr Murdoch, I think—

—would run a campaign to get us out of the EU? Who would have thought then that 373,000 of its readers would have signed a petition to leave? Most of those people took the trouble to fill in a small form, cut it out and post it to the Express. Does that not reveal quite a bit of energy? Now there is a new campaign, the people’s pledge, launched last week. It is an all-party national campaign, led from the left, which asks people to sign a pledge online that at the next general election they will vote only for a candidate who promises to support an in/out referendum on our EU membership. It includes people who believe we should—

Could I renew to the noble Lord the invitation of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, to get on with the Bill?

At this rate I will be at more than 20 minutes. I suggest that noble Lords do not interrupt, but it is of course up to them. As I was just saying, this new campaign has people on it who believe that we should stay in the EU but who still want a referendum. So far, some 50,000 people have signed it and thousands more have volunteered to campaign as activists. I suggest that noble Lords have a look at it at

Then there is UKIP and its performance at the recent Barnsley by-election, where it beat the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats into second place. In fact, we got nearly as many votes as those two parties combined. I am sure that much of the success was due to the fact that it now has a decent leader again, and it was of course only a by-election, but something is moving out there in the country. That something is the country’s growing wish to have a referendum on our EU membership. That wish will not be met by the Bill. The Bill is an irrelevance to that wish.

Why do Her Majesty’s Government refuse the people the referendum that they want and which they were promised, and instead offer them the pale imitation that is the Bill before us? The answer is clear; they think that they would lose the referendum which the people want and we would then have to leave the EU. In the Government’s defence, they seem to really believe, as do most of our political class, that leaving the EU would somehow be bad for trade and cost British jobs. I think they believe that because so few of them have ever run an international business. They just do not know how it works.

I guess that this would be the central debate in any referendum campaign about our membership. I give the Government and your Europhile Lordships four brief reasons why leaving the EU would have the opposite effect to the one that they might genuinely fear. First, we indeed have 3 million jobs exporting to clients in the EU, but it has 4.5 million jobs exporting to us, so it would want to continue its free trade with us. We are in fact its largest client. Would the French stop selling us their wine or the Germans their cars just because we are no longer bossed around by Brussels? Our trade and jobs would continue. There is no fear on that score.

Secondly, the EU has free-trade agreements with 63 countries worldwide, with more in the making, so why not with us—their largest client? Thirdly, the World Trade Organisation would also prevent any retaliation, and anyway the EU’s average external tariff is now down below 1 per cent so there is not much point to retaliation. Fourthly, Switzerland and Norway, which are not in the EU, also enjoy free movement with the EU and every other facility that we have. They control their own immigration and export much more per capita to the EU than we do—Norway by five times and Switzerland three times.

I thank the noble Lord for letting me intervene. Although Norway and Switzerland are not within the European Union and have full relations with it, the result is that they have very little control over their legislation. The way it works is that the European Union faxes instructions to the Governments of Norway and Switzerland in those areas and they have to comply or withdraw from the European Economic Area. That is the problem. You have the single market but far less control and no input into the legislative process.

That point is often made. Of course, if we were not in the European Union, we would have to obey the EU rules for the exports that we sent to them, but not in our own internal market and not to the rest of the world. Most countries in the world export to the European Union without that problem. It is really not a real one.

The noble Lord is propagating nonsense, if I may say so. Norway and other countries are obliged under the European Economic Area treaties to apply the single market legislation to their own market. They do not apply them only to the goods that they export to the European Union. The noble Lord would do well to recognise that he would be bossed about by Brussels even if he had his referendum and got us out of the European Union, with all the other damage that that would do to us.

My Lords, the noble Lord is making the usual mistake of thinking that we would stay in the European Economic Area. Why would we? Why would we not have a relationship like Switzerland and like all the other countries in the world that export to the European Union and are not bossed around by the Brussels rules?

I am not suggesting that the British people are fully up to speed with the four points that I have just made—nor, indeed, is the noble Lord, Lord Hannay—but they are getting the point that the EU is ruinously expensive, that we cannot afford it, and that it has taken away their sovereignty, and their right to elect and dismiss those who make their laws. Most of our national laws are now made secretly in Brussels, where our Government have some 9 per cent of the votes, and our MPs, for whom the people vote, are irrelevant in that process. The people are also right when they fear that they can no longer afford EU membership, which is untouched by this Bill. I give your Lordships six points to prove that.

Well, my Lords, they are quite important. Some £8.3 billion per annum is sent in cash to Brussels, which is £23 million a day or 750 nurses, teachers or policemen thrown away every day at £30,000 a year each. Yet we are struggling to cut the same amount from our own public expenditure.

Secondly, there is really no such thing as EU aid or subsidies to us. For every £1 they send us, we have given them £2.10. Then we are borrowing millions more to bail out the euro, which we might not get back. Every family in the UK spends £1,000 more on food than it would if we were not in the EU.

Then the Treasury has estimated that overregulation from the EU costs up to 6 per cent of our GDP, or £84 billion a year—the equivalent of £1,400 per person. There is no doubt that this handicaps our exporters worldwide and would hit the City and its tax revenues hard. As I mentioned to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, all this is against the background that only 9 per cent of our GDP goes in trade with clients in the EU, while 11 per cent goes to the rest of the world and 80 per cent stays in the domestic economy. Yet the whole 100 per cent of our economy is hit by the diktats from Brussels. No wonder the Government refuse a cost-benefit analysis on our membership.

The Daily Express campaign and other campaigns have made the British people see that Brussels interferes in every aspect of their lives—immigration, rubbish collection, post offices, light bulbs, car premiums, working time, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, our fishing industry, financial supervision and so on. Governments of all persuasions have for years dismissed how much of our law is imposed by Brussels, with the House of Commons and your Lordships' House irrelevant. However, the people are now beginning to understand it and they do not like it.

To cap it all, none of what I have just mentioned can be changed without the unanimous agreement of all 27 member states. That is why so many of us say that the only way out is by the door.

Could I conclude by saying—

I am glad to be so popular. I conclude by asking the Minister one question. The noble Lords, Lord Tebbit and Lord Stoddart, and I asked a long series of Written Questions going back to 18 October last year and ending on 16 February. We asked what areas of our national life are now not subject to interference or control from Brussels, and what areas of our national life we are left with entirely to ourselves that are not subject even to unanimity. Which areas of our national life could become the subject of referendums under this Bill? In his Written Answer of 27 January, the noble Lord said:

“There are many areas of our national life where the UK remains the final authority, such as the functioning of Parliament … and the deployment of British Armed Forces”.—[Official Report, 27/1/11; col. WA 191.]

On 16 February, I asked him with what else we are left. He merely referred me to earlier Answers that set out treaty clauses that give our powers away, but he did not point to any more that we still have. Can he answer that question now? I fear that there might not be any. That would be another reason why this Bill is something of an irrelevance, because the horse has already bolted.

We have nothing left to have a referendum about, apart perhaps from joining the euro, but in view of the disaster which that initiative has become, that is really not a starter. It would be another reason why the British people do not need this Bill so much as the Bill that they were promised by all three parties and which they very much want—a Bill to give them a referendum on our EU membership itself.