Committee (2nd Day) (Continued)
17: Clause 3, page 3, line 4, leave out “(1)(i) or (j)” and insert “(1)”
My Lords, I will speak to the amendments in this bloc—Amendments 17, 18, 19, 19A and 28. They relate to matters that we discussed extensively in our earlier debate. To help the House, I am willing not to move these amendments at this stage, on the understanding that we will probably come back to these issues of pragmatic flexibility on Report. We have had a very long discussion on this and the best thing is probably to move on. However, there may be Members who wish to have a bit of a discussion on whether Clause 3 should stand part.
Amendments 17 to 19A not moved.
Debate on whether Clause 3 should stand part of the Bill.
My Lords I had not intended to speak on whether Clause 3 should stand part. However, I wanted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, but was not permitted to do so because the Minister got to his feet and obviously wanted to intervene. I was later unable to intervene on the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, who did not seem to want to hear what I had to say. The first thing I want to say is that I agree entirely with what the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, said. Indeed, he got to the core of the matter. The reason we are in this difficulty today, the reason we have this Bill, and the reason we are talking about referendums is that Parliament, under the European Communities Act 1972, cannot do its job. That is why we have this difficulty.
Under normal circumstances, when great changes take place Parliament is able to discuss and amend. However, when Ministers and the Government agree to hand new powers to the European Union and make a treaty, we can discuss the treaty but we cannot amend its provisions. That is not how Parliament should work. If Parliament is to work properly, the European Communities Act needs amending so that Parliament can do its job. Then, when a treaty—or whatever means of handing further power to the European Union—happens, Parliament can properly discuss the Bill with some effect by moving amendments, voting on them and disagreeing if necessary with what has been agreed by Ministers. In particular there was great concern about Clause 3, which refers to Article 48(6), in another place and—as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, knows—in this place as well. He expressed his grave concern about the possible use of Article 48(6) of the Lisbon treaty.
The whole basis of the European Union is wrong as far as democracy is concerned. The problem is that the more power that is acceded to the institutions of the European Union, the less democratic it becomes. That has been shown. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, referred earlier to setting aside the provisions of our own Select Committee as well as the Select Committee of the House of Commons. If the Government believe that something is urgent, they just ignore everything that has been said here. What is more, the discussions we have here are long and good; there is no question about that. The European Union Select Committee works extremely hard, takes a lot of evidence and brings forward good suggestions and reports. However, they are either set aside or ignored by the European Union itself. I do not believe that any recommendation made by this House through its Select Committee has been accepted. What on earth is the use of that? The Select Committee makes reasonable proposals which are discussed and accepted by this House but are then not accepted by the European Union. In spite of the fact that the Select Committee is a good committee doing hard work, in the last analysis it has no power.
I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. However, he has not quite grasped the purpose of the European Union Select Committee. The purpose is not to advise the European Union but to advise the Government. If, in their sovereignty, the Government choose not to accept our advice, there is nothing that we can do about it. However, I do not think you can say that we are not performing our function just because the institutions of the European Union might not accept what we have said.
That is precisely what I did not say. I said that the Select Committee was performing its function and doing it very well but—whether it is a case of what the Government will accept or what the European Union will accept—in the last analysis, its recommendations have not been accepted, which is a great pity. Some of the changed arrangements for the Select Committee might make it more effective, but I very much doubt it.
I remind the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, who would not allow me to intervene in his speech, that the peace in Europe has had nothing to do with the European Community or the European Union but has been kept by NATO. The greatest threat to Europe occurred in 1949 with the Berlin blockade. The treaty of Rome was not signed until 1957 although I think that it was thought of before then. The United States and Britain ensured that the Russian blockade was broken; it had nothing to do with any other European state, with the exception perhaps of France which gave a little help. Therefore, it is about time that we stopped talking about the European Community or the European Union being responsible for keeping the peace in Europe—NATO has kept the peace in Europe. I do not know what would have happened without NATO and the American deterrent, so please let us give credit where it is due.
That would take rather a long time. I think that perhaps Germany rather than the European Union had some strategic purpose in regard to the break-up of Yugoslavia, but I had better not go into that at this time. Time is getting on and I have no doubt that noble Lords want to get to dinner, so I shall sit down.
I apologise as I am standing up. Mine is the first name attached to the Clause 3 stand part Motion on the Marshalled List. The Minister gave extremely courteous answers to the questions that I asked. I am very grateful to him for taking my questions seriously, but I have to say that the answers that he gave do not satisfy me. He has not explained the substantive reason why we need Clause 3 as well as Clause 2, nor has he answered my question about why there is no significance test in Clause 2 but only in Clause 3. He and I agree that you cannot use Clause 3 to transfer competence; you can use it only for things that do not transfer competence. The converse is not true. In Clause 2, you could, under the ordinary treaty revision procedure, do things which did not transfer competence. You could do very small things such as changing the number of justices in the Court of Justice. You would have to do that as a treaty change and you would probably, almost certainly given the structure in Brussels and the advice you would want to take from the court, do it with the heavy procedure. Therefore, it seems to me that the significance test ought in logic to apply in Clause 2 unless the Minister’s position is that anything, however insignificant, done under the standard treaty revision procedure will require a mandatory referendum.
The minatory warning of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, about the foreigners who read our Hansard is valid as regards bundling. I would add a second—the idea that, as the Minister said, what will happen is that,
“a whole raft of issues requiring attention can be wrapped up and packaged”.—[Official Report, 5/4/11; col. 1670.]
If we are imposing a referendum requirement on that package, it really is an insult to the public. We are asking them to vote on a package, not on the merits of individual measures. It seems to me that the idea of bundling is not just bad practice in Brussels, and not likely to be followed in future in Brussels—people are trying to get away from it—but is also inimical to the idea of a referendum, where the purpose, presumably, is that the people answering the question understand it. If there is a raft of six or eight questions and you get only one yes or no because it is a bundle, that seems to me to be acutely unsatisfactory as a way to proceed.
I also did not hear a satisfactory answer to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, about urgency. It is perfectly possible to envisage circumstances where waiting for a year, a year and a half or two years might not be in the UK’s interest. Therefore, it seems to me that the Liddle clause, bringing in urgency and national interest, is an extremely good idea. But even if that were accepted, I cannot see any need to have Clause 3. I will not press my point now and I apologise for burdening the House with my arguments at too great a length, but we will have to come back to this on Report. Will the Minister please read what we have said in this debate and my questions and consider whether they deserve serious answers? Will he also please look back to what the noble Lord, Lord Deben, said in his striking speech at the start of our first day in Committee in which, as a member of the Minister’s party, he gave strong advice that there would be many fewer problems with this Bill if there could be some movement on the 48(6) procedure in Clause 3?
My Lords, in the short time that I have been in this House, it has seemed very difficult to have discussions without noble Lords dividing on the basis that they are either for or against the European Union. Virtually every comment seems to boil down to that issue. However, I do not believe that that is right. People should not be put into one box or another; we are in the European Union and these measures—some of which have significant inelegancies, one has to admit—are there for a purpose. When the concept of nations working together is a perfectly good idea, when there is evidence that there is practical advantage in that, how is it that the general population do not share that view? Disillusionment has crept in because over a prolonged period of years Governments of different persuasions have made promises on these matters which they simply have not kept. This has built up a resistance; it has been seized on by red tops and tabloid newspapers and become a very stale and futile argument.
Nevertheless, we have to realise that there are certain practicalities. For instance, no subject is better at bringing Members into their places than a debate on Europe. I looked back and discovered that the largest number of Lords participating in a vote was in the Maastricht treaty debates in the 1990s, when 621 turned up to vote—the largest number that had appeared in this House since 1831. This clearly indicates that there is a huge interest and I suspect that it is because people are still on separate sides of the argument. We have to move away from that. We are in the European Community. I do not see any prospect of us being out of the European Community in the foreseeable future, so the issue is how can we make it more acceptable, more flexible and more answerable to the population?
Some very interesting arguments have been put forward about the measures, and we will have them again at Report. I suspect that their purpose is to try to get away from a position where Ministers make promises which they simply will not keep. That has undermined support for the European Union, from which there are many advantages to be had. For eight years in Brussels I gained experience on a modest organisation, the Committee of the Regions. There are Members on all sides of the House who were on that committee, some of them at the same time as I was. I have to say that it was not a particularly successful part of the European apparatus.
Europe and the bubble in Brussels have become disconnected from the ordinary person and that is a most unfortunate development. I fear that if Clause 3 is removed without this Chamber taking a more comprehensive view on what we should do about this disconnect, and if we go back to the old ways where Ministers make decisions and put them through the House under the Whip, then there can be little confidence about gaining the acceptance of ordinary people. The Minister referred to the danger of people becoming elitist—we say that people do not understand things. However, if we put propositions to people then we should jolly well ensure that they do understand. People are perfectly capable of understanding the significance of certain things. I therefore feel that we should not run scared. If you believe in something and you think that it is worth doing as a Minister and as a Government, you should jolly well go to the people and put it before them and ask for their support.
My Lords, I do not want to detain your Lordships so near to the dinner break; I shall make only three observations in relation to Clause 3 and whether it should stand part of the Bill. What we have seen during the course of this debate is a series of false assumptions and non sequiturs advanced to justify the Bill, and in particular this clause, which the Government are bringing forward.
My first observation is that we must be absolutely clear that there is no intention on the part of any Government or any member state in the European Union to claim further powers for the institutions of the European Union at the expense of member states. If anyone can jump up and point to a position, a policy, a statement, a direction of thinking on the part of any member state that would suggest otherwise, I would be perfectly prepared to hear it. Instead, what you have among the 27 member states of the European Union is not a determination to claim more powers—on the contrary. You have a determination, rightly, to better use the existing powers for the EU and its institutions, with a better sense of strategic direction for the European Union, a better set of priorities which really support our long-term economic and other interests in Europe and a better quality of decision-making on the part of the institutions, including the Commission and the European Parliament, as well as the European Council.
If I may persist, I am not going to make very extensive remarks and we have heard a lot from the noble Lord.
On the basis of my first observation there is really no need for this Bill.
Secondly, if there were a move by one or more member states or institutions in the European Union to secure the transfer of more powers to the EU, the Government would not win their case or prevail against this argument or mood or sentiment by picking up the blunderbuss weapon that such a referendum would represent. For the Government to persuade others to their point of view, they need to use argument, they need to use persuasion and negotiation. If we were proposing something and another member state said that it was having nothing to do with this and was, indeed, going to put us over a barrel and blackmail us into submission by holding a referendum in its country that would bring the whole thing to a grinding halt, do you think that we would give in to that sort of blackmail or pressure? Of course not. We would want to hear the argument, we would want to be persuaded, there would have to be negotiation. That would be the case if the opposite situation arose.
I slightly hesitate to make my third point as I always fear I might go too far in conceding too much to the Government, but judging by their record to date as far as Europe is concerned, they are in reality and in practice adopting a largely pragmatic and common-sense approach. Why on earth would they allow themselves to be diverted in this ridiculous way by an absurd Bill, simply to console and accommodate the extreme Europhobic views of a portion of the Tory party? Much better, in my view, to go back to what the Prime Minister said in an earlier incarnation when he was leader of the Opposition. David Cameron used to say that what we need is a strong, determined, focused European Union with all the combined strength that it can bring to address the really great global problems and challenges that we face in the world. I remember him writing an article in the Sunday Telegraph where he talked about the needs of global growth and tackling global poverty; the great challenge of global warming, the insidiousness of global terrorism for which, he said, we need a strong European Union in order to combine our strength to address these great issues. How right he was.
I wish only that the Government would revert, in time and in rhetoric, to those words and that sentiment expressed by the Prime Minister in an earlier incarnation. Instead, we are grinding through the Committee stage of the Bill, trying desperately to put the equivalent of lipstick on a pig. Let us be honest, these amendments will make the mildest and most modest difference to a pathetic and inadequate Bill. I hope that the Government will recognise this, see sense before it is too late, and resolve to get on with following their largely pragmatic and common-sense approach to Europe that has, in the main, characterised their policy since the election.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, did not take my brief intervention, which is slightly against our school rules—he is something of a new boy, so I of course forgive him—I would just comment that it is of course true that if the corrupt octopus in Brussels does not want or try to take any more powers, it is because it does not need any. As the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, pointed out today, and as I have often pointed out in the past, you have to look only at the European Union’s use and abuse of Article 308 to see how it takes powers, even when they are not clearly sanctioned by the treaties.
My main point is to the noble Lord, Lord Empey, who extolled the virtues of governmental collaboration. We all agree with governmental collaboration, but I am afraid that that leads me to the question I put to the Minister in our earlier debate. I do not expect him to answer now, but I would like to keep it on the agenda, because he moved magnificently from the proceedings on the Bill to the Statement, and then straight back to these proceedings. Perhaps he therefore has not had time to consider my point, which was echoed by my noble friend Lord Stoddart. It was that the idea behind the European Union—the object of the exercise—is precisely that the nation states should lose their national democracies. It is precisely that the nation states were responsible for two world wars and all the rest of it, and they therefore had to be emasculated and diluted into this new form of supranational government, which is not working.
The euro—a subject that noble and Europhile Lords are going out of their way to avoid—was never an economic project, as I have pointed out many times over the years since its conception. The euro was designed as a cement to hold the emerging mega-state together. The euro is in deep trouble. With any luck it will not be with us in its present form for much longer. However, that does not get us away from the original project of European integration, which remains highly dangerous and is finally being rumbled by the people of Europe. Quite frankly, the sooner the whole thing collapses and we go back to intergovernmental collaboration, as extolled by the noble Lord, Lord Empey, and others, with democratic nations freely trading and collaborating together, the better. It is impossible to think of any so-called achievement of the European Union that could not have been achieved by friendly intergovernmental collaboration among the consenting democratic nations that the countries of Europe, thankfully, are. I want to keep that deep question on the Minister’s agenda, and I trust that we can address it before we conclude on the Question that the Bill do now pass.
My Lords, I should like to talk about Clause 3 standing part of the Bill, if that is agreeable to your Lordships.
The EU factsheet that the Government put out stated that the Bill is designed to strengthen the connection between the British people and the European Union. Actually, Clause 3 seems to be almost perversely designed to do the exact opposite of that perfectly reasonable ambition. The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, who, sadly, is not in his place, said that those of us who had supported the amendments to Clause 3 were in denial about the lack of popularity of the European Union. I am afraid that that is simply not true. I agree with much of the diagnosis about the EU’s lack of popularity, but I absolutely disagree with the treatment that the Government are putting forward by means of Clause 3.
The exceptions to the referendum lock are very limited. On most issues, that lock is unbreakable, as was pointed out earlier. It is enormously strict, and the purpose of the amendments has been to give Parliament greater flexibility in respect of whether or not a referendum is necessary. The Government are on record as saying that referendums should be kept for exceptional issues and important decisions that ought to be taken on a nationwide basis.
In an earlier debate in your Lordships’ House, the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, described this as a “watershed” Bill. The measures in Clause 3 are watershed measures that need to be tempered by greater flexibility—the sort of flexibility that the amendments provided for—that will maintain the authority of this Parliament, which would otherwise be hugely undermined. We are a parliamentary democracy; that is the basis of our government. This Bill drives a coach and horses through that concept.
The noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, said that it cannot be denied that the frequent use of referendums will seriously damage the legitimacy of Parliament. I think that the situation is much worse than that. The measures in Clause 3 will engender enormous cynicism among the British people if they are asked to take part in referendum after referendum, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, said. Worse, there will be not just cynicism, but ridicule—the worst of all possible weapons that can be used.
In time, Parliament will recognise that that is the case and will probably, therefore, avoid using referendums. The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, said earlier that he would welcome avoiding such referendums, because it would mean that a block on EU decision-making could be made. Of course we may be able to block EU decisions in order to avoid a referendum, but other countries may have decided to go ahead under the enhanced co-operation provided for in the Lisbon treaty. The Minister has not answered that point. There is no such thing as an absolute block in many areas because of the provisions of the Lisbon treaty in allowing for that enhanced co-operation, and I should be grateful if the Minister said a little more about those provisions and the likelihood—indeed, some would say, the inevitability—of them being used. If that is the case, this country would be pushed to the margins of Europe again—as a result, distancing the British people even further from Europe and even further from the objectives that the Minister so passionately espoused when putting forward the Bill.
The amendments that we discussed today have been designed to provide that greater flexibility and to give Parliament the ability to look at what really merits a referendum and consider the serious issues on which the people of this country, on a nationwide basis, should be called upon to take decisions. Somehow the impression has been given—notably by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington—that if the United Kingdom blocks a measure, that is the end of it. Those of us who went through the Lisbon treaty know that that simply is not true. On this issue I look particularly at the Liberal Democrat Benches. They are good Europeans. I regret to say that in many ways they have been better Europeans than my own party. That is the truth of the matter, and that they can go along with these sorts of measures in Clause 3 frankly beggars belief.
My Lords, we have discussed the principles and details embraced in this clause at some length and I am grateful for the additional points that have been raised in the stand part debate.
I apologise straight away if the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, thought that I cut him short or intervened as he expressed his very sincerely held views. I thought that he had commented earlier but I am very glad that he has now had an opportunity to speak. He raised issues that go wider than the Bill, although they are not totally unrelated to it. He raised the question of scrutiny in our two Houses, which is something that we want to strengthen. He is absolutely right that in the past the reasons for not observing or waiting for the scrutiny process were possibly a little too cavalier. These are matters that we have all argued for and there is a constant search for improvement. However, I think that the operation of our own European Union Committee and the European Scrutiny Committee in the other place are commendable. They cover an enormous amount of ground with very great thoroughness. Speaking from this government position, I can say that it certainly is right for the Government to pay maximum attention to that. It makes complete sense.
There is the broader question of the democratic nature of the European Union and the kind of issues that were addressed in the Laeken declaration. That declaration pleaded with the European institutions and national Governments to seek ways to bring European affairs closer to popular consent and to the people so that they had a greater understanding of where the European Union benefited its members—as a home club or home team it could achieve greater things in combination—and where it should not necessarily intrude on affairs that were properly the concern of nation states and those close to the ground of intimate local issues, which were best governed and decided at national or local level and possibly not at the loftier level of the European Union. That is a broader issue which we shall perhaps come to.
The European Union, like any great institution and certain institutions of the last century, needs reform. We are now facing totally different conditions from the ones that we faced even a couple of years ago, and so is Europe. Power has moved, wealth has moved and economic activity has moved. The things that some of us forecast 15 years ago, such as the rise of easternisation, as we called it—the rise of the eastern powers—have taken place. That is a question not just of shifting economic gravity but of shifting political gravity as well. In those conditions, Europe as an institution needs to move ahead and the nation states within it need to achieve greater popular support and democratic consensus than they have achieved so far. I shall come to that point again in a moment when I address the views of the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, which were extremely interesting and stimulating.
I turn, first, to the noble Lord, Lord Kerr. I am sorry that he did not think that my answers were serious. They were intended to be deadly serious; obviously I did not have quite the right tone. However, I emphasised as strongly as I could that we need Clause 3 as well as Clause 2. Clause 3 is needed to address areas where there can be transfers of power and where the special short revision procedure is employed. The noble Lord asked why there was no significance test in the case of Clause 2. The answer is that in Clause 2 we are dealing with treaty changes where competences are shifted or not. In the case of the judges that he mentioned, there would not be a transfer of powers, so there would not be a transfer of competences. If more judges were appointed, the issue would not arise, so there would be no need for any of these procedures at all. Otherwise, all the issues in Clause 2 require treaty changes; and treaty changes, unless they are exempted or unless there is no transfer of power, qualify for and attract a referendum. In Clause 3 the pattern is completely different. There, we are dealing with transfers of powers which are not defined in the treaty, although they are defined to a considerable extent in the Bill. I have listed them again and again until I have become almost short of voice. This is a whole range of powers that can be transferred, and a degree of judgment—although not a vast degree—is required in relation to their significance. That is the difference.
A little earlier the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, asked about another matter and I did not answer as thoroughly as I would have wished. It concerned the difference between Article 48(6) and Article 48(7). Article 48(6) addresses any part of Part 3 of the treaty on the internal policies of the European Union but only those where there is no increase in competence, because an increase in competence would not be consistent with Article 48(6). Article 48(7) is about the removal of vetoes in a whole range of cases, excepting those with military implications, which can be removed only under the ordinary revision procedure, which of course would be governed by Clause 2, and the extension of co-decision by the European Parliament. That is the difference between Article 48(6) and Article 48(7), which the noble Lord asked me about. I hope he feels that those are serious answers.
The central theme of the Bill is that some contribution—obviously this is not a total solution—to the restoration of trust about where we stand in relation to the present and the future of the European Union needs to be established. It has been draining away very fast indeed. A whole range of things, some of which the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, touched on, can be addressed to reverse this and to bring to the European issue some kind of settled public consensus of the kind that, as I said earlier, is available to this day in relation to NATO, the United Nations and many other bodies. The British people are happy to be an interdependent, integrated part of these great organisations. However, that is not so in the case of the European Union because the hand has been played wrong again and again, the language and tone have been wrong, and the trust has evaporated. We are trying to make some contribution to reversing that situation.
As to the other point that the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, made about bundling treaties, I am not quite clear which side he is now on. Is the criticism that there will be too many individual treaties or that only big treaties tend to come along? We all have in our minds the Lisbon treaty and we took different views—I freely confess that there are different views among the coalition partners—on whether it was or was not like the constitution of the EU. We debated that for many hours and nights, and some of us had very strong views. We recall that the Government of the day, of whom the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, was, I think, a part at that time, believed that there should be a referendum on the constitution. Indeed, all parties said that there should be, but then somehow it all slipped away and suddenly only one party was prepared to stick to its undertaking that there should be a referendum. It seems to me that that is also going to be the pattern of the future. When we think of the vast complexities of getting treaty changes through the entire system of the 27 members of the European Union—soon to be 28—small changes involving transfers of competence or significant transfers of power to the European Union being proposed and having to go through the elaborate 21 or 24-month treaty change process is so unlikely as to be incredible. We will not see that. Although many people at the time of Lisbon said that they hoped there would not be another treaty, I suspect that there will be a treaty vehicle coming along. It may be a big one and it may include a whole number of issues involving transfers of competence and treaty changes.
Some of us, though not all, thought at the time of Lisbon that such matters should have been put to the British people. That seemed a reasonable thing to do and the failure to do so seems to some of us to be part of the further slump in support for the European Union. I note some fascinating figures showing that in some countries which did have a referendum on the Lisbon treaty—Denmark is one—there was some improvement in support and enthusiasm for the work of the European Union as a result of people being consulted. Some of the cynicism along the lines of “This won’t help. This will do the opposite”, as said by the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, may not be well founded. If it is known that the political establishment—the elite and the governing forces in Parliament—is prepared to justify changes that it believes to be in the national interest in a referendum and to put them boldly and strongly, that will help, not hinder, the European Union.
I agree with a great deal of the tone of the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, who comes to these matters with his customary realism and acute perception. Of course, the European Union needs to improve its operations. In many areas it is not delivering and is unable to be the combined, focused, united group that many of us wanted to see since the earliest days when we went to the Avenue de la Joyeuse Entrée in the early 1960s before the UK began to think about membership. Some of us dreamt that the kind of Europe that would emerge would be flexible, effective and able to come together on a number of issues. It has done so. It has agreed great things but in some areas it has run into increasing public cynicism and doubt, and in others it has clearly overplayed its hand.
The noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, said that persuasion and negotiation are required, which is absolutely right, and it would be so if next time we had a referendum on a substantial block of proposals for further reform of the European Union, particularly if they are the kind of proposals that I would like to see. They would be carried but that would need to be by persuasion and negotiation. The noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, talks about using a blunderbuss, but when Mr Blair suggested a referendum on the European constitution—it was riddled with all kinds of provisions for competence transfer, all of which eventually went ahead under the guise of the Lisbon treaty—did he think that that was a blunderbuss? I do not think that it was; it was a perfectly sensible prospect that was never put into action, although it was in France and the Netherlands, for arguing the next stage of development for the European Union. If we want a strong, focused Union, I should have thought that requirement number one was the closer involvement between the institutions and the people, which means a more politically supported European Union understood for its values and its limitations, and that is seen as an effective and balanced organisation of which we the British are proud to be members, as we hope are the other 27 members. All of us in many areas, though not all, face the enormous challenges of the modern world.
The noble Baroness, Lady Symons, spoke about trust. We just have to disagree on that. We do not believe that the trust is there and we shall begin painstakingly to put it back, which is why I want the Bill to become the pattern and the way of things not only in this country but increasingly in others, many of which already have their own referendum provisions in certain instances and very elaborate filters in the approval of any treaty changes or transfers of power. We want that pattern to go forward and we think that it will help to build the trust that is clearly not there.
Noble Lords referred yet again to the frequency of referenda. For the reasons I have described again and again, if there are no transfers of competence there will be no referendum; when there is an accession treaty there will be no referendum; when Britain is not affected there will be no referendum; when matters are not significant there will be no referendum. There will be referenda when issues covered by the schedule and in the detail of the Bill would produce reasons for treaty change. There would then be, as noble Lords who have been involved in such things know perfectly well, elaborate bargaining, which will go on for many months. There are a lot of negotiations so that some things dear to one country are held in place while others are traded away, and there emerges a bundle, which the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, does not seem to like. A bundle of proposals for the further reform of the European Union will emerge. We—all parties—will fight for a pattern of reform that entrenches freedom, justice and more democracy. I hope that we would get the support of other member states in that direction.
That is what will emerge and it will trigger referenda, as it will probably contain further proposals of transfer of competence. It may not but if it does it will trigger a referendum. I do not see that there is any worry about the so-called blocking of decisions. With a veto behind us we often negotiate vigorously on all sorts of decisions and we will join eagerly in the decisions that benefit this nation. We do not need treaty changes, threats, cajoling, blackmail or anything else to be effective negotiators in Brussels, as the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, probably knows better than all of us put together because he was effective in certain key areas. How we or other nations handle these matters is completely divorced from how we conduct our affairs in Brussels. The noble Baroness mentioned enhanced co-operation but, frankly, that is not affected by this Bill. We shall be debating aspects of that in a later amendment so I shall not make further comments on that.
Those are the views that I have and which I offer to your Lordships about this Clause 3 stand part. It is a central brick in the building block in this house of trust that one is trying to construct to bring Europe away from its elitist label and its unpopularity, and to ensure that in this country people trust those in charge concerning the sovereignty of this country, which is a role we can play as an active and positive member of the European Union. That is how we see the European Union reforming and making itself fit for purpose, if I may use that phrase, in the 21st century. That is why I believe that the clause should stand part of the Bill.
Clause 3 agreed.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 9 pm.