House of Lords
Friday, 31 January 2014.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Leicester.
European Union (Referendum) Bill
Committee (2nd Day)
Clause 1: Referendum on the United Kingdom's membership of the European Union
50: Clause 1, page 1, line 12, leave out subsection (6)
My Lords, I apologise if I appear less lucid than I hope I usually am.
Who said never? I have just travelled back overnight from the United States.
I was there with the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, who told me that he would have made a lot of money if he had been able to keep me there. But I managed to escape and here I am. Earlier on, it sounded as though the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, had been flying overnight.
Get on with it!
I will get on with it, as my noble friend said.
I was there with the European Union Sub-Committee on External Affairs, which is not irrelevant to what we are talking about today—to the Bill as a whole and indeed to this amendment. We were there to discuss with senators, congressmen and members of the Administration the proposed TTIP, the trade and investment deal between the European Union and the United States, dealing with important issues such as financial services, agriculture, automobiles and so forth. It is because we are a member of the European Union that we are part of that and we can benefit from that trade deal as well as many other trade deals.
It was very interesting because, in the margins, just about everyone we spoke to, including the trade union—the AFLCIO—businessmen, senators and congressmen, said that they hoped that the United Kingdom would stay in the European Union. The Americans overwhelmingly believe that it is important from our point of view, from the European Union point of view and from their point of view.
I return to the Bill and this amendment. I am grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne. I bumped into him earlier on and described him as the custodian of the Companion. I respect him in that capacity. I will keep an eye on him and he will be keeping an eye me to make sure that I stay in order.
I said in my initial speech that the Bill is not fit for purpose. These amendments and many of the amendments that we will deal with today point out some of the problems, omissions and inadequacies of the Bill as drafted. I do not know who drafted the Bill, but it certainly does not have the fingerprints of good parliamentary draftsmen. It is totally inadequate.
Some people in Scotland think, and we can take the Scottish referendum as an example, that if—heaven forbid—they vote yes on 18 September this year then if not immediately within very quick succession Scotland will become an independent nation. However, it is not as simple as that; it is not at all simple. It is up to Parliament—this Parliament—to consider the result of that referendum, to legislate, and to negotiate and discuss it with the Scottish Government.
Similarly, there is a view that if 50% plus one vote for the United Kingdom to move out of the European Union, that would happen very quickly. However, again, that is not the case. It is up to Parliament to assess the result, which is why subsequent amendments that say Parliament must assess whether the result of the referendum is “definitive and beyond challenge”. It would create tremendous problems if it was challenged. The problems could arise, first, if the referendum was very close indeed, especially if there were a lot of spoilt ballot papers, which there could be—we have known elections where the number of spoilt ballot papers has exceeded the majority vote. In a referendum, that would mean that the result could be challenged.
We will come to amendments later about counting in each of the constituent parts of the United Kingdom: England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. If there was a different result, for example, in Scotland, as we discussed briefly last Friday, we should think of the consequences of that. Indeed, there are other consequences in other parts of the United Kingdom. What if the result of the referendum was very close? Under the Bill, everyone who has a vote for a UK European Parliament constituency will be voting in this referendum, which means that people from Gibraltar will be voting. We will come to those amendments in more detail later on, but just imagine if, on a very close result, the outcome of the referendum as to whether the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union was decided by the votes of the people of Gibraltar. That would be astonishing, but it could happen. These are the kind of things that we have to take account of.
Later on, we will discuss who votes in the referendum, which is relevant to this as well. We will discuss whether 16 and 17 year-olds should vote, and whether European Union citizens living in the United Kingdom or UK citizens living in Europe should. Again, whether or not we incorporate and accept any of those amendments—I hope we will—will affect the outcome of the referendum as well. These are important matters, which is why the gravamen of what I am proposing is that, ultimately, this Parliament should decide.
Two amendments, in the names of my noble friend Lord Anderson, and the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and in my name, relate to specifically defining some of the qualifications that Parliament should take account of. In particular, Amendment 51 says that 40% of those registered to vote should,
“give assent in the referendum”,
while Amendment 56 would require that,
“40 per cent of those registered to vote participate in the referendum”.
Amendment 56 is the one that I am really arguing for. I think that we have got the wording wrong in Amendment 51 and, at a later stage, I would take the opportunity of changing that. Let us say that 40% participate in the referendum and it passes by a small majority of just over 50%. That means, effectively, fewer than 25% of voters could determine the future of the United Kingdom within the European Union. That is astonishing. There needs to be, and Parliament should say that there needs to be, a good turnout for the result of this referendum to be definitive and beyond challenge.
I have occasionally been accused, here and elsewhere, of going on too long—
The record shows that my critics are completely wrong, as my noble friends rightly agree. All the records show that none of my speeches is more than 10 minutes, and neither is this one. I beg to move.
I remind your Lordships that if Amendment 50 is agreed, I cannot call Amendment 50A by reason of pre-emption.
My Lords, as so often, I follow my noble friend Lord Foulkes. Our names appear on a number of the amendments. In the other place, we used to work together as part of a team, and I believe that we are part of a team now, and wholly in agreement. He talked about his visit to Washington and the trade deal. If the Scotch Whisky Association, for example, were to have a problem with Japan in respect of Japanese whisky, is it better that the UK Government make representations to Japan or that we rely on the full weight of the European Union? That is why business is so concerned about the unilateralism of this Government and, indeed, of this very strange Bill.
My noble friend has said that he is very tired after coming back overnight from Washington. Given the clarity and lucidity of his speech, I hope he can do that more often, as it clearly had a marked effect on him. I came back after only a week in Strasbourg fairly tired. This is clearly a very important debate. He mentioned the importance of turnout. We had a problem in Wales in the 1997 referendum, where there was a turnout of 50%—25% for and 25% against—although, as it happens, the devolved institutions are now wholly accepted.
The aim of these amendments is to prevent a constitutional outrage. Any sixth-former who studies politics knows it is a clear principle of the constitution that no Government can bind their successor. So why try? What is the purpose? I had a television debate with a leading member of the Conservative Party, and when it was put to him, “What, really, is the purpose of this Bill?”, his reply was very honest: he said, “It’s a signal”. If something is a signal, one of course has to ask the simple question of who it is a signal to. The signal was intended, presumably, either for potential UKIP supporters or Conservative Party Back-Benchers in the other place. If it is a signal, it is clearly a signal which has not been heard or heeded.
I referred last Friday, which seems an age ago, to an excellent article in the Financial Times which argued that Mr Cameron’s gamble had failed. He can try perhaps to buy off a portion of the electorate, be it a portion of his own party, with this gesture, but it will not work, because they will ask for more. Rather like the penguins in the penguin house they will swallow it down and demand more—the trouble is that this Government may be inclined to give it to them.
The Mirror this morning contains a piece apparently saying that the Prime Minister is in office but not in power—I think that I have heard that somewhere before. It means that the Prime Minister’s is less and less in authority. Clearly, he needs allies in the European Union. He has insulted Monsieur Hollande, who is here today, by saying that the French economy is substantially worse than our own. That is probably true, but it is not a way of influencing people and making friends.
I would remind the Prime Minister that the Czech coalition negotiations have just been announced. Previously, there was a highly Eurosceptic Government there under President Klaus; now, with the change having taken place, a potential ally has been lost in the Czech Republic. The Czech position on Europe has fundamentally changed in that the party there which is allied with my own party is Europhile; the Christian Democrats are Europhile; and the party of former President Klaus has been consigned to the sidelines— so, again, the Prime Minister has lost an ally. He lost an ally in Bulgaria and Romania with what is being said in respect of immigration. He has lost an ally in Poland. So where is he going to find that coalition which is necessary in any European politics, as the noble Lords, Lord Kerr and Lord Hannay, would say? Where would he find those allies?
The other problem which exercises me—I shall say it at this stage rather than later—is that the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, agreed last Friday that she was speaking from the Front Bench but on behalf of the Conservative Party. That was an honest assessment of where she stands; she clearly does not speak on behalf of the coalition. She also sought to preserve the fiction that this is a Private Member’s Bill. If this be an initiative of the Conservative Party, on whose behalf she speaks, and if it be the case that this is purely a Private Member’s Bill, I ask with all delicacy what the officials are doing in the official Box. Who are they briefing? Are they briefing the Conservative Party—that surely would be wholly improper? Once upon a time, I was a member of the Diplomatic Service and I sat in the officials’ box; I would like to think that I wrote one of Mr Heath’s best speeches, but that is another story. I was then, as an official, briefing the Government. Who are the officials briefing on this occasion? This is a matter of considerable constitutional importance and is potentially quite improper.
If we proceed with the prospect of a referendum by 2017, and even if one has to trigger that as a result of Motions in both Houses on the basis that no Parliament can bind its successor, what is absolutely clear, as night follows day, is that there will be substantial uncertainty. Dare I say that business does not like uncertainty? Inward investors do not like uncertainty. There will therefore be considerable problems. We have enough inward investment at the moment; we are a relatively proud recipient of inward investment because of our stability; but what will be the consequences if we say that we do not know, perhaps for the next four years, what will happen in this country? The CBI has pointed it out very clearly: what indeed is going to happen?
I return to the purpose of the amendments. It is clear that no Parliament can bind its successor—it is an outrage to pretend otherwise—and that the whole purpose of this Bill is to give some signal to Conservative Back-Benchers. They have rejected it and we should reject it.
My Lords, I rise to speak briefly in support of Amendment 50 and to address the issue of delegation. I am delighted to see my noble friend in his place, undiminished in his powers of argument and bringing such positive messages.
The amendment anticipates in principle a wider argument about the nature of delegation as a whole in what we all agree is a very perverse Bill. I hope that it provides some context for later amendments, Amendments 66 and 70—to which I have put my name—which raise the question of inappropriate delegation. I do not want to pre-empt that debate but instead to raise a general point about the approach taken to parliamentary control in a Bill of such enormous constitutional importance.
This House is well versed in discussing issues of delegation and we are well used to challenging a Government when they bring forward legislation with inappropriate or inadequate delegation and parliamentary control. We are all too familiar with the problem that statutory instruments can be debated but not overturned apart from in exceptional, even notorious, circumstances. Time and time again, the Delegated Powers Committee, on which I have the privilege to sit and which is ably chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, has had to challenge attempts to delegate legislation which is sloppily drafted and based on arguments which are weak, confused, disingenuous and generally inadequate. We have often in our reports to government rejected those arguments in favour of stronger controls. We have been successful and this House has supported us in protecting Parliament.
Here we have a Bill which is in a class of its own, a Bill which should never have come before this House as a Private Member’s Bill let alone with the support of government. That is where the problem over the delegation of powers in this Bill starts. This is not a government Bill. There is no Explanatory Memorandum, which is what we would have expected in the Delegated Powers Committee had it been a government Bill. Such an Explanatory Memorandum would have set out the case for delegation; it would have defended it; it would have explained why it was the only recourse; and we would have been able to test those arguments. We would have brought those arguments to the House and made a judgment on them.
We are not able to do that. Reports from two very distinguished committees of this House have made severe judgments on this Bill, but we have not been able to test the arguments. I am sure that when the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, replies to the amendment, he will try to help the House and offer an explanation as to why there is such a unique—apart from in the 1975 referendum Bill, which was very different—degree of delegation in this Bill.
However, I do not believe that an oral explanation is sufficient for this House, so I invite the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs—and I do not believe that it is too late for him to do it—to provide, even now, an Explanatory Memorandum for the House to consider, to explain why he thinks that a Bill of this magnitude should delegate the key functions to secondary legislation and thus place debate on those functions effectively beyond the reach of this House, rather than provide for them in the Bill, as would have been far more proper. I do not have to remind the noble Lord that, since it is a Private Member’s Bill, such a memorandum would have to be entirely his own work, but I do not think that, as a gifted novelist, he would have any difficulty with that, so I look forward to his reply
Any Bill of such major constitutional significance should be a government Bill, which sets out on its face the major characteristics and implications and which can be debated, explored, and above all, changed, if necessary, in this House. That is what we are for; that is what we do.
I am sure that our debates on Amendments 66 and 70 will reflect on how Parliament could exert stronger control over this process. In terms of this amendment, Clause 1(6) attempts to put both the date of the election and the Welsh version of the question into an affirmative order. In any other context, that would indeed be an appropriate level of control. However, I believe that this clause should simply be removed because, in the words of so many noble Lords, the Bill is unfit for purpose. It is of such a confused parentage that it is very difficult to know whether it is a single parentage. If it were a child, it would certainly be very much at risk; social services would be taking a serious interest in it. Under these circumstances, any attempt to legitimise the process by way of delegation is inappropriate itself and should be rejected. That is what my noble friend Lord Foulkes’s amendment does and that is what I hope the House will commend.
This Bill came to this House from another place. In that other place, it was not opposed properly either by the noble Baroness’s party or by the Liberal Democrats. It is a point that has been made before and a point that needs to be made again. This Bill is indeed defective, but it came to us in the state in which it came. Last week, your Lordships’ House inserted two constructive and sensible amendments which did not in any way destroy the intent and purpose of the Bill. It is up to your Lordships’ House to deal with this matter now as expeditiously as we can so that it can go back with those amendments—there may even be another one—and the other place will then have the duty to decide whether it is going to pass the Bill as amended by your Lordships’ House or not. It is at that end of the Corridor where that ultimate decision should be made. It is the duty of this House not to impede what the other House has passed, but to improve it. That has been done. It is now up to the other House—or it should be when we have completed our Committee and Report stages—to accept the amendments or not. Your Lordships’ House must not be cast in the role of a body that has stood in the way of a referendum by destroying the Bill. This House’s duty is to improve, not to destroy. It is the job of the other House to decide whether the legislation should go on the statute book and I hope that that will motivate our discussions today.
My Lords, the noble Lord has properly said that a week ago, this House passed two constructive amendments. Why did he not support them?
I made my position very plain at Second Reading. I did not support those amendments because I believed it was sensible to give the Bill a fair passage. However, I accepted last week—and made a speech to this effect—that we had improved the Bill with those two amendments and the Bill had not in any way been destroyed in its intent or purpose. We must not now make ourselves a laughing stock by talking too long or by too many of us talking. We need to get this Bill through today so we can have Report next week or as soon as possible. The Commons must make the final decision as to whether this Bill goes on the statute book.
My Lords, the noble Lord has spoken about sticking to the rules in your Lordships’ House. I listened carefully to what he said and could not detect whether he was speaking for or against the amendment in front of us. I was quite clear last week that he was against the amendments that he now admits have improved the Bill. Information would be helpful.
My Lords, the last thing I am prepared to do, with great respect, is to have a lecture from the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, as to the functions of this House or the way in which we ought to behave. This whole Bill is a prominent and clear example of how this House should not behave. This is clearly a major constitutional issue; for it to be brought forward by a private Member in a rush, and to be told by Members on the other side of this House that we are not entitled to consider it properly, is not only arrogant, but positively impudent. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, will reflect on this at some stage.
The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said that the Bill was improved by the two amendments that we passed last week. That is true: it might be further improved by two amendments that we pass today, without destroying—as he put it—the purpose of the Bill. The amendments that have gone down were tabled with thought. They were not tabled in order to filibuster; they were tabled to deal with a situation into which this House—and indeed the country—should never have been put by this Government. If the Government had shown an ounce of steel in their relationship with their own right wing, we would not be in this position today. They have not and we are in this mess, which is what it is, and we must now try to deal with it, but to be lectured by a sermon from the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, is, frankly, almost too much.
I will try, perhaps, to calm down slightly. I have an amendment in this group—Amendment 73—which I hope the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, will think is helpful and constructive. It is a serious attempt to deal with the difficulties raised by this Bill in terms of legislating now for what might happen in the next Parliament. The next Parliament after the next election will be a different Parliament from the one that is now sitting. In those circumstances, that Parliament should have a say—and a direct say—given by this Bill, and not by some general constitutional doctrine that no Parliament can bind its successors. It should be given by this Bill in the sense that, before the Bill actually comes into force—it can be passed in this Parliament if that is what Parliament wishes to do—a resolution is passed by both Houses in the next Parliament saying that the Bill should now come into force. That is an attempt to deal with the dilemma in which we are placed, that we have a Bill in this Parliament designed to take effect in the next Parliament. Let me wrap it up: that is the effect of the Bill. It is not designed to take effect in this Parliament; it is designed to take effect in the next Parliament.
Therefore, it seems to me that in those circumstances, it is only just, reasonable and fair—and, indeed, constitutional—that that successor Parliament will have some say in whether and how the Bill comes into force. My amendment is not, I hope, a foolish one or a filibustering one. I said in my speech that it was not a filibustering one: it is not going to go on for very long, anyway. It is an attempt to square this very difficult circle in which we have been placed by the shenanigans of the party opposite, and particularly by the Government. The amendment aims to square that circle, by providing that, although the Bill is legislating for something designed to take effect in the next Parliament, the next Parliament will nevertheless have a direct say as to whether or not that should take place.
The noble Lord, Lord Richard, in addressing his comments to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, several times suggested that this was the Government’s Bill. I just wanted to put on the record that it is a Conservative Party Private Member’s Bill, not a government Bill.
My Lords, I will speak to the same amendment in this group to which the noble Lord, Lord Richard, referred: Amendment 73. I would like to do so in a spirit of positive response to what the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said—that is to say, to attempt to improve this Bill. I will also, therefore, speak briefly.
The point of Amendment 73, as the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said, is to deal with one of the most glaring defects in this Bill as currently drafted, which is that its sole purpose is to bind the hands of a future Parliament. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, will be able to produce chapter and verse for occasions on which legislation has had a binding effect on future Parliaments, unless they chose to repeal the measure, but I would be delighted if he could produce a single example of a piece of legislation that had no purpose other than to bind the hands of a future Parliament, which is the case with the Bill as drafted.
Amendment 73 would remedy that defect. It would ensure that a future Parliament would have to pass a resolution to bring the Bill into effect. That seems to me to restore the balance in our constitutional practice. I am occasionally astonished by the nonchalance—or, some would say, the recklessness—with which the sponsors of the Bill are lopping great chunks off our constitutional practice. It is really pretty odd. Yesterday in this House, we had a superb debate about the future of the union of the United Kingdom and there was unanimity around the House, but today Members opposite, the sponsors of the Bill, are supporting a Bill that will increase the number of yes votes in Scotland in September 2014 and decrease the number of no votes. I know that logic is not normally a strong suit of our countrymen, and probably me, but I think that we are carrying this a little far now. I hope that, when he comes to reply to this debate, the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, will take on board the importance of Amendment 73, as well as the others in this group.
May I ask the noble Lord whether he is in favour of joining the monetary union?
The noble Lord may very well ask me that, but it would take me too long to answer while at the same time staying within the bounds of not filibustering.
The reason why I ask him that is that, if he was in favour of joining, under the treaty of Maastricht, that would be irrevocable—it would be binding on another Parliament in future.
The noble Lord has shifted between two tenses. He first asked whether I was in favour of joining the monetary union. The answer to that is yes. He also asked whether I am now in favour of joining the monetary union at this point in time. The answer is no.
Is it the noble Lord’s contention as a constitutional principle that this Parliament can never determine anything that happens in the next Parliament? If so, how did we come to commit ourselves to the Olympics?
If the noble Lord had listened to what I said, which I fear he did not, he would know that I did not say that this House or this Parliament can never pass measures that have an effect in a future Parliament. Indeed, I specifically said that I am sure that there are lots of examples where that has been the case. I merely said that I thought that this measure, the sole purpose of which is to bind the hands of a future Parliament—it has no other purpose; nothing will happen during this Parliament—is a very odd constitutional innovation.
My Lords, I am one of those who believe that it is sensible to discuss the content of the Bill, if only because it is a marker, so I should like to return to its substance and talk briefly to the amendments.
If the UK were to leave the EU, it would be the biggest decision that the country had taken for at least 60 years. The idea that its consequence would be a simple retrieval of lost sovereignty is surely ridiculous. The country would have to redefine its place in the world: 60 million people confronting a world of 7 billion. Leaving the EU would not magically open up new markets. The UK would have to go cap in hand to an organisation that it had just spurned to get some kind of trading deal. Its situation would not be at all like that of Norway or Switzerland, which did not join the EU in the first place and were able to tailor deals at an early stage.
That is the backdrop to my support for many of the amendments tabled to the Bill, including Amendment 50. A referendum result that is, in the terms of the amendment, “definitive and beyond challenge”, is absolutely necessary, and all means must be pursued to ensure that it is achieved. There could easily be protracted legal challenges if the Bill is not thought through in all its ramifications—for example, challenges to the extent of the franchise. Many further amendments are relevant to that point.
I have studied referendums all around the world in the course of my academic work and I feel that Amendment 56 is also essential. I lived for quite a few years in California, where the problematic aspects of referendums were very visible. It is vital to insist on a baseline turnout for a referendum of any importance, otherwise decisions, even highly consequential ones, can be taken that do not reflect the will of the people. A minimum of 40% turnout is therefore to me an absolute exigency.
My Lords, I was not passing up the opportunity, I just could not believe that no one else was standing up.
The amendments present some serious options for the House to consider. There is a need for serious parliamentary analysis of the outcome of whatever referendum there may be. Let me set out the argument in these terms. It may be that, after a referendum, it is wholly clear what the people of the United Kingdom wanted—but, even in those circumstances, some things would not be wholly clear because work would still fall to be done.
I am not saying that because I would disrespect a serious majority among a large number of people voting, but just in terms of trying to work out what would need to be done and how we might set about it. The precise terms of the disengagement would need to be thought through and negotiated. Later amendments address this question, but there would need to be a consideration of what the continuing relationship would be as, many people would submit, we would not simply cut ourselves off and that would be the end of the matter; there would be a continuing relationship of some kind, and that would need to be thought through. The terms of the continuing relationship would, I submit, need to cover trade agreements and competition rules—we would not want suddenly to find that the businesses and industries of the United Kingdom were at a massive disadvantage in relation to other nations in competition terms. We would need to look with considerable attention at labour market arrangements—I know that they are among the most highly contentious things, but none the less, it is unavoidable that we would need to analyse them properly.
I will not bore the House with the whole list, but as another example, we would need to look at environmental co-operation and at all the arrangements, which have preoccupied me during parts of my career, for the relationship between higher education institutions, the movement of scholars, what we regard as comparable qualifications and so on. In all those cases, and in many other issues, we would need to consider timing. Their timing might not be identical. There would need to be a serious analysis. Parliament will have a major role in that analysis at every phase.
I made the point a few moments ago that in the case of a big majority and a very good turnout, we might be able to say that we were at least wholly clear. In those circumstances, there is what I described last Friday as an expression of the settled will. Even that has its complexities, which are also addressed in amendments. The settled will of people in Scotland or people in Wales about the EU is a significant issue, because we have already devolved a considerable amount of political authority, and I think that the people to whom that political authority has moved will want to feel that they have an objective view of what is happening and what their interests might be. So even that expression of settled will has ramifications.
However, the result may not be of that kind. Personally, I do not believe that it will be. I would like to believe that the people of the United Kingdom would wish to remain in the European Union, but let us suppose for a moment that they decided by a very marginal result, on a very small turnout, that there was a wish to leave. I completely accept that that would be a result of sorts, but just think of the set of negotiations which we would need to conduct. Those negotiations would be considerably complicated by being conducted in circumstances where there was a marginal result on a low turnout. All the counterparties in the negotiation would understand that it was a weak decision which, in that sense, would reflect that at that moment we had become a weak nation. I cannot believe that counterparties in the modern world would not take advantage of those circumstances. Those are real politics in what could be a real set of circumstances.
I have heard it said in the House that we resolve issues at general elections on simple majorities. However, this is not like a general election, where people are being voted for in a single constituency. It is not one-650th of the variance at stake; it is much more profound than that. Neither will it be changed five years further on by another election or, in an even shorter period, by a by-election. It is essentially an indelible decision and, for all those reasons, it does not have the potential to be corrected—certainly not in the short or the middle term.
I do not believe that the appeal to other kinds of votes which we have had on other matters is really a direct comparison either. The weight of this decision is quite different from that about whether someone wants to have a mayor in Tyneside, for example. That is no comment on Tyneside or its relative importance; it could be a mayor anywhere else. It is simply a different decision, and when people have said, “Well, what about all those decisions?”, I cannot believe that they would transform our constitution in so fundamental a way on the basis of those kinds of decisions setting the precedents. The length of time for which the decision would hold, as I said, would be of profound significance.
I would argue that the issues at stake are quite different. This set of decisions will be fundamental to our economy, now and in the future. The decisions will be fundamental to our relations in economic terms with North America, China, the BRIC states and the MINT states, whatever difficulties some of those states may be facing, probably temporarily. When we start thinking about the character of the economic relations that we would want with them, we will have a totally different game plan in any negotiation with them, depending on whether we are doing it within Europe or trying to do it without the rest of Europe. It is fundamental to our economy, and to political and international relations.
I ask the House to reflect on what has happened in the past weeks over Iran, the possible consequences—they are not certain by any means; it is still highly problematic—for Syria and Iraq, and the broader settlement of the Middle East conflict. The role of my noble friend Lady Ashton has been commented on, quite rightly, in this House and at some length. I believe that everybody in your Lordships’ House understands that the power and authority which she exhibited in that role was because she was speaking for a bloc of real international importance, and that she could not have achieved that result, whatever her talents, in any other way. That is a Britain operating properly in an international context to produce profound international results which may be a route—as I earnestly pray that they will be—towards a peace which has been so elusive.
Our impact, even with a permanent seat on the Security Council, is not of the same order. We are relatively small and no longer quite a power in the old sense. I believe that if we took the wrong decision, it would not be long before the argument about whether we should retain that permanent seat rose to the top of the agenda again. If I was in one of the countries that might be affected, I can tell your Lordships that it would be high on my agenda because I would know that I was speaking from strength to people who would speak only from weakness.
The reason I put all these points to the House is that my view is that the decision has to be very clear, and it is inevitable that Parliament will have to review and decide in terms of the realities on the ground. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, made the point last Friday about how people would have to deal with the realities. We already know that the decision taken in a referendum would be advisory. That has certainly given weight to the decision but it still means that there is much to do, and it will have to be done by both Houses.
The noble Lord has made a number of constructive and sensible speeches from the Dispatch Box. Is he speaking on behalf of the Official Opposition? If that is the case, why on earth were these points not put with such cogent lucidity in another place by those who speak for his party on these issues?
My Lords, I am speaking for myself in this House. This is a Private Member’s Bill and all I can do is to urge the House on the basis of my experience of foreign affairs. As I think I said last week to the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, the decisions taken at the other end will always be decisions with which I shall not even try to interfere, knowing the way that that would be responded to. I will try to tie this up quickly. I understand why the noble Lord makes his point but I think that everyone will know that, whether sitting on government Benches or on these Benches, I have essentially argued in this way the whole of the time that I have been in your Lordships’ House. I am making these points because I think that they are the right points to make.
If the result is a narrow one on a low turnout, the terms of disengagement will appear to Parliament to be potentially quite dangerous—or very dangerous—for the United Kingdom both in economics and politics, as I have said. In those circumstances, to decide to go ahead regardless—to recognise that it is an oncoming car crash and to do nothing about that—is hardly what the people of the United Kingdom will expect of their Parliament. Few will regard it in the decades that follow as having been a heroic moment. The bell-wether moments in geopolitics are probably not all that many but I suspect that, rather like the comment that this might be the most profound decision in 60 years, if we get it wrong in terms of geopolitics it may well rank with Suez and one or two other things which have been real disasters for us internationally.
Parliament is the best judge of this. It is sensible to say that the weight of the vote will show itself either to be compelling or not, and will show whether there is a settled will. Taking the right steps to be negotiated and assessed will be a matter for Parliament. It is not in any sense disrespectful to the people of the United Kingdom for their Parliament to give coherent thought to the real circumstances—what in some circles are called the ground truths.
The only objection to this is not to do with democracy or following democratic practice. The objection is that it would get in the way of a rush to exit the EU. That is why the Bill is in the form that it is and it is reckless—a word that was used earlier in the debate. It may be that Mr Cameron does not intend this to be the outcome, but it may also be that he can no longer manage the wish of much of his party to leave the EU.
Some may have reached that decision because they have a paralysed fear of UKIP and no desire to take on UKIP and its arguments. That would be a pity. However, I suspect that many simply want to leave the EU and that is all there is to it. They are entitled to that view but this House and the other place—Parliament as a whole—are entitled to ensure that we get the whole of this right, so that we know that the will of the people of the United Kingdom is a serious expression, not a marginal one leaving us with little to say in anything that follows.
My Lords, I rise briefly to point out to the House that the House of Lords Constitution Committee published a comprehensive report on referendums in its session of 2009-10. Its conclusion on thresholds—the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has commented on 40%—was that:
“We recommend that there should be a general presumption against the use of voter turnout thresholds and supermajorities. We recognise however that there may be exceptional circumstances in which they may be deemed appropriate”.
One of those exceptional circumstances that the committee, of which I was not a member at the time although I am now, had in mind was major constitutional change. I think that there is a general view around the House that the issue we are debating today is one of major constitutional change, and the House may therefore wish to reflect on the advice given by the Constitution Committee at that time.
My Lords, another hour, another group of amendments. We have 15 groups of amendments to get through today if we are to reach the end of Committee stage. That is my ambition, so noble Lords will understand if I attempt to be reasonably brief in responding to them.
These amendments go to the very heart of the differences between us. I believe in the Bill because I believe that we politicians have failed the people—it is as simple as that. We have flipped and flopped like a hooked fish dragged out on to the riverbank. I am also in favour of the Bill because I believe that ultimately it is the right of the people to decide their own future. Noble Lords pressing this amendment have an opposite view from me: they believe that Parliament should decide, not the people. In a representative democracy that is an entirely reasonable point of view, except—
I am only a minute into my speech, but of course I will make way for the noble Lord.
Last week, when we were proceeding at precisely this pace, the noble Lord said that we were making very good progress, so I think that he might allow a fuller debate today. He has just made a completely unsubstantiated accusation against the opponents of the Bill. Many of us are not against a referendum; I myself am strongly in favour of one. We are against this dog’s dinner of a Bill, which requires improvement by every side of this House.
The noble Lord has made his point, again. I think that it is a point that he made last week in Committee and I suspect that we may hear more of it again today. Of course Parliament decides, and we discussed that in Committee last week, but there comes a point when all these nostrums about parliamentary sovereignty require a dose of carbolic and common sense, when we need to find a democratic balance. That balance is not achieved by this unelected House obstructing the clearly expressed view of the other place. Parliament is sovereign, of course it is, but even above a sovereign Parliament there are the people. When the people have expressed their will, it is a terrible thing for any House of Parliament to defy. What British Parliament, as sovereign as it may be, would be unwise enough to turn around to the people and say, “We hear you but we choose to ignore you”?
Noble Lords opposite have taken us around the planet. They have taken advice from Brussels to Washington and have sought advice from Strasbourg and in Japan, yet they are completely failing to convince anyone that they are keen to take the advice of the people. If we pursue these amendments, we are doing only one thing—turning around to the people and saying that their voice, will and instruction are not enough, and that we unelected politicians know better. That is why they are so disillusioned and why we need a referendum to cleanse these stables. If that is the side of the barricade where the noble Lord wishes to take a stand, that is his choice. Otherwise, though, I beg him to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, with respect, the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, has not addressed any of the amendments or replied to any of the points made in the debate. All that he has done is repeat what he said last week about the right of the people to decide. It is totally inadequate for him to go on repeating that again and again in reply to every amendment. Surely the promoter of the Bill should deal with the points raised in some of the brilliant speeches that have been made.
The defects of the Bill have been coming out thick and fast in this debate. My noble friend Lady Andrews has said that there is no Explanatory Memorandum— why not? The noble Lord did not reply to that. I asked last week why there were no schedules to the Bill. A Bill of this kind, as my noble friend Lord Hennessy will know as an expert in these matters, should have schedules setting out the conduct of the referendum so that we know exactly how it is going to be carried out.
My noble friend Lord Anderson raised a very important constitutional point about what the officials in the Box are here for. Are they officials of the Conservative Party advising the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, or are they from the Foreign Office? We have not had a reply to that. The noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, has not spoken. Last week we got her into some difficulty, but on this occasion either she or the noble Lord the Leader of the House would be welcome to intervene and explain why, if they are Foreign Office officials, they are there.
This is a very important point. My noble friend Lord Anderson has been a Member of the other place and of this House for some time, and he was an official in the Foreign Office, so he understands how these things work. The House needs to know. Is the promoter of this private Bill being advised and handed notes by officials of the Foreign Office, paid for by the taxpayer?
My Lords, if the House really wants to know the answer then maybe I should give it. In the Box we have officials from the Foreign Office, who have prepared a government brief on a government position on many issues that will be arising during the Bill. They are government officials providing a government line on elements that may come up during the Bill upon which there is an agreed government line. Also in the Box I have my special adviser. He is there to provide me with any political lines, and it is those that are prepared by the Conservative Party. There is a clear distinction.
Will those government officials who are dealing with the strictly government parts of this Bill—I am bound to say that it is hard to know what the government parts are, because the Liberal Democrat party seems to be opposing the Bill vociferously—also therefore be making their advice available to the spokesman for the other part of the Government, the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine? When we discussed this last week, the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, said that for the purposes of this Bill she was very clear that she was speaking as spokesman for the Conservative Party. That party is indeed a party of government, but the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, is speaking as the spokesman for the Liberal Democrat party, which is also a party of the Government.
This is a serious point, not a trivial one. As it happens, since it is a constitutional issue, I think that it is wrong that the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, is sitting on the Bench. I am sorry to say that. I think that she is an excellent Minister—she is diligent and hard-working and serves this House very well indeed—but for the purposes of the Bill it would be more appropriate if the noble Baroness sat on the Back Benches. Alternatively, if we want to take a precedent, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, was joined by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, on the government Front Bench to deal with the Leveson inquiry, and they were both on the Front Bench together. That way the Government were represented on the Front Bench, because those are the two parties. We have a problem here: either the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, should be sitting with her Back-Benchers—and we would be delighted to hear her because she is always cogent and good—or else the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, should be joining her on the Front Bench.
Let me help the House because I know there has been some confusion. The Leader of the Opposition and I have had an exchange about this. I understand the question that the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, is asking, but she is quite wrong in her summary of the position. My noble friend Lady Warsi is a government Minister; therefore she sits on the Front Bench, and by convention those who sit on the Front Bench speak at the Dispatch Box. That is the position. While there is no collectively agreed position on the overall policy in the Bill, there is a government position on much to do with the Bill. For instance, on questions about our relationship with the EU, Gibraltar and referendums, there is a government position. From that point of view, having a government Minister available to answer questions to do with government policy, advised as appropriate, is absolutely the right thing to do. It is also perfectly in order for my noble friend, or any other Minister from across the coalition, to offer an opinion—as a Conservative, in the case of my noble friend—as an individual. My noble friend is completely entitled to do that. Any Minister in our proceedings can do that so long as they make it clear when doing so that that is what they are doing. When my noble friend Lady Warsi speaks on behalf of the Conservative Party alone, which is a distinction that my noble friend Lady Falkner drew earlier, she will do that and be absolutely clear about it. That is the position.
My Lords, I hesitate to intervene because, unfortunately, for various reasons, I could not be here last week. I have, however, read the debate. I have the privilege of chairing the Constitution Committee of your Lordships’ House, and when I heard the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, say earlier that he was surprised by the number of constitutional matters that seem to arise—because the House seems to be taking up so many different things on a rather ad hoc basis—I had to agree. Surely the position that my noble friend Lady Symons has just raised about collective responsibility, which is what this is about, is central to the way that we conduct business in this House. If, as the noble Lord says, the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, who is representing her party in this matter, should not sit on the Front Bench because she is not a government Minister, surely the appropriate constitutional arrangement in terms of collective responsibility would be to have a Minister from the Liberal Democrats share the responsibility with the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi.
The noble Baroness sums up the position quite well in the sense that if there were a Liberal Democrat Minister who wanted to speak from the Front Bench, that would be perfectly proper.
I am sorry to intervene again, but has an approach been made by the Foreign Office, or indeed by the Leader of the House, to inquire whether anybody would wish to do that?
I can inform the House that officials provide the same level of support and the same information to Ministers from both coalition parties.
It is quite difficult when there is no Liberal Democrat Minister from the Foreign Office. I know that there is a Liberal Democrat Whip. I know that we wish to move on, but I think that many people in the Chamber are concerned about this constitutional aspect because it pertains not only to today, it has future relevance as we move towards the end of this Parliament. Noble Lords sitting on the Front Bench opposite have not been able to see the Liberal Democrat Members shaking their heads. It is clear from these Benches that there is a difference of opinion between the two parties in the coalition. Perhaps it is something that could be clarified later, but I think that we are not in a happy constitutional position on this issue.
My name and that of my party have been invoked, so it is important for me to clarify where we are. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, that we are not necessarily in opposition to this Bill. We are doing our proper function of scrutiny, amendment, improvement and revision on this Bill. I say to the noble Lord the Leader of the House that his comments have been very helpful and illuminating, but it would have been helpful to the House if we had had that explained to us from the outset. When the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, whose reputation improves every day on all sides of the House and who is held in very high regard, spoke on the Bill last Friday, she did not make the distinction that she was speaking only on matters to do with the implications for government that might arise out of the Bill. Will the Leader of the House tell the House whether when the noble Baroness speaks on matters to do with her position in the Conservative Party she will move back to the Back Benches in order to create clarity between the Dispatch Box and a Back-Bench position? Finally, we have been told of the precedent set when the noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde and Lord McNally, both spoke on Leveson. They did so in a self-regulating House with the consent of the House. It seems to me that the House is quite clearly expressing the opinion that it is not entirely happy with this position.
I shall be brief because I do not think there is much I can add. I think I have set the position out extremely clearly. I do not think there is any confusion. It is the case that Ministers speak from the Front Bench; they therefore speak from the Dispatch Box. On the rare occasions when there is not an agreed collective position, they are obviously under an obligation to make clear when they are speaking solely in their capacity as a member of a party. My noble friend will do that. I think it is clear. I regret if there has been any confusion, but I hope the House now understands the position.
My Lords, this has been a very illuminating intervention in my reply to the debate. However, with respect to the Leader of the House, he still has not clarified the point raised by my noble friend Lord Anderson, which I also raised, about the officials who appear to be advising not just the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, but the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs.
My noble friend Lady Warsi was extremely clear about that as well. As it happens, there is a convention that we should not name people in the House who are not Members. That aside, we have clearly gone past that point. My noble friend made very clear the distinction, which anyone who has been a Minister will understand, that there are civil servants and officials to advise on government policy and a political person to advise on political matters. I have always believed extremely strongly in the traditional distinction in our system between civil servants who properly should stay one side of the line. I expect all civil servants to do that, to know very well how to tread the right side of the line and to make sure that Ministers do not step over it. Political advisers are another matter. That is the distinction, and that is the way it operates.
I am very grateful to the Leader of the House. That is absolutely clear. I now return to what I was saying earlier. Incidentally, I hope I will be given injury time and that people outside will not take all those interventions as part of my response.
I want to return to what the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said. I have great respect for him. We served together for a long time in the House of Commons. I was quite surprised that he returned again to the steamroller argument that we have to get this through, that we are not able to carry out our role of scrutinising properly and that we have this arbitrary deadline. I am replying to that very inadequately, but it was replied to very adequately by my noble friend Lord Richard, who has 25 years’ experience in this House and is a former Leader of the Opposition. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, will pay attention to that.
Former Leader of the House.
Yes, former Leader of the House.
This Bill has been criticised by people like the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, with a distinguished record in the Civil Service, who has described it as reckless, and by people like my noble friend Lord Giddens, a distinguished scholar, who has warned of possible protracted legal challenges. These are the kind of things that the promoter of the Bill should take account of and answer in debate. He should deal with them and he has dealt with none of them. Not one of them has been dealt with. He is totally inadequate in promoting this Bill.
My noble friend Lord Triesman gave a brilliant reply. It was one of those speeches which you wish you had made yourself, because it was so eloquent. It was a brilliant analysis—I will get the money later.
The noble Lord, Lord Triesman, made it quite plain that he was speaking for himself.
He was not speaking for me—I wish he had been, if you see what I mean—but I agree with everything he said. Have I got that right? Yes. As he pointed out, we are not talking just about election to a constituency in a general election, when, of course, a few votes here or there can decide it, but it can change in five years’ time, and things change again and again. We are talking about an irrevocable decision, and if that irrevocable decision is made on a low turnout by just a few people or if it is made by the people of Gibraltar, because the vote is so close, it would really be an outrage.
I believe that this amendment is the right one. However, it has been pointed out to me that it is technically deficient; it is not drafted in the right way. There are other amendments later that would do the same thing, which we can consider when we get to them. Therefore, for that reason and for that reason alone, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 50 withdrawn.
50A: Clause 1, page 1, line 14, at end insert—
“(7) No order shall be made under subsection (6) until the Secretary of State has prepared, published and laid before Parliament an assessment of the United Kingdom’s intended relationship with the European Union in the event of withdrawal from the European Union.”
My Lords, I do not intend to move Amendment 72, the other amendment in this group.
The noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, has set out the case for this Bill in his characteristic urbane manner, but no amount of urbanity or suavity can disguise the fact that the arguments for the Bill are superficial and the evidence thin. He has sought, for example, to persuade us that the other place has spoken loud and clear and that, with a majority of around 300, it would be wrong for this House even to amend it. However, I suspect that that does not reflect the true depth of support in the other Chamber. In any case, it will soon be put to the test. If the support for the Bill is as strong as he claims, there will be no problem in securing the additional time that the Bill needs to consider our amendments. To judge from the glum faces on the Benches opposite when the first amendment was passed, I do not believe that they believe that there is really that degree of support in the Commons.
The noble Lord made much of the argument that we must give people a choice. I agree with that, but it must be an informed choice. I am not against a referendum—I am against a “pig in a poke” or a “leap in the dark” referendum. Amendment 9, which was passed last week, established the principle that people must be given the information that they need about the results of an exit from the EU, without which they may make a choice that they come to regret. Responding to the noble Lord, Lord Roper, the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, said that it was unnecessary to make special provision for such information and that people could get it through political parties, through referendum campaigns, and through the press and business groups, pretty much as the Scots are getting their information now. That will not suffice, as some information can come only from the Government, which is what Amendment 50A addresses.
As I pointed out at Second Reading, voters need three things to make an informed choice: an understanding of how society and the economy will develop if we remain in the EU with its current framework; an assessment of how that might be modified by a process of renegotiation and reform in the EU; and an assessment of what our relationship with the EU might be—what might be retained or replicated, mimicked, modified or dropped. Only then can the impact assessment called for in Amendment 9 be established. Having set up these scenarios, the pros and cons of each can be compared and the balance of advantage struck in what, in the current jargon, would be called the delta. But the information required by voters cannot simply be left to laissez-faire; much of it can come only from the Government, who would be left with the task of negotiating the divorce settlement.
People will need answers to a host of questions—some general and some affecting their personal lives or their businesses. Let me give the House a practical example. Forty-two years ago, I found myself on the Treasury’s agriculture desk, looking after MAFF spending. I soon had to master the outgoing UK regime of deficiency payments for each sector of agriculture—beef, dairy, and so on. I then had to grapple with the incoming CAP regime—intervention prices, export subsidies and import levies. Then I had to master what was called the fourchette, the transition plan between the two. With a leave vote, we would face that journey in reverse. Farmers will want answers. What will the new regime be for them? Will they still be able to export their beef, and should they expand their dairy herd, or should they get out of farming altogether? Being told that it is too soon to say will not cut much ice, inform any sensible investment decisions or, worse still, satisfy the bank manager.
This problem will be repeated in a hundred different domains. Top of the list will be residence, citizenship and employment. People will ask, “Can I still employ EU nationals? Can I get a job in the EU? What healthcare or welfare benefits can the thousands of British retirees now living in the EU expect?”. Then there is trade and the single market. Many fear that we will be reduced to what has been called fax diplomacy—receiving notice of changes in regulations on which we have had no influence. In my view, it might not be as extreme as that, as we and the EU have a huge amount of trade together, far more than Norway and Switzerland, and a mutual interest in fostering trade in goods and services. That would all have to be negotiated. But it is likely that we would have a reduced influence. Furthermore, will my intellectual property rights, registered at the European Patent Office, be protected? Will I have to renegotiate and reregister my patents in the UK? Will the interchange of students be encouraged, will professional qualifications be recognised and will accounting standards stay the same? The list goes on.
Let me give an example of the kind of work that needs to be done. The “five tests” assessment of 2003 for membership of the euro was a huge exercise, led by the noble Lord, Lord O’Donnell, in the Treasury, and had many components, but it was crucial in helping the UK to reach what I believe has been vindicated as the right decision. It has also helped us resist the blandishments of some people who are now in this House, who wanted to make a politically inspired, unevidenced decision to go in.
I am struck by the contrast with the debate that we had yesterday, when we spent six hours discussing Scottish secession. A recurring criticism was that the Scottish Government had made an inadequate analysis of what independence might look like, that they are exchanging contracts on a house before completing surveys or agreeing a price. It is ironic that some of the people making that criticism of the Scottish Government should today be proposing a Bill that is equally flawed. A decision is being made against a fixed deadline, based on a plunge into the unknown and on a wish list rather than bankable, negotiated assurances.
This is a Bill for those who have made up their minds, have seen enough and do not want any more evidence. In my view, any Government who propose a referendum have a duty to provide voters with the best information they can on what a decision to leave would involve and what our relationship with the EU would be. Amendment 50A, taken in conjunction with Amendment 9, passed last week, ensures that no order can be made to trigger a referendum until that duty has been discharged. I beg to move.
My Lords, I strongly support Amendment 50A from the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull. It is most unusual for the Foreign Office to be in agreement with the Cabinet Office and the Treasury, but in this case it is. The Diplomatic Service is a separate service and takes no instructions from the Civil Service, so these arguments are my own.
I do not support the menu of amendments offered by my fellow countryman, the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock—there is a big difference between them and the amendment offered by the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, supported by the noble Lords, Lord Grenfell, Lord Shipley and Lord Anderson. The assessments called for by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, are descriptive. They are describing potential scenarios. The assessment called for by the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, would be normative because it would be authoritative and be describing the situation we would be in if we went out through the door. If we left the tent, like Captain Oates, we might be out for some considerable time. We might find it cold out there. I think the country would wish to be told. I accept that the process of establishing an authoritative statement of what life would be like outside might take time—Article 50 of the treaty of Lisbon talks about seceding from the European Union being a two-year process—but this would be before that. This would be before the referendum. This would be the assessment that the country would need so it could weigh up the case for and against staying in or going out.
I believe it would be important not just to set out what the Government hoped, felt and wanted but what they believed was negotiable. There would have to be some process of discussion with other countries and principally with our partners in the European Union, which we would be considering leaving. That process would take time. This point is very relevant to the amendment on questions of timing which—encouraged by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack—I withdrew last week. We will be coming back to that on Report.
My Lords, I totally agree with the noble Lord that if there were to be a referendum the British public would be entitled to information about the consequences and the mechanism. However, that is completely different; the mechanism is a subsequent step to the referendum. All this Bill does is to establish that there will be a referendum. The point the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, made when he drew the analogy with the Scottish debate yesterday seems to me not to be correct. We had a Bill about the referendum. The criticism about the lack of information came afterwards. The mechanism was quite separate. Although all the points the noble Lord is making might be correct, they are not for this stage. This stage is just about the referendum.
Precisely the same argument could be applied to the second of the amendments we made last week. The House did not buy the argument last week and the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, was good enough to say today that, in his view, both the amendments laid last week were improvements to the Bill and did not impair it. If we are passing a Bill on this referendum it is very important that we do not pass a defective Bill that omits important elements. Nobody in this House has proposed an amendment to Clause 1(1), which says that there shall be a referendum. In my view, this House is trying to do its job and get right the conditions and rules for that referendum, which is a point that we will need to come back to and which has been raised by several noble Lords this morning. We will have to come back to how the referendum will be conducted and—the point I am concerned about, for reasons well explained in the first leader in this morning’s Financial Times—the timing of the referendum.
I believe that the crucial thing about the assessment called for by the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull—who is completely right—is that it would have to be authoritative. It would be wholly irresponsible to produce for the country a prospectus based on conjecture. If the country chose to leave the tent and found outside a landscape different from the one that it had expected and a climate much colder, the Government who did that would never be forgiven.
I hope all shades of opinion in the House will understand that the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, is precisely in the category that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, was talking about—amendments that genuinely improve the Bill. In my view—on the Cross Bench one speaks only for oneself—this would be a genuine improvement and I urge the House to support it.
My Lords, can I just ask the noble Lord for a point of clarification before he concludes? He said that he was in favour of the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, and against the set of amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, on thresholds for participation and assent. Are these two mutually exclusive? He can vote for both of them.
I apologise. I was unclear. I was not commenting on the amendments that have been discussed—those put forward in the first group by, among others, the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock. I was commenting on amendments in the current group, linked alongside the one proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, which are all to do with assessments to be made available before the referendum takes place.
I am grateful to the noble Lord. That is very helpful. Thank you very much.
My Lords, I put my name to this amendment because I believe its purpose to be profoundly important. I do not have much to add to the very persuasive argument of the mover of the amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull. I merely wish to endorse a lot of what he said and hope that noble Lords will strongly support the amendment.
I am afraid that the amendment, while I support it, is open to two different interpretations. Therefore, I slightly take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, and stand somewhere between him and the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, on this one. The amendment refers to,
“an assessment of the United Kingdom’s intended relationship with the European Union in the event of withdrawal”.
I am not sure that you can really make that assessment on purely normative lines. It has to be descriptive as well. If this amendment is addressed not just to Parliament but to the people, we are asking that the people be informed of the Government’s view of that future relationship. There has to be an element of the descriptive in that. That is the line that I have clung to in my support for this amendment.
The Prime Minister has said over and over again—and to the discomfort, to put it mildly, of a substantial number of his Back-Benchers—that he wishes the United Kingdom to stay in the European Union. However, what if the people in an “in or out” referendum beg to disagree with him? It is inconceivable to me that, with eventual withdrawal a possibility, the people should vote without the benefit of knowing in advance what kind of relationship he would wish the UK to have with the Union that it is leaving. I would have thought that to so inform the electorate was a simple matter of common sense, not to mention courtesy. In other words, does the Prime Minister have a plan B? If he does not, he must construct one and, having done so, the Secretary of State must publish it and lay it before Parliament before making any order under Clause 1(6). That is what the amendment would be calling for.
At the heart of this assessment, or plan B, would presumably be the end product that the Government seek to gain by negotiation—the best terms that they can obtain for access to the single market, to take but one example. Will the Prime Minister opt for the kind of relationship enjoyed by current members of the European Economic Area and EFTA? Will he take the relationships enjoyed by Norway and Switzerland as his model? I use the word “enjoyed” with some hesitancy, since EEA and EFTA members suffer taxation without representation, having to contribute to the EU’s budget without getting any money back, a reality of which the public ought to be made aware before voting. Or will he be aiming for some other kind of association? What kind of associate status would he judge appropriate for one of the largest economies in Europe and, indeed, the world? Whatever his intentions or preferences, in the case of withdrawal they need to be put on the table for all to see and discuss before the referendum is called.
We on this side of the House are not alone in calling for an eventual impact assessment of the actual effects of withdrawal on the British economy and on the rights of British individuals living both within and outside the UK, as well as on EU citizens living here—the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, referred to that. That assessment could show that things would turn out to be disastrous if a Government who had taken the UK out of the EU had failed before doing so to formulate a proper vision of the intended relationship. That would be inviting our erstwhile partners to do our thinking for us. I strongly support this eminently reasonable and crucial amendment.
My Lords, my name, too, is attached to Amendments 50A and 72. I start with the principles established by the Electoral Commission. A week ago we discussed in detail what the Electoral Commission said about the question and its wording. The document produced on this referendum by the Electoral Commission said that, in a referendum, voters should be able to “understand the question”—we covered that last week—“and its implications”. That is what this amendment would address. The Electoral Commission said that voters should be,
“informed about the possible outcomes, and”,
should be able to,
“easily understand the campaign arguments”.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kerr: we should not pass a defective Bill, without the amendment, because it makes it clear at this stage of the progress of the Bill that these specific words are important.
I conclude from this that there has to be a document published that explains the implications clearly. However, there cannot be a document unless it is clear what the intended relationship with the European Union is going to be in the event of withdrawal. Otherwise, there will be serious confusion in the minds of voters as to what the implications of a referendum, and their vote in that referendum, might be, whichever way they cast it.
I noted a moment ago the words of the Leader of the House in commenting on the role of my noble friend Lady Warsi, the Minister. He said that she could respond on behalf of the Government, from advice given by Foreign Office officials, on the implications of a referendum. I therefore hope that, when we hear from my noble friend Lady Warsi, we will hear the views on the implications of this referendum being held.
I hope that there will be clarity at that stage about whether the supporters of the Bill want to follow in the steps of Norway. Norway is often cited publicly as a parallel for the United Kingdom. Inside the European Economic Area it may be, but it has no direct power in the EU, it has no seat at the table and it cannot vote. However, it still has to abide by directives just as full members do. Indeed, Norway has to implement three-quarters of all EU legislation, including the working time directive. It has to implement other employment laws—consumer protection, environmental policy and competition—and has to contribute to EU budgets. Norway’s per capita contribution is just over £100; the UK’s net per capita contribution is £128. If we join the EEA, there will be little saving in practice for us.
Switzerland is often cited as another example that we might emulate, but it has no right of access to the single market and it has to negotiate each and every case separately. Even Switzerland contributes to EU budgets at £53 per capita. If we left the EU, it is possible that we could operate with a most-favoured-nation status, but that would mean that 90% of UK exports to the EU by value would face tariffs. If we were in the EEA, trade would be tariff free and, as with Norway, the four freedoms relating to the movement of goods, services, labour and capital would apply, along with the implementation of three-quarters of EU legislation over which, as I have explained, we would have no say.
Advocates of EEA membership should remember that goods entering the EU via an EEA country cannot do so without implementing the rules of origin, a regulatory process that takes time and money. Goods imported into the EU via a full member of the EU can move freely.
I apologise to my noble friend. We are considering Amendments 50A and 72. I am not entirely clear to which of those he is speaking. Perhaps he could help.
I am speaking to both of them, because they are about the Government and the movers of the Bill explaining their intentions. The Bill cannot be passed in its current state. The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, called it a “dog’s dinner”; I agree entirely with that. We have to be clear about these matters, otherwise we are not doing our job as a revising and scrutinising House properly.
Those who wish for less regulation and believe that we can get less regulation by leaving the European Union should explain the implications of having to apply the rules of origin. There is a rising tide of concern about this. We could end up with more bureaucracy and regulation rather than less. Mention has been made this morning of trade agreements. What will the implications be for our trade agreements? If our intended relationship is not clear, where do we lie with the 46 trade agreements that the EU has with other countries—and, I understand, a further 78 trade agreements pending? If we left the EU, we would lose access to every EU trade agreement with a third party and each of those would have to be renegotiated, a long and time-consuming process that would damage exports in the interim.
In conclusion, Amendments 50A and 72 make it clear that the Government have to explain what our intended relationship would be with the EU if we withdrew. It is an absolutely fundamental matter, it seems to me. I look forward to hearing from my noble friend Lady Warsi, the Minister, when she speaks on this matter, and from my noble friend Lord Dobbs, when he replies to the debate. The British people have a right to understand this matter and that needs to be done at this point in the debate rather than at some later stage.
My Lords, it is incumbent on this occasion—it was not done with the previous group of amendments—that we have some substantive replies from the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, and subsequent speakers. It is of vital importance that the British people have information and that they do not vote in ignorance of the consequences of the different potential results of the referendum. It may well be that as part of the noble Lord’s cunning plot, if I can use that expression, the Daily Mail, the Sun and the Daily Telegraph—indeed, all the press bar a couple of numerically small exceptions—would be very happy to provide all the information that the British people need, but it would not exactly be balanced.
When Harold Wilson decided to have a referendum in 1975, most noble Lords in this House will remember very clearly that there was information of exactly the type that the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, referred to. Therefore in reply, it is incumbent on the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, to remove any impression that the people who want the referendum do so with the motive of making sure that we get out. They are not interested in having a referendum on a level playing field; that does not motivate the movers of the Bill. Perhaps when the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, comes to reply, he can respond to the question: what can possibly be said in support of the idea that no such assessment should be placed before the British people if there is a referendum?
My Lords, I will intervene very briefly in response to my noble friend Lord Shipley, who had called in aid the Electoral Commission’s report on the importance of providing information to voters. It is very important that information is provided, but the commission did not say that it should be given before the Act comes into force. It could have said that, but it did not.
My Lords, I did not say that it did; the point is important because the Electoral Commission made it absolutely clear that information must be provided. That is why this amendment is so important. I made the point that we need to get this right at this stage of the Bill, otherwise we will have a bad Bill.
My Lords, I will intervene briefly in this debate. The debate would be that much shorter if the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, now indicated that he will accept the amendment. It is patently obvious that this sort of provision has to be made. If the wording is not absolutely right we can come back on Report or at a later stage to correct it, but surely the principle has to be accepted.
I come from a background in Wales where the main question will undoubtedly be an economic one: what effect will pulling out of the European Union have on jobs? I will refer briefly to three headings. The first, which was touched on by the noble Lord who moved the amendment, is in regard to agriculture. The Farmers’ Union of Wales came here last year to brief noble Lords on the effect of pulling out of the European Union. It indicated that some 80% of its business would be affected adversely if we pulled out of the European Union. That is a massive consideration, and a shadow that will hang over the industry until this is put to bed.
The second sector that I referred to is the motor sector. Last week I referred to Toyota. There are a number of other important motor companies in various parts of the United Kingdom that will be affected—as will jobs. I started my career working for the Ford Motor Company, and I know very well that companies such as that one do not have a time horizon three years ahead; they plan for a decade ahead, and longer. If there is uncertainty as regards the conditions in which companies that operate in the United Kingdom will trade after 2017, it will affect investment decisions. That has already been flagged up by companies from Japan, and we cannot ignore it. When voters come to vote in a referendum, they need to have the information available on how the Government interpret what the situation will be if we pull out, and on what the alternative is. Companies need to know that so that they can inform their employees and others who will be affected.
The third sector I referred to is an important one in my area: the nuclear power industry. In Anglesey the Wylfa B project is likely to go ahead, but the company from Japan that is involved in it has other interests, wanting possibly to build a nuclear power station in Lithuania or in other locations in mainland Europe. The issue is that if it decides to put more emphasis on mainland Europe because we are not part of the European Union, the likelihood will be that the contracts for manufacturing all the components that go into a nuclear power station would drift to Germany rather than to the United Kingdom. The Government have already indicated that they see the knock-on effect of their programme of building nuclear power stations as important, not just as regards the locations themselves but as regards the industries associated with that. They would be undermined and there would be uncertainty—and, goodness knows, with nuclear power stations the time horizon is even longer.
Therefore, those three sectors, the employees who currently work in them and the communities that depend upon them, need to know. We surely need to pass the Bill back with provision in it to ensure that that happens.
My Lords, I support the amendment put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, for the reasons which he so eloquently set out. However, I will address a few remarks to my noble friend Lord Dobbs. My noble friend seeks to paint those who propose or support amendments as being opponents of the Bill who are seeking to deny the people of this country a referendum. However, that is not true. As I made clear in my speech at Second Reading, and again last week—
I have never made that allegation. I have always accepted that there are men and women of great principle who are fighting the Bill from responsible positions. However, I have taken the advantage of pointing out—and others may conclude this—that some noble Lords may well oppose the Bill not for responsible, sensible and principled reasons but because they are simply determined to kill it. I have never whitewashed the entire opposition in the way my noble friend suggests.
My noble friend used the word “oppose”, but I do not oppose the Bill, and neither do I oppose a referendum. I have made it quite clear, as have other noble Lords, that I support a referendum on the basis put forward by the Prime Minister in his Bloomberg speech. It is precisely because I support a referendum that I believe that the terms of that referendum need to be as good as we can possibly make them. This will be a very important referendum—all noble Lords agree on that point. Therefore, if it is to be a very important referendum, the terms on which it is held have to be drawn up as carefully and objectively as possible. Because of that, it is very important that the people of this country should be able to make an objective choice based on as much information as possible. That must mean that they should be able, as far as possible, to balance the advantages and disadvantages of membership of the European Union against the advantages and disadvantages of the proposed new relationship.
I do not often invoke the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, but on this occasion I will do so. He points out, very frequently, that if we leave the European Union, there will still be trade between us and the European Union, and we will still deal very closely with it in economic matters. Of course he is right; one must not overstate the consequences of staying or leaving. However, it is undoubtedly the case that if we leave, the terms of the relationship will be different. Some people may think that they will be better, while others may think that they will be worse, but the British people need to be able to form a view based on as much information as possible. That is the purpose of this amendment, and I support it because I wish the Bill to be a better one.
I am very grateful for that intervention on the part of the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat. I am a pro-European. I am unusual for a Brit in that I am a passionate pro-European but I also believe in having a referendum. It is important to have an “in or out” referendum at some point. I think that most of us who are arguing in relation to the clauses of the Bill are doing so because we see that this is the beginning of an extended discussion. The House is laying down important markers for the progress of that discussion. The discussion will go on for several years. It should and must do, and it must reach the citizenry. The worst thing that could happen is that the UK will exit the EU without its citizens having a proper grasp of the issues at stake. As I see it, this amendment is a contribution to making a resource that will help people understand the pros and cons of leaving or staying in the European Union.
I repeat the point I made earlier about leaving an organisation and then making requests of that organisation. If we turn down our membership of it, we will not be in a strong negotiating position. We will not be in a position to say that we want to be like Switzerland or Norway. Therefore, it is highly important to think through not just the objective bases for, and consequences of, leaving but also the strategic consequences. It is very important, for example, to consult other states in the European Union well before the referendum so that we know what they are likely to concede to us.
I may be excommunicated from my side, but I support, or understand, the position of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. The Bill has clauses. The House of Lords is here to discuss those clauses. We should make sure that we do the best job we can and leave something that will be the first stage of a massive national debate down the line.
My Lords, I support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, and many of the arguments which have already been deployed in support of it. However, in connection with the intervention by the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, of course it would have been possible to put forward an amendment which would require the Government now to say what they would do in the context of a no vote in the referendum—but that is not what the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, is suggesting. He is suggesting merely that the Government of the day should be required to provide this information to the electorate ahead of the referendum, which seems to me a totally reasonable thing to do.
It does not involve holding up the Bill or preventing a Bill that provides the basis for an eventual “in or out” referendum going on to the statute book. However, it does say that, before such a referendum can be held, the electorate must be aware of what the choice they are making implies, because a referendum vote is a very stark choice between one option and another. The other option, which would be to leave the European Union, would have very serious consequences. Is it not totally reasonable to require that those consequences are brought to the attention of the electorate before they are asked to vote? If that logic is correct, I very much hope that the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, will—
I entirely agree with the noble Lord, and with the point that has been made widely, that all the information on both sides should be put forward in a referendum, but I do not see why that should be in this Bill, which is about the mechanism of a referendum. I remind the noble Lord that the Prime Minister said that he himself favours continued membership of the EU. If the Prime Minister recommends continued membership of the EU, is it conceivable that he will not spell out the advantages of being a member of the EU before a referendum is held? He is bound to do that.
I am sure the noble Lord is right, but the extent to which the Prime Minister carries his party with him seems to be in a little more doubt today than it was a few days ago. As I say, I am sure that the noble Lord is correct, but the amendment would require the Government of the day—that Government may well not be the present Prime Minister’s Government—to provide, at the time a referendum is held, and in advance of it, certain kinds of information that are not called for in the Bill as it stands. I happen to think that this falls fairly and squarely in what I would call in the argot the “Cormack category”—that is, a provision that will improve the Bill. I hope very much that the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, will accept the amendment. I do not think that there is any ambiguity in it at all. Therefore, I hope very much that it will be endorsed.
My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, says that he will accept this amendment, I will very happily sit down and spare your Lordships’ House a few moments of my thoughts. I think I detect a negative response, in which case I ask the noble Lord, Lord Sherbourne, what is the purpose of giving information to the electorate after the event, and telling them plan B after they have voted yes or no, possibly partly in ignorance of what the implications of so doing are? I am reminded of the story of the eminent Scottish divine who, to his surprise, after a blameless life, found himself languishing in hell. He looked up, saw the good Lord and said, “Oh, Lord, I dinna ken, I dinna ken”. The good Lord, in his infinite mercy and goodness, replied, “Ye ken the noo”. That will be the position of the electorate. They will know the consequences of the referendum result for good or ill, but after the event—after the blameless life, in that case.
I am a signatory to both the amendments we are discussing. I put my name to them because I believe that on an issue of such importance the electorate should be informed about it. It is for those proposing the measure to say what their plan B is. Surely, we do not say to the electorate, “You will vote yes or no. If you vote no, you will step into the void. We will be coy about what the implications are”. That is why I have tabled a series of amendments—Amendments 74A to 74G—which I will summarise briefly. Amendment 74A is headed, “Report on alternatives to membership of the European Union: Switzerland”; Amendment 74B is headed, “Report on alternatives to membership of the European Union: Norway”; Amendment 74C is headed. “Report on alternatives to membership of the European Union: the Commonwealth”; Amendment 74D is headed, “Report on alternatives to membership of the European Union: North America”; Amendment 74E is headed, “Report on alternatives to membership of the European Union”, which is concerned with other alternatives to membership of the European Union; Amendment 74F is headed, “Report on alternatives to membership of the European Union: European Economic Area”, and Amendment 74G is headed, “Report on alternatives to membership of the European Union: European Free Trade Association”.
There is a whole series of potential alternatives. Probably the most likely would be a relationship akin to that of Norway or Switzerland, or akin to that of the Commonwealth. I will not give a dress rehearsal of what I will say if we reach those amendments, as that would surely bore your Lordships. However, if the amendment we are discussing is passed—I very much hope that it will be because of its potential for an informed electorate—my amendments may then be otiose. However, I say for the benefit of the House that, as regards the position in respect of Norway, the report published about two years ago for the Norwegian Government by a learned professor is very helpful. He said, in terms, that he had come to the conclusion that it made sense for Norway to be fully part of the European Union. He set out all the disadvantages of Norway’s position, including the financial cost to it and the extent to which it was not able to make any serious input into discussions. Indeed, that was underlined by a representative of the Norwegian employers’ federation, the NHO, who said:
“We feel we have access”—
“and the doors are open to us, but no one listens. Interest in Norway, and the influence of Norway, is diminishing”.
That is as much as I can say about Norway. In respect of Switzerland, the bilateral deals that that country has with the European Union are of interest, but the EU is unhappy with those relationships and is unlikely to want to repeat them. Switzerland is of course outside the financial arrangements of the EU and, because of the importance of the City of London, those arrangements are of considerable importance to us. Frankfurt and other financial centres look eagerly to see if they can replace the City of London. As to the implications for Switzerland—I shall not dwell on this because it would bore your Lordships if I were to go through them all—there is a very useful document by David Buchan for the Centre for European Reform, Outsiders on the Inside: Swiss and Norwegian Lessons for the UK. It sets out clearly what the implications of withdrawal are likely to be.
The Conservative Party appears latterly to have discovered the Commonwealth. I recall when, once upon a time, I spoke for the Opposition in respect of South Africa. In 1986-87, the Conservative Party almost destroyed the Commonwealth over that country and wishes now to forget that. However, probably the best reply in respect of the European Union and the Commonwealth was given in a speech by the then Commonwealth Secretary-General, the New Zealander, Don McKinnon. He gave clear answers in response to a speech by the noble Lord, Lord Howell. I have copies if colleagues wish to see it. I shall not extensively go over what was said, but Don McKinnon was saying essentially that the Commonwealth needs the United Kingdom to be part of the European Union as an advocate on behalf of Commonwealth interests—whether in relation to bananas, or the interests of Gibraltar in relation to Spain. There is a whole series of areas in which the Commonwealth is needed. Don McKinnon, who was obviously totally a Commonwealth man, gave the lie to those who see the Commonwealth as some sort of alternative, not a partner.
To conclude, the real question is: do we want an informed electorate or do we not? We should, as democrats, seek to have an informed electorate and, therefore, I shall support these amendments.
My Lords, at some time, preferably not today, I should like to hear about the implications of a yes vote. The amendment is defective because it does not balance the possibility of a no vote with the more likely outcome of a yes vote. I, like the Prime Minister, want to find myself in a position to vote yes, if I am still around. The problem is that the people know that we have been on a long journey of some 60 years to get to where we are. But the people are also apprehensive because they do not know where they are being taken. Does Brussels, with the eurozone problems, know where it wants to go? Perhaps I may give just one example. What does subsidiarity mean? What is it meant to mean? We should concentrate on the reasons why it is sensible for us to stay in the European Union. Many people have talked about reform but the problem is that we have no agreed sense of direction and neither does the European Union.
My Lords, I support the amendment. In an earlier intervention, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, drew a parallel with a debate we had in this House yesterday about the Scottish referendum. One of the key themes that came out was the need for a plan B regarding the currency. The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, referred to uncertainty. Take it from me that if you are in an extended referendum campaign, the impact of uncertainty, particularly on business intentions, is very considerable indeed. We are not confidently out of recession; even the Chancellor acknowledges that. One thing that business cries out for is a degree of certainty. That is why this is a common-sense amendment. We have to go into any referendum in an atmosphere of calm. It should not be held in an atmosphere in which some people think that the rug is going to be pulled for political reasons rather than for the best interests of the country as a whole.
Before the end of this year, one part of Britain will take a vote on whether to leave the oldest and most successful single market in the world. If there is a no vote in the referendum to come on the EU, we will be taking a decision about leaving the biggest single market in the world. It is essential for the long-term decision-making of British and international business for us to give an indication of the options, what the possible plan B is, and what the consequences will be. The Government, as part of the debate about the future of Scotland, has produced some excellent analytical papers. I commend to noble Lords who do not want to go into the minutiae of the nature of the debate on Scotland one paper in particular: the analysis of the situation regarding defence. The capability exists within the Civil Service to produce a balanced argument.
I know that the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, is a little more anxious today than he was last time, and I feel for him. It is probably the only time in this House that he will ever have unrestrained power. As a Back-Bencher with a Bill, he is in a position, without consulting anybody else, to be able to say that he accepts an amendment. We will get a move on and put a common-sense element into the Bill. If there had been schedules to it, we could have looked at them; but there are none. I therefore appeal to the noble Lord. Let us give a crumb to those who want this campaign to take place in an atmosphere of calmness and give a signal to the business community, which has lots of money to invest at the moment, that it can do so in an atmosphere of certainty.
My Lords, I take it as pretty certain that there will ultimately be a referendum because, at some point, there will be a new treaty anyway. I totally agree with my noble friend Lady Liddell that any referendum produces economic costs and uncertainties, and that is why it is particularly regrettable that the Government have, quite unnecessarily, brought forward this entirely gratuitous Bill in this Session of Parliament to have a referendum at some point in the next Parliament. It would be much better if we left the matter until then.
However, I do not think that our labours are wasted because what we are producing today, were producing last week and will go on producing in the remaining days on which the Bill is under consideration, is a kind of template for any future referendum when it occurs. It will be clear to any Government what can and cannot get through the House of Lords. No Government will again be tempted to try to fiddle around with the main question to be asked on the referendum ballot paper, which we discussed last week. The Bill has now established that and it would not be sensible to change it. In future, Governments will be guided by the Electoral Commission’s views on what the proper question would be. Again, if we were to pass this amendment, it would be carried forward into any future Bill, even if this Bill were not to be passed and this referendum did not take place.
A few moments ago, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said that if we had a referendum the country would have a very stark choice. I entirely agree. We all know that it will also be a very momentous choice, but it will actually be a rather uneven choice because the British public will be asked to choose between a known and an unknown—between an established and familiar fact on the one side and a purely hypothetical speculation on the other. It is very unfair and very dangerous to put the electorate in that position. It is dangerous because in those circumstances there is great scope, and therefore great temptation, for the promoters of the unknown option—those who, in this case, want to leave the European Union—to replace the unknown with a picture of their own devising which may be entirely fanciful, very wishful and even deliberately and cynically deceptive. That would be a very bad thing; it would be a very bad day for democracy to have a dishonest campaign of that kind. Therefore, it is very important that the electorate is able, as far as possible, to choose between two explicit descriptions of the two scenarios that are being offered. That is why I think that the amendment is enormously important.
There are some areas where a relatively reliable statement can be made about an unknown. For example, we all know that the Tory party does not like the Social Chapter. If we leave the European Union, we will not, by definition, be part of the Social Chapter, so it will be possible to say to people that there will not be a part-time workers directive or a parental leave directive, and anybody who is a part-time worker or who is thinking of having children will know where they stand. There are areas of greater uncertainty but they are ones where one can at least produce a reasonable description of the sort of scenario that might eventuate. For example, people are particularly concerned about whether we could still have access to the single market. There is a precedent in Norway and a precedent for EFTA, so there is a certain degree of credibility and responsibility in saying that there is certainly a likelihood that we could join EFTA if we wanted to. However, the rules of EFTA are quite clear—they have already been mentioned this morning—and it has already been explained why in many cases it would be very unsatisfactory to a great many of us.
However, there are areas where nothing certain at all can be said about what the position would be if we left the European Union today, and I fear that that is becoming increasingly likely in relation to the great area of access to the single market. Recently I have noticed that even those people who have been advocating our leaving the European Union have ceased to say, “Well, we could get a deal like Norway”. They have even ceased to say that we could get a deal like that of Switzerland. There is universal consensus on the continent among our partners and in the Commission that no one would ever be allowed to do a Swiss-type deal again. It is simply too complicated and difficult to administer with, I think, 140 separate agreements with the European Union. That type of scenario is out anyway, and anybody who takes a look at the situation will realise that it is not a possibility.
Therefore, one increasingly hears—we hear it increasingly often in this House—Eurosceptics and promoters of our leaving the European Union who say, “We’ll do better than Norway or Switzerland”. What do they mean by that? It seems to be far from clear. I detect in conversations with continental colleagues that in the type of circumstances in which we would leave the European Union there would be very little inclination to come up with special favours for us. Some have said, “Oh well, we have a deficit with the European Union. The rest of the European Union exports to us more than we export to them”. However, in point of fact, it is not a question of how big the deficit is for us or how substantial our imports or exports are; the leverage consists of the extent to which our trade is a proportion of the trade of our continental partners. It is generally never more than 25%. Therefore, I am afraid that we probably do not have a leverage.
In any case, there is no point in speculating about this, and it would be very dishonest to do so. It is important that a serious effort is made to sort out the consequences of our leaving the European Union. That should be set down in black and white by a Government who are then committed to making sure that they do not say anything which is deliberately untrue. They would have to have had serious discussions with our colleagues and partners in the rest of the European Union about what would and would not eventuate from our leaving. The British public could then be offered a genuinely honest choice between two scenarios, the details of which would have been set out as truthfully as possible.
I have not heard a single noble Lord object to the content of this amendment. The only one seems to be the “ram it through at all costs” objection. Could not the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, simply accept the amendment at this point?
Of course I could but quite clearly I am not going to. It would deprive us of hearing the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock.
I am grateful to the noble Lord. Although I endorse entirely the appeal made by my noble friend Lord Giddens and indeed others, I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, that he could accept this amendment, and he could do it with the approval of the Prime Minister. My authority for claiming that comes from no less a source than the Bloomberg speech, which I am now quoting so frequently that I am beginning to think of it as the Bloomberg bible.
In that speech, the Prime Minister was very clear—indeed, commendably clear—that:
“If we left the European Union, it would be a one-way ticket, not a return”.
That is a very sobering thought and a very grave proposition. To his further credit, the Prime Minister was balanced in his treatment of the issues in much of that speech. He said, quite correctly, that:
“Britain could make her own way in the world, outside the EU”.
He then, in a very balanced way, went on to say:
“But the question we will have to ask ourselves is this: is that the very best future for our country?”.
He said that of course we,
“would be free to take our own decisions … But we don’t leave NATO because it is in our national interest to stay and benefit from its collective defence guarantee”.
The only question that I would pose to the Prime Minister and to the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, on this aspect is: how free would we be to take our own decisions?
In a further balancing item, the Prime Minister responded to such a rhetorical question by saying:
“If we leave the EU, we cannot of course leave Europe. It will remain for many years our biggest market, and forever our geographical neighbourhood. We are tied by a complex web of legal commitments”.
“Even if we pulled out completely”—
and I do not see that there is any other option other than a complete pull-out, given what the Prime Minister said about it being a one-way ticket—
“decisions made in the EU would continue to have a profound effect on our country. But we would have lost all our remaining vetoes and our voice in those decisions”.
If the Prime Minister was willing to say that a year ago in the Bloomberg speech and to spell out the implications of our departure, what conceivable resistance could there be to accepting an amendment that would make it mandatory to provide an assessment of the United Kingdom’s intended relationship with the European Union in the event of withdrawal? In fact, on this occasion I am being as uncharacteristically helpful as I possibly can be to Mr Cameron. Maybe one day he will reciprocate that.
Of course, the question remains: how free would we be to make our own decisions? This House will know that if the search is for sovereignty, then the definition of sovereignty as the power to make effective decisions must be predominant in our minds. Outside the European Union in the world of the 21st century and beyond, we have to wonder how a medium-sized economy with a population of around 60 million, abutting the world’s biggest single market, would fare if we had to conduct our own relationships individually—dare I say unilaterally?—with emerging and emerged global powers. How would we fare in terms of resolving the crisis of the environment or in terms of combating international crime, were it not for the fact that inside the European Union we can exert substantial influence on the direction of affairs and on the nature of international relationships in an increasingly complex and interdependent world?
Freedom and increased sovereignty do not offer themselves if we are outside the European Union. To do the Prime Minister credit, I think he was articulating that view in offering his balancing comments on what life might be like outside. Again I commend him on his balance when he further went on to speak about timing, because that is relevant to this amendment too. He said that he could not accept the call being made by people who want a vote now or in the immediate future because:
“A vote today between the status quo and leaving would be an entirely false choice. Now—while the EU is in flux, and when we don’t know what the future holds and what sort of EU will emerge from this crisis—is not the right time to make such a momentous decision about the future of our country”.
We would have to stretch credulity to come to the view that the EU is not going to be in flux somewhere around 31 December 2017. The idea that the problems relating to the eurozone will be resolved, that enlargement of the EU will have been completed by that time or that, by some magic, all the problems that forbid an immediate referendum would make it not a sensible possibility will have been resolved and will have become calm, rational and easy by that date is beyond any belief.
With that in mind therefore the Government have the cause, the opportunity and the time to ensure that an assessment is made and publicly provided of what the intended relationship of the UK would be with the European Union in the event of our departure. An “in or out” referendum is being proposed. Both possibilities have to be considered comprehensively and calmly. I agree with the noble Lord who said earlier that we should pay even more attention and give much more publicity to the detail dispassionately provided of what would occur and what we can reasonably anticipate by staying in. Since this is an “in or out” referendum, it is at least equally important for the British people to be fully acquainted with the implications of coming out, which is the other option being offered. Bearing those realities in mind, I hope that the noble Lord will reconsider what appeared to be his peremptory response to my noble friend Lord Giddens and extend his view so that he will give further consideration to accepting an amendment which is only asking for a realistic appraisal of a real possibility.
If such an assessment were to be provided about what the relationship probably would and could be in the event of our departure, it would have a certain additional attraction. In my view, it would comprehensively counter and destroy the deceit of the Euro-secessionists; those people to whom the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, earlier referred, who seek to give the impression—both outside and inside the Conservative Party, and I do not mind which label they have—that withdrawal from the European Union would bring with it only opportunity and virtually no penalty whatever.
We have had enough allusions to the cases of Norway and Switzerland. Again in a praiseworthy passage in the Bloomberg speech, the Prime Minister said why the so-called Swiss or Norwegian options were simply not rational possibilities for our country to consider. If more detail about the reasonability of the Prime Minister’s stance were to be made available in good time and as a precondition of holding the referendum for the British people to understand and digest, a considerable favour would be done. Even more importantly than that, a real duty would be performed.
My Lords, I shall be brief. The core purposes of this Bill are that there should be an “in or out” referendum. It is not about what the result of that referendum should be; it is about whether there should be a referendum and that it should be before the end of 2017. This amendment has no bearing on those purposes. It leaves them unaffected. It requires the Government in certain circumstances to do something which any self-respecting Government would or should do in those circumstances. I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, that he and his colleagues in the House of Commons have the best chance of this Bill passing if he decides to accept this amendment.
My Lords, I will not detain the House for long. I think that there is pretty strong support all around the House for this amendment. It certainly has the support of the Opposition, who will vote for the proposition in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, if he chooses to test the opinion of the House. What is needed in any “in or out” choice is an authoritative assessment of Britain’s intended relationship with the European Union should the people decide to withdraw from it. That does not have to be just a wish list of hoping that we can have our cake and eat it outside the Union. It has to be a hard, realistic assessment.
I am a great lover of history. I like reading books about Britain’s post-war relationship with the European Union. The Macmillan Diaries is one of the books I have read. Harold Macmillan tried to establish a free trade relationship with the Common Market when the treaty of Rome was signed. He explored that and failed because, even in 1958, he was not able to achieve what was necessary for the national interest, and he decided we had no alternative but to join the Common Market. So we have to be realistic and this assessment has to be realistic.
Many Members on our side of the House have pointed out that the proposed referendum is not a popularity poll, it is a fundamental choice. It is not a choice you take once every five or 10 years. You cannot say that it would be a choice made for ever but you can certainly say that it would be made for generations. It is important that this choice is taken not on the basis of wish lists or hypothetical speculations—as I think the noble Lord, Lord Davies, said—but on the basis of what is a realistic alternative. The truth is that those who want to take us out of the European Union rarely state what they think the alternative is for Britain, which is why this amendment is crucial. There is a huge range of possibilities. At one end of the spectrum, there is membership of the European Economic Area, probably as a consequence of rejoining EFTA; but at the other end, we would have to rely on our WTO status in terms of our trading relationship with the European Union.
Does the noble Lord recall that when he worked in Downing Street and the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, was a Minister at the Foreign Office, the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, endlessly put down Questions asking for an assessment of the pros and cons—the benefits and the costs, because there are costs—of our membership? The noble Lord and the Government endlessly rejected that, year after year. Even a Bill was put down, but it was talked out. Does he think that he owes the noble Lord some sort of apology?
I am afraid that I do not, no. What I do know about the Labour Government is that when they were considering whether to join the euro, they carried out a thorough assessment. In the case of this proposed referendum, we need to have a thorough assessment of what the alternatives would be.
Many people assume that we can continue to enjoy the benefits of free trade with our European partners by being in the EEA. That, of course, is the economic option with the least pain. But as my noble friend Lord Kinnock said when he talked about sovereignty, although being in the EEA might involve a minimum of economic pain, it would certainly involve a huge loss of British sovereignty. Whereas now we have a say on every EU regulation that applies to us, in future, as members of the EEA, we would simply have to accept every regulation decided in Brussels, and we would have to make a budgetary contribution as well. Being in the EEA would mean a massive loss of sovereignty for Britain. We may no longer be in the European Union but, in my view, we would also no longer be Great Britain, a sovereign nation able to exercise some say over its future.
As for the alternative at the other end of the spectrum, relying on our WTO membership and trying to negotiate free trade agreements, noble Lords have already pointed out some of the problems. We would immediately be withdrawing ourselves from free trade agreements that the EU has with other countries, and the whole future of agriculture would be put into grave uncertainty. The car industry is perhaps the best example of what noble Lords on the other side have to address. The car industry is probably the most outstanding example of the manufacturing renaissance that we have seen in Britain.
I would be grateful if the noble Lord would agree that I personally do not have a case to answer because I want to stay in. And I think that it is extremely damaging for him continuously to tell us that he expects the people to vote no.
I have the greatest respect for the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. I am not worried about the result of an election if there is a fair vote which is based on fair information. However, I am really worried about a referendum that is based on an artificial timetable which is led by the Prime Minister. I have great respect for the Prime Minister’s Bloomberg speech—as I said to the House, I agreed with 80% of it. To be frank, however, my honest fear, and I speak as an individual, is that when you look at what happened in the other place yesterday, when the Government collapsed in the face of rebellion from their own Back-Benchers—
Conservative Back-Benchers, I hasten to add, not Liberal Democrat ones. The Prime Minister's response to that was pathetic, even when what was at stake was a question of us sticking to the law. What kind of confidence can we have that an EU referendum would be fought on a fair basis unless these kinds of guarantee are written into the Bill?
I come back to the case of our car industry outside the EU. Unless we can negotiate a special deal with our partners there will be a 10% tariff on cars that are made in Britain. That will have a devastating impact on jobs in the British car industry. We cannot take these decisions lightly. We have to think about what we would be able to negotiate.
We should also have a realistic assessment of what we will be able to negotiate. Many people think that we would have the whip hand in any such negotiations were we outside the EU. I think that it was my noble friend Lord Davies who said that, in fact, that is not the case. We have to face the fact—and people are hard-headed about economic matters—that our exports to the single market account for between 40% and 50% of our total exports, however we calculate it. The rest of the single market’s exports to us account for about 8% of its exports, so if we are just looking at this in terms of the balance of power in that negotiation, it is not an attractive one from the prospect of jobs and growth in Britain.
In conclusion, if the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, is not prepared to accept this amendment, is he certain what his alternative to EU membership would entail? How would he go about making sure that the referendum was fought on a fair basis? If we cannot have this fair assessment then, frankly, the Bill is as I described it at Second Reading: an invitation to buy a pig in a poke.
My Lords, before the noble Lord finally sits down, will he explain to me why, when legislation was taken through Parliament for a referendum regarding the European Union in 1975, no such provisions as the ones he is now calling for were included?
If I recollect correctly—I took an active part in that campaign—there was an assessment of the reasons for British membership, which was sent to every household.
My Lords, there is a government view on membership of the European Union, which is that the UK’s interest is to be a member of a reformed European Union. There are also agreed government views on how to run a referendum, following the alternative vote and Scottish independence polls. However, there is no collective position on holding a membership referendum and hence no government view on its implications. Noble Lords can be assured that, by the time of the referendum, the official yes and no campaigns will have made their cases in some detail. Therefore, the British people will be in no doubt about the choice that they are making.
My Lords, this has been another lengthy debate and I do not wish to prolong it. First, I will just respond to a point that the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, made earlier. I assure him that I have never sought and never been given, so far as I am aware, any advice from a government official for this debate other than factual advice or advice about the Government’s agreed position. I believe that all the proprieties have been maintained, as they ought to be.
It is unthinkable that people would not be fully supplied with responsible information before any referendum campaign. There may of course be plenty of irresponsible information too, but that is the stuff of politics. It is nobody’s intention to ask people to vote on such a fundamental issue when they are not fully briefed and fully aware of what the issues are. No one can expect people to come to a rational and reasoned decision—as we would want them to—without the appropriate information.
However, it is very difficult to see what this amendment would add that is so very different from the amendment that the House carried last week in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Roper, which called for,
“an evidence based assessment of the impact of the United Kingdom ceasing to be a member of the European Union”.
I argued against that amendment, simply on the grounds that people would get all that information anyway and that it was not necessary to include those provisions in the Bill. The House decided otherwise and passed that amendment calling for an evidence-based assessment of the impact of the United Kingdom ceasing to be a member of the European Union. I am genuinely puzzled therefore as to the need for this amendment.
Again, the wording is important here. It asks about our “intended” future relationship with the EU. As it seems likely that, under most circumstances, all the major parties will be campaigning for us to stay in the EU, the question is: the outlines of this future relationship as intended by whom? How can this task be completed? By consulting UKIP? The only sensible way to seek a response to the question of how one intends to get divorced—which I think was the phraseology of the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull—is to ask those who actually want to get divorced in the first place. Any plan B drawn up by those who do not believe in it, will not be arguing for it and have no intention of pursuing it would not be worth the paper that it was printed on.
The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, suggested, in defence of this amendment, that we should do what the Labour Government did for the euro by making their intended position clear. If that is the example he expects us to follow, I am not in favour of it. It was the most bizarre approach that any Government have taken to such an important issue and points to the difficulty of an intended position on something of this sort. The suggestion that underpins this amendment is really rather woolly. It is ambiguous and therefore I think that it is flawed. That is why I oppose it, which is perhaps why a very similar amendment was defeated on Report in the other place by a majority of 265 to eight. The noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, has come up with an interesting constitutional principle that a clear vote in the other House does not reflect the view of that House, but we will pass on from that.
This is not a Bill for those with closed minds, and there are closed minds on both sides of this issue. This is a Bill designed to give those with common sense an opportunity to come to an informed position as to what they intend for their futures. If the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, will forgive me, I do not intend to follow him up the Swiss mountains or sail along the Norwegian fjords. The Prime Minister does not want that; I do not want that; this is another argument that seems to be constructed in order to knock it down that I can see very few people putting. I shall certainly not be following the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, in the magnificent tour that he gave us around every part of the world. The argument that we need to specify even more than we have done under the previous amendment and that we need to load the people with more information, not as a result of democracy or of our campaigning skills and our passionate beliefs in where we stand but on the face of a Bill because the Government require it, implies a huge lack of faith in the ability of the different sides in a referendum campaign to put their case. I do not share that lack of faith. I cannot see what this amendment would do that the amendment that we passed last week—
I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way, but I am afraid that he is yet again caricaturing the supporters of this amendment. On the day after a referendum, whatever the result has been, it will not be for the protagonists of staying in or for the protagonists of leaving the European Union to define Britain’s future relationship if the vote has gone for a no; it will be for the Government to do so. The amendment would require the Government to set out what the relationship might be if there was a no vote. That cannot be left either to the yes campaign or to the no campaign.
If the noble Lord will forgive me, that is not what the amendment seeks. It is not about what the relationship might be; it is about what that relationship is intended to be, which is a very different point. That is the point on which I suggest that this amendment is flawed.
It will come as no surprise to the House to know that I do not share the enthusiasm of those who do not believe that all this information will come out in an adequate referendum campaign. I regard this amendment as being entirely unnecessary. I believe that it is ambiguous and flawed, and that no one can come up with a suitable intended relationship in those circumstances. I therefore request the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, this has been another hour and a half—but I do not begrudge that—of very interesting discussion. I am grateful to noble Lords who have spoken, overwhelmingly in support of the amendment. There are certain common themes. First, we are faced with a momentous decision. That was made very clear by the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, in his intervention during discussion on the previous amendment. Secondly, the matter is immensely complex. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, for giving us a sight of the trade implications and for making the link with the Electoral Commission in that one has to understand not only the question but the implications of the question. It was also agreed that we as a Parliament and supporters of democracy owe it to the electorate to give the best possible information on which to make such an informed decision. Of the arguments against, one was that such an assessment was unnecessary because it was going to happen anyway. I think that our debate yesterday showed a Government campaigning for a change and not making preparation for plan B. The noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, argued that it was inconceivable that such an assessment would not be supplied. If it is inconceivable, what is the harm of putting it in the Bill? More importantly, however, the noble Lord said that we should rely on the arguments coming forward from the yes campaign and the no campaign. Each of those documents will be partisan, because they will try to make a particular case, whereas the assessment required by the amendment would establish some factual ground.
What is the difference between this amendment and the amendment passed last week? The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, made this clear. It falls exclusively to the government of the day to make the assessment. They will have to cope with the consequences of a no vote and they should set out what they think those consequences should be.
It was asked why we should not have a similar document on the consequences of a yes vote. There are two reasons why I have not included that in the amendment. The first is that the Prime Minister has promised us his view of what the consequences of a yes vote would be after a renegotiation. The second is, as was perceptively pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford, that there is an asymmetry of information. A lot more will be known about being in and staying in than about moving out and something is needed to rectify that imbalance.
I lived in hope that the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, would accept the proposal from the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and others. I hoped that he would accept the principle of it and come back with something better. He complained that this is not a perfect amendment. He has had the opportunity to take it away and improve it but he has decided to spurn that. On that basis, I do not think we can take this argument further.
Before the noble Lord sits down, can he indicate whose intention he has in mind? The amendment refers to the “intended relationship”. Whose intention is at issue?
That would be the responsibility of the Government who inherit the responsibility for negotiating the terms of separation. I beg to move.
Clause 1, as amended, agreed.
Amendment 51 not moved.
52: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
“Count for votes cast
The count for votes cast in the referendum shall be carried out and declared separately for—(a) Scotland;(b) Wales;(c) Northern Ireland; and(d) England.”
My Lords, this amendment can be dealt with relatively briefly—by me, certainly. The amendment before your Lordships requires that the votes cast in any referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union would,
“be carried out and declared separately for”,
each of the component nations of the United Kingdom. We have already discussed why a referendum should not result in Britain leaving the EU unless it secures a simple majority in each of the component parts of the United Kingdom, so I will not go further into that.
The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that the result of any EU referendum is agreed across the length and breadth of the United Kingdom by counting, and publicising the overall result, in individual component nations. Only if that is done will the referendum be seen as legitimate and will those who wish to break up the union be forced to admit, for good or ill, that whatever Britain’s relationship with Europe may be, it was consensually agreed upon by the whole of the United Kingdom and not imposed on any part. I so move.
Amendment 53 (to Amendment 52)
53: After Clause 1, line 8, at end insert “; and
My Lords, my amendment relates to Gibraltar. Many of us in this House have a special concern for Gibraltar and therefore wish to ensure that it has a separate count. We all have a special responsibility for Gibraltar. That is seen, for example, in the fact that Gibraltar is represented by one of the constituencies of the UK in the European Parliament. It has a very proud history, not least in the Second World War.
Coming here today, I was musing how the people of Gibraltar, which is relatively small—perhaps not much larger than a ward in my own former constituency—none the less represent so much of the Mediterranean. The current Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, has a good Mediterranean name; Sir Joshua Hassan showed that there was a Jewish community in Gibraltar; Peter Caruana, the former Chief Minister, has a good Maltese name; and even Albert Poggio, who is the excellent representative of Gibraltar in this country, has an Italian name. There is currently a total linkage of the people of Gibraltar with many Mediterranean countries.
The relevance to Gibraltar of the European Union is in part because of the dispute with Spain. Most if not all of us would agree that Spain has been extremely unwise in seeking not to build up relations with Gibraltar. There have been the disputes leading to endless delays at the border, which harm Spanish nationals who work in Gibraltar. Equally, there has been the dispute over the territorial waters. These matters are litigated in Brussels. The people of Gibraltar quite properly criticise some of what goes on in the European Union in respect of the Spanish judge who I think recently presided over a judgment to the detriment of Gibraltar. We criticise sometimes the fact that, although Britain should represent the interests of Gibraltar in Brussels, sometimes the UK representative has perhaps failed to notice matters that are relevant to those people.
On one thing, though, the people of Gibraltar are clear: it is in their interest to have the UK there in the EU, fighting the Gibraltar cause and putting up the objections to any particularly nationalist and populist sentiments put forward by the Spanish. It is therefore most important that the Gibraltese, the people of the Rock, are able to show their opinion and to do so clearly, and that Gibraltar is established as a separate electoral unit with a separate result. It could be an interesting point if the people of the Rock were to say yes, because they recognised the importance of their relationship with the European Union through the UK, and yet the UK were to turn its back on the European Union and therefore, in effect, on Gibraltar. However, that is for another day. Both in chairing the Foreign Affairs Committee and in other fora, I have long stood shoulder to shoulder with the people of Gibraltar. I am happy to do so again to ensure that there is a separate count, separately recorded. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am sorry that I missed the opening remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes. His brevity in speaking today is no doubt recognised by all across the Chamber. Any accusations that he could be filibustering would be absolute nonsense. However, the question raised about Gibraltar is slightly different. I understand the position that my noble friend Lord Anderson comes from, but the main thrust of my support for the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Foulkes—and my amendment, Amendment 67 —is the need to ensure that the people of Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England know exactly where they stand on this matter.
As I indicated before in a more general debate, if there is no publication of the results for each nation, there will be speculation—and speculation could be much more damaging than facing up to the reality of whatever the result may be. I believe that, because of the importance of the economic question, to which I referred earlier, there will be a yes vote in Wales—but whatever the outcome, the people of Wales and, indeed, the people of Scotland, Northern Ireland and England, have a right to know where they stand. The overall result will no doubt be taken on a United Kingdom basis and would be the aggregation of those votes, but at least people would know where they stood, and for that reason, I support the amendment.
My Lords, this is a fair enough amendment. Were we to have been conducting this debate 25 or 30 years ago, I suspect that everybody would have thought it wholly appropriate to take the temperature of the nation as a whole, because we would not have seen the degree of change within the United Kingdom and the extent of devolution. Of course, it will still be useful to have a United Kingdom-wide picture at the end of a referendum, and it is essential that there should be—but on its own, that will not do now.
Twenty-five years on, the home nations of the United Kingdom are sufficiently and significantly distinct. People see themselves as having very distinct interests. Some of them are to do with the individual nations and some are to do with the character of the relationship that those nations have with Europe. There are distinct issues about the development of social policy, economic interests and the trajectories of economic interests. It is not just that those factors have emerged in the overall politics of the United Kingdom, but that the experience has some depth. There is real depth of experience. It is not just a constitutional formality that these things have taken place; it represents very real experience, which people generally treasure.
As with all the issues in front of your Lordships in these debates, it is very helpful to look at this from all angles. Were there to be a vote to leave—and I have said in the House before that I profoundly hope, as many others do, that there will not be—especially if it were a narrow vote, and a strong belief persisted in Scotland and/or Wales that their electorates did not want to leave, that would create stresses within the United Kingdom that unquestionably would push those home nations towards still greater devolution or full independence. If we did it as a single country, it is likely to promote the belief that the results in effect hide the way in which people in Scotland and Wales would prefer to conduct their relationship with Europe, and the fact that they wish to do so in a way that is significantly different from the approach of England. Knowing all that, there is a very good case for believing that it would put energy into further separation.
If there is an overall vote, and if people know what the votes are in each of the home nations, that does not necessarily mean that people will say, “Actually, on our own, we might very well have chosen to leave”—but there would never be an allegation that they were caught by the fact that the vote was hidden or that there was something unreasonable, unfair or deceptive about it. That argument about process is potentially the one that is most damaging, because it can never be properly addressed. It is much better to have the votes clearly and in the open.
Noble Lords will have noted that I have not mentioned Northern Ireland in this debate, not because I do not think that there would be an interest in Northern Ireland but because I do not detect, broadly speaking, among the majority of the population of Northern Ireland, a desire to move to a still greater distance from the rest of the United Kingdom. There are always nuances in the United Kingdom and in Northern Ireland as a whole.
I express my support for the points that my noble friend Lord Anderson made about Gibraltar. It was certainly my experience when in the Foreign Office that the European Union mitigates—though not always successfully, it has to be said—the character and intensity of some of the disagreements that occur with Spain. Even when other members of the EU are supportive of Spain, it none the less damps down the intensity of the discussion. Of course, Gibraltar sometimes criticises the EU, but it is without question that Gibraltar would prefer to have the armoury of the United Kingdom around it in the discussions of those issues than to have to face them on its own. For those reasons, it is particularly helpful that my noble friend made those points.
My Lords, one of the other things that we want to seek in a referendum would be transparency, as the Electoral Commission recommends. Of course, in general elections, the public know precisely how people have voted in different parts of the country because of the constituency system. So you can tell how many people are returned from which party from the respective countries of the United Kingdom, and it is very clear. In that sense, I am rather tempted by the amendment, which would allow that level of transparency to come in, not as finely defined as that but broadly, for us to be able to tell where opinions lie in one direction or the other. It would help us to reflect on what to do next and how we might best reflect the opinions of those constituent parts of the United Kingdom, depending on the outcome of the referendum, along the lines of the amendment that we have just agreed.
My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, replies to the debate, I should like to speak briefly on the Gibraltar point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. I should also like to raise a bigger point for the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, to think about.
On Gibraltar, I point out first that no one has an amendment tabled to Clause 4; nobody in this House objects in principle to the idea of Gibraltar voting in the referendum. Although it was not in the original Bill and was added in the House of Commons, nobody here is objecting to it, and I certainly do not do so. It is a little anomalous that a British overseas territory should vote, of course, but that the Gibraltarians should be able to vote is not nearly as anomalous as the expatriates across the frontier in Spain being unable to vote. Gibraltar is a country member of the European Union; large numbers of European Union rules do not apply there—it does not have VAT, and it is not in the customs union, the common commercial policy, the CAP or the CFP. On the other hand, expatriates would see a very serious change to what they might legitimately have expected, if the referendum produced a no—but we will come to that under a later amendment, and I shall not pursue it now.
The very small point that I would like to make is on the Channel Islands, which are much more closely integrated into the European Union than is Gibraltar. They apply the common agricultural policy, and their main export is to France—agricultural goods and products derived from them. I do not know why the drafters of the Bill included Gibraltar and not the Channel Islands. That is a legitimate question to ask the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, to think about and come back to. I am speaking in support of what was, I think, a probing amendment about Gibraltar and asking that the probe should go a little wider and include the anomaly of the Channel Islands.
I come to my bigger point about the nature of probing amendments. We worked quite hard for quite a long time a week ago. A number of noble Lords withdrew amendments, for which there was quite a lot of support around the House, on the understanding that there would be reflection. I have heard nothing from the sponsors of the Bill on the major amendment I withdrew. I have heard from one distinguished Member of this House—he is now in his place—but I am not going to embarrass him by saying who he is or what he said. Probing amendments are well worth it if they are designed to see whether the sponsors will accept them or will come back with a different version of them. However, on none of the amendments that were withdrawn in our eight-hour debate last week with a view to coming back on Report, have the sponsors subsequently been in touch with the proposers. What is the point of a probing amendment? It seems to me the only way one can get the defects in this Bill corrected is in the Division Lobbies. The House has voted three times, and three times by substantial majorities has amended the Bill.
It has been suggested more than once that, once one amendment was carried and therefore the argument that the Bill must stay intact had collapsed, there was no cost to the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, in buying an amendment. Indeed, there might be considerable advantage. I had hoped that today’s debate would take place in a less confrontational way than last week’s one started and that we would be more consensual and try to find areas of agreement. However, on the previous amendment on which we have just voted, the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, must have known from the debate that the Division Lobbies would not give the result he wanted. Why did he not feel that he could accept the amendment? Why do we have to force it on him? If anything is wasting time, it is this.
We had an hour and a half’s debate and then a Division on something that plainly was correct and was going to be written into the Bill one way or another. The only argument that the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, produced against it was that it was unnecessary. He did not say it would be damaging. I do not think he was right. The House did not think he was right and clearly thought the amendment was necessary. If the noble Lord thinks that it is unnecessary but does not do any harm why does he not buy it? What does the House expect to happen when it puts forward probing amendments and takes them away again? It expects something to occur, perhaps in the gap between Committee and Report. The gap is there for approaches. I had hoped that there would be an approach to me about Amendment 10 by now and I am very sorry that has not happened. It is pity to force us into the Division Lobbies. It wastes a lot of time. It would be much better, and we would make progress with this Bill, if the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, was prepared to accept amendments.
I am not saying that the Gibraltar issue, let alone the Channel Islands issue that I have raised, is one that deserves an immediate answer or anything like that. Mine was a genuine probing amendment. I do not know why the Channel Islands are not in and Gibraltar is. The biggest question is that I do not know how we make progress with this Bill if no amendments can be accepted other than through the Division Lobbies.
Following up on that contribution to the debate, the Isle of Man, which is a Crown dependency, is in the same situation. Its relationship with the EU is determined by Protocol 3 of the 1972 accession Act. The United Kingdom has traditionally been responsible for the foreign relationships and foreign affairs of the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. It would be helpful to know—not necessarily today, but on another occasion—to what extent the United Kingdom Government are committed to consultation with the Crown dependencies, such as the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, on the effect of a possible withdrawal of the UK from the EU, and doing so in advance of any referendum, to take their views and to enable them to be made clear. If the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, is able to comment today, which is possibly unlikely, that would be helpful. If not, perhaps we could return to it on a future occasion.
My Lords, there is no doubt that the inclusion of Gibraltar was greatly welcomed in Gibraltar itself. It was certainly done on the basis of one of the rare obvious cross-party agreements on this issue in the other place. Of course, the people of Gibraltar vote in European parliamentary elections.
However, the points that have been raised on this issue are important. I, too, would like to reinforce the point just made by my noble friend and by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, as to what consultation there has been with both the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, whether or not they have expressed an interest in wanting to be involved in the vote, how they think that their interests are going to be affected and what kind of consultation will take place with them.
My Lords, first, I take the point about Gibraltar. The drafters of the Bill had not chosen to distinguish between Gibraltar and the Channel Islands. The drafters of the Bill did not include Gibraltar; that was included at the express request and instruction of the other place. The situation of the Channel Islands was of course discussed in the other place. There are of course constitutional differences between the two but I will, of course, take that away and we will be in touch.
I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, if he thinks that I have been in any way deficient or impolite in dealing with the points that he made in the previous Committee sitting. He raised the point then that he would be bringing the issue of timing, for instance, up on Report, and I was hoping to get a sensible time between Committee and Report to discuss exactly those matters with him. That was my intention; if I have not been prompt enough in dealing with that, then I apologise. It is certainly not my intention to turn my back on sensible points so responsibly made.
I hope that those noble Lords with their names to the amendments in this group will forgive me if, once again, I say that they are unnecessary. The rules of conduct for most polls, including general elections, are set out in secondary legislation rather than in an Act; that is the custom. The appropriate, nuanced arrangements—I hope that they will be nuanced, the term that the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, so sensibly used, because one has to be sensitive to the differing circumstances of the time—are taken care of in Clause 3. Clause 3 stipulates that the arrangements will be based in due course on the published recommendations of the Electoral Commission, which will come back to the House at an appropriate time.
My Lords, in many cases, they have been in schedules to proposals for referendums. This time, they will merely come back as a statutory instrument, which this House will have no chance of amending unless a subsequent amendment to the Bill is accepted.
The noble Lord is entirely right—they will come back to this House, which is the point I was making, although they may not come back in the form that he would like. However, nobody is trying to avoid ensuring that the arrangements for counting these votes are satisfactory. This should not be a divisive matter. Why do we need to specify at this stage how the votes should be counted? The point I make time and again—perhaps in response to the position of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr—is on the cost of accepting these amendments. If this debate were entirely among rational, reasonable men and women who simply wanted to come to an agreed conclusion, then of course there would be very little cost. However, let us be real. We know what is going on in this House, in the corners and dusty corridors of this place. Some noble Lords will not accept the Bill under any circumstances. We read about that in the press all the time, particularly in the Guardian, which appears to be particularly well informed of what goes on in those corners. Therefore, I cannot simply say that of course I can accept any reasonable amendment if the consequence of adding those amendments to the Bill—which has to go back to another place, which has already spoken so clearly about the Bill—will be not a new way of counting the votes but no votes being counted at all. That would be a tragedy, and I am trying to avoid it.
The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, has always been a great tribune of the people, if I can put it that way—of the Scottish people. Most recent opinion polls in Scotland show very strong support for a referendum: 3:1. Those same people had the common sense, time after time, to send him back to Westminster as the representative of his constituency of Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley. They were persuaded by him then, and I see no reason why they should not continue to listen to his entreaties and be persuaded by them in a referendum. All I am trying to do, above all, is to make sure that the Bill does not founder because so many baubles are added to the Christmas tree that the entire tree collapses. The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, is no timorous wee beastie who runs from the sound of gunfire. He is a man who has always shown confidence in his cause, and I want him to be able to put his cause out there in public on the matter of the EU. It is in that spirit that I say that this amendment is unnecessary and I beg him to withdraw it.
My Lords, I moved the amendment in respect of Gibraltar—
I beg pardon of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, if I overlooked him. I think we have never gone into the same Division Lobby, but have always parted company with a smile and good grace, and I hope that that will continue. I apologise if I overlooked him in the tributes that I was so eager to pay to the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes.
That is the story of my life and of Gibraltar. However, I hope that the noble Lord will recognise me and my noble friend Lord Wigley as tribunes of the people of Wales in the same way. As the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, said at the beginning, this problem would not have arisen if there had been schedules to the Bill with that set out, but the problem the noble Lord, Lord Roper, mentioned, has arisen. Apparently the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, fails to recognise that we are now in a new context because amendments have been passed—two last Friday and one so far today. The speed and the pressure have gone, so he should have a spirit of looking carefully at how the Bill might be improved.
As regards the people of Gibraltar, it is clear that there could be very serious problems for our good friends on the Rock if the UK was to withdraw, so they have a very proper interest in this. It is therefore a matter for reflection as to whether to ensure not only that their votes are counted but that the position of the Rock is seen to be clear. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, and his advisers, whether they are in the officials’ Box or wherever, will make time for reflection so that we can find common ground. This is in no way partisan; I am very ready to accept that there is strong support for Gibraltar throughout this House. Therefore although I will withdraw this amendment I hope that it will give an opportunity for reflection by all those of good will.
Amendment 53 (to Amendment 52) withdrawn.
My Lords, I assure the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, that I have not spoken to the Guardian about this issue, so, if an article has appeared on it, that was certainly not my doing. However, if Guardian staff do want to talk to me, I am very happy to do so.
I remind the House that we are talking about counts rather than eligibility to vote, although I can understand why we have strayed into eligibility to vote. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, rightly made some ironic comments. I agree with him and the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, that the people of Gibraltar should be able to vote on this issue. However, it is ironic if they are able to vote on it but not EU citizens living in the United Kingdom who are taxpayers—the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, has tabled an excellent amendment on that matter—or British expatriates living in the south of Spain who have a very strong interest in it. I have tabled a later amendment on that issue which I hope we will discuss when we reach it.
The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, referred to a consensus. I was a bit hard on the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, earlier when I thought that he had not replied satisfactorily to our amendment. As he knows, I respect him. However, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, that a Bill’s sponsor has a responsibility to take on board the feeling of the House without a vote necessarily taking place on an issue, or to give a commitment in Committee that, between the stages of the Bill, he will look at the arguments that have been put forward and come back with amendments. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, will do that in relation to separate counts.
The noble Lord, Lord Roper, for whom I have the greatest respect, and who has great experience as a chairman of the European Union Select Committee and from his many previous positions and his long membership of this House, endorsed what I and the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, said about schedules. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, that it would greatly help the proper consideration of the Bill if, between now and Report, he talked to the Public Bill Office. It is full of enthusiastic people who want to help noble Lords draft measures and who can suggest amendments and schedules. It would be good to have a schedule on the conduct of the referendum, as we have had in previous Bills. In the hope that the noble Lord might listen to our plea—it is not just my plea, but our plea—and that we do not have to divide so often but that he will accept later amendments in Committee and will come up with his own suggestions on Report, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 52 withdrawn.
Amendment 54 not moved.
55: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
“Definition of “United Kingdom”
(1) For the purposes of this Act, the United Kingdom comprises England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
(2) Subject to subsections (3) and (4), the Secretary of State may amend subsection (1) by order made by statutory instrument subject to approval by resolution of both Houses of Parliament.
(3) Notwithstanding any provisions of the Scotland Act 1998, the Government of Wales Acts 1998 and 2006 and the Northern Ireland Act 1998, the—
(a) Scottish Parliament relating to Scotland,(b) Welsh Assembly relating to Wales, or(c) the Northern Ireland Assembly relating to Northern Ireland,may authorise their presiding officer to forward a request, along with any relevant reports agreed to by the Parliament or Assembly, that the Secretary of State make an order under subsection (2) to amend subsection (1).(4) No order shall be made under this section until the Secretary of State has laid before both Houses of Parliament a report setting out any opinion on his or her proposal to make such an order expressed by any of the Scottish Parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly or the Welsh Assembly.”
My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the Committee if, in moving Amendment 55, I also touch on Amendment 75 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley.
I hasten to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, that this is a genuine probing amendment. We are not trying to elicit any response other than that there is a problem—
My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord but I hope that the sound system can be adjusted as, most regrettably, I am finding it impossible to hear him.
I will do my best. Can the noble Lord hear me now?
This is a probing amendment. The question is: how can the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, and the House involve devolved Administrations in the conduct of the referendum? There are two issues. This, in a sense, follows on from the previous debate. First, there is the potential for a disaster if we do not get this right. Secondly, there is the question of how devolved Administrations can indicate to their constituents what their considered view is.
Let me take the first issue. I give your Lordships a rather irreverent description of the United Kingdom. Not long ago, the former First Minister of Wales, Rhodri Morgan, had a meeting with Alex Salmond. “The United Kingdom”, Rhodri said, “consisted of one large mammal: an elephant and three fleas”. The elephant was England and the three fleas were Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. As it happened, Mr Salmond was not entirely pleased with this analogy, nor would many of my colleagues in Wales or Northern Ireland be. Nevertheless, let us consider the truth of the matter. England, in population terms—hence, in terms of votes—outweighs the combined total of the three devolved Administrations by a factor of roughly five. In other words, the elephant can easily vote on any issue to squash the fleas. To be more precise, England might vote in any UK-wide referendum by such a wide margin that the matter would be settled, regardless of how the votes fell in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Therein lies the problem.
Let me consider the “in or out” referendum as proposed in the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs. By the way, in the light of what my noble friend Lord Giddens said about referendums, I should note that, in my experience, they always start off with one question and end up with another, usually on whether the electorate want to give the Government of the day a kicking. That happened in France, for instance, in the referendum there. I hope that that will not translate into the referendum that the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, proposes. If all constituent parts of the United Kingdom, the elephant and the fleas, voted in the same way, there would be no problem. All would be harmony. As for the specific referendum proposals that we have in front of us, if Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland showed the same appetite as England for staying in or leaving the European Union and all were as one, there would be no problem. Alas, on the current evidence on this issue, that may not be case.
Let me take the situation as I understand it to be in the four regions that make up the UK and try to gauge their attitudes to UK membership of the European Union. I cannot speak for Northern Ireland as I have no great knowledge of the feeling there on this issue. I have had to consult colleagues. All that I can say is that it would look odd, to say the least, to see Northern Ireland out of the European Union and the Republic staying in. This matter, I am told, worries the Republic a lot. That might please some people but it would surely disconcert others. After consulting noble colleagues on the spread of opinion, I am led to believe that a vote in Northern Ireland would go, on a best guess, 60:40 in favour of remaining in the European Union. As is normal, some noble colleagues think that it might go the other way, but I am not there to judge that.
As for Wales, the position is equally unclear. A distinguished academic wrote only a few days ago that as far as he knew,
“nobody in the mainstream of Welsh politics, business and academia wants to leave the European Union”.
In fact, he argued that Wales has benefited greatly from UK membership. The protections afforded by the EU treaties and consequent directives and regulations, as well as the flow of funds from the EU, have been much welcomed. Economic development, environmental policy and the protection of social and employment rights are just a few examples. In short, it is hard to see the Welsh electorate voting to reject all that has been of benefit to them from UK membership of the European Union. Nevertheless, some polling evidence in Wales suggests that there might be a substantial “out” vote.
As for Scotland, again the picture is not entirely clear. After all, the Scottish National Party has spent a good deal of energy, and quite a lot of money on legal fees, arguing for continued Scottish membership of the European Union in the event of Scotland leaving the United Kingdom. It would be almost absurdly idiosyncratic for it to advocate the UK leaving the EU if Scotland itself voted to remain part of the UK. That being so, and given the relative weakness of the Conservatives and UKIP in Scotland, I think that it would be safe to assume that the Scottish vote would fall in favour of the UK staying in the European Union.
As for England—well, who knows? It seems clear that a large section of the Conservative vote and, I imagine, the totality of the UKIP vote would be in favour of the UK leaving the European Union. Of course, I very much hope that I am wrong but I very much fear that the English vote may go quite powerfully in what I personally regard as the wrong direction. Worse still—and here is the major point—I fear that it would go in the wrong direction to the point where an English majority might overwhelm the totality of the vote in the Celtic fringe.
So what happens then? It could easily be that my worst-case scenario comes about: England votes for exit in sufficient numbers to overcome the Celtic fringe voting to stay in. With an overall majority in its pocket, the Conservative Government of the day would then presumably proceed to dismantle all the arrangements between the UK and the European Union which have been put in place since we first joined all those years ago. So far, so relatively simple—or disastrous, according to your opinion.
At that point, what is at present a theoretical problem becomes a constitutional nightmare. The new Conservative Government set about legislating for the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union. However, how would that play with the Celtic fringe countries if the result of the “in or out” referendum had been a thumping “out” in England and an equally thumping “in” in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the overall vote in the UK—including, of course, Gibraltar—when totted up amounted to “out”?
As for Northern Ireland, noble Lords with better knowledge than mine will no doubt have their own opinion. All I can say is that there would probably be, as usual, political fireworks, and possibly real fireworks as well. As for Wales, I am afraid that I imagine there would be the customary sullen acceptance of the historical domination of the English—expressed yet again—over their Celtic neighbour, but it would be sullen anger to be fed into resentment in the future. As for Scotland, I cannot even begin to imagine the reaction of Scots when they hear that the English have kicked them out of Europe. It just does not bear thinking about.
So what can be done? I have to be honest and say that I doubt whether it will be possible, within the present legislative framework, to solve this problem in its entirety. The Committee will no doubt be aware that foreign affairs are a reserved issue under the devolution Acts and are thus the preserve of the UK Government. In the normal course of events, this is a perfectly reasonable arrangement, but this Bill does not fall within the normal course of events, and I do not see how anybody could claim that it does. Therefore, we have a special situation that calls for special measures.
What I propose in the amendment is that devolved Administrations should have the right to request of the Secretary of State what amounts to an opt-out from the referendum proposed in the Bill. In deciding whether to make such a request, each devolved Assembly or Parliament shall debate the grounds for such a request and explain them to the Secretary of State in a memorandum after consulting, in one form or another, their electorate. It goes, I think, without saying that each one would take into account the advantages and disadvantages for their electorate in taking part in the “in or out” referendum—in other words, the debate would be a responsible one and not just a petulant gesture. The best we can do is to allow a formal mechanism which would enable the devolved Administrations to have their voices heard. At present, under the devolution Act, they have no right to do so.
That leads me to my second issue. Let us suppose that Wales, for instance, was to make such a request. The Secretary of State, under my proposal, would have the right to refuse it. The Welsh memorandum would be the property of the Welsh Assembly, which might and almost certainly would wish to publish it. If the Secretary of State were to accede to the request to make an order removing Wales from the United Kingdom for the purposes, and only for the purposes, of the referendum, he would be obliged to publish the memorandum to support his decision. In either event, the formal view of the Welsh Assembly, whose Members are elected by the citizens of Wales, would be in the public domain.
Let us now suppose that Scotland were to make such a request. Judging from what I have heard in previous debates in this House, I think it goes without saying that if the Scots voted for independence next September, the Secretary of State would be pretty well bound to accede to its request since Scotland was removing itself from the United Kingdom however defined. In fact, even if my amendment is not accepted, the Scottish vote for independence would bring with it legislation in some form to exempt Scotland in the UK referendum. However, if the Scots were to remain in the United Kingdom and the Secretary of State rejected the Scottish Parliament’s request for an opt-out, the view of Parliament could and would be published, as in the Welsh case.
What would happen if the overall UK was to leave the European Union thanks to an English majority? I have absolutely no doubt that there would be the mother and father of a row. No doubt there would be new demands for Scottish independence. In all probability it would ignite a similar debate in Wales and even in Northern Ireland. No one can foresee the consequences of all that. The least one can say is that it would put in doubt the whole future of a viable United Kingdom.
There will of course be objections to my proposal. No doubt there will be arguments that opt-outs are impractical, although they have proved to be a practical and useful device in arguments between the UK and the rest of Europe. If granted, they would form a platform for negotiation between an England which might have wished to leave the European Union and an opted-out country about the future relationship. If refused, at the least it would give the devolved Governments the right to have their opinions heard. It may also be argued that foreign affairs are no business of the devolved Administrations, as the devolution Acts make clear, and should be handled by Members of the UK Parliament on their behalf. It is precisely those policy areas which are the responsibility of the devolved Administrations—environment, education, culture and so on—where UK membership of the EU has been most beneficial. They have a right, and I would argue a duty, to defend that. Otherwise, there is no point in them being there.
Finally, it may be argued that my proposal would put at risk the stability of the United Kingdom. However, the risk involved if my worst-case scenario comes about is infinitely greater. Of course I, like others around me, hope that it does not come about. If an “in or out” referendum is ever launched, I hope that all four countries of the United Kingdom will vote decisively to remain in the European Union and work constructively at all levels of government to reform the EU in a sensible and rational way. I hope for all that. But along with hoping for the best, one must also fear the worst and do whatever is possible to provide a way of mitigating its effects. It is in that spirit that I beg to move my amendment.
My Lords, after speaking to Amendment 75 in my name, I shall come back to the interesting points put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Williams. Amendment 75 is simple and I would have thought that, if the owners of this Bill were in a mind to accept amendments, this would be the sort of amendment that should be built in. It purely and simply makes provision—were the Scottish to vote for independence in the referendum, and we do not know whether they will—to take Scotland out of the Bill. That may not be what the majority of noble Lords in this Chamber want, but it could happen, and it strikes me as being a little short-sighted to put through a Bill that does not make provision for one of the eventualities that we have spent considerable time discussing, including just yesterday in this Chamber. I therefore put this forward as a constructive amendment to be considered at the appropriate stage—if not now, in fine-tuning the Bill—to meet that eventuality.
The amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Williams, touches on some pretty sensitive areas. I, like the noble Lord, want to see all parts of the United Kingdom voting yes to remain within the European Union. Certainly, there need to be changes to the European Union, but I want Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England—the UK, as it is now—to be members of the European Union. That is my starting point and that is what I will be campaigning for.
However, issues arise in the context of the referendum because the interests in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are, to some extent, different from the mainstream interests in England. For example, in Scotland, there is the question of fisheries. A lot of attention has been given to that in recent months and the Government have made some progress on some issues. But Scotland always wants to have its Ministers associated with any UK team. The problem at present is that, within the UK ministerial team negotiating in Brussels, Ministers from the devolved Administrations have to follow the lead of the UK Minister.
That is fine if there is unanimity of view on these issues, but there are occasions on matters such as fisheries where there may not be. Whatever our relationships are with each other in the United Kingdom over the coming years, our relationship with the European Union must develop in a way that allows flexibility to take that consideration on board. That must arise in countries such as Spain as well, where Catalonia or the Basque country may have a slightly different view from Madrid on some issues. If the European Union insists on being a totally centralist organisation, which I do not believe in its essence it has to be if the principle of subsidiarity works through, then the European Union must work towards an ability to take these variations from area to area on board.
I mentioned Scotland and now I come to Wales and the farming regime, which I mentioned earlier. On the sheep-meat regime, particularly as sheep are the greater part of the Welsh agricultural economy, there have been times when the Minister from the Government in Wales spoke in the UK team in Brussels on these matters. But if there is an idea that the well-being of vital sectors such as fisheries in Scotland and sheep farming in Wales is going to be lost, swamped by the English vote in a referendum, that can build up tensions. This needs to be thought through. I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, necessarily sees this as the formula to provide all the answers, but he is raising the questions and these are questions that should be raised.
They should also be raised in the context of Northern Ireland. We are all a little sensitive of treading into Northern Irish matters but, quite clearly, the co-operation that has developed over the past 15 years or so in Northern Ireland has grown to some extent because of cross-border movement, which is so easy. If the Irish Republic were in the European Union and Northern Ireland were out, I fear that there could be a winding back of the clock and that some people would want to do that.
I realise that these amendments go much further than the intention of the Bill. None the less, the issues are worthy of consideration. As we move forward, not just in the context of the European Union referendum but in the context of what happens to the United Kingdom in the wake of the Scottish referendum, these considerations must be taken on board, one way or another.
My noble friend Lord Williams raises a significant set of issues. There plainly could be big discrepancies in patterns of voting across the United Kingdom and these will be consequential for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It would be interesting to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, how the Government would deal with a situation where the English basically settled the vote in such a decisive way that you could argue that the voices of other parts of the country were eclipsed. It will be interesting to hear what the noble Lord has to say on that issue.
My Lords, I will be very brief on this point, but my noble friend Lord Williams has raised an issue of fundamental importance with this amendment. It covers the role of the devolved Administrations, their views on EU membership and how those views are communicated to their electorate, and the risks that this whole venture poses to the union we care about most, the union of the United Kingdom. I care a lot about the European Union but I care even more about the union of the United Kingdom.
Can the noble Lord clarify whether, when he says that this venture poses risks, he is talking about the Bill or a referendum as a whole?
I am talking about an “in or out” referendum, which this Bill is designed to generate in quick time. It is quite possible that the different parts of the UK will vote in different ways. As I said at Second Reading, the risk is that independence is defeated in the Scottish referendum this autumn, but that an EU referendum in which Scotland voted to stay in and England, by a majority, took the United Kingdom out would just reignite the whole argument about Scottish nationalism once again. The Government have to think very seriously about this problem. I quite accept that it is not easily dealt with through amendments to this Bill, but it is a very serious issue for the future of the UK.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Williams and Lord Wigley, for the way they introduced this very important issue—there is no denying its importance. The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, himself readily acknowledged that the amendments go beyond the scope of this very simple and very narrow Bill, and the technical answer to them is that the UK’s relationship with the EU is not a devolved matter. However, that of course is not a sufficient answer to the points that they made.
Amendment 55 is a probing amendment, which has been put in a dignified and detailed matter, and I want to try to deal with it in that spirit. I have specific concerns about the amendments. The logical consequence of this group of amendments would be to raise at least the possibility that some parts of our United Kingdom might be denied the opportunity to vote. It would render a national referendum pointless because of the involvement of devolved parliaments, which I am sure is not the intention of the noble Lords who tabled these amendments at all. Noble Lords have waved the flags of the various constituent parts of our United Kingdom with pride, and I congratulate them on that. They have raised useful points which we should all be sensitive to, such as the possibility of Northern Ireland and the Republic being on opposite sides of the fence. It is a very serious, complicated issue. However, along with all the other issues that have been raised, that is fundamentally a political challenge. They are not ones that we should try to anticipate by an analysis, no matter how acute and insightful, of various hypothetical situations at this time.
The issue was raised of the possibility—indeed the necessity—of trying to pre-empt the outcome of the Scottish referendum, in case Scotland voted for independence. In the event of that very sad decision of Scotland to leave the United Kingdom, all sorts of new arrangements would need to be made, and the arrangements required for this Bill would be part of a much more complex bundle.
The noble Lord touches on a fundamental here. The implication of what he is saying is that if Scotland voted for independence it would undermine this Bill because of the complexity of issues that would arise. Surely that is not his intention. By accepting the amendment in my name, he would have the flexibility to deal with it.
As I have said, I think that the issue would go far beyond the scope of any one single Bill. He and I, I hope, will be fighting on the same side of the barricade in order to retain the United Kingdom which we both value so highly.
The noble Lord, Lord Williams, said that he cannot even imagine what our responses would be in various situations. That is precisely the point: we cannot imagine them. We should not therefore try, because, in trying to do so in the form of legislation, we would inevitably get things wrong. I certainly do not think that we need to make that effort at this stage. In that spirit of understanding, I ask that the amendments be not pressed.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs. As I said, this was a probing amendment, intended simply to raise the problem as I saw it of how to involve the devolved Administrations in this referendum, because at the moment there is no mechanism for them to be involved. After all, they will be affected and they are elected by their own constituents to their assemblies or parliaments. I hope that the noble Lord has taken that on board. I hope that the Government have done so, too, because, if it comes to implementing the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, this will be one of the issues that will be addressed by the Government at that point. However, in view of the sympathetic response from the noble Lord, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 55 withdrawn.
Amendment 56 not moved.
Clause 2: Entitlement to vote in the referendum
57: Clause 2, page 1, line 18, leave out “parliamentary election in any constituency” and insert “local authority election in the United Kingdom”
My Lords, I should make it clear at the outset that this is a probing amendment at this stage. We have discussed several issues of principle that this Bill raises, including the question to be asked, the threshold and the information required by voters. This amendment concerns another major issue of principle: who is entitled to vote in this referendum? Other amendments following this one cover very important related issues on the entitlement to vote. The purpose of all the amendments to which I have put my name is to extend the right to vote in this referendum to all those who could be directly affected by the outcome.
The Bill gives the right to vote only to those who are entitled to vote at a parliamentary election in the UK in any constituency, plus Members of this House and Commonwealth citizens in Gibraltar. Except for the proposal on Gibraltar, this is in line with the entitlement to vote in the recent AV referendum, which, understandably, gave a vote to those who would be directly affected by it.
However, this Bill is not in line with the entitlement to vote in the Scottish referendum later this year, which applies a residency test based on the electoral register for local elections. The view in Scotland is that those residents who may be affected directly by the outcome should be allowed to express an opinion through the ballot box. I concur with that decision in Scotland, rightly made on behalf of EU voters living in Scotland—although in my view voters entitled to vote in a parliamentary election in Scotland but resident elsewhere in the UK or overseas should be allowed to vote as well. But that is not the proposition in Scotland so, be that as it may, the principle established in Scotland is that the local election register should be used in that referendum so that all residents living in Scotland can register to vote.
The rules on eligibility to vote in UK elections are these. Citizens of the UK, the Republic of Ireland, Cyprus and Malta can vote in UK parliamentary elections, so they can vote in this referendum, according to the proposal in the Bill. Citizens of EU countries other than the UK, the Republic of Ireland, Cyprus and Malta cannot vote in UK parliamentary elections, so cannot vote in this referendum. However, they can vote in local government elections, in Scottish parliamentary elections if they are registered in Scotland, in elections to the National Assembly for Wales if they are registered in Wales and in elections to the Greater London Authority if they are registered in London. They can also vote in European parliamentary elections if they fill in a form stating that they wish to vote in the UK and not in their home country.
If, as Amendment 57 proposes, the same test were to be applied in this referendum as applies in the Scottish referendum, it would mean that all those resident in the UK and registered to vote in local elections would be able to vote in this referendum. This seems to me to be right: these residents of the UK have a big stake in the outcome because it will affect their futures, so this referendum should include them in exactly the same way as the referendum on Scottish independence will. Because this Bill does not give all EU citizens resident here the right to vote, even though they may work and pay taxes here—direct and indirect—this Bill should be amended to include them. I beg to move.
My Lords, I will speak briefly in support of this amendment, to which I am a co-signatory; I very much agree with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, in moving it. I was a little bit puzzled—given that it clearly refers to eligibility to vote—that it is not being considered with many of the other amendments relating to that issue. There might be some procedural reason for that that escapes me. I certainly look forward to the later debates, when we will be talking about people in other categories whom we feel should also be eligible to vote.
Many Members—I am one of them—have received quite a large amount of lobbying literature and e-mails about eligibility to vote, showing that there are many people who would very much want to take part in a referendum and feel that they would be affected by the outcome of it. It is going to be extremely important for us to take these views seriously and show that we respond to the valid concerns that have been expressed. This amendment is a useful step forward and I am glad that it will not pre-empt us from also considering the very valid claims on behalf of many other people who would like to vote in this referendum.
My Lords, I put my name to this amendment; I do not want to add very much to what has already been said, but I support it because I want this referendum which—I must say to my noble friends for the avoidance of doubt—I accept is a commitment of my party and is going to happen. I want this referendum to be fair, and to include European Union citizens living here would add to the fairness. They will be affected by whatever the outcome is of a referendum. They have taken residence in this country and made their lives under the provisions of the treaties into which we, as a nation, freely entered and to which have agreed to be a party. The same can be said of the rights and interests of British citizens living in other European Union countries, to which we may come later.
However, in the interest of fairness, one might make the comparison between those citizens living in other European Union countries—and European Union citizens living in this country—with the position of Commonwealth citizens, who are not British citizens but who will have the right to vote, even if their countries have been suspended or expelled from membership of the Commonwealth. According to a reply which I received to a Written Question, we have no idea how many Commonwealth citizens who are not British citizens are on the electoral roll. However, there have been estimates—I have no idea how reliable they are; I believe that they may have been based on the 2011 census—that the number of people, whether or not on the electoral roll, which is not known, could amount to 900,000 in the country as a whole. That is not insignificant.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, prepared a report for the previous Government on citizenship in which he made the observation, not pursued by the previous Government—or, indeed, this Government—that the right to vote and citizenship are closely linked. I do not think that it is good enough to embark on this referendum asking a question of this importance without having given some thought to the composition of the franchise. I hope that my noble friend Lord Dobbs can tell me that some thought was given to it. I suspect that the easiest, quickest option, which did not involve too much thought, was employed to put the provision in the Bill. This and other amendments need to be carefully considered in the interest of fairness before the Bill passes into law and we have a referendum.
This is another amendment which, I am certain, is moved with a helpful motivation, and one that I hope, on reflection, the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, will feel able to accept. The acceptance of an amendment of this kind would not in any sense compromise the Bill, because substantial changes have been made. This is a change of lesser dimension, but, for the reasons that we have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, it has particular focus.
The referendum that the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, wants is distinct from the referendum that I want—I want a referendum if there is a significant treaty change under the terms of the 2011 Act. If that is what we were facing, I would be making exactly the same proposal, if the electorate were confined in the way that they are in the Bill. The argument relating to the electorate applies in any case to any referendum, particularly any referendum relating to the European Union and our future or lack of future in it—or the nature of our future in it.
I put it to the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, that in a referendum he will want the maximum number of entitled electors to be able to vote. It is crucial to the whole country; I will not tire the House by repeating what I said previously. The Prime Minister precisely and accurately said that this was an issue of massive dimension and that no return ticket was available. I put it to the noble Lord that the only way to ensure the maximum size of an electorate above the age of 18 is to ensure that all persons entitled to vote in a local authority election could vote in the referendum. The number of persons who have that entitlement is larger than that of those who have the parliamentary entitlement, for the obvious reason that people who are citizens of other European Union countries—and, indeed, other countries—are, rightly, entitled to vote in their local authority elections but, equally rightly, are not entitled to vote for their Member of Parliament.
At its most basic, I suppose that this is an adaptation of the argument, “No taxation without representation”. In this case, since we are talking about all people who are taxpayers—not just income tax payers and national insurance payers, but local taxation payers and people who pay their share of VAT and other fees and charges that are, rightly, levied in this state—we should have respect for a fresh maxim, “No taxation without participation”. There is a valid, basic and democratic case that should permit them to vote in a referendum deciding on the future in the European Union of the country in which they have residence and in which most of them work. Would it not be odd if these people had the right to elect their councillors, or indeed in a referendum to determine whether the local area in which they live was to have a directly elected mayor, and yet did not have an entitlement to vote on the future in or out of the European Union of the country in which they have residence and to which they make a contribution?
I hope that, having reflected on the legitimacy of the franchise and on the electorate, the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, will be willing to give further consideration to the idea of making what in terminology is quite a small change to the Bill but one that, in terms of legitimacy, would be significant.
My Lords, I, too, support this amendment. The alternative vote referendum, the legislation for which was passed during this Parliament, had the franchise as proposed by my noble friend Lord Shipley that we ought to include local authority areas. The forthcoming Scottish referendum has exactly the same provisions.
I want to illuminate my request that European Union citizens be included in this vital matter affecting them from a personal perspective. I therefore declare an interest. I am married to a German citizen. There are many reasons why large numbers of EU citizens live in our country, which has the largest number of expatriate EU citizens of all the EU countries. However, one fact is indisputable, as other noble Lords have mentioned: that they pay taxes in this country. We incurred the wrath of the Polish Foreign Minister, Mr Sikorski, only five or six weeks ago when, in the hostile debate against eastern European workers on the whole, he reminded our country that those people live here and that they contribute, work and pay taxes here. I do not think that we won a friend in Poland by having gone out of our way intentionally to annoy member countries whose citizens have made such a positive contribution. No one who has had to have construction work done, or who needed babysitting or anything else, in the south-east in the past 15 years can doubt that.
Noble Lords on the Conservative Benches might wonder why, if some of these citizens make such a positive contribution—in the case of the one I know, it has been a contribution of 20 years—they do not become nationals of this country. In that case, they would be entitled to vote. I want to address that specifically. There are certain countries which have, as Germany had in place, a statute against the holding of dual nationality. That can be one reason why people do not take the nationality of the country in which they have worked and lived. It does not diminish for a second their loyalty here. If you look at their voting records, in terms of their entitlements, they take up their entitlements when they can.
There is another possible reason, and in my case this is a very personal one. I travel to lots of countries where a white person or—I am afraid to say, after the Iraq and Afghanistan wars—a person associated with the foreign policy of our country may not necessarily consider themselves safe. My origins lie in Pakistan. My daughter was young and we went back to Pakistan frequently to see my aged parents. I requested my husband not to adopt British nationality in the light of the Daniel Pearl murder because I could see, palpably around me in Pakistan, that no white person ventured into the country. You could see that even in the queue for immigration. There was a period when business investment and everything collapsed because the Pakistani state was incapable of guaranteeing people’s safety. There were particular attitudes in these countries towards the West in general and the United Kingdom specifically.
On that basis, there may be numerous other reasons why all sorts of people come and live in this country but decide not to take nationality. I know of Americans who have lived here. They tend not to take British nationality for taxation reasons. That does not mean that they should be denied a franchise on a matter of such vital interest not only to them but to us as British nationals.
My Lords, my name is on the amendment so ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley. I have very little to add to the arguments that he advanced. I pay tribute to the arguments advanced just now by the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner.
I want to pick up something that the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, said. The noble Lord is a very nice man. His suggestion about the motive for not following the precedent of the Scottish referendum and for past precedents being broken with was that this was just the quickest and simplest thing and that there was no policy intention. I am not a very nice man. I am not as nice as the noble Lord. I ask the “Cui bono?” question. Why should the sponsors of the Bill want to exclude the citizens of the European Union who have come here under the conditions set out in the treaty and who are living here, paying their taxes here, working here and possibly being officers on local councils here? Why should we want to deny them the vote? The only reason I can think of is that the sponsors of the Bill are not just seeking a referendum. In this case, as on the question and the timing, they are looking for a referendum that is likely to produce the answer, “Let’s get out”. I strongly support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley.
My Lords, I strongly support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley. I declare what may be a tangential interest: I am entitled to vote in local elections in France.
I feel very strongly that people who are entitled to vote in local elections here as EU citizens should not be denied that right. My fear is that if we were to deny them this right, we would be reinforcing the image of a country that was on its way out of the EU. You could look at it the other way around, too: if we were to allow this amendment to go through, which I hope we will, then to my great pleasure we might be reinforcing the image of a country that was engaging properly with its European partners.
I think particularly of my French friends, who are living here in Britain. There are thousands of them living here—not all of them my friends—and maybe I will be destroying my own case here by saying: do not count on all of them to vote in an “in or out” referendum for Britain to stay in. Some of them may think that Britain is too much trouble to keep in the European Union. I venture to add that I think the vast majority, if given the vote, would want Britain to stay in, not just in their own personal interest but in the interests of Britain, France and the European Union.
My Lords, I shall be slightly contentious because I am not sure I completely agree with the argument put forward by my noble friend Lord Shipley. I feel strongly that Britain should remain within the European Union, unless it might be as the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, just said and at some point in the future Britain becomes rather destructive to the European Union and we might come out. I do not know. I think we have to take this issue as a responsibility that British citizens take upon themselves to make up our mind what we are going to do. I do not know that the local government or national electoral rolls are the right ones. If I were given a logical choice, I would say it should be British citizens and perhaps I would add those with 10 years’ residence or less or something like that. It is very difficult to do in a list that has to be brought together and it would probably be impossible for residency. I do not know. However, I do not think the arguments are compelling one way on this. I think that if we come to a referendum, it is up to British citizens to make up their own mind and, if they want to commit suicide economically and in every other way, that is up to them.
My Lords, I shall put a contrary point. If residency is to be the test of voting, as it is in other votes, and if London is the sixth city of France, as some of us may have heard on Radio 4 this morning, surely these job-creating, tax-generating people ought to be represented, as they are in local elections, for very good reasons.
Did the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, want to make a comment?
I hope the noble Lord will accept that that all British citizens living in EU countries should have a vote in the referendum.
Yes, I do. I am just putting a principle. My noble friend kindly introduced this probing amendment, and I am exploring some of the issues.
The noble Lord says that the vote should be based purely on citizenship, whether the voter is resident in this country or elsewhere. What is his view about citizens of the Irish republic who are resident here and are on the electoral roll?
My Lords, I should state that I have dual Irish and British nationality. I am putting forward an argument. I do not think there is a perfect answer to this, but I would exclude purely Irish citizens under this definition. In fact, you could argue very strongly that the Republic of Ireland would be by far the most affected other EU member state and therefore perhaps you should include all Irish citizens. I do not think one could sustain that. I just want to make the point that as Britain we need to make up our mind on this area, and we need to be responsible for our decision. I do not think the argument is total, so I put forward a potential opposite view. I take a great interest in this small debate, but I do not think it is quite as straightforward as noble Lords who have spoken so far have said.
My Lords, I have been very concerned to understand how the conduct of the debate in the course of a referendum could be most useful. Noble Lords will recall that we debated parliamentary constituency boundaries at great length; it was argued that they work for parliamentary elections despite the fact that the homogeneity of almost any of the constituencies was significantly disrupted. Some of them were essentially very artificial; they were no longer built around any kind of core principle but were to meet a numerical target, which I did not agree with but I fully understood.
I make that point because, by and large, local authorities are not constructed that way. Some of the very large ones may be, but a very significant number are constructed around entities where you can see the degree of homogeneity of the economic system that applies in that part of the country. That seems to me to be very important, because I believe that one of the telling debates during any referendum would be on the balance of economic interests for us as a community. Do we see a future? Will our kids continue to want to live here? Will the economic community be capable of sustaining the sorts of schools and kinds of medical provision that we want? All those will be live issues. It is no accident that chambers of commerce and a great many other economic entities in all those communities are organised with that kind of boundary in mind. That is where many of these most telling debates will take place—they will not take place on the grounds of constituencies.
I realise that this is about voting, but the voting will be at the end of a process of debate, and if we can help to formulate a mechanism in which that debate is likely to be most relevant and successful, that seems to me of very considerable benefit in the whole process that could lead up to the referendum. Could the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, reflect on that? I take the point that this is about making arrangements so that people get a chance to express a view on the future of the United Kingdom in the EU. I would like to believe that he thinks, and I feel sure that he will, that it is important to know that the quality of the debate will be as fundamental before that decision is taken as the decision itself—otherwise it will probably be a decision repented of at leisure.
I express the hope that it is not as a result of our friendly exchange this morning that the noble Lord is now speaking from the Back Benches.
I promise that I shall be even closer to the noble Lord later.
My Lords, this debate has raised another set of issues that need to be properly and thoroughly addressed before we put arrangements in place for any kind of referendum on our future in the European Union. On this side of the House, Members would be very sympathetic to the principle that my noble friend Lord Kinnock set out that we should have the broadest possible vote on this fundamental issue. I know the sort of arguments that some people might make against this. One is that that it would set a precedent for voting in general elections and local elections, but I do not think that it would. An EU referendum is fundamentally different; it is certainly not a vote for a councillor, an MP or a Government. It is a vote not for eternity, perhaps, but for generations ahead. The Prime Minister’s phrase about “no return ticket” comes to mind. It is a different type of vote from any other that we are likely to have in this country in the near future, and therefore needs to be considered differently.
There is a second, more low-level political point. Even now, with the debate that we have had, I am sure that we run the risk of seeing some headline in the Daily Mail that says, “Peers demand the vote for foreigners in British EU referendum”. I can well imagine that being the headline—and I see that the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, thoroughly agrees with that proposition and thinks that such a headline would be right.
The question of EU citizens living in this country and of British citizens living in the EU has to be treated in the same breath. It is basically an issue about the people who have shaped their lives around the fact that we are members of the European Union. This referendum proposes to put at serious risk the rights to live, work, study, retire, marry, partner and do whatever else you want, which are enormous enhancers of human freedom. Let the UKIP people say how they would deal with these rights. As a simple matter of the rights of these citizens—both EU citizens here and UK citizens in the rest of the EU—this matter deserves the greatest consideration.
My Lords, I can see the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, nodding at points on the issue of the views that may be expressed in the Daily Mail. I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I remind the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, that during the passage of the legislation to establish the Scottish Parliament he supported his much lamented friend John MacKay when he argued that the waiter from Brussels living in Scotland would have a vote but his daughter who worked in Brussels and was Scottish would not. I know that the noble Lord will make certain that the views he expresses on this Bill will be in line with his firmly held principles on that occasion.
I have been tempted to rise. Actually I was not in this House when my late noble friend Lord MacKay was performing at the Dispatch Box, and the Scotland Bill is not a piece of legislation that I am associated with as a great friend. The noble Lord is making a very curious argument because in the Scottish referendum, Scots who have made their lives south of the border are being given no votes at all. It is very unfortunate that the noble Baroness should pick on Scotland as an example because it makes the case against her noble friend.
Have your Lordships finished? This, of course, is a very simple amendment, but the discussion has shown that the issue is far from simple. The amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, would change the franchise for parliamentary elections to that of the local government franchise. The noble Lord wants to extend his net as widely as possible, but my noble friend Lord Teverson has indicated what muddy waters we swim in.
This amendment is far from simple on its own merits. For instance, by my reading of it, it would deprive British citizens abroad who are on the parliamentary register, but do not qualify for the local authority register, of their vote in this referendum. I know I will be told that there are later amendments that would correct that deficiency but it shows again that this is not a simple question. The issue of the franchise in all its possible forms was given detailed scrutiny in the elected Chamber, and that Chamber voted for the proposals set out in this Bill by a huge majority. It is not as a result of lack of study of this issue that we are where we are.
As has been said on several sides, there is no clear precedent for how we should set the parameters. That is what we are talking about—setting parameters and drawing a line. As a Parliament we have never come to a common, agreed set of conditions for votes in a referendum. Every referendum Bill that has gone through this Parliament seems to have had different conditions and different electorates attached to it. There are no precedents. It seems to me that the question arises: why should we give those groups whom we deliberately deny, for good reasons, the opportunity to express their views in a UK parliamentary election, a vote in our EU referendum?
I am not sure that there is any EU country which allows citizens of other, foreign countries the right to vote on issues which are entirely national. No matter how much those from foreign countries, from other EU countries, might contribute to our country, culture and society, that does not give them the automatic right to take part in all of our elections. When it comes down to it, in these muddy waters, it seems that one has to draw a line somewhere. The only sensible line is that the future of Britain lies first and foremost in the hands—
I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way, but he seems now to be in the process of rejecting all of about the next five sets of amendments before we have even got to them. That is a little impetuous, if I may say so. He is also ignoring the fact that of all those who have spoken in this first debate on the franchise, not one has supported the position in the Bill. It is the least justifiable of them all.
The noble Lord is of course quite right to say that some of the variants down here, including the one we are debating now, have complications about them, as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said. All that is being asked of the noble Lord is that he could take all these franchise issues away and think again in light of the fact that he has got the wrong one in the Bill. He has expended his eloquence, which is considerable, on this House in favour of people who are affected by this decision having a say, and now he is busy excluding several millions of them. British citizens who live in other EU countries will be deeply affected by this, and they are not going to have a say at all. European Union citizens who live here will be deeply affected; they are not going to have a say. It would be best if the noble Lord were to reflect a little more on this before dismissing out of hand all the amendments on the franchise that have been moved.
I thank the noble Lord for his advice. I was hoping that he was going to get up and give me another example of a European country that accepts, on purely national issues, the right of foreign citizens to vote. There may be, and I would like to be able to examine those precedents.
Would the noble Lord like to examine the situation of the Irish of this country?
My Lords, they are included on the parliamentary register if they apply. This is the register which has been chosen, not by chance. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, says that this is the worst possible register. It is not; it has been debated time and again. It is the register that we choose in our country as the standard for these issues, and have done so for many years. I do not see why the noble Lord should suddenly come out and decide that democracy as we have practised it in this country suddenly ought to be thrown out of the window.
I did not say that it was the worst possible measurement for any election. I happen to support the rules that we have for our national parliamentary elections, and will continue to do so. I merely said that it was the worst possible one for this referendum.
I am suggesting that we have seen that these are muddy waters. We have to draw a line somewhere. Where is that line to be drawn? We clearly all have a different view on that but, as the sponsor of the Bill, I believe that where the line ought to be drawn is very clear. The future of Britain lies primarily, first and foremost, in the hands of British voters; not the citizens of other countries, no matter how friendly they are, how much they might contribute to our welfare or how much we enjoy them being here.
I therefore conclude that there is no need to change the provision in the Bill and that it is entirely acceptable. Indeed, it was accepted by an overwhelming majority in the elected House. I therefore suggest to the noble Lord that the case that he made, however cogently and politely, has not succeeded, and that it will not succeed in the world outside. The noble Lord is already writing headlines for the Daily Mail, which has a lot of readers—and on this issue they may well, just for once, be right: the future of this country lies in the hands of British voters, not other voters. I therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful for the depth of this discussion, and in particular to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, for giving such a clear exposition of the position. To respond to the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, the issues around the parliamentary franchise are covered in amendments we have yet to debate, notably Amendment 59 and others.
On that point, it would have been very helpful if these had been grouped together; we could then have had a comprehensive discussion rather than an elongated and fractured discussion on the issue.
The point is taken; perhaps we can do that on Report, because no doubt we shall discuss this again in great detail at that stage. I will say, in response partly to my noble friend Lord Teverson and also to my noble friend Lord Dobbs, that we have to think through the question: is this only for British citizens? If it is, citizens of the Republic of Ireland would have to be excluded, in which case my noble friend Lord Dobbs would have to amend the Bill because the relevant clause is out of date on the basis of what he just said. Is this for British citizens or for all those who will be directly affected by the outcome? In moving Amendment 57, I said that a change needed to be made because those who will be directly affected by the outcome should have a vote. That same principle will apply when we get to Amendments 59 and 63, and others later in the debate. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 57 withdrawn.
That the House do now resume.
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resume. I had hoped that the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, would have leapt to her feet to do this, because we are now past the witching hour. I noticed that she did not do so; if she now wishes to do so I shall happily withdraw my Motion.
It is unusual for a Back-Bencher to move this Motion, and I do so only because the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, is not doing so. Of course, the Chief Whip is responsible for ensuring that the rules of the House are adhered to, and the facts here are straightforward. The Companion states on page 40, paragraph 3.01:
“It is a firm convention that the House normally rises … by about 3 p.m. on Fridays”.
On 10 January the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said:
“I am indeed the guardian of the Companion”.—[Official Report, 10/1/14; col. 1737.]
Last week the guardian of the Companion did not put up much of a fight. The noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, the mover of the Bill, rightly said that the House had made good progress—and we have, dealing with 49 amendments. However, despite that good progress, the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, insisted on overtime to nearly 6 pm, despite a promise from the Whip on the Bench that the House would rise by 5 pm to 5.30 pm. It is no good crying over spilt milk, and every dog is permitted one bite. However, I submit that what cannot be tolerated in this House is that the Companion—the sole way in which we regulate our proceedings—is ignored week after week in the interests of one party in the House.
The noble Baroness cited the precedent of the Bill on dignity in dying, when we did, indeed, go on until 6 pm. That was because we expected to finish the Bill that night by so doing. However, there is no prospect whatever of our completing this Bill by 5.30 pm this evening. Indeed, by my calculations, we could expect to finish at about two or three in the morning at the present rate of progress. On a Bill of constitutional importance of this magnitude, the idea that this House could be debating these issues at three on a Saturday morning cannot be contemplated.
I have a measure of sympathy with the Chief Whip. She sits on the Government Front Bench—I am glad to see her in her place—wearing three hats: as a Tory, a member of the Government and a defender of the rules governing our proceedings. However—and it pains me to say this—she is not in this case defending our rules. She is not acting as a member of the Government, as this is not a government Bill. She is acting wholly and solely as a partisan politician in what she perceives to be in the interests of her party. That cannot be permitted. I beg to move.
The Question is that the House be resumed. Since this is a somewhat unusual situation, I should advise the Committee that this Question is debatable and, if necessary, divisible.
My Lords, clearly, I listened very carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, said. My role as government Chief Whip is very clear. In scheduling Private Members’ Bills, it has always been the practice of all government Chief Whips in all parties to consult the sponsor of the relevant Bill in that scheduling. My role in the proceedings has been to facilitate the scrutiny of this Bill by this House. As ever, progress is in the hands of the House. We are a self-regulating House. Therefore, the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, is, indeed, a legitimate Motion. As he says, it is unusual for a Back-Bencher to move it, but it is by no means not available to him. That is a double negative, but I mean that his action in moving the Motion is legitimate.
The noble Lord referred to the House’s use of time and predicts that it will progress so slowly that it will not rise, at this rate, until the early hours of the morning. I do not like to predict; I like to go on what is and what has been. That is what I sought to do last week when I gave advice to the House. Last week, we got through 14 groups of amendments in reasonable time. Several of those debates involved big, important subjects. Indeed, the Committee amended the referendum question itself. This week, there are 15 groups of amendments, after about another 14 were tabled between the two stages. They are largely on second-order matters —some are important—but we have made rather less progress.
It is clear that we have made less progress. Noble Lords may disagree with me on whether they are first-order or second-order matters; it will be a matter of opinion—I appreciate that.
It is, of course, for others, not me, to judge, but some Members of this House may believe that not everybody has focused entirely on the amendments in hand. Comments were made, particularly on the previous group of amendments, on why matters were not grouped. I am not expressing my view wearing any of my three hats. By the way, I do not like wearing hats—I am just straightforward; I get on with it.
I am certainly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, for the way in which he put his Motion. He was very courteous. However, I would like my name to be pronounced properly once in this Chamber. It would be nice as I have been here since 1996, but there you go. The noble Lord has moved that the House be now resumed. That would mean that we would now abandon the Committee stage, if that is what the House wishes to do. The noble Lord has done the House a service because he has enabled every single Member present today to put on record whether or not they wish the Bill to pass.
My Lords, if the Motion is agreed, I will not be able to offer my noble friend Lord Dobbs more time for the Bill because the House itself will have collectively indicated that it no longer wishes to consider the Committee stage. If the House disagrees the Motion, I will take that as a desirable, clear indication that we should complete the remainder of the Committee stage today.
It is not a difficult question and I think we all know where we are so, after some consideration of our proper conduct, I beg to move that the Question be now put.
My Lords, I am instructed by order of the House to say that the Motion “That the Question be now put” is considered to be a most exceptional procedure and the House will not accept it save in circumstances where it is felt to be the only means of ensuring the proper conduct of the business of the House; further, if a Member who seeks to move it persists in his or her intention, the practice of the House is that the Question on the Motion is put without debate. Does the noble Baroness still wish to move the closure Motion?
I wish to move it.
Division on the Motion that the Question be now put. Tellers for the Not-Contents were not appointed, so the Division could not proceed.
House adjourned at 3.30 pm.