European Union Referendum Bill
My Lords, this Bill is domestic legislation, so, while I have the honour of chairing your Lordships’ European Union Committee, I have no scrutiny locus to apply to it. Further, I am bound by the obligation of non-partisanship, and that is in any case very much the culture of my committee as a whole. I felt however that it might be useful to the House to outline our thinking in this crucial matter.
I do not plan to participate in the Committee stage of the Bill. I certainly have personal views on some issues that, judging from the debate this morning, are likely to be raised, and I am a self-confessed ex-serial amender of Bills. On technical issues, I shall confine myself to one comment: as the revised version of the ballot paper question now appears in subsection (4) of Clause 1, the wording both of the Long Title and of the first subsection could usefully be harmonised with it.
The substance of the Bill is of course very much not a technical matter, and as the decision is now being left to the British people as a whole, I do not intend to express any view on it on behalf of the committee, particularly ahead of substantive negotiations. I will concentrate, for the benefit of the House, on what I feel we can properly offer as your Lordships’ scrutiny committee.
The House will be aware that, just before the recess in July, we got in early with the report The Referendum on UK Membership of the EU: Assessing the Reform Process. We are taking this work forward into a new inquiry which we are about to launch, which asks: what are the issues involved? Is there any common vision of the reforms that are necessary in the European Union? At a more technical level, who is negotiating, and with whom? How are the various interests being addressed? What is the timetable, both for making decisions and for reporting back to Parliament and the nation on them?
It is clear that the process is far more complex and fraught with risk than the 1975 negotiations and referendum, which many here will remember. Then there were only nine member states, compared with 28 now; the transition period for the United Kingdom had barely begun; and the concept of devolved Assemblies—save for the Northern Ireland Assembly—was some way off. The European Parliament then was still directly appointed, in its infancy and relatively powerless.
The second emphasis in our inquiry is that this Government, in their understandable wish to develop their own position and to secure their negotiating objectives, might possibly put too little weight on some less obvious players and overlook some issues—for example, those of bilateral interest which could still derail the negotiation process.
Recent negotiation history over justice and home affairs matters, which caused such a flurry last year, is a warning bell here. As an example of an interest, the Irish Republic, with its involvement in constitutional issues affecting the island of Ireland and the unique land boundary with the United Kingdom, needs to be kept actively in play. More generally across Europe in my experience, we have many friends and we must cultivate them in what is bound to be a delicate game of three-dimensional chess. In playing this game, tone is extremely important.
Naturally, on behalf of the House, we are pleased that our Government’s emphasis is on an enhanced role for national Parliaments. This should not in our view be seen as downgrading or challenging the legitimacy of the European Parliament. If collectively as national Parliaments we aspire to an enhanced role, we must be allowed a forward gear as well as a purely negative role. Our committee has been active in this area. We recently submitted to the Commission, with the support of nearly half the Chambers of national Parliaments, the first ever green card initiative on the reduction of food waste.
We also, as a committee, insist on the transparency of the negotiating process. Of course, there must be scope for proper diplomatic leeway but, equally, an entirely closed process could risk a backlash of acceptability. Ministers have made explicit commitments to keep Parliament informed and we shall hold them to that. Then, as negotiations proceed, we shall be looking out for the extent to which the Government may legitimately claim to have fulfilled their own objectives, which centre around four issues, and equally for the legal certainty of any undertakings they have received. The nation must be clear about the basis on which it is voting, to reduce the scope for any future confusion or even recrimination.
In conclusion, I suspect that the small print which properly concerns us, as your Lordships’ scrutiny committee, will inevitably be swept up in the far bigger strategic issues of a national decision. I doubt, frankly, whether too many electors will be hanging on the details of some particular assurance as they decide how to place their own vote—and I would not expect to be doing so myself. In any case—this was touched on in the earlier stages of the debate—there is an inevitable asymmetry in the formal choice. We shall certainly be confronted at the referendum with a stay or leave choice on the basis of the negotiations that the Government are undertaking while, on the other hand, a national choice to leave at that referendum would trigger a fresh round of negotiations under Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty. The outcome cannot be known in advance of any application that would in turn have to follow the outcome of a referendum.
In the end, what we can offer as a committee is to inform this House and through it the people more generally as to some of the practical issues and implications. Ultimately, I would expect—and indeed, I think I would hope—that people will make their choice on the basis of these strategic issues involving our people, and in the decision whether they are best tackled through active membership or from outside.
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London spoke earlier of the changing historical shape of Europe. I live part-time in Aquitaine in France—a region that was, of course, part of the kingdom of England for some centuries. Consequently, I frequently journey from here to there. During the time I have been doing that, I have developed a tremendous admiration for Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine. She frequently journeyed to and fro on horseback, through strife and storms, often while pregnant. I am glad to say that my journeys are less arduous.
Aquitaine, like other parts of France and Spain, has tens of thousands of British expats living there. Can the Minister confirm how many UK citizens have lived abroad for more than 15 years and how many of them live in EU member states? These are the disenfranchised British people I want to talk about.
As the Minister made clear, the basis for this Bill is the Westminster franchise, but that is not fit for purpose for this referendum. It is quite illogical that it should be used because it is to do with local and national elections.
Among these British expats, many have worked in the UK for their whole lives—as teachers, soldiers, doctors, diplomats, bus drivers—and many still pay taxes in the UK because they get a UK government pension. Their children and grandchildren live and work in the UK. These people are deeply invested in the UK and care about its future. Of course, if they live in the EU, they are concerned about how the changes will affect their own future in a very direct way. However, their concerns run much deeper and wider than their own situation. I will quote a policeman, Philip Pearce, who retired from Somerset to France and said:
“I moved to France 20 years ago, living on a government pension from the police force. I have made my home here. Because I have a government pension I still have to pay income in the UK. I pay my income tax there like so many others with government pensions, but have no say in voting. Yes, perhaps this is reluctantly acceptable in normal elections, but not this referendum”.
That is one example. Another could be that of a young person who, after university, goes to look after a sick parent abroad. That parent, though ill, lingers on and that young person, despite long-term hopes of returning to the UK, has no vote. Somebody else, whose career takes them abroad—perhaps when they are 25—and who is still working abroad at 41, has now got small children and plans to return to the UK in the near future. This is quite a common pattern. Why should they not have a vote in the referendum when the rest of their lives will be invested in the UK?
In her opening remarks, the Minister said that the Government intend to pass their votes for life Bill, promised in the Queen’s Speech, in due course. I was glad to hear that. However, there is no saying that it will be enacted in time: in fact, it looks unlikely. Even if we follow the wise advice of the noble Lord, Lord Jay, to get on with it sooner rather than later, I doubt that the votes for life Bill will be enacted by 2016. So those hundreds of thousands of expats will have no say on the future of the EU.
The only way to solve this problem is to amend this Bill to include them. After all, if we can amend the Westminster franchise, as we intend to do, to include Members of your Lordships’ House, surely we can amend it to ensure with safety and certainty that those people whose future in the UK is as invested as ours have their say. This is what I intend to do in Committee.
My Lords, I wish to speak briefly on changes made to the Bill and what is omitted. I do not propose to follow some noble Lords who have begun to fight the referendum campaign.
My starting point is one of scepticism in regard to the principle of referendums, but an acceptance that successive Governments have utilised them and that they are therefore part of our constitutional arrangements. What we are faced with is not the ideal, but it is the real.
We have rarely discussed the principle of referendums. A dislike of referendums is set aside when someone prioritises a particular issue of policy and sees a referendum as a way of achieving an outcome that otherwise may not be achieved. Governments have employed them on a disparate and discrete basis, with no set framework for determining their use. The Bill before us can be justified on the grounds that it addresses a fundamental part of our constitutional arrangements and derives from precedent. As with the 1975 referendum, it is grounded in a manifesto commitment. However, it is not set within a clear, intellectually coherent approach to constitutional change. The danger is that we are developing a new constitutional framework without thinking through the consequences.
I turn to the specifics of the Bill. As introduced, it reproduced a problem of the 1975 referendum and, indeed, later referendums, but one that has now been corrected, but introduces a problem not present in 1975. As my noble friend Lady Anelay pointed out in introducing the Bill, the Bill as initially introduced stipulated a yes or no response. When the then Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill was going through this House, I drew attention to the bias involved in inviting a yes or no response. There is a natural tendency to want to appear positive, so there is a bias in favour of a yes response regardless of the question. Some referendums have, as we know, resulted in a no victory, sometimes a substantial victory, but that outcome might have been even greater had the burden of the question been reversed or electors offered a choice between two mutually exclusive statements.
The Electoral Commission previously favoured a yes/no question because of the ease of campaigning—one could have a vote yes and a vote no campaign. It has now changed its position, having undertaken consultation and research, and favours two statements. I welcome the change and the Government’s acceptance of the Electoral Commission’s recommendation. Subsequent surveys have shown that having a choice of statements, as opposed to a statement inviting a yes/no response, does affect how people vote. My concern is not with what their response is, but that the process itself is as neutral as possible. I therefore commend Clause 1(5), in the form it which it reaches us.
I turn to the problem not present in 1975. On that occasion, electors were invited to vote on the basis of the terms of membership renegotiated by the Government. The ballot question was preceded by the statement stipulated in the Referendum Act:
“The Government have announced the results of the renegotiation of the United Kingdom’s terms of membership of the European Community”.
The terms were known. There was a gap of almost three months between negotiations being completed and the referendum taking place. For the referendum provided for in this Bill, it is expected that electors will be invited to make a decision based on the Government’s negotiations. Nothing about the negotiations appears on the face of the Bill and it is not clear as to the relationship between the date of the referendum and the stage at which negotiations are completed and, indeed, what form completion takes. In the event of a vote to remain in the EU with negotiations incomplete, what obligations remain with the Government?
Other issues to be addressed, in my view, are whether there should be a threshold requirement, similar to that imposed in the 1979 referendums, and whether it should be a binding referendum, as with the 2011 referendum on the electoral system, or whether it should be advisory, as has been the norm. There is clearly a case for considering a threshold, given the significance of the issue, and especially so should we decide that the outcome should be binding. An advisory referendum gives Parliament the opportunity to take into account turnout in considering whether to legislate in line with how electors have voted. I assume that there will be a reasonably high turnout, but that is not certain. Perhaps my noble friend Lady Anelay can share with us the Government’s expectation as to turnout, and whether they are minded to accept that a threshold is desirable, and if not, why not.
The House of Commons has passed this Bill. It is not our task to challenge the principle. The Commons has also approved, after discussion, particular provisions, or refused to include particular provisions. We can usefully address those matters that the other place has not considered. It is important to get the Bill right before we begin a referendum campaign. We need to ensure that we focus on the merits on the Bill. There is still work to be done, and it is important that this House plays to its strengths.
A referendum is,
“a device of dictators and demagogues”,
said Mrs Thatcher in 1975. Clearly, like the Bishops, she knew her Book. We are, however, where we are. This is not like last time. It is not like the Battle of Balaclava: the gallant charge of the Light Brigade with the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, playing Lord Cardigan. The manifesto pledge was clear; the electorate voted; the House of Commons has voted. Our task is to improve this Bill; we cannot possibly oppose it.
I do not want to talk about the negotiations in Brussels. I echo all that the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, said. I cannot add to that because I do not know what is happening and I understand neither our aims nor our methods. I am baffled, as is Brussels. Instead, I will step back a bit. I have a nasty feeling that we have been here before: a newly elected Government; an intervention in the Middle East, not hugely successful; non-intervention to assist a European neighbour invaded by Russia; and a Government seriously contemplating the possibility of stepping out from the task of forging a stronger, more competitive Europe—this is 1956. We paid for our Suez mistake over a generation in foreign policy.
Our worst mistake, however, was to walk out of the Val Duchesse talks which followed the conference at Messina and led to the Treaty of Rome. We knew almost immediately that it was a mistake. Prime Minister Macmillan tried to prise open the door that we had slammed behind us as we flounced out. However, it took 15 years to get that door open. Meanwhile the rules of the club had been written in our absence and inevitably to our detriment. Once we were in, it took us another 15 years to correct that detriment: to establish, at least in principle, a single market; to bring down external tariffs; and to entrench free trade. It took another 15 years finally to deliver Mrs Thatcher’s vision—the vision of the Bruges speech—of a wider Europe: bringing Budapest, Prague and Warsaw into the Union and to some extent laying to rest the ghosts of 1956.
How ironic that, under another Conservative Government, we are contemplating throwing all that away, renouncing our leading role in the single market—now of 500 million—and reverting to sovereign autarchy and isolation. It was a Conservative Party thinker who pointed out that the lone man lost in the Sahara has absolute sovereignty but is absolutely powerless. You have to be in to win. People have spoken about the Norwegians. To obtain access to the single market they have to accept EU rules, standards and specifications, and have no say in writing them. It was the Norwegian Foreign Minister who reminded us, “Leave, and you will be run by Brussels. Stay, and you can run Brussels”.
Who would like us to leave? Mr Putin, obviously—he thinks only in zero-sum games and the weaker the West is, the better, as far as he is concerned. Our American friends, our Commonwealth friends, our developing country friends, our Asian investor friends: all urge us to stay in their interests and, they believe, ours. They find it baffling that we might want to repeat the Messina mistake; so do I.
I believe we owe it to the electorate to enable them to make a properly informed choice: to heed Mrs Thatcher’s 1975 warning and see through the silly slogans and assertions, which will come from both sides, while realising the historical gravity of the decision. This is not a vote of confidence or no confidence in the Government. It is not an opinion poll on benefit cuts, devolution or austerity. As the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, said this morning, a vote to leave the EU would not be a reversible vote, like a vote in an election. The decision would be one that our children and grandchildren would have to live with, so we have to improve the Bill.
Others have spoken of extending the franchise. I agree with all three suggestions that emerged this morning. I support what the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, said and agree strongly with the case made by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler. I support what the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, and the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, said about 16 and 17 year-olds.
On Clause 6, I admit that I am baffled. I did not understand this morning’s exchange between the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, and the Minister. The concern I have about Clause 6 is that I would like to be reassured that this additional provision, accepted by the Government in the Commons, would not affect practically the conduct of government business in Brussels to the detriment of the national interest. That is what I will be looking for.
The most important changes, or rather additions, that we need to make to the Bill are those about which the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, spoke this morning. How can we ensure that the country is properly informed in advance on the consequences of a vote to leave? When in the last Parliament we in this House looked at the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, we carried by a huge majority an amendment requiring the Government to report, before the referendum, on the economic effects of our leaving. The country really needs to know the legislative and statutory effects of leaving in the areas of responsibility of every government department, central and devolved. The country needs to know the effect on individual citizens resident here and resident elsewhere in the EU.
Above all, the country needs a definition of out. It needs to know what out means. As the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, asked, what relationship with our shortly to be former partners would the Government envisage if required to take us out, and on what evidence do they believe that the 27 would agree? The economic consequences of repeating the Messina mistake would clearly be much bigger now, with the Union so much wider and stronger. To what extent, and in what negotiable ways, do the Government intend that they would be mitigated? The country needs to know, so getting the Bill right really matters.
I end with a tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Lawson of Blaby, not so much for what he said today—although there was a point in it with which I agreed—and not for the messages of despair about continental Europe and the need for us to escape from it that he has been sending us in recent weeks from his hideout in the maquis of continental Europe, but for the perception and generosity of his wise weekend words about Geoffrey Howe. I add a tribute in passing to the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, for his contribution to that extremely moving BBC television programme on Denis Healey last week. Healey and Howe were two sparring partners and great statesmen—two very brave men and great Chancellors. I worked for them both, as I worked for their successor, and I know the importance that both would have attached to this referendum. Both campaigned in 1975 with Mrs Thatcher for us to stay in. Both were proud patriots with a sense of history and the knack of bending its arc our way, particularly in Europe—Healey with his link to Schmidt and Howe with his link to Delors. They would not have wished to see us repeat the Messina mistake. I really hope that we will not.
My Lords, referenda in the UK, as we all know, are a fairly new innovation. The first time in modern history that a referendum was used was in 1975, and their use was opposed quite vigorously by both Attlee and Churchill. They only came into being in 1975—the noble Lord, Lord Radice, gave us a very good history lesson earlier—to get the Labour Party off the hook, because it was deeply divided at that time. One part of the party wanted to be in, and the other part wanted to be out. Harold Wilson, who still stands high in my pantheon of former Labour Prime Ministers, went along with this suggestion, which I do not think he believed in for a minute. He went along with it, however, and the Labour Party—if I remember correctly—came up with the slogan, “Not on Tory terms”, without actually specifying what terms would be acceptable, because that did at least solve the immediate problem that the ones on offer were not acceptable.
I have always disputed the complaint that we are somehow in something that we were not promised. In fact, the whole 1975 referendum campaign, in my part of London, was about what this campaign is about: Brussels. I remember listening to people like Tony Benn and Enoch Powell saying exactly what is being said today—that Brussels would somehow run things. In the end, we had to come to a conclusion, and overall we came to a very clear conclusion in 1975. I can help my noble friend Lord Lawson, who earlier seemed to be searching for a slogan to show that there was something beyond Europe. From history, I commend to him the slogan of the Morning Star in 1975:
“No to a bosses’ Europe; yes to a workers’ world”.
That was meant to show that there was something beyond Europe that was vital and worth us getting.
The difference, of course, as has been said, is that the 1974-75 renegotiation was not the same as the present one: things are now very different. Today’s renegotiation, to be quite honest—which we seem to be in this House at the moment—is also to get the Government off the hook. It is as simple as that. The country is divided; there is a feeling that after 40 years, perhaps we should revisit this and have another go, but in fact, the options are far more limited today. There is really no option for any sensible person other than to maintain, and somehow build on, our relationship with Europe. The debate is about how we influence what we have got. Moreover, this is not the first renegotiation: Mrs Thatcher negotiated our terms in Europe much more fundamentally than this renegotiation will.
One of the delights of a long career in politics is that you can look back to all of the positions you have held—in my case, many have changed over the years—and at the changes in the parties’ positions. When Mrs Thatcher did her renegotiation, the Conservative Party was 100% in favour of Europe. I was in the European Parliament at that time. There was an odd little group called the H-block, led, if I remember correctly, by the late Brian Hord. They were in favour of something different, but overall, the Conservative Party was strongly in favour. The Labour Party was more divided. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, has gone, because it was actually he who turned the Labour Party round more than anyone else. Of all the achievements to which he can lay claim, the foremost was that he was prepared to grasp the question by the throat and he turned the Labour Party round.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, mentioned the negotiation by John Major to get Britain out of the social chapter. That was a really brilliant negotiation. Of course, what he conceded was that into the treaty went Strasbourg as the seat of the European Parliament. Tony Blair came into power and said, “We’re going into the social chapter”. The other countries said, “Fine. If you want to, we’ll amend the treaty”. I do not think France is going to say, “We’ll abandon Strasbourg” quite as easily, so be careful what concessions you give along the way.
I shall mention a couple of things concerning the present Bill, neutrally rather than hostilely. The British electorate are a jumble. Frankly, when citizens in Malta, Cyprus and half of Gibraltar can vote, but people who have worked in Britain for 20 years and who happen to have a French passport cannot, we are in an area of lunacy. The only advice I would give is that they should change their nationality. They still have time to do it. I am very willing to give any European Union citizen a quick course on how to change their nationality to become a good Brit, and be able to vote in our referendum. It is actually not very hard if you have a clean record and have been here for a bit of time. My advice to them is to get on board.
On the voting age, have we not got into a mess? We seem to have one age for one set of elections and another age for another set. I say to the Minister and my colleagues that we had better get something sorted out, because what we have does not make sense. We have a very odd collection of different ages. I would not go for 16, but since it seems that half of elections nowadays go for 16, I will restrict myself to saying, “Please sort it out”.
At the end of this debate, we are going to have to decide. I predict a rerun of 1975. I think the establishments of all the major parties will be saying vote yes, and the two outer wings will say vote no. Who are going to be the latter-day successors to J Enoch Powell and AW Benn? I am not going to start speculating. I can think of their names, but I predict that it will be like that. If I remember rightly, only Orkney and the Shetland Islands voted no in the previous referendum. There might be a few more no votes this time, perhaps some in Northern Ireland, because it has a habit of spiting itself. Some places might vote no, but overall I predict there will be an overwhelming yes vote. The TUC has indicated it is onside, as has the CBI. We have set up an all-party campaign, and I am working with my good friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, across the aisle, to deliver Cambridge, one small but important city, for the yes vote. I look forward to getting a yes vote, getting this passed in some form or other and getting on with the job of being good partners in Europe.
My Lords, it is sad that, at this time, we do not have the benefit of the wisdom and experience of Lord Healey and Lord Howe, and we send our sincere condolences to the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, at this very sad time.
This debate is more limited in scope than perhaps it would have been earlier this year. The starting point is surely that, after the general election, the Government can claim to have a mandate. We now need to examine the details of implementing the electorate’s decision.
In the other place, the Foreign Secretary declared that there are three variables: the date, the question and the franchise. On the date, the Government have stated that the referendum will be held before the end of 2017 and that the precise date will depend on the progress of negotiations. It has now been agreed that the referendum will not coincide with certain domestic elections. There is, however, a problem. In 2017, there are key elections in France and Germany. I agree with Liam Fox MP that, with all the different procedures in the 27 other member countries and the temptation for them to add favourite items, it is unrealistic to expect treaty change by the end of 2017. A post-dated cheque would obviously raise problems. We can do little about the date in today’s debate, but it is worth looking at the Guardian today, which suggests that there is not much urgency in the Prime Minister’s approach to the negotiations. Perhaps the Minister could reply to that later.
The question was changed for the better in the other place; it no longer invites the answer yes, but is balanced and fair. So far as the franchise is concerned, the simplest solution is, of course, the normal franchise for a general election with the addition of Gibraltar, which has already happened, and Members of this House. However, there are still many absurdities. Citizens of one foreign country resident in the UK—namely Ireland—can vote. Only citizens from certain EU countries in the UK—namely Malta and Cyprus—can vote. Citizens of Gibraltar, who along with the Falkland Islanders would face the most adverse consequences if we were to remove ourselves as advocates for them in Brussels, have the vote. EU citizens who may have spent decades here and have policy interests across the board will not have the vote, while British citizens who live abroad and may no longer have any real stake in our country, will. Surely some consideration should be given to adopting the same rules as in local government elections to allow all other EU nationals resident in the UK for a certain period of time, perhaps three years, to vote.
I have a few observations from my personal experience. I was in a European department in the Foreign Office when we in this country debated the alternatives such as EFTA, the diversion at that time. I appeared with Edward Heath on the same platform during the 1975 election. This, as Yogi Berra is supposed to have said, is like déjà vu all over again. We have a divided government party wheeling in a device like a deus ex machina for party, not national, interest. I recall in 1975 the bald assertion that the referendum would result in the closure of debate on our EU membership. Tony Benn soon recommenced his campaign against the EU, which led to the disastrous 1983 Labour manifesto.
Another precedent is of course the current debate in Scotland on a second referendum on independence. It is claimed by some that our citizens need to be asked again, as there was no mention in 1975 of ever-closer union and vast changes have taken place since. I comment that ever-closer union, which the Government now seek to opt out of, was always in the treaty. Again, as no doubt the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, would say, no institution is static. All political institutions are dynamic. Surely no one believed that the European Union would stand still. Still, David Cameron, our Prime Minister, wants his Clause 4 moment by seeking to avoid for us the movement towards ever-closer union.
I took part in the French referendum on the Maastricht treaty, successfully, I may say—just. Most of the debate at the time was wholly unrelated to Maastricht. That is really the problem: an in/out question can be easily misinterpreted. However, the referendum will not give a list of options for our people. What alternative would they favour if they were to vote no? How would we interpret a no vote? If the Government are so keen to listen to the people and have the benefit of their views, surely there should be a whole series of additional questions such as, “If no, what would you like to happen?”.
My experience of the 1979 and 1997 referendums on devolution in my own Wales is that the result of the vote depends on who asks the question and when they ask it. In Sweden, for example, there was one brief moment when Swedish public opinion swung in favour of the EU, and that was the time when the referendum was held. There is a danger of a passing public mood which can determine the result; for example, if immigration were to rise to the top of the agenda of concern and were linked by the public to the EU.
One brief penultimate comment on the PM’s position. Clearly he travels light on this issue, as indeed on most other policy questions. However, the noble Lord, Lord Ashcroft, claims in his book that Mr Cameron wants us in, come what may. Certainly up to 2012, knowing the resulting uncertainties for our business and inward investment, he gave powerful speeches against a referendum. It is his party and not national imperatives which have changed his position. It is a dangerous gamble for the UK as a whole since a no vote would deliver a powerful new impetus to Scottish independence. I wonder if that has been added to the Prime Minister’s equation.
No doubt we shall examine the details of the Bill—particularly the question on the franchise for those who are 16 and above—and debate reports on possible alternatives. The referendum involves key decisions for us. It relates to how we see ourselves and our place in the world. Will we be stronger if we withdraw? Will we be taken more seriously by key players such as the United States, particularly in international trade negotiations? Will we be more attractive for inward investment? Will our car industry flourish with higher tariffs or will we be increasingly marginalised as a middle-ranking power but still—like Norway—be heavily influenced by decisions over which we have no say? The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, asked, “Who wants us out?”, and the list he gave was most instructive. Thus, beyond the details of the Bill are wider questions which I fear for party reasons the Government will seek to avoid.
My Lords, in waiting to speak this afternoon I have felt more comfortable than for many years because the Bench with a hole in it on which I habitually sit has finally been replaced. I mention this to reassure those who are still sitting on dilapidated Benches. It may be that the change here is a sign that austerity is finally coming to an end. I should add that one great advantage is that it is not as slippery, so that one does not find oneself sliding backwards and lying back and then being unjustly accused by the press of being asleep in a debate while listening to what people are saying. At all events, some things are improving.
I have always been totally opposed to referendums, and in particular to what one might call binding or mandatory referendums, which in effect represent the dictatorship of the majority and take no account of minority interests. They are the antithesis of representative democracy and leave Members of Parliament unable to wholly fulfil their jobs as representatives and not delegates. I was glad to see in a note prepared by the Library that this Bill,
“does not contain any requirement on the UK Government to implement the results of the referendum, nor set a time limit by which a vote to leave the EU should be implemented. Instead, this is a type of referendum known as pre-legislative or consultative”.
For the reasons I have just mentioned I welcome that, but I am not at all sure that that is what is understood by the public at large who are going to suffer perhaps two years of debate on this issue and then find that the way the vote has been cast does not automatically get implemented by Parliament. If I may say so, I think my noble friend the Minister said in her opening remarks that the people will have the final say. Strictly speaking, I suspect that that is not true as far as the way that the Bill is drafted.
The other thing, which was raised by my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth, is that the Bill does not include any provision either for what should be decided as a decisive majority on the one hand or what should be the threshold for voting on the other. We will need to consider that in the course of debates in Committee and at later stages. There is also some danger that because this is being carried out against the background of a renegotiation, the vote will reflect whether people think that the renegotiation has been successful or not rather than the underlying question of whether we ought to be in or out. That could distort the result, perhaps to a significant extent.
It has been very difficult to discern what the Government’s objectives are at the present time—many Members have referred to this—but it is clear that the Prime Minister and the Government are opposed to the concept of ever-closer union. But there is a real paradox here. The people who frustrate any move to ever-closer union are the bureaucrats in Brussels, because they are absolutely fixated on two things: the single currency and the free movement of people. Far from leading to closer union, both those dogmas have put them in a position which is more and more divisive. We were told that the single currency would lead to harmonisation and convergence, but that is far from the case. You only have to look at the recent disputes with Greece to realise that the effect of the single currency has been to tear countries apart rather than to bring them together. The situation is similar with regard to the free movement of people, particularly against the background of the extraordinary increase in immigration from outside the European Union, and the way in which this has caused great dissent between, let us say, Germany and Hungary. There is therefore a curious paradox that what the Prime Minister is against is effectively implemented by the bureaucracy in Brussels.
However, at all events, what is crucial is that because of these two issues, which we have opted out of, the Prime Minister has effectively opted out of participation in many of the most important issues, not least the ones I have just mentioned, which are going on at the present time. He has tended to opt out, which is very dangerous indeed. We need to get to a situation where much of the renegotiation should lead to us arguing for what is right not only for this country but for the European Union as a whole. At the moment, the issues I discussed earlier are greatly to the detriment of our country in terms of, for example, exports, problems with immigration and so on. So the Prime Minister has to ensure that he takes a far more active role in Europe than appears to have been the case, because we have not been participating in those particular major areas of policy which I have referred to.
I will make one final point. All these tendencies have been recently for disunity in Europe, which could not happen at a more dangerous time. We cannot conceive of a situation where we have disunity in the European Union on issue after issue and then are totally united on participation in NATO. Personally, I am more worried about that situation than I can remember being for probably my whole adult life. These are important issues, and I hope that the Prime Minister will take a lead in the way I have suggested.
My Lords, this has been a fascinating debate, which has ranged far and wide over the major strategic issues of the last 70 years in Europe, since the last war, right through to the issues of today, such as the wording of the referendum question and purdah. However, the Bill itself is mainly about very technical matters; 48 of the 56 pages concern detailed technical issues to do with the organisation of the referendum. I hope—others may not agree—that when we discuss this in Committee we will be able to carry out the House of Lords’ traditional role of scrutinising detail and spend at least a little of the time looking at these matters because they need scrutiny. There are a lot of ministerial powers set out here, for example, not just about the question of purdah, which I think we ought to look at and at the very least press the Government into saying what their intentions are.
On a minor detail, I express my personal thanks to the Government for the change to the Bill that means the referendum cannot be on 5 May next year, which is the day my current term of office as a local councillor comes to an end. If I decide to defend my seat, I would really prefer to do it without the encumbrance of a referendum on the European Union at the same time, which might divert attention from whether people want me again.
It has been a good debate and, in particular, I enjoyed the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth—who is not in his seat at the moment—who talked about going into battle waving a white flag not being the thing to do because you are giving up before you start. However, the problem is that some of us would rather that this referendum was not taking place and we have no real confidence that there will be any huge change as a result of the negotiations. The Prime Minister and others will come back with a huge amount of spin, trying to tell the country about all the great changes they have achieved, which will not add up to very much at all. To that degree, I agree with the noble Lords, Lord Forsyth and Lord Lawson, and people on their side. The problem is that I do not really want any changes before we have the vote. I am perfectly happy to vote for the European Union as it is now and get stuck in within the European Union to achieve what changes this country might like.
As for flying the flag, the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, said that he was responsible for flying some flags somewhere in Wales and had four in a row: one for Wales, one for the UK and I am not sure what the others were. That is exactly what we did in the town I live in, Colne in Lancashire, where we have four flags flying outside the town hall. I always thought it was rather nice, all the flags you saw outside continental town halls when you went to Europe—the European mainland, I should say—so we have done it in Colne. We have the union flag, the flag of England and the European flag, which we were told people would come and tear down but nobody did. The only one anybody ever tore down was the union flag and they were football hooligans who wanted to run round the streets in a drunken manner, waving it. We also have the Lancashire flag. It took some time to get Lancashire County Council to agree to allow us to use the Lancashire flag, or perhaps it was the sheriff who had to agree—I am not sure. In the end I had to go to see Louise Ellman, who at the time was chairman of Lancashire County Council, to knock some heads together because they said the Lancashire flag could be flown only on the county hall and on the county jail in Preston. It now flies in Colne as well and that is the way to fly flags: fly as many as possible to represent the things to which people feel allegiance. The danger with flags occurs when one flag is dominant and it becomes very nationalist.
The noble Lord, Lord Lamont, said that there had been a European distrust of democracy and democratic accountability, but I suggest that democracy is more than simply having elections and electing a leader or a group of people every so often. Representative democracy is indeed at the very heart of democracy but other things are too—things such as the rule of law, due process, equality and freedom under the law, and concepts of citizenship. Many of those concepts are as well known within the rest of Europe as they are in this country, and in some cases better known and better understood than they are in this country. How much better it is to have all those long, tedious and, some people think, extremely boring and time-wasting meetings in which European politicians and officials negotiate farm payments at 2 am to meet deadlines that expired at midnight and so on than it is to have them organising arms to shoot at each other.
One of the great triumphs of Europe is that it is 70 years—at least, within the European Union—since people in Europe were organised to shoot at each other. That is a huge triumph of Europe and, given its history, 70 years is a long time for that to have been the case. Anybody who thinks that Europe could not revert to a situation in which some of the countries that are now in the European Union start shooting at each other again is living in cloud-cuckoo-land. You have only to look not very far away—for example, to the eastern part of Ukraine—or to remember what happened in the Balkans just over 20 years ago to realise that there is nothing special about Europeans and that we are not a special kind of human being that does not engage in that sort of activity. The European Union has been absolutely fundamental in questions of war and peace. I hope that we will manage to talk about that in the referendum campaign and not just about trade, although, as a Liberal, I am not going to say that trade is not important.
I have two more brief points to make. One concerns the question of voting by 16 year-olds or whoever. One of the huge problems under the new system of individual electoral registration—which in general I support—is the registration of young voters. It is said that 2 million 18 to 24 year-olds are not registered and that among 17 year-olds—the attainers—only 25% are registered. That has to be tackled.
My final point is that it is all very well being able to vote as a British citizen living in another European Union country if you can get on the register and get your postal vote sent to you, but there is quite a lot of anecdotal evidence from the recent general election that people had problems with both those things. That is another issue that will have to be looked at if we have a referendum in which all these people in Europe vote.
My Lords, I welcome the Bill. I believe that the Government are clearly acting in the national interest in giving the people the final decision on this matter and I congratulate them on keeping their manifesto promise in this respect.
I also congratulate my noble friend the Minister on her opening remarks, which very crisply set out what can be achieved by this referendum. As she said, it is absolutely vital that it is seen to be robust and fair. We want to settle this question for a generation. I will possibly vote to leave unless the negotiations come up with good results but, if I do so and I lose, I will not complain unless the referendum has been unfair, and I am sure that others on all sides will take that view. So when the Minister says that we need to strengthen the perception that the neutrality of the Bill is beyond doubt, I heartily concur with that sentiment. The wording of the question, which achieves the maximum level of neutrality, is a good improvement. I welcome that as well and echo what my noble friend Lord Norton said about the inherent bias in “yes” and “no”.
However, that is precisely why Clause 6 needs to be scrutinised very carefully. This is the clause under which exemptions to Section 125 of the 2000 Act can be applied for and where the purdah rules can be altered, if necessary, in the run-up to the election. I am concerned about the power to make exceptions to Section 125 and echo what the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said in his intervention on the Minister: that we need to see what those exceptions are as soon as possible and not just four months before the referendum. As the Minister said, we want a fair campaign so that the deck is not stacked in favour of one side or another. In his closing remarks in the other place, Minister John Penrose said that a 16-week referendum period with no announcements in that time will be allowed. Will the Government put that assurance in the legislation?
On the question of 16 and 17 year- olds, I was 17 in 1975. That means that I am one of the oldest people in the country and the House who has never had a say on the question of membership of the European Union. I am longing to have a say; I am looking forward to getting my chance at last. I am not sure that I would trust my 17 year-old self to vote sensibly on that matter, and that is probably partly why I think the Government are right to stick to the Westminster franchise on this—to disfranchise my 17 year-old self. It is the only way to solve the various conundrums that were raised by my noble friend Lord Balfe and the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, about how to set this franchise. The easiest thing is to go for the Westminster franchise, plus, of course, Members of this House.
The timing of this referendum is key. Over the next few years, the European Union is going to change beyond all recognition anyway. The integration of the eurozone is clearly required and necessary. Even if one does not think that it is going to happen anyway, one just has to read the report of the five Presidents or the state of the union speech of Mr Juncker, in which he could not have made it clearer that there will be a new integration of the eurozone and that the UK will have to seek a new status of some kind within that arrangement anyway, by 2020. In a sense, all that we are arguing about is how much independence we will have and what form it will take. Personally, I think that the leap in the dark is to leap in with that very uncertain arrangement.
Many of the speeches today have prematurely joined the battle of the referendum itself, rather than the question of this Bill. In the interests of brevity, I will try to avoid that temptation—except to say that I look forward to a chance to join battle and answer some of the questions that the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, raised at the beginning of the debate about what we would look like if we were outside. For the moment, I will answer it with one word: independence. The answer to the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, as to whether we would have a seat at the table, is yes, we would have a seat on the World Trade Organization instead of 1/28th of a seat.
In conclusion, I applaud the Government for bringing forward this Bill and urge them to stick to their guns and make absolutely sure that the referendum process is as robust and fair as it can be.
My Lords, this is a narrow Bill, which I support. I do not think that it is a bad thing to ask the nation, 40 years since 5 June 1975, if they wish to remain in Europe or leave. Effectively, that was the question then. We were not asked to join; we were asked whether we wanted to remain or leave. In 1975, I voted to leave—I voted no. In the referendum that will follow this Bill, I will vote to remain. I have been of that view for many years. I will do so irrespective of the success or failure perceived of the Prime Minister and irrespective of whatever changes may or may not take place in the leadership views of the Labour Party.
Like many in the Labour movement, I was finally moved over by Jacques Delors when he came to address conference. It was a massive turning point because he put the case in a way that I had not understood or seen before. I am of the opinion that, warts and all, it is in the overwhelming interests of the UK and our EU partners that we remain. That is it, really.
A key amendment, and a view that I think is shared by many others, is to give the vote to 16 and 17 year-olds. I was a member of the Labour Party’s Plant commission some 25 years ago. I was in a minority then regarding the voting age, but since then I have changed my mind—that is the second change today. It is clearly a vote for a whole generation. This is not, as someone said, for a five-year election; it is for at least 40 years, and I think they should have their say. Scotland has shown that it works. We have had a practical example: it works. The past couple of weeks, in the Lords outreach schools programme, I have been in two secondary schools and the issue was raised at both of those.
I also think the issue of the franchise has to be looked at. People who have settled here with indefinite leave to remain have planted their life in this country, and irrespective of their technical nationality their commitment is to stay here; they really should have the vote. You cannot justify the various changes that have been debated in the Chamber today, with two other Commonwealth countries being part of the EU and the situation we have with the Irish Republic, a member state of the EU—we have peculiar, discrete voting arrangements for people from the Irish Republic in our elections here, which of course should continue. The fact is that people should be treated the same. If you put your stake in the UK, and this is a matter for the UK, I think you should have the vote.
I am a bit concerned that a lot of people have said that the TUC is on board. Some of the trade union leaders, I have gathered from the past few weeks, are a bit flaky.
If people from France or wherever wish to commit to staying here for the rest of their lives, they will be naturalised British and the problem does not arise. Most of them—and I know a number of them—intend to go back at a later stage to their own countries. They still feel that that is where they belong.
That is not relevant to what I was saying.
I am concerned that some of the trade union leaders are a bit flaky, and I think the members of the trade unions should ignore them. Is the answer to the Tories taking the UK out of the Social Chapter to leave the EU altogether rather than campaign to change the Government so we can rejoin the Social Chapter? It beggars belief that some trade union leaders have said this. The words “donkeys” and “leadership” come to mind.
I have a technical question. No one has raised this, and I do not mean this in any way whatsoever personally for anybody. It is a technical question about the EU pensioners. There are several of them, several classes of person, who are EU pensioners. In some ways, it looks like a vested interest to any reasonable person, a citizen, for them to be involved in the campaign. In certain circumstances, the oath that they take binds them to the EU, and there are pension payments. This is a technical question for the Minister: Is it possible for an ex-Commissioner or other staff of the EU who are retired to campaign for the UK to leave and still be eligible to collect their EU pension? I do not mean this in any personal way, but the fact is this campaign will get dirtied by parts of the press. The sooner we get out the vested-interest issue and declarations of interest, the better it will be for everybody. It is best not to wait until the last time.
I cannot deny that Brussels interference rattles me, both as a Back-Bencher and when I was a Minister. I reckon in some ways, if the EU were a fully federal state, with elected, quality Commissioners, we would end up with more powers going back to the member states than are residing in Brussels. More powers to an unelected Commission stands in the way of progress.
Some of those powers must involve member states having a say on how big they get. Eurostat projections show that the UK will grow faster than any other member state. By the mid-2040s, the UK will be the most populous country in the EU, with 77 million people, ahead of Germany with 75 million and France with 74 million. Unplanned growth on this scale is not on in respect of what we do in this country, in respect of the infrastructure and water resources and everything else—nothing that I have seen in Whitehall over the years shows that we are prepared for it. I am not making a point about immigration or free movement of people; the fact is that it is a consequence and it is going to happen—the forecasts are there and they will turn out to be right. It is an issue that the member states should have some say in.
The balance of competences review was referred to earlier. I was at the Food Standards Agency at the time and we proposed a joint submission with Defra—that was the way we did it. It was clear so far as food safety was concerned that, with UK, EU and the international regulations which oversee both world trade and the Codex Alimentarius, it was overwhelmingly in our interests to stay. Of course, the powers that be at Defra at the time, the high command, tried to water it down. The FSA stood firm against it—two government departments were involved; the Secretary of State at Defra was not that keen.
On trade, I remember going to New Zealand on a private visit and discussing with farmers there the issues that they had in exporting—it is a major area of export. They just made it clear: “We get the instructions from Brussels, and we have to follow them”. That is exactly what will happen to the UK. We do not have to go to Norway to see what will happen; we can go to a major trading partner such as New Zealand.
The issue of the threshold, which has been raised a couple of times, will have to be looked at. What if, on a low turnout—let us say, less than 50%—the majority is narrow? This decision is for a generation—40 years; this is not like when we had the debates on the alternative vote issue, which was a blip, a snapshot that could be overturned the following week. What are the rules? There is no sense in having the debate after the result. We need to discuss it beforehand and this House is in an ideal position to be able to advise the Commons in some ways to think again.
The UK should be at the EU table out of choice, not dragged there in a sulk, which is how we have been for decades. Having a continuously troubled relationship —because that is what we have got—under Governments of both parties is not in the UK’s best interests, let alone those of our partners. We will never win allies for change, which is what we want. How will we get allies if we are there sulking and always seeming to be troubled? The prize of having a set of sovereign nation states, working together democratically and coming together for the big issues, is a prize well worth having, which is why I shall support continued membership.
My Lords, it is important to commend the Government on introducing this Bill. I am just old enough that the first time I voted was in the first referendum—but that was to join a trading bloc and it has changed a lot to become the EU. It is high time that the people were asked again for their view on the EU.
It is also good that there are restrictions on government activity during the last month of the campaign. This will allow for proper debate during the run-up to the referendum that is not swayed by government resources or prestige.
I broadly support this government Bill and we must be extremely careful in amending it. Any amendments made will be reviewed through the prism of politics and might easily, and most likely correctly, be analysed as blocking amendments rather than improvements. Let us not try to fight the referendum by proxy through blocking amendments to the Bill. Our job in this House is to improve, not to block.
I am particularly concerned about potential amendments to widen the franchise to 16 or 17 year-olds. The Americans rallied to “no taxation without representation”. The inversion must surely be true: no representation without taxation. So what taxation is proposed for newly enfranchised 16 and 17 year-olds? If this amendment were to make it on to the Bill, it is incumbent on those who proposed it to answer this question.
Schooling or training is compulsory for this age group, so how can we now suggest that their education is so complete at age 16 that they are qualified to take part in elections and referendums? Perhaps we can create a link between truancy from school and voting. If 16 and 17 year-olds can vote, should they also be criminally liable for truancy? We are talking about young people who cannot enter binding contracts or sit on a jury. As I mentioned, this amendment is a perfect example of a block pretending to be an improvement by just changing the franchise.
The only bigger-picture problem that I see is if the negotiations going on now produce a third way—a sort of associate membership of the EU. If that happens, what becomes of the referendum question? Is the question asking: should we leave the existing EU, or remain in a new form of membership? Will the EU Referendum Bill have to be amended before it is used? Only time will tell. In the mean time, let us put this question behind us for a whole generation.
My Lords, whatever one’s view on the value and democratic viability of referendums—my own remains somewhat between the sceptical and negative, rather closer to those of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London and the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, than to some others: a scepticism that was reinforced by the experience of the recent referendum in Greece—the matter of holding an in/out referendum in this country before the end of 2017 was settled, so far as I am concerned, on 7 May, when a party with a commitment to such a referendum won an overall majority in the House of Commons.
Our constitutional practice means that the Bill enabling such a referendum to be held must go into the statute book without undue delay, leaving the Government some flexibility as to the date in 2016 or 2017 that they choose to hold the vote—a flexibility which I suggest is essential if Britain’s negotiating hand in Brussels is not to be damagingly constrained. I respect that practice, which does not of course preclude amendments to the Bill—and they will not be blocking amendments. The noble Lord who spoke before me seems to have ignored the fact that his own party gave the vote to 16 and 17 year-olds in Scotland. Are they paying tax? I do not know.
We need to think very long about the possibility of amending the Bill because there are shortcomings in its present form and they are capable of being divided, as most speakers have done, into two categories: franchise and policy. If I have heard the phrase “the people must have their say on our EU membership” once, I have heard it a hundred times and I have no doubt that it will, and has, come up in this debate. But who are the people who are to have their say? That is the question. It surely demands great care and imagination when one considers that the decision being taken will last far longer than a single Parliament and will affect fundamentally far more people than currently get the vote in our parliamentary elections, which is the franchise in the Bill before us.
The essence of democracy is surely that people who will be affected by a decision should have their say on it. Here there are three groups who, in the Government’s Bill, will not have their say on it. First, the 16 and 17 year-olds. This group of young people was given the vote in the Scottish referendum last year and the general view seems to be that they exercised it responsibly and in large numbers. So why are they not to be given the vote in this referendum—which, like last year’s vote, will affect their lives for far longer than the rest of us?
The second group comprises British citizens living elsewhere in the European Union who lose their vote after 15 years outside this country. The manifesto of the party with a majority in the Commons contains a commitment to give them a vote in future parliamentary elections, quite rightly in my view—so why on earth are they to be excluded from the one vote that they are most likely to want to exercise? That does not make much sense, and I regard it as pretty aberrant myself.
There is also the question of EU citizens who have been for a certain time in the UK. They, too, were given the vote in the referendum in Scotland. They, too, will be fundamentally affected by the outcome of this referendum. It is surely anomalous that Irish and Commonwealth citizens should be able to vote—which I personally welcome and support—while French, Dutch, Poles and other EU citizens will not. Do we seriously dispute that the German or Italian citizen living here will have more at stake in the outcome than will a Sri Lankan or a Kenyan?
Switching now to the policy issues raised by this legislation, there is, above all, the need to provide voters with objective information for which no provision is made under the Bill. There will be plenty of advocacy on both sides of the argument—I may be responsible for some of it myself—but it will not be, and will not be intended to be, unbiased. Yet as we know from opinion polling, the public are not much interested in, or knowledgeable about, much of the important technical detail of our EU membership. There is a general lack of the sort of independent analysis from outside government bodies such as the Office for Budget Responsibility, or like the Institute for Fiscal Studies provides on election manifestos before general elections.
Surely we need a statutory requirement on the Government to ensure that objective information is made available in good time. There is also, after all, plenty of recent evidence-based material to draw on in the form of the last Government’s Review of the Balance of Competences. That may be too long and too detailed for the average voter to absorb, but surely a digest of its conclusions could be made available to the electorate. There is the crucial matter of the possible consequences of a no vote. It is a vital requirement that the electorate should know what would happen in those circumstances, however much I hope they will not arise. Otherwise, a no vote will be a simple leap in the dark. That is becoming a little bit of a mantra now, but it is true nevertheless.
We have seen that happen recently in Greece. This is not just about the trading alternatives—EEA, Switzerland, or none of the above—important though the choice in that respect will be. We also need to know what will happen to farm policy, research policy, law and order issues and business regulation—all of which would be fundamentally affected by a decision to withdraw. These consequential issues need to be spelled out by the Government because it will be they, not the no campaign, who will be left holding the baby if a majority of the electorate votes to leave.
In 1975 the Government produced a document called, If We Say No. I suggest that the Minister might like to have a look at it and consider whether the Government should reissue a document of a similar nature. It was sent to all electors. It was clear and well written, and much of it is as relevant today as the day it was written.
A contribution to this debate would not be complete without a word on the implications of an EU referendum for our own union within the United Kingdom. These could be far-reaching and dramatic, particularly in the event of a vote to leave the EU. Who seriously doubts—I know that the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, seems to doubt it, but I have not found many people who do—that a vote in the face of a Scottish vote to remain and by the rest of us to leave would trigger another independence referendum in that country, which would be all too likely to prevail? Who seriously doubts that a decision to separate the two parts of the island of Ireland into one part outside and one part inside the EU would be a major factor destabilising the Good Friday agreement, which is already under considerable strain? These issues are critical for our national future and should surely give pause for thought to anyone thinking of leaving.
I conclude by saying that the debate will obviously be pretty sharp. I hope that it will not be dominated by negative clamour. The purposes for which the European Communities were founded more than 60 years ago were noble: to put behind us for ever the appalling history of disastrous conflicts in order to achieve security and prosperity for all Europeans. They remain as true and valid today as they were then.
After a hesitant start, this country has played a significant and influential part in shaping the European Union. Look at the single market, the liberalisation of world trade, development policies and the inclusion of countries in central, eastern and southern Europe. There you will see policy choices and outcomes in which we took part and in which we should now take pride. I believe that it is in our interest to continue along that road and to strengthen the European Union in a flexible and pragmatic way. I sincerely hope that this referendum will do precisely that.
My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. I tried to get out of the starting blocks too quickly and almost interrupted the end of his speech.
As a 22 year-old in the Highlands of Scotland I and my brother campaigned hard for a yes vote in the 1975 referendum. We said that joining the Common Market would be good for farmers, good for businesses and we even told fishermen in the little village of Avoch in the Black Isle that it would be good for our fishermen too. What a lie that turned out to be, as our fishing grounds were stripped bare and there are no fishing boats operating from Avoch anymore.
What were the arguments we were told to make then—arguments in which we then believed? We said that, to the east, there was the massive Warsaw Pact trading bloc with 300 million customers and, to the west, the USA and Canada with 300 million customers. Unless we belonged to a big trading bloc, then we would be frozen out of world markets. That was a credible argument at the time. Then along came GATT and the World Trade Organization, which gave even tiny little countries access to world markets, so that Norway, Taiwan, Singapore and others have flourished without being part of a big trading bloc.
Then the European integrationists changed the argument and said that, although we did not need to be part of a big trade bloc to survive, it would be better if we were part of a large single market whereby we all had unrestricted access to others’ goods and services. Even Margaret Thatcher was persuaded, although she later realised that it was another big con. Although it was implemented by the UK, swathes of EU services have not allowed us access. As good Europeans, we permitted European companies to buy up our transport, water and energy companies, but we did not get equal access to theirs. That was probably our fault rather than the EU’s but, even on this substantial change, the British people had no vote.
Then we had the Maastricht treaty. It was rejected by Denmark in a referendum and, of course, Denmark was made to vote again until its people obeyed the European diktat. On the night of the Maastricht no vote, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and I were in Rio. We were negotiating on the first Earth Summit in 1992. We saved the world then. On that night, I was at a function in the Portuguese embassy. Portugal held the presidency but, as soon as Rio was over, Britain had the presidency and it was our job to speak at the United Nations on behalf of the EU. The EU was desperate to sign the convention itself but it could not; only nation states could. I chaired a meeting in Brussels and knew in advance that this would be coming up. So I called on the Commission lawyers, who said that we could not sign as the EU; it was illegal and against UN rules. I called on our presidency lawyers, who said that we could not do it; it was against EU laws. I called on the German Minister, who said that we could not do it; it was against the law. By this time, the buttons were being pushed, the red light was flashing and a southern European Minister said, “What is all this talk about the law? Let us just do it. Who is to find out?”. That coloured my view—perhaps unfairly—of many of the things we did in the EU.
After Maastricht, once again the British people had no say, even though our sovereignty was fundamentally reduced and our relationship with the EU changed. Then we had the Lisbon treaty, this time rejected by the Irish, who were made to vote again until they came up with a yes vote. Again the British people were given no say.
The next argument used by the European integrationists was that the British economy was so inefficient in comparison to France and Germany that we needed to be in association with those countries in order to benefit from their industrial practices. Well, that would certainly have been true in the 1960s and 1970s, but not now. We have the fastest-growing economy in Europe, if not the G7. We have record employment and the majority of our trade is with the rest of the world, not the EU.
The EU is in decline; it is paying itself too much, is not working hard enough and its “social Europe” pay and benefits systems are dragging us down. Europe is uncompetitive in comparison with the USA and the Asian economies. We are trapped in a declining post-war concept which 33 million Britons aged under 59 do not necessarily understand or have had any say in. I once asked my distinguished predecessor, Willie Whitelaw, why he was so keen on Europe. His answer was, “David, if you had been through the war, then you would support any organisation which kept the peace in Europe”. I said, “But, Willie, NATO did that”, but he responded that political union was a price worth paying for all of us if it kept Germany, France and Italy at peace. I deeply respect that view from a brave Military Cross holder, but the world has moved on since then, but the vision of the old men of the post-war era has not, whether it is Adenauer, Willie, Ted Heath, Wilson, Monnet, Schuman, Brandt, Schmidt, Kohl or d’Estaing. A united political Europe may have made sense to deal with the problems of Europe in the 1950s and 1960s, but it may be irrelevant to our global economy 60 years later. Nor, it seems, have the views changed of those who told us that the UK would die unless we joined the euro. So many of those saying at the BSE launch yesterday that we must stay in or perish were the same ones who got it 100% wrong on the euro. The British people may want to take that into account when weighing the arguments on both sides.
We now need to get the views of the 33 million people—that is an estimate by the Library—who have had no say in the development of this political union since 1975. Our whole electoral roll is about 46 million, I believe, and therefore 75% have never had a say in the creation of the European superstate. I cannot see how anyone can object to consulting the British people on the terms proposed in the Bill before us, which I completely support. Let us have a vote for the first time in 40 years, and I ask the Government to set out the facts clearly. We must have a White Paper setting out what changes the Prime Minister has obtained and the consequences of leaving the EU and of staying in. We know the risks of leaving, but staying in could be a bigger leap in the dark as the EU pushes for “more Europe”. We heard the vision of President Hollande last week, we have the five presidents’ report, and a White Paper to set out just what the Prime Minister has achieved is important, but also we need information on the likely direction of the EU over the next few years. We need to deal with the claim that 3 million jobs will be lost. That is just not credible; 3 million jobs may be tied to EU trade, but there is no suggestion that that trade will suddenly stop.
I say to my noble friend the Minister that we need to see the draft regulations which the Government are proposing on purdah. I accept the Government’s word that they will not seek to claw back the concessions on this made in the other place, but I understand that they have said that some clarificatory regulations will need to be made. Well, if the Government have concluded that there are areas which need clarification, they clearly know what those areas are and we want to see the drafts of the regulations before the Bill goes back to the Commons.
The EU has changed beyond all recognition since I voted for a Common Market in 1975. We never expected to be sucked into a complete political union with our rights to negotiate at the international institutions of the world removed and our voice replaced by the EU, especially at the World Trade Organization. We Britons have always had a world view. We are not little Europeans. I want a Common Market with the world, not a common EU Government. That is the debate I believe we need to have and I think it is the debate we will have over the next 12 months. I believe it is high time that the British electorate had a say. I support the Bill.
My Lords, several kindly colleagues from the Benches opposite have spoken to me recently about the interesting times that the Labour Party is living through. Well, I think they were being kind. I have news for these colleagues: however interesting they think my party is at the moment, it will be as nothing compared with the interesting times we could be living in, as a country, in a few years. This is because, as many noble Lords have said, to appease the Eurosceptic wing of the Conservative Party and to call home those Tories caught flirting with UKIP, the Government are—how can I put it?—in Farage-ing for votes, in danger of sleepwalking out of the European Union and consequently breaking up the United Kingdom. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, I believe that if Britain leaves Europe, Scotland will be far more likely to leave Britain and we will be left to our own, much-reduced, devices. We could well end up a slightly warmer version of Iceland—although this Chamber would not let you know that this afternoon—with much poorer economic trading and prospects than at present, as many noble Lords have already said, and with much less protection and regulation for working people and our environment. This self-infliction is happening at a time of unprecedented globalisation when it comes to the importance of successful trading blocs and solving damaging climate change at an international level.
My party is supporting this Bill in principle. Before anyone reminds me, I know that was not the case before the general election. As JK Galbraith once said:
“Nothing is so admirable in politics as a short memory”.
We are where we are, whatever my opinion of referendums. While supporting the Government’s Bill, we will of course seek to improve it, especially in the area of broadening the franchise to include UK citizens aged 16 and over, as many noble Lords have set out so ably today. If we believe that this referendum will settle our relationship with the EU for at least a generation, our young people, who will reach adulthood—and indeed middle age—in that time, should have a say in the moulding of their future. I sincerely hope that the Government will think again on this very important aspect of the Bill.
We are also keen to ensure that, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and others have called for, the Government make non-partisan and evidence-based information available to the British public regarding our membership of the EU and the consequences and effects of withdrawal from it. As several noble Lords have asked, what are the alternatives? We need to know.
My party has long been committed to Britain remaining a member of the European Union, and continues to be. There is, of course, diversity of opinion in both our party and the country. Individuals are free to campaign as they see fit. However, Labour will make the case for Britain remaining in the EU, because we believe that that is the progressive choice and that the EU has helped the UK to create jobs, secure growth, encourage investment and tackle best those areas of our lives that inevitably cross borders—areas such as climate change, tax havens, terrorism and, currently, getting a grip on the unprecedented refugee crisis. Yes, late in the day, and after much chaos and catch-up, a plan is emerging at EU level for how to deal with so many war-weary people seeking a new life away from death and devastation. Even now, many on these Benches would call on the Government to think again about their decision not to take responsibility for at least a modest proportion of those refugees newly arrived in other EU member states.
While the Labour Party retains its pro-EU stance, we will oppose any attempts by the Government, in their pre-referendum negotiations, to water down, or undermine, our hard-won European Union rights—as individuals and in the workplace. However, we are clear, as my noble friend Lord Rooker has said, that the answer to any damaging changes that the Prime Minister brings back is not to leave the EU but to pledge to reverse those changes by campaigning to stay in, to strengthen our hand and to work towards a Labour Government. As a former Member of the European Parliament who worked on these policies, the European Union inspired maternity leave, parental leave, paid holidays, consumer rights and health and safety standards. I know that these are flags of hope for British people, not flags of surrender, as has already been said.
None of this is to say that the European Union is perfect—quite the contrary. I share the frequent frustration of many British people with the way the EU goes about its business, with a perceived—if not actual—lack of transparency and accountability in decision-making, and with a gulf between well-intentioned, high-level EU rationality and local grass-roots demands for greater openness and devolved powers. We have to regain people’s trust in EU decision-making during the coming campaign.
My party wishes to see reform in Europe on benefits, on how the EU relates to national Parliaments, on state aid rules, on reform of the EU budget and on the further protection of British workers as we move into a more digitised and robotic workplace future, where even the Governor of the Bank of England has said recently that every job he did when he worked at Goldman Sachs could now be done by robots or computers. The answer to that future workplace automation and the depopulation of British careers is not to row ourselves further away from the EU and the possible answers that we could find there, hoping for the best. It is to stay in, complete the single market and boost jobs and growth.
None of this reform happens in a Union of 28 countries without constantly building alliances with our EU partners and arguing the case. I sincerely hope that that is what the Prime Minister is doing in this renegotiation phase, along with recognising where British influence has already played a significant role in developing good EU policy. The Prime Minister’s return from his negotiations is as eagerly awaited by us all as the next series of “The Great British Bake Off”. Let us hope that there will not be too many half-baked outcomes.
We all approach this referendum in our own way. I will do my best to make a well-founded but essentially hopeful case for a British future in Europe. I believe that the British people respond to hopeful campaigns over fear-inducing ones and as we approach the work on this Bill, I hope that—especially for our youngest and newest referendum voters—there will be a thirst to understand and learn more about why we all think our relationship with Europe is important, whatever our in/out stance may be. A shared history in war and peace means that for many of us, decisions on our relations with the EU will always be coloured by a recent past where democracy itself was hard fought-for and we stood shoulder to shoulder with our European neighbours. We should continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with those neighbours into an uncertain future.
My Lords, the Bill is a Government manifesto commitment and it must pass as quickly as is reasonably possible. I make that statement of the obvious lest anything I say subsequently should be construed in some way as an attempt to oppose the Bill. Having said that, I am afraid that I do not recant from my previous opposition to the idea of a referendum. I regret the Bill. I submit that it is unnecessary and, in the present circumstances, unwelcome.
It is unnecessary because of the European Union Act 2011, which has already ensured that there can be no transfer of powers to the EU without a referendum. It is unwelcome particularly because the Government have deviated from the 2010 position of the Prime Minister, who at that time was against an in/out referendum, and because it represents a success for those whose only agenda is our exit from the European Union.
I wish the Prime Minister well in his efforts to reform matters of concern to Britain and people of all parties. However, I fear that nothing he can bring back from these negotiations, short of a proposal to leave us outside the European Union, will satisfy those whose desire is to see us in precisely that position. It is unwelcome because, unless the result is a vote to leave, it will settle nothing: the Scottish referendum must have at least taught us that. For how long will we consider the issue to be settled: 20, 30 or 40 years? I submit that some choices and decisions made by nations cannot constantly be subject to review. Shall we demand a vote on membership of NATO, which commits us to taking up arms to defend a fellow member? Are we to argue that NATO is a post-war construct, entered into in different times and different circumstances, and that its role is now different from that envisaged by the founders? These are arguments often deployed in connection with the European Union.
Moreover, the referendum is unwelcome because the uncertainty created by the possibility of a British exit is not necessary. A competitive Europe, yes; expanding the single market, yes; a less regulated Europe, yes; but none of that demands treaty change. It merely requires determined working with our partners to negotiate changes to individual pieces of legislation. We will not challenge the fundamentals that would involve treaty change. Everyone acknowledges that that is politically impossible, in terms of both the timescale and the likelihood of obtaining unanimity. Lastly, it is unwelcome —and this is perhaps the greatest cause of its being unwelcome—because it brings into question our membership at a time when we need to be at the heart of the Union, working with our partners on the great economic problems and the problems of immigration, refugees and security, to name but a few.
It is often said—and it has been said this afternoon—that the EU’s original aims have been achieved: that peace in Europe is no longer threatened. Yet the growth of nationalism, extremism and the surrounding security problems must surely mean that we cannot take any of that for granted. The European Union has been a great driver for peace and democratisation in the continent, and it still is: ask the countries that want to join. When I meet parliamentarians from other countries at meetings of the OSCE, they cannot understand why we are putting ourselves in the position of a possible exit, and they are concerned that it might happen. I urge my noble friends in the Government to ensure that we make clear our wish to remain, not just by words but by deeds.
The migration and refugee issue is but one case in point. I acknowledge all that the Government are doing and their reasons for doing it in the way that they are. However, could we not just acknowledge that many small countries in the European Union and many of its neighbours are struggling with problems that are testing their capabilities and resources to the limits? If we are not to take any of the refugees from Europe, could we not offer some logistical assistance on the ground to show that, while we are not part of Schengen, we are not blind to the problems of our fellow Europeans? We can offer aid to the Caribbean, assistance to the Saudis for their prisons, put soldiers on the ground in Sudan, and offer China money to spread the word about British football. A little help for the Greek islands would perhaps be a little more appropriate and would certainly help our negotiations and the building of alliances that have already been said to be so essential in the process on which we have embarked. The case for membership has to be made now, not at the end of the negotiations. The out lobby is already working flat out because it does not care about the outcome: the only issue is whether it can win the vote to come out.
Much has been said this afternoon about the franchise. It is a strange Bill whereby the citizens of three EU countries, who are not UK nationals—the citizens of Ireland, Malta and Cyprus—will have a vote because they are Commonwealth citizens. In addition, there are non-British nationals—we do not know how many; at least, that is what I was told in answer to a Parliamentary Question I tabled in the previous Parliament—resident in the country who are Commonwealth citizens who have the vote. This is probably an issue for another time but, given that we are one of few countries, if not the only country, to allow non-citizens to vote in national elections, the parliamentary franchise needs an urgent review to examine the justification for allowing citizens of Ireland and the Commonwealth this right.
I hear the argument that to change the franchise might delay the vote, but in an age when you can be entered on the electoral roll only a few weeks before an election, some change should be possible, and it should be made in respect of UK citizens resident in other European Union countries. We already have a manifesto commitment to extend the franchise, and since the potential effects of withdrawal would impact on such UK citizens, they are entitled to have a vote.
As other noble Lords have said, we need independent factual information upon which the public may base their decision, and against which they may judge the statements of the in and out campaigns. We need to know what the Government will do if the vote is to leave. We need to know what they will seek. Voters must know what may change in the event of a no vote and the effect it will have on them. Crucially, it must be made clear that what rights are retained will depend on the outcome of the exit negotiations, and that it will be a matter not for us but for the other 27 member states. We will not have a vote.
I therefore hope that my noble friends will accept that although this Bill will, according to the conventions, pass, those conventions do not preclude amendments being sought and supported by many of us. There may be other Members from these Benches—not just me—who will attempt to improve the Bill where we consider it necessary. After all, those with a different view from mine fought their corner in the other place. I shall seek to fight mine here.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, with whom I broadly agree and have done for many years. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, opened this debate in a very clear way and expressed the views of the Government with regard to the Bill with clarity and balance. I hope that she will listen to some of the arguments that have been deployed today.
I am sufficiently old to recall the Second World War. When I was a boy, the street in which I lived in Glasgow was bombed and 12 people were killed. The next day, I was sent to the country to stay with the then chairman of Mowlem who had taken a house which was thought to be free from the likelihood of bombing. None the less, that experience has driven home to me the sense that the European Union has achieved a great deal for peace. It is now 70 years since the Second World War. I remember the French vetoing the European Defence Community and thinking that that was a tragedy.
The Government have put forward this Bill at a very awkward time. It seems to me that the public’s decision may be related more to the outcome of the renegotiations than to a sense of whether belonging to the European Union is in Britain’s interests.
The Prime Minister, for reasons that I fully understand, has not disclosed what his objectives are. That is understandable in light of the likelihood of the Europhobes saying that it was not enough. If he were to say what his objectives were, he might have to come to Parliament and to the people and say, “Well, I didn’t achieve all that I wanted to, but I have done my best”. We should have entered this national debate with a recognition that change—and change is needed—would take a long time, and that the best way to achieve it is not with one country taking on 27 others and saying, “Stand up to the mark”.
The noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, was the initiator of the last convention on the future of Europe, which seems to have achieved a great deal, and was implemented in particular by the treaty of Lisbon. That is the way in which we should achieve change: not with one against 27 but by bringing together a consensus among people in the European Union, recognising where we need to go. However, the manifesto of the Conservative Party promised this to the people. I fear that if the English reject membership of the Union, Scotland will stand up and say, “We need another referendum”. That would be a disaster.
At this point, the Government have to give some indication of what the consequences of leaving the European Union would be. That has been called for by a number of people speaking in this debate and it would be something that the Government could take into account, following the 1975 example.
Membership of the European Union brings us into harmony with most of the 500 million people living in the Union, and gives us a voice and influence in negotiating with other countries, particularly the growing countries such as China and India, and the United States. If we were not in the Union, our voice would be barely heard, despite our history of global involvement.
So far as the Bill is concerned, the franchise is too limited. We should provide that 16 and 17 year-olds have the power to vote. We ought to follow the Government’s commitment in their own manifesto to give people who have lived beyond this country for more than 15 years an entitlement to vote. We should also entitle people who have come from the European Union and are European Union citizens to vote.
These are necessary changes in the Bill. They are not fundamental but they would make the outcome seem fairer and longer-lasting. We should not close the debate by saying that the referendum is final; instead, we—and particularly the Prime Minister—should initiate a convention on the future of Europe, because many of the changes that we want to see, including treaty change, cannot be achieved by 2017. That is a difficult year because of the French and German elections. Treaty change will be involved if we are going to see the European Union develop as we would wish.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, whom I greatly respect even though we often disagree on this topic. Before I begin I should make clear that, while I have a number of business interests set out in the register, in speaking today I will be setting out my personal views.
Given my contribution to previous debates in this House on this topic, you will not be surprised to learn that I strongly support the Bill and the proposed referendum. Indeed you may remember I introduced a Bill into the House in 2004 to bring about the promised referendum on the European Constitution, a referendum opportunity that was sadly missed. Like others, and given the huge changes in the European Union since 1975, I believe even more strongly now that a referendum is long overdue. I also strongly support the Prime Minister’s attempt to negotiate a more viable relationship with the European Union before the country is asked to decide on continued membership.
The fundamental reason for those views is the continued drive, reinforced by the Lisbon treaty, to move ever closer to a political and economic union among the majority eurozone and would-be eurozone members. It is essential that they do so to provide the cross-country financial support, common fiscal discipline and common social policies that they need for the euro to survive. We should not stand in their way but that means that the current position of the UK—bound by the same treaties and institutions—may become increasingly unsustainable. We are not and never will be part of the eurozone, so the reality is that we cannot be at the heart of a European Union that becomes increasingly focused on the governance and political decision-making of an integrated eurozone core. With most decisions on a wide range of EU competencies now taken by majority voting in the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, the UK risks being bound by laws imposed by a political group of which we are not a part and which in many areas has different interests, different legal, social and political traditions and often different attitudes towards free markets.
This should not be a question of win or lose or whether we can win a few concessions at the expense of other members, or indeed whether we can impose our vision of reform on the rest of the European Union. Rather it should be about whether we can get agreement across Europe to a new settlement that suits everyone: a new kind of treaty relationship between the UK and the eurozone members that makes it sustainable for us to become and remain a member of a wider but looser European Union club, alongside but apart from the eurozone core—a member of the European club but not part of or a brake on their ever-closer political union. That decision, when it comes, is of sufficient political and constitutional importance to justify putting it to the people in a referendum.
Those who oppose or perhaps regret this democratic process make two arguments. The first is that it is too complicated an issue to put to the UK electorate and risk coming up with the wrong answer; the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, called it a “reckless gamble”. I have no sympathy with that view. Indeed, I share the view that the attitude of European leaders holding that perspective over the last half century has caused the widening gulf between the leaders and the wider populations across Europe. The evolution of the European Union and particularly the creation of the eurozone has moved the project from a purely economic to a strongly political and constitutional union. You cannot force nations into shared sovereignty and pooled democratic oversight unless the people feel that they have become or are becoming one nation. Politicians who do not carry their electorate with them in those decisions rapidly forfeit their trust and ultimately risk exacerbating rather than removing national tensions.
The second argument I have heard is that the objective of staying in the European Union is a foregone conclusion, and that even raising the possibility of exit weakens our ability to play a strong role within the European Union and creates damaging uncertainty. For the reasons I have set out, I do not agree that remaining in the European Union without a significant change in the current treaty arrangements is ultimately sustainable from a political and constitutional perspective. Nor do I believe that there is a compelling economic argument to override those considerations. Of course, under any outcome it would be simplest to stay in the single market if we could do so while protecting the global competitiveness of the City of London and other key sectors from unwelcome regulation. However, whatever the nature of our relationship that emerges, it is clearly in the interests of both European and UK businesses to maintain a workable trade arrangement. Therefore the long-run impact of a change in our position will depend on whether any attempts to create trade barriers are offset by the potential benefits from being free to develop a less regulated and potentially more globally competitive UK economy. There are voices on both sides of that argument, but in the end our global competitiveness in the fast-growing markets outside the European Union must be a primary concern.
Equally, whether we are in or out of the European Union, we can and should maintain close co-operation with our European neighbours on non-economic matters of common interest, including of course defence and security. On the other hand, unless we seek to negotiate a new relationship and do so with the full understanding on both sides that a significant change is needed, we are unlikely to get an outcome that secures a sustainable position for the UK within the European Union in the longer term.
As for uncertainty, I am afraid that that is the price of living in a democracy. While uncertainty may mean that some business investment is held back in the short term, there are many reasons why the UK is likely to remain an attractive global location whatever the outcome, and ignoring the democratic process may be even more costly, as I have argued. I hope that a sensible debate will emerge so that, in the light of what the Prime Minister’s negotiations achieve, we can have a level-headed assessment of what future will best deliver a global vision for a competitive UK economy and a sustainable relationship with our European neighbours—a relationship that addresses the reality of the increasing economic and political integration of the eurozone within the EU club.
It is important that the House is seen as upholding the democratic process by endorsing the commitment of the Government to put the best achievable outcome of the EU negotiations to the electorate and abide by the result. We should give the Bill our full support.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, was right to mention the importance of our global competitiveness, and that is exactly why I believe it is right for us to stay in the European Union. Indeed, I am proud to be on the pro-European Benches making the patriotic case for Britain’s membership of the European Union, putting our country rather than our party first.
I was 19 in 1975 when I voted in the referendum. It was fitting that on the 31st anniversary of D-day we should have voted to remain part of the extraordinary community. I was young then, and so was the EEC, and we had been members for only two years. That referendum was important, but in the last 40 years the European Union has evolved and the world has changed and the referendum now is much more significant. I believe that this will be the most significant vote in my lifetime. It has huge implications for the future of Britain: for our ability to maximise opportunities and influence in the world, for economic growth, for the development and exploitation of the single market, for jobs and for our capacity to deal with the 21st-century challenges of climate change, international crime, terrorism and the movement of people from south to north, fleeing wars and fragile states.
The referendum is important for my generation but much more so for the young people of our country, for my children and my grandchildren. This is about their future and I strongly support the extension of the franchise to all UK citizens aged 16 and 17. My noble friend Lady Morgan in her excellent speech put forward, as did other noble Lords, cogent arguments as to why such an amendment on 16 and 17 year-olds should be accepted. The Government’s arguments simply do not hold water. I understand that the Foreign Secretary has said that this is a decision “for another day” but that is crazy—this referendum will affect the rest of young people’s lives much more than any vote in any general election, as the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, said. It is a fantastic way to engage young people in our democratic system, to inform and energise them—as happened in the Scottish referendum—and to give them some power over their future. I am in favour of giving votes to 16 and 17 year-olds in any election, but I feel especially passionate about giving them a vote in this referendum.
I also support the arguments made to extend the franchise to others. The Government have clearly taken the decision to bring forward legislation to enable UK citizens living in other parts of the European Union to vote in future general elections, so what possible reason could they have for not allowing them to vote in the referendum which will have an enormous impact on their lives? I guess one silver lining might be—says she with tongue in cheek—that if the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, were resident in France for 15 years he might not be able to vote in the referendum. But that is for another day, I suppose.
Then there is the situation of EU citizens living in this country who are allowed to vote in local elections but again will not be able to vote in a referendum whose result could bring about profound changes in their lives. The Government say that they want to have the same franchise as in general elections. If that is the case, why do noble Lords have a vote—although is right and proper that we do? The Minister has said that we should follow the rules of previous referendums, but we are not, because the citizens of Cyprus and Malta will be granted a vote. Why them and not Spanish citizens? Of course I understand that the latter are not members of the Commonwealth, but two classes of EU citizen cannot be right, and the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, is interesting.
We know that some citizens are, and always will remain, in favour of continuing membership of the European Union, and that others are vehemently against membership, but there are millions who remain undecided and for them to decide how to vote they must be properly informed. That is why I strongly support the arguments in favour of the various reports that have been mentioned. Without the information that such reports provide, people will not be able to take an informed decision and the Government will be abnegating their duty to inform. Indeed, like everyone else in this country, we need to know what being out of the European Union would mean.
Like all member-state Governments, we are also in the dark about the issues on which the Prime Minister is seeking to renegotiate—baffled, as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, said. Many have mentioned the Sunday Telegraph, from which we learned that Mr Cameron is seeking four key concessions from the EU, all of which seem rather sensible to me and none of which require treaty change. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, said, whatever success the Prime Minister will have—and I wish him well—it will not be enough for those whose mission in life is for us to leave. Anna Soubry said a couple of weeks ago at the Conservative party conference that it is their life, and that,
“they live it, they eat it, they drink it”.
I fear if the country votes to remain in the EU—which I hope—they will still not give up.
I hope that the Minister can enlighten us about the content of the renegotiations, but if that is not possible I would be grateful for her assurance that the Prime Minister is not seeking to dismantle social Europe in any way. We want and need a Europe that is working for working people, who want hope and a vision for the future. There have been many changes and reforms over the years. You just have to look at the proportion of the budget allocated to the CAP, which is still too much, and at good initiatives such as the Youth Guarantee Fund. There will and must be many more changes and reforms. We want change, but we want to bring it about through discussion around the table with our partners rather than by putting a gun to their head.
The Minister said that this Bill is about mechanics, which it is, and mechanics matter. Can the noble Baroness confirm that the lobbying Act does not prevent companies or third sector organisations making their views known about the European Union—the implications of either staying in or withdrawal—and providing information to their workforce, customers and membership? I have heard from several large companies that they are not willing to say what they feel about the referendum because of the lobbying Act.
With yesterday’s launch of the united Britain Stronger in Europe campaign and last week’s launch of the several out campaigns, it feels as if the referendum campaign has already begun. But there are many months to go and the passing of this Bill will be just the first step. The EU has faced huge problems in the last few years with the euro crisis and the possibility of Grexit, and now we have the refugee crisis, a humanitarian crisis which I believe is the greatest challenge to our values and the greatest challenge that the EU has ever faced. This summer’s confused response to a complex problem was not enough. It is further evidence that changes are needed in the European Union, yet I am utterly convinced that we are better together, finding common solutions to shared problems. I understand that some people are afraid of the future and find nationalism and nostalgia attractive, but in an increasingly interdependent world to retreat into the isolation of a small island simply does not make sense. We must put the future of our country first, working with our partners in the European Union to find answers to the challenges of the 21st century. I want to continue to belong to a Great Britain in the European Union rather than a little England.
My Lords, it is always a privilege to follow the noble Baroness and indeed to listen to my noble friend Lord Blackwell, who is sitting next to me. I have been committed to Europe all my life, partly perhaps because my maternal grandparents were German, naturalised British, and maybe reflecting my experience of being evacuated during the Blitz down to the depths of Herefordshire, but more likely because of what I read about Winston Churchill’s great desire after the war to set up the Council of Europe to ensure that Europe had jaw-jaw rather than war-war. Whatever the reason I have been consistent in my views. I worked overseas for a number of years and when I came back in 1963 I joined the Young European Managers Association. That loyalty was of course tested soon after I was elected in the marginal seat of Northampton South in 1974 with the grand majority of 141. In 1975, as all noble Lords will know, we had the last referendum. I worked particularly hard in Northamptonshire because it was not a foregone conclusion then what the result would be, and it is not now. However, it was a success, and indeed I put a little polish on the “Keep Britain in Europe” poster that I still have in the downstairs loo.
It was my decision as an MP to join the Council of Europe in 1983, rather than being dragooned into it, and I served for eight years. I am proud of a typical success that happened when I was there; it concerned the tragedy of the “Herald of Free Enterprise”. It was my committee on the health side that took up the sword to find a common protocol across Europe for autopsies, and it is an indication of how successful individual members can be when we work with others in that environment.
Lastly, as Chairman of Ways and Means in another place, it was my privilege to take the Maastricht Bill through the House, involving 25 days, four all-night sittings, four clauses and more than 500 amendments. Somehow or other, although people knew my background and involvement in Europe, I was not criticised at any point for my handling of that Bill.
However, that fundamental belief cost me dearly in 1997. The late Jimmy Goldsmith, with his “get out of Europe” policy for the Referendum Party, decided to have a candidate in my constituency. He succeeded in getting 1,405 votes, just 2.5% of the poll but enough to unseat me by 744 votes—much, I have to say, to the surprise of the Labour candidate. The Referendum Party candidate, in his speech at the count, said words to the effect of, “I came here to kick out the pro-European Tory. I’ve done the job and now I’ll go back to London”. Thus ended my career in another place.
Against that background and as an aside, I find it quite extraordinary that my dear party has chosen another Goldsmith as a prospective Mayor of London, knowing his views on Europe and indeed his views on a third runway at Heathrow, which is so vital to the success of London.
I welcome the Bill and I welcome the Prime Minister’s determination to make the EU work better for all the people of Europe. That needs to be emphasised. It has to work better because, as we have seen recently, there has been the situation in Greece, huge levels of unemployment in many member states and, frankly, a shameful lack of any coherent policy over refugees.
As we all read in the weekend papers, it would appear that there are four key demands: first, to get Brussels to make an explicit statement that will keep us out of the European superstate; secondly, an explicit statement that the euro is not the official currency of the EU but that we have a multicurrency union, thereby protecting the pound; thirdly, a red card system to bring back some powers from Brussels; and, fourthly, a so-called new structure reducing the dominance of the big nine.
Of course I am not doing the negotiating, but it seems to me that the first two points should be obtainable. However, I find the third and fourth a little too imprecise. Surely we should consider some specifics, and two come to my mind. The first is that in my view the City of London is absolutely fundamental to the success of this country—not only its position in world finance but all that it means for employment and the success of the United Kingdom. Frankly, it must, in the ultimate, be under the control of this country and not shackled by Brussels. The second is the policy of the free movement of labour. Of course I understand it and see it as a cherished view of many in Europe, but somehow or other it is not working and it really does need to be reviewed. Migration, which is so prevalent in the press today, is something that we have to get a grip of and find some means of controlling without totally undermining the freedom of movement of labour.
Personally, I would push for safeguards in just those aspects that are fundamental to the UK economy rather than try to change any of the headline missions of the existing treaty, unless of course we see the emergence of new missions, such as the European army, which is totally unacceptable to me. I assume that my noble friend Lord Hill, as a Commissioner, will be deeply involved. I have complete faith in his patience and dogged persistence, and I hope that my noble friend the Minister will send him certainly my best wishes and, I suspect, the best wishes of the whole of your Lordships’ House.
At heart, as the House probably knows, I am an ex-ad man who held a marginal seat for nearly 25 years. As such, I want to see a clear communication strategy with some exciting benefits sold to the British people. I want them to be communicated with. I do not want to read a lot of knocking copy; I want to hear the positives—the benefits of staying in on an adjusted basis, as we have talked about. I want to appeal to all age groups and to all sections of society across all the media. Frankly, from my point of view, the referendum should be held under the current Westminster franchise but with two parties added to it. One—your Lordships’ House—has already been agreed. I think that we should have a vote in general elections in any case, as I have said many times. The other is those of our citizens who work within Europe. Personally, I would not wait until the end of 2017. That is too long for any campaign. We should vote in 2016 early in the summer with the sun on our backs. I say good luck to my noble friend Lord Rose and his team, and I thank them for the work they are going to do.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Naseby. Indeed, I enjoyed his speech and agreed with much of what he said. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, may be surprised to hear that I agree with him about referendums. He is absolutely right that in a parliamentary democracy it is up to Parliament to weigh up the issues and make decisions, but the time comes when a referendum may be necessary. For example, for a very long time all the parties in Parliament have agreed that we should remain in the European Union. However, there is great concern about it in the country, and perhaps not a majority but a huge minority believe that we should leave the Union because it is not good for our country. Under those circumstances, it is right to hold this referendum, because the powers that be—the parties—need some guidance and that is what the people will give them, whichever way they go.
When I took part in the debates on the Referendum Bill in 1975 in the other place, I really did not dream that I would be involved in another one in this place 40 years later. Of course, in 1975 it was a Labour Government Bill; this is a Conservative one. In 1975, there was little experience of referendums. We hardly ever had them; indeed, I do not think that at that stage we had had a national one. We had some in Wales about pub opening times, but not in England. Today, through experience, we have a better understanding of how referendums should be organised. So this Bill is a much better one and it is even better as a result of debate and amendments made in the House of Commons. However, it is a bit late. There should have been a referendum on the Lisbon treaty but that was denied to this country by the then Prime Minister. That was the time when the referendum should have been held, so this one is a little bit late.
The Bill before us is, I believe, satisfactory in most respects and it does far more than the 1975 Act to ensure fairness. It ensures that one side of the argument is not outspent by the other, as was the case in 1975, when the no side was outspent by the yes side by about 20:1. In spite of that, one-third of people voting still voted to come out. I also hope that the Bill will preclude foreign organisations such as the CIA from intervening in the referendum campaign, and likewise the European Commission and other EU institutions.
I shall not go into the arguments for and against remaining in the EU—we have heard a lot of them this afternoon—except to say that this referendum is about a different organisation from that which was voted upon in 1975. Then, it was perceived as a vote to stay in a common market. Today, people will be voting to remain in a Union that already has significant powers over the governance of the United Kingdom and seeks further powers through the ever-present mantra of an “ever closer union”. Those of us who tried to point out that joining the EEC, or Common Market, would lead to a loss of UK sovereignty were derided and insulted by our opponents as ignorant little Englanders. Yet we were right. Treaty by treaty, powers have been transferred to Brussels and we have all been made citizens of the European Union.
I was hoping that we could conduct this referendum without name-calling and insults, but, unfortunately, the leader of the campaign to stay in has set the tone of the campaign by accusing Eurosceptics of being unpatriotic. I wonder whether he knows the meaning of patriotism when he comes out with a stroke like that. He should be warned that there are some Eurosceptics who are experts at insults, but we do not want to use them. I hope that that will be understood.
The referendum is, above all, about who governs Britain. I hope that, when people vote, they understand that.
For myself, I was opposed to joining the EEC. In fact, I made the first speech about it when I was a prospective candidate in the Newbury constituency, of all places, at a place called Woolhampton, in 1962; I have not changed my view since then. I have opposed every treaty extending its powers, and remain convinced that the United Kingdom would thrive outside the EU and regain the full power to govern ourselves through our own Parliament and institutions, which have been established over the centuries.
I want to ask the Minister one question, which I hope she will be able to answer. If the Prime Minister is unable to obtain the changes that he needs, that are relevant and that will ensure we retain our sovereignty, would he be prepared to recommend that we leave the EU? I hope the Minister will be able to answer that, but I appreciate it is not an easy question, especially bearing in mind that the Prime Minister will not tell us exactly what he is going to negotiate about.
Having said that, I support the Bill and look forward to taking part in its further stages.
My Lords, a good number of noble Lords have already spoken and some are still to speak. I think that this is the longest debate I have seen in my first year in this House, which is very interesting.
I am a businessman by profession. Unlike many noble Lords, I have not been an elected politician in the other place. For that reason, I focus on the bottom line. There has been, and will be, much discussion of principles during this debate, but I want to bring the business and economic reality to the fore.
I have heard many of my Eurosceptic friends expound on the glorious sunny uplands that will lie beyond us until we vote to leave the European Union. We can be like Norway and Switzerland, they say. The hardest part of this to understand is when they turn to me and expect me to support their case. I have been told that a Britain in this situation could refuse free movement. If so, why have Switzerland and Norway both declined to do so? Why do both have a higher percentage of foreign EU nationals than Britain?
However, immigration is of secondary concern to me. When it comes to the economic realities, a UK outside the EU would not be participating in the drawing up of EU regulations, which would affect my business and others. A UK outside the EU would not be making the voice of its business community heard in the regulations that we have to live by. As for negotiating our own trade deals, we would be negotiating as a small country. Do my honourable colleagues think that a UK-China trade deal, between 64 million and 1,357 million people, would be a good deal, or do they, as I do, suspect that we would be steam-rollered? We need to buy into Europe and the TTIP. The best deal for our country is undoubtedly within the European Union. However, let me be honest: there are things that I would like to see changed.
I was relieved when, some two weeks back, the European Court of Justice upheld the right of government to stop prisoners voting in elections. What worries me is that the UK could have been liable for challenges and fines in those courts, had the ban been struck down. I have no doubt that the Prime Minister will renegotiate a package in which the supremacy of British law, made in this and the other place, will be recognised. We also need further safeguards for the firms of the City of London and the wider financial sector in this country. EU regulations on these matters disproportionately affect Britain, as a country that is reliant on financial services for over 20% of our exports. We need to be more forthright in protecting our interests here. Our noble friend Lord Hill has been an excellent voice for British interests on the Commission, and I applaud his ongoing efforts in this area.
On a broader point, we must secure safeguards for countries like ours that will not sign up for deeper integration, federalism or the euro. We have natural allies who are not in the euro and do not desire more integration. The Prime Minister must continue his efforts to achieve substantial change with their help. A two-speed Europe is preferable, but not at the cost of being excluded from the crucial decision-making that the EU does. I have full faith in the Prime Minister’s renegotiation, and that Britain will make the right choice to stay in when the referendum outlined in this Bill is held. I support the Bill.
My Lords, the leitmotiv of this debate seems to be “Come back, Harold Wilson, all is forgiven”. He may have kidded the rest of us sometimes, but I do not think he ever kidded himself. I only wish that were true of his successor in 10 Downing Street today.
My qualification, such as it is, for speaking is a little along the lines of that of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, in that I wrote the TUC pamphlet in 1975, saying, “Vote no”. Albeit brilliantly argued, two-thirds of our members voted yes. That is the sort of thing one tends to remember. Jack Jones subsequently said to me, “I thought I asked you to write a popular pamphlet saying, ‘Vote no’.” I said, “I did, Jack, I did.” He replied, “Well, it wasn’t very popular, was it?”
The trade union movement has now, I think it fair to say, come to terms with the reality of multinational but accountable capitalism. I say “but accountable”. There is a question mark there. I hope no one in this Chamber thinks there should be any withdrawing of the degree of accountability of multinational capitalism, be it Volkswagen, which we have been very conscious of in the past few days, or, indeed, the hedge funds. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, said that we do not want people financed according to the ratio that applied in 1975, but it seems that hedge funds are now the epitome of our national interest. Are they not multinational, or does he not want any of the money coming from the hedge funds? That is a rhetorical question, but he will forgive me for that.
We want a debate with proper rules of engagement.
I am very sorry to interrupt, but I do not quite understand the reference to hedge funds. I do not think I made any reference to hedge funds.
The noble Lord did not make a reference to hedge funds, but the point I am making is that, according to the papers, there is a very prominent role for hedge funds in financing the “get out” campaign. I assume that he is not unhappy to take their money.
I did not take anybody’s money.
One of the most complicated points we have been discussing is describing what “out” looks like. It is a genuinely difficult problem. There are two issues which are very hard to separate out. First, as the FT says today, Paris, Berlin and Brussels are increasingly exasperated about what Britain wants. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, said he was baffled by the negotiating strategy. The problem is that it is very hard to pin down what the “out” position would be and what, therefore, is the correct comparison with the “in” position.
People such as the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, are not really interested in renegotiation. He makes no bones about it: he wants out. But there are others who say it depends on the outcome of the renegotiation. I think it is fair for us to give more thought to what it is that the British people will be looking at. They will be able to look at what “in” means a lot more easily and unambiguously than what “out” means, so I want to spend my other four minutes on what “out” might mean.
I agree very much with my noble friend Lady Morgan of Ely, who said that the Office for Budget Responsibility or an organisation of that ilk could look at some of the economic consequences. Of course, the rest of the picture is very hard to give to the OBR or Whitehall. It is far too speculative, and it probably will be a picture of a future period, let us say in three years’ time, involving a vote to say “out” and further negotiation with the countries of the 28 as to what “out” actually means.
As Donald Rumsfeld said, there are known knowns and known unknowns, and there are both types in this quandary as to how we present what “out” looks like in an objective and unambiguous way. The answer is that we do not know, because the negotiation beginning now would have to be followed by another negotiation about what “out” actually meant in terms of customs, tariffs, industrial standards and so on.
The throwaway line of the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, about the EU raising trade barriers against us as some sort of eccentric thing to do—that is only the converse of our getting out. If we think that the trading arrangements within the EU have no substance, being out of the EU will not present us with any difficulties, because according to his hypothesis, if we were out, there would be no change at all. Thus, we all disappear, chasing our own tails. If that is the position, clearly it is misleading. Getting out would have some consequences. We have only Greenland to go on at the moment, and that is a slightly odd comparison, given that it has just a few thousand people and millions of fish, and Denmark controls its foreign policy. Before the referendum, we must give more thought to how the “out” question can be better identified.
I conclude with one quick point about the franchise. The dog that has not barked today, and it is an important one, is the dire state of the electoral register. In many places—but equally, in the inner circles—it is a scandal. Will the Government agree to examine the steps that could be taken with the electoral authorities to address this deepening problem? It is not a million miles away from the other work that they will be doing if the amendment on age limitation and so on is accepted.
My Lords, the evening is getting on, and it is clear that we are going to have a referendum and that we know the wording of the question, so I do not want to talk about that. Rather, I would like to talk, like a number of other speakers this evening, about the choice facing British voters. What, in the real world, are we choosing between when we answer the question? This is not a hypothetical matter. It is not a university exam question.
On the one hand, a positive response to the question “Should this country remain in the EU?” is that one is voting either for the status quo or the status quo as amended by the current negotiations. What actually, however, is the alternative? Presumably, negotiation on a whole range of issues will have to begin. It is clearly not possible, after all, to go back to the world of the late 1960s. What is going to happen? How long is it going to take? What is going to be the opposite of the status quo, as it might be amended? We simply do not know.
An appealing argument, which I think will be attractive to many people, goes along the lines of, “I would like to leave, but on certain conditions. If not, no thank you”. How does the referendum help someone who thinks like that? How do you vote if that is your view?
Another idea, which has been canvassed quite widely, is that we should enter into some kind of associate membership. Were that to be a possibility, what is its compatibility with the questions in the referendum? Which way do you vote? It certainly is not clear to me.
In my experience of these matters, which is based on 10 years as a Member of the European Parliament, different people have very different perceptions of the various aspects of what being in the European Union is all about. Some think that the UK constitution is a sacrament; others think that the European project is sacramental; and most people do not think either of those things. Some people think that the EU is too expensive; others think it is good value. Some think that it is insufficiently Thatcherite and others think that it is not adequately Corbynista. Some think that it is undemocratic and interferes too much; others think that it is nothing like as bad as the UK system, with its extensive use of secondary legislation. Some people think that the CAP is an appalling French conspiracy, while others maintain that is the last bastion of British rural values under threat from that tyrannical tsunami of 21st-century urbanism. And then there is the whole question of the union that is the United Kingdom.
The debate and the issues are multifaceted and are perceived very subjectively. I am concerned about how people are going to begin to set out in their own minds the reality of arrangements governing matters, some of which do not run at all with the grain of traditional political thinking in this country. For many people who have not made up their minds—I understand that that is about a third of voters—the problem will be knowing where to start.
Having worked for 10 years in the European institutions, I still have contacts in Brussels—if I might touch on the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, I looked into the question because I have a European parliamentary pension and it is paid regardless of any political statement I may make about the European Union of any kind, so I am told. From those contacts, my intelligence is that there is a considerable body of good will towards resolving what one might describe as the “UK question”, partly because many recognise, at least to some extent, the general applicability and desirability of the points we are making, and partly from a genuine wish not to lose us. However, it is a bit like marriage. Any fool can get married and any fool can get divorced; it is the subsequent disputes over money and the children which so often degenerate into drawn-out vindictiveness and extreme acrimony—that is where the trouble starts. This indicates to me the difficulty of negotiating a post-referendum withdrawal.
The Bill promises to transfer in a particular case the type of decision-making traditionally exercised by government with Parliament and to hand it over to the electorate. It is a many-sided, complicated and esoteric bundle of issues which need careful consideration. This is something which Governments traditionally have always had to deal with, but they have always been able to rely on the Civil Service to provide them with impartial advice. Even if it is not followed—and it is not always by any means—it is inevitably of considerable help in resolving the tricky questions. In this case, the electorate are being asked to take a decision without any equivalent support. It is absolutely clear that the referendum campaign will be open season for every political mountebank and snake oil salesman around and, no doubt, they will be arguing on all sides of the debate. I believe that government has a general responsibility and particular duty of care to the individual elector to enable them to have access to at least some baseline information about the matter in hand, of the kind that the Civil Service gives to government day in, day out. People may or may not use it, but providing it will assist and improve the political credibility of the referendum’s outcome, since it will be less easy for the losers to argue that the voters were misled or got it wrong through ignorance.
As we know, one of the ostensible purposes of the referendum is to settle the question of EU membership. I am very far from sure that it will—the last one did not—and anticipate that the matter will remain open until one or other option is generally concluded no longer a realistic possibility. That was the case in the 18th century over the whole question of Jacobitism, which seems to me to be the closest parallel. Ensuring that our electorate as a whole have access to some basic baseline information, as was the case in 1975, is an essential aspect of all this, so I urge the Government to give the public similar relevant information.
The political landscape over which the referendum will be fought is in many aspects unfamiliar. When in an unfamiliar landscape, a decent map helps. I was in Palermo 10 days ago and I had never been there before. If I had not had a decent map, I dare say that I would still be wandering around the byways, or even worse. If such information were provided, it would be analogous to what the Civil Service does for the Government day in, day out. If it is good enough for the Government, it is good enough for the people.
My Lords, as other noble Lords have said, we are debating the Second Reading of this Bill after the in campaign and both out campaigns have already been launched. Against the backdrop of campaigning on the referendum having de facto already begun, we owe it to the electorate to work constructively and quickly to ensure that this is the very best Bill possible by improving it where necessary, as so many other noble Lords have said today. The Bill could and should be improved both by extending the franchise and in terms of the information provided so that people can make as educated a choice as possible. In that regard, I am certain that we shall have more detailed discussions on information and reports available to the electorate during the later stages of the Bill. However, I shall today concentrate the majority of my remarks on the other key area where I believe that the Bill needs to be further improved; that is, extending the franchise beyond those currently covered by the Bill.
Last September, when my niece, Emma, was 17 and in her final year at school, she was able to take an active part in the referendum campaign in Scotland. When I spoke to her last Sunday afternoon to ask her about the Scottish referendum, she said that being able to vote was a very positive experience. She said, “We felt valued because we were being consulted on something that would have an impact on our whole future, and our views were being taken seriously. All the discussion and events ensured that we were well informed and that we were clued up on the facts and arguments. Having a vote at 16 and 17 really engaged a lot of people in politics who otherwise wouldn’t have been interested, because it targeted us at the right age and, as a result, I think we’re all more likely to vote in the future and to become more involved in politics”. If the outcome of the Scottish referendum had a major impact on the future of our young people in Scotland, and it was therefore decided to give 16 and 17 year-olds the right to vote on that future, surely that argument applies even more strongly to the referendum on our future membership of the European Union. Indeed, in the Scottish context, not to do so might become a further bone of contention in the already febrile political debate in Scotland.
There are those who argue that we should not give 16 and 17 year-olds the right to vote because “they are just children” or they are not mature enough to vote. But if at the age of 16 you are responsible enough to serve your country, get married and pay taxes, you are surely old enough to vote on an issue that will have such a big impact on the future of your country. We should recall that, 100 years ago, not dissimilar arguments were being used then about extending the franchise. Young people are not just the voice of tomorrow. As the 16 and 17 year-olds demonstrated through their passionate and articulate engagement in the Scottish referendum campaign, they are the voice of today. On the vital question of our membership of the European Union, one of the most significant and long-lasting decisions to be made in this country for years, that voice deserves to be heard and given effect with a vote. Given the strength of feeling expressed today on this issue, I hope that we will receive a positive response from the Minister, even though she is currently absent from the Chamber.
To conclude, I want to make one other broad political point. Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP will fight a separate in campaign, and for many nationalists the dream result would be for Scotland to vote to remain in and for England to vote to leave, thereby triggering a second referendum on Scottish independence. I would love to believe that the First Minister would for once put the wider good of the United Kingdom first, but I fear that narrow nationalist politics will prevail. So I make a plea to the Government, as well as to the political leadership of the in campaign, that they should be exceptionally sensitive to the Scottish dimension in this referendum. It would be tragic if the vote on one union led to the break-up of the other. Deciding on the franchise for this referendum on the EU is hugely important and these decisions should not be taken lightly, but if this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity, as has been said by so many other noble Lords today, to decide on our relationship with the European Union, we should extend that franchise as widely as possible to include those whose lives and futures will be directly affected.
My Lords, I declare my support to remain in the European Union. I support the Bill, generally, and look forward to the debate in which we will have the opportunity for much discussion on detail. I have doubts about the referendum and therefore I wholly support the points made by my noble friend Lord Bowness.
I first got involved in 1972, 43 years ago. At that particular time I was involved with the various organisations existing in Europe such as COPA, the organisation representing the council of professional agriculturalists in the EEC. It was a very powerful group of Europe’s farm organisations. In 1979, I entered the European Parliament as a Conservative Member, and for 20 years I was, like others in the Chamber, heavily involved in the work of the Parliament, holding various offices, including two and a half years, I am proud to say, as President of the Parliament, voted for by the Members of that Parliament themselves.
It was a great experience. It was often frustrating, living through routine crises, but there were only half the number of countries at that time that there are in the EU now. It was a challenge. Imagine the challenge at that particular time dealing with many people across that chamber whom not many years before we had been fighting. It was a case of reconciliation with those people, which mattered to all of us at that time, as we felt we were trying to do something to unite Europe, which had been at war for so long.
The European Parliament has now increased its power and its responsibilities, as it shares decision-making with the Commission and the Council. I would like to see much closer links with Members of this House and the other place to discuss future developments with Members of the European Parliament. There was a fine example in Denmark in the Folketing—this used to happen, so I presume it is still the same now—where every Tuesday morning the Danish Members of the European Parliament would appear before the whole of their Parliament to be questioned or have a discussion on matters of concern at that particular time. We seem to totally ignore them here in this country and from our respective Parliaments. I would like to close those links.
I am aware of course of the work of our European committees and the excellent reports of our seven sub-committees. They deserve more recognition and publicity than they get at present. I am sure that they are considering many of the issues that we are now debating, producing helpful and positive information. I entirely welcome what the chairman of the European Union Committee said earlier, my noble friend Lord Boswell.
As of today, we should be discussing not what we are discussing now but our commitment to improving the single market, freeing up trade and removing the paper chase, red tape and regulations. Although we often think we are, we are not alone among the 28 nations. Many of them feel exactly as we do about similar things and I speak from experience in saying that. Setting out facts and effecting the movement of people, goods, services and capital and so forth are the things that we could build on given the time, opportunity and the will to do so.
It is an irony that there is so much pressure in some quarters to divide and split up the United Kingdom, ultimately making it the most federal country in Europe, while Europe is providing a single market particularly benefiting the United Kingdom. It would take years, as others said earlier today, to dismantle our present commitments and it would be extremely expensive to buy our way out of the club of nations. The effect, in my opinion, would be totally disastrous. Those who say that we can continue with that trade irrespective of the commitments that were made totally ignore the fact of the reaction and attitude of other countries towards trade once we pull out.
I wholly support what other noble Lords said earlier today. It is remarkable as one travels around the rest of the world, as I did when I was President of the European Parliament, to see the respect that other countries had for Europe. I was not at that time seen as a British citizen going to those countries; I was seen as the President of the European Parliament, and they marvelled at the opportunity therefore to bring together countries that had been enemies for so long.
My particular area, as noble Lords know well, and I cannot ignore it, is an interest in agriculture and the common agricultural policy. Whether we like it or not, that common agricultural policy will be debated, because so many spurious figures are bandied about of what this costs the nation and individuals. I have even heard Members of the other House saying that 50% of the money from the common agricultural policy goes to France. That of course is not true. When we start discussing this in Committee, I hope that the facts will be there. I hope that the Government can produce those facts and help us to see what are the clear facts of what it is—not what some people or what the press might say it is, but what it actually is—so that we can base our arguments on the truth and not on the fiction that is so often bandied about.
Of course, the common agricultural policy is difficult to govern in the sense of making one policy for 28 countries. We cannot determine quantity when we are dealing with living and growing things in the climate that we have. Why do we have the policy and why only for agriculture? The very nature of food production makes policy adjustments difficult, causing complications and distorted trading. It is to create a fairer market in an endeavour to avoid inflated food prices. I hope that we can get rid of the costs that are bandied about in the views that will be expressed during the time that we have to prepare for the referendum.
I give one figure from the common agricultural policy budget to make a comparison for those suggesting that France receives all that money. I will give the difference between France and Britain. France actually receives 16.6% of the total 43% that is allowed for agriculture, because it has 16% of the farmed area of the European Union. The United Kingdom receives 7.1% since we have 9.4% of the farmed area. The rest of the 43% of the overall budget goes to the various other countries at different levels for agriculture. Other sectors such as energy and transport receive subsidies that are funded fully or partially by government and therefore receive a smaller percentage of the overall budget. The agricultural budget actually makes up— remember this please—less than 1% of public expenditure in all member countries, where they spend three times more, for example, on defence. That is a fact, and it is a very different story from the one that we so regularly hear.
The importance of agriculture and horticulture production amounts to considerable business, given the 142,000 businesses involved—more than the number in the motor trade, education, finance and insurance. We have a self-sufficiency ratio estimated to be 60% of all food production, but it is interesting to look at the ratio of different countries. Imports exceed exports, so we have to do more to compete with France, whose food ratio is 120%; in Germany, it is 93%, and here it is 60%. We have a lot to make up to be really competitive.
I was glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, mentioned, in what I thought was a good speech, the fact that the future is there to be changed not for us but for young people who are coming into business. I know that there are more young entrepreneurs coming into agriculture who are prepared to face that challenge, hopefully with the opportunity to combine practice with science and to put agriculture at the forefront of our economy in the European Union. They need to know, and they ask me regularly, what future there is. What can I say when there is this uncertainty as to what is to change and as to what will replace what we have now? To improve and simplify our existing policies must be our aim, not to cause chaos by withdrawal and upheaval. We shall enjoy getting more involved in that in Committee.
My Lords, I intend to address this question, as I have been very pleased to see many colleagues on both sides of the House have done today, on the basis that, although I do not like referenda very much in principle—I very much agree with the oft-quoted remarks of both Clement Attlee and Margaret Thatcher on the subject—we now face a situation in which we have a Government who have won an election and who have an electoral mandate for this referendum, and we should settle down and do our duty.
As I see it, our duty is threefold. One is to make sure that the technical arrangements for the referendum are robust and fair. Secondly, we must have the appropriate franchise—a lot of very good comments have been made in today’s debate about that, particularly in relation to the franchise being given to EU citizens resident in this country and the reduction of the age of election to 16. I hope that those points will be taken further in Committee and on Report. Thirdly, and most importantly—vitally, of course—we must have an honest, open and comprehensive debate, so that the British public can make a choice which is considered and focuses on the essential facts.
For that purpose, and in the course of the debate which started here this morning and through the afternoon in this House, it is very important indeed that any kind of error, spurious or manifest, or any kind of spurious argument—any kind of what the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, memorably called “tosh” this morning—should be exposed and challenged. Indeed, I intend to expose and challenge a certain amount of the noble Lord’s own tosh in the course of my brief remarks.
One of the essential facts that no one has ever been able to get away with ignoring, thank God, is that between 3 million and 4 million people in this country work for firms whose majority of customers are somewhere in the European single market. That is so important. The Eurosceptics have always accepted that they cannot possibly come forward credibly with policies that would involve us leaving the single market. Therefore, they have always said, “Don’t worry—we’ll leave the European Union, but we won’t leave the single market”. That needs to be probed very thoroughly indeed, because it goes to the heart of the national economic interest in the matter. A year or two ago, the Eurosceptics were saying, “That’s all right—we’ll join EFTA, or we’ll do a bespoke deal, rather like Switzerland”, which actually is not an offer. That was the sort of thing one heard from the Eurosceptics.
Then it came very much to their attention, and they could not avoid the fact, that to join EFTA or to do a Swiss-type deal would involve us being put in a position of impotence—indeed, a humiliating position—in which we had to accept all the rules of the single market as they were decided by other people, without any right or opportunity to take part in their formulation, and have to continue to pay a financial contribution to the European Union. Even the IoD, the Institute of Directors, which was a hotbed of Euroscepticism at one time, realised that that was a quite unacceptable solution for this country.
So the Eurosceptics have now started saying, as the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, said this morning, “Oh no, we won’t go down that road; we’ll do a better deal, a better deal than anybody”. If anybody says that, one’s suspicions are naturally aroused. Why would we be able to do a better deal? “Well”, we are told, “because we actually buy more from the rest of the European Union than it buys from us”. In other words, they are more dependent on us than we are on them, so we have them around the neck and they have to accept our terms. Nothing could be further from the truth; nothing could be more damaging to us going into any kind of negotiation with the rest of the European Union because it is based on complete falsehood, on a logical fallacy. Trade dependence is a function of relative dependence on exports to the countries concerned—relative exposure to those particular exports in relation to the total GDP.
Let me give an example, so that everyone can appreciate the obvious logical point. Micronesia might be buying £1 million-worth of goods every year from China and selling China only £100,000 worth of goods in the course of a year but, of course, it would have absolutely zero leverage on China. It does not matter that there would be a 9:1 relationship between exports and imports between Micronesia and China. It does not matter that Micronesia would have an enormous balance of payments deficit with China. What is important is the relative position, and we know what the relative position is. The European Union’s exports to the United Kingdom are 2.5% of EU GDP, whereas our exports to the rest of the European Union are 15% of our GDP. So it is a relationship of 6:1. We have a 600% disadvantage in this matter—no basis at all for negotiating some special deal.
Even if we could negotiate some such special deal, which I think is most unlikely, it would not solve an essential problem which is the investment problem that is critical for the future. It is no use talking about the present; we have to talk about the future. The investment problem is that anybody who is putting new capacity somewhere into the single market to service the single market as a whole must be assured that they have a host Government that have some influence with Brussels in the legislative and regulatory process. Otherwise, of course, they would be completely unrepresented, which would be completely unacceptable. We have had that message clearly from, for example, Japanese car manufacturers based in this country and American pharmaceutical companies based in this country. They need to feel that, if they are coming here, the British Government will take up their cause when required in Brussels. It is even more important in financial services, where we have such an enormous amount of foreign investment. That problem can never be resolved if we walk away from the actual membership of the European Union and its constitutional legislative structures, which is what the Eurosceptics are proposing.
It may be because they are subconsciously so aware of the weaknesses of their case that, increasingly, the Eurosceptics try to move on from a discussion of the future of the single market to one outside the single market. We heard the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, this morning say, “Oh no, much more important is what is going on outside the single market”. I took note of one of his quotes, which I hope I still have. I must try to find it because it is really quite memorable. He said, “Because of our history, we have better worldwide links”. The idea is that the solution is: even if we do not do so well in the single market, we will do even better outside it.
That is based on three mistakes. It is based on a bad business policy; it is certainly based on an economic fallacy; and, it is based on an enormous piece of ignorance—quite extraordinary ignorance. The bad business judgment is the fact that the countries he was thinking of do not regard themselves as having a special relationship with us. I have met so many Indians who have told me that they have been so disappointed, frustrated and annoyed at British businessmen going out to India and thinking that they have an inside track because of British-Indian history. As a matter of fact, most Indians do not look at the Raj at all with the kind of rose-tinted, nostalgic spectacles that many Eurosceptics seem to wear.
China is a country where one has to be extremely careful because one is too easily associated with a country which imposed the unequal treaties and which burned down the Summer Palace in 1859. People are completely insensitive to this kind of problem. These countries are run by people who are highly intelligent, very sophisticated and who are going for value for money. They make hard-nosed economic decisions. So the idea that we have some special advantage in these areas is complete and utter rubbish. It is very deceptive and dangerous for British business. This pretentiousness is quite the wrong kind of advice to give to British business. They need to be much more realistic.
The economic fallacy is even more serious; it is very serious indeed. Far from there being a trade-off between being a part of the single market and having access to the worldwide markets beyond, there is a negative trade-off. It is not a question of having more of one and less of the other; if you have more of one, you have more of the other. The whole reason for the single market was because it would create a large internal market comparable to that which Japan and the United States enjoyed and which, at the time, we did not have in Europe. The idea that the single market would produce greater specialisation, larger firms and longer production runs has worked. It has produced economies of scale and enabled firms to carry higher overheads, particularly in the critical areas of marketing and research and development which are so important for the future. This has all come about based on having an effective single market. So the last thing we want to do is to say, “We do not need a single market; we can do better outside”. The opposite is actually the case. This is a very serious fallacy that clearly needs to be exposed thoroughly in the course of this particular campaign.
On the issue of ignorance, the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, is one of the most knowledgeable and brilliant human beings I know—it is only in this area of Europe where he allows his emotions to take over and defeat his very formidable intellect—but he showed an extraordinary piece of ignorance, or at least negligence because he never mentioned it at all when he talked about the outside world, about the situation in which we trade. Apart from the United States, the world outside the single market is primarily within free trade agreements or trade and investment agreements negotiated between the EU and the markets concerned. The most recent ones were negotiated with Canada and Japan, and we are now engaged in the TTIP with the United States. If we left the European Union, the next day we would cease to be able to benefit from these trade agreements. Such agreements sometimes take, quite typically, five or six years to negotiate. They are enormously valuable. If we left them, we would immediately be at a handicap. We would immediately find ourselves paying tariffs or suffering other disabilities which our competitors in the single market were not doing. To negotiate something of our own would take years, and under no circumstances would the terms be as good because we would be offering a market of 60 million people and the EU would be offering one of 400 million. We would be the “demandeur”, so anyone could say “Ha ha! This is our price”.
This is a hopeless way forward and, if we go down this route, we will be betraying the country’s national interest. In my view, it is very important that these matters are gone into in considerable detail. If not, the British people are likely to make a decision which they would live to regret.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for introducing this debate. It is a great honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Davies, who has, unfortunately for me, already attempted to demolish all the arguments I was about to put forward. My experience of having worked as a banker in Japan for 11 years leads me to believe that it is not as simple as he makes out. I am utterly convinced that I was seen primarily as a British person and only secondarily as a European. Although I was privileged to serve as a vice-chairman of the European Business Council in Tokyo, the other Europeans wanted me to do that job because I was British and because, as an Englishman, I would have more influence. The British Chamber of Commerce as a body was probably more influential than the European Business Council. So I have rather a different interpretation of how Europeanness and Britishness mix and complement each other.
Since 1975, the British people have had no opportunity to approve or reject the EU’s relentless march from being the Common Market—principally a free trade area that we joined in 1973—to something approaching a superstate: the European Union of today. In common with most noble Lords who have spoken, I welcome the Prime Minister’s decision to allow the British people a vote on whether they wish to stay in a reformed EU. But we do not yet know how significant the reforms will be. The reforms most British people want involve the restoration of powers to this Parliament and a reduction in the number and reach of EU tentacles, which permeate every area of our national life and every arm of national and local administration.
At the same time, to avoid a further—perhaps fatal—euro crisis, many in Brussels and some of our EU partners, are also seeking to reform the EU, but the reforms they seek involve moving in the opposite direction. They want more fiscal integration and tax harmonisation—basically, the establishment of a single finance ministry for the eurozone. It seems to me that we will therefore become increasingly uncomfortable in remaining a member of the EU on the same basis as the integrating eurozone economies. It is not clear how the interests of the UK and other countries outside the eurozone can be protected. I look forward to the publication of the Chancellor’s document detailing how this can work, as reported in the Sunday Times. This will surely require a new structure for the EU itself, which ideally should recognise the reality of the current situation: that the UK is already a semi-detached member of the EU, as a non-participant in the most important aspect of the European project, the common currency, and also a non-participant in the Schengen agreement.
The Bill before us commits the Government to a referendum on what is still an unknown package of reforms. Is it not customary to publish a White Paper well in advance of a referendum, providing the voters with a clear explanation of what exactly they are voting on? Is it the Government’s intention to publish such a White Paper? Does the Minister agree that it should contain a section explaining in an impartial way the consequences of remaining in the EU and one explaining the consequences of leaving?
While I am still open to the possibility that our European partners will change their minds and allow us to retain our membership but withdraw from the political and judicial structures, it is most unlikely that the commitment to the necessary treaty changes can be obtained in time. Does the Minister agree that, if the leave campaign should prevail, the Government should negotiate a new trading and collaborative relationship with the EU which would preserve the single market and our free trade with the bloc? I am not sure whether this should be defined as a reconstituted EEA or EFTA, or even as a new class of associate trading member of the EU—in which case, does leave really mean leave? It is manifestly in the interests of our European partners to retain our open trade relationship with them even if we can no longer be part of their political project.
It is claimed by those who would advocate remaining a full member of the EU at all costs that our interests would be adversely affected if we no longer had a voice in the institutions of the EU that make the rules. But our voice has not been strong enough to prevent our being outvoted every single time we have objected to a proposal being considered in the European Council. With only 9.7% of the votes in the European Parliament, it is not surprising either that the United Kingdom MEPs, even if they could sometimes agree on anything, are powerless to protect British interests. In these circumstances, fundamental reform of the EU must provide a basis for the UK and other non-eurozone member states to escape the strictures and costs of the political and judicial institutions which are being expanded and developed to bring about ever-closer union, while remaining free trading partners on a basis similar to the current customs union.
There are many other areas where we must and will continue to collaborate with our European partners, but I believe that, in the global world that exists, we will be more successful and retain more influence in the world as a sovereign state. I also believe that our own financial sector regulators—the PRA, part of the Bank of England, and the FCA—should be restored to the position of sovereign regulators, no longer subject to the EBA, ESMA and EIOPA. This is essential in order to prevent further damage to our financial services industry. For example, the alternative asset management industry is already suffering from the application of the harmful and pointless Alternative Investment Fund Managers Directive. It is difficult to see how changes as fundamental as are needed can be obtained without treaty change. If the negotiated changes on which the referendum will be fought involve merely a promise of future treaty change, how can the EU and our European partners be trusted to deliver the promised changes in future?
I welcome the Government’s agreement that the purdah rules will apply during the campaign, but ask the Minister to tell the House what measures the Government are taking to ensure that the European Commission and the European political parties are similarly restricted. I would also like to hear the Minister’s answer to the question asked by my noble friend Lord Lamont in his excellent speech as to why the Government still insist on obtaining a partial exemption from the Section 125 rules. Will she also inform the House when the Government intend to publish the draft regulations?
My noble friend Lord Norton raised the question of a threshold. There was a 40% threshold requirement in the 1979 Scottish devolution referendum, but the problem is that if you have a threshold and only 39% of people vote, it does not settle anything. What happens next? You have to have another referendum, I suppose.
I have to agree with my noble friend Lord Lawson that the EU is a political project rather more than a trade project. I do not think that membership of the EU, or a different kind of trade-based relationship with it, will make much difference to our trade with the EU. However, escaping from the bureaucratic burdens placed on us by full EU membership, will, in my view, help us develop better and closer trading relationships across the world in this global age.
My Lords, one of the two great tragedies in this country ever since the previous referendum in 1975 has been the “them and us” mentality of many politicians in this country, and other people outside Parliament. That feeling, unfortunately, continues. It is a very strong manifestation of the feeling that all the other member states are different from us and we are exceptionally different in a merited sense that leaves them standing. The other tragedy is that this country is bedevilled by the worst press in Europe. Apart from a few moderate newspapers, I think that at least seven newspapers supported the Conservative Party in the last election and are owned by foreign-based owners who do not pay UK personal taxes.
I live in France and my friends involved in politics in Paris phone me and ask, “Why do you allow these foreigners to own newspapers in your country, with their corrosive message about the European Union?” Recently, Rupert Murdoch very kindly said that he was changing his mind a bit on Europe and might give a lead in that regard. However, in the mean time, the Express and the Daily Mail continue their campaign of poison on Europe. Most of their stories, particularly those on the front page but also elsewhere, are completely untrue and are not based on any realisable facts about any negotiations in the European Union. If you take the UKIP vote, at least 4 million people must have believed some of that stuff, but some of the others who do are Conservatives and Conservative MPs.
In addition to the other two tragedies that I have described, another tragedy is that the whole thing is a phoney exercise, as we know. We are all pretending. I sympathise with the Minister having to go through the charade of the referendum project. I think the Bill will get passed because people feel that it is inevitable and that, even if you do not like referendums and do not like a lot of the detail in the Bill, you have to support it for the sake of preserving our membership of Europe.
The other reason for this situation arising is that, in the enlarged version of the Bullingdon Club that is the Conservative parliamentary party in the House of Commons, a sufficient number of anti-Europeans has built up. The Prime Minister understandably wished to stabilise his position as a new opposition leader—a young, dynamic, new politician coming in from the background, who was not very well known. He sought to chat people up at Carlton Club dinners and elsewhere about how bad some aspects of Europe were, at the same time saying, of course, that he did not want Europe to be a bedevilling feature of the life of the Conservative parliamentary party. The two things were an astonishing dichotomy and we are still working through this exercise.
I dislike referendums intensely. I suppose the only exception would be if there were an existential decision for one part of the country, such as Scotland—a vote on leaving the wider United Kingdom. There is presumably no other way of doing it, to satisfy all chemical and psychological opinions, than having a referendum. We should think of the damage done by referendums each time we have them, when they are based on false arguments, as Harold Wilson’s was. That was designed to keep the Labour Party together, just as David Cameron now has this phoney exercise to keep his parliamentary party in the other place together. Every time you have a referendum that people know is not genuine, you undermine the authority of Parliament.
I muse on history. We have heard some very good speeches displaying historical common sense from the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, and others on the need to think again about the future of Europe, what it means and our membership of it. It is not just economics and trade; it is wider than that and it is very important to the British people.
The difficulty, therefore, is always to make sure that we put the right arguments forward and make sure that the public have the benefit of hearing genuine arguments because we are contending with a press that will not bother to give the details about Europe. I am afraid to say that they are very lazy in the parliamentary Press Gallery. They do not want to know too much about it. They just want the British clash of parties and politicians to be the European story, rather than the real, underlying story of Europe. I was chairman of the Conservative group for Europe before the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral. He mentioned his chairmanship. In those days, the Conservative Party was very enthusiastic about Europe. I worked at a very humble level with our then Prime Minister, Edward Heath, and remember his very poor French when he made the famous acceptance speech in Brussels, when people put their hands over their ears. None the less, the whole feeling and enthusiasm then was encapsulated by distinguished people such as Sir Henry Plumb, as he then was, now the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, and we thank him for his speech today.
One has to think about the spirit of Europe, not just all the details. By the way, I hope that the Minister will take on board the plea made by so many noble Lords today that we should allow 16 year-olds and 17 year-olds to have a vote. I hope that the Government will reconsider that. There is much more that we will need to discuss in great detail in Committee in a fortnight’s time and then two weeks after that. I prefer to deal with just one or two points today that I think reinforce my suggestion that we get back to the spirit of Europe. Why are we afraid of Europe? Why are we childish about Europe? Why is it “them and us”? Why do not the Germans and the French fear a loss of sovereignty? I live in France as well, which is a very patriotic, nationalistic country, and sometimes very bloody-minded in pursuit of its own ends, as we know. Apart from members of the Front National and the Communist Party, which is much weaker now, everybody in France feels that being a member of the European Union is a natural and good thing.
Apparently, according to the historians, in 1880, people started to talk in the United States of the United States being one country—as “is”, rather than “are” denoting the individual states. Europe may never get to that position. It may remain composed of sovereign countries aiming to secure the greater good for everybody by dealing through integrated institutions, sometimes by majority voting but by unanimity as well. I say to Members who are not very keen on Europe that individual sovereignty—national sovereignty in the old sense—last existed in Britain probably in 1912, and even then, two years later, we were subject to a French commander-in-chief in the First World War, so this nonsense must be got out of our system.
I know that some people think this is too avant-garde a suggestion to make so late at night, by why are people in Britain afraid of the euro, as they are? They remember the humiliation of being driven out of the exchange rate mechanism in 1992 and they know that the euro is a very strong international currency, getting closer and closer to that of the United States as the main reserve currency in the world. Sterling, by the way, is 2% in terms of reserves. That is the choice we all face—that of being avant-garde and modern about Europe, and of supporting the young British backpackers who want to be European and study foreign languages. Why do not more parliamentarians speak foreign languages? Why do not more parliamentarians such as the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, live abroad so that they know what it is like to be with foreigners? Why do we not have more knowledge of all these things that add up to the great European Union, which we need and must cherish? We should support this referendum Bill because we have no other choice, unfortunately, and make sure that we win with a huge majority.
My Lords, I am wholeheartedly in favour of giving the British people a say about our relationship with the European Union. People can then decide what will be in the best interests of our country and the integrity of the resulting decision cannot be questioned. The last time this happened was 40 years ago. When you think of how much has changed, not just in our relationship with Europe but in every other facet of life, it is clear that it is time for the British people to be given their say again. The issue is of some emotion but we must not let ideology get in the way of reasoned argument. This referendum will be a pivotal turning point for our country. It will pave the way for many decades to come.
Most people agree that the European Union is in need of some reform. Put simply, too much power has been transferred to Brussels. Many laws should be given back to member states. The European Parliament has become too large and expensive. Most importantly, many people feel that it is unaccountable and that our national sovereignty is being undermined. I would like to see national parliaments playing a bigger role in developing European laws and regulations. We in the United Kingdom must ensure that the laws and regulations work in our interest as much as possible.
One of the main attractions of EU membership is the economic benefit, and we must make sure that we have a firm hand in negotiating all trade deals. The EU single market means that British businesses have access to 500 million customers: it is a goldmine of opportunity. The EU has signed free trade agreements with many countries. This is to be applauded. Were we to leave the EU, we would have to renegotiate our trade relationships with 50 countries on an individual basis. This would involve extensive costs and resources. In addition, membership of the single market makes the United Kingdom a more attractive destination for international investment.
The EU must, however, become more competitive and outward-looking. It is a highly impressive bloc of talent and innovation but it must strive for more. For the benefit of business and the economy more widely it is also important that the EU system works to help promote growth and job creation. Rules must be simplified and red tape must be reduced. Some regulations are better handled at national level and this must be done. The CBI has been consistently clear that for most British businesses the benefits of EU membership outweigh the disadvantages.
We must look very closely at the matter of immigration. We should have control over our borders and pick and choose who is best for our economy and who deserves to be helped. We have a responsibility to accept genuine refugees in need. Last year I visited a refugee camp in Jordan and spoke to a number of people there. These are the people that need and deserve our help. I agree with the Prime Minister’s decision to take refugees from these camps but the numbers should be higher.
I have just returned from visiting Ethiopia. While there I saw some of the remarkable work being undertaken by DfID. It is important that we continue to help other countries to have good governance and to develop economically. People will then prosper in their own communities and be less inclined to come to Europe. With regard to migrants from other EU countries, we must appreciate that their entry does create problems. The knowledge that our borders are open to free movement creates public apprehension and in some cases resentment. The question of immigration from other EU countries needs to be revisited.
We must acknowledge that the Europeans are now our close allies. Indeed, since the establishment of the Common Market there have been no conflicts within the European Union countries. The Common Market was created after the horrors of the Second World War and it generated and maintained people-to-people contacts. In an increasingly globalised and interdependent world we rely heavily on each other. In matters of security and terrorism most of all, we will need to be able to counter the threat of Daesh. Russia also continues to flex its muscles. A united EU response gives us a much greater voice. Similarly, we need a harmonised approach to properly tackle climate change: international threats require an international response. We must, therefore, preserve some of the close working relationships we currently enjoy with our European neighbours. It is important to bear this in mind.
Regardless of one’s opinion on the workings of the European Union, there can be no doubt that it has changed considerably in recent decades. In 1975, 67% of voters chose to continue our membership of the European Economic Community. That was a very different body from the one we now find ourselves part of. Back then, it was purely about economic benefits. There was no projection of ever-closer political union or integration. It therefore follows that the mandate for our membership now needs to be renewed.
One of the biggest criticisms of the whole European project is that it lacks democratic accountability. National parliaments are without a doubt the most democratically accountable and legitimate form of governance for their people. Very few people involve themselves in the affairs of the European Union, so the pros and cons of European membership will need to be explained to them in an easily understood manner. We should take the initiative to trim the bureaucratic, regulative and legislative fat and to make our case to the British people about exactly what the benefits of the European Union can be. Europe needs to serve its member states better and help them to get the most out of the benefits that such a union provides.
I will wait to see what the revised terms are before voting yes or no. I would prefer for us to stay within the union if the revisions were satisfactory.
My Lords, those of us who travel to other European countries are normally asked this question, which I was asked last week: what is going on with your country and the EU? We do not understand. So I thought I would save the Hansard for this debate and send it to them, because I am not sure I can answer the question any better now than I could then. People are puzzled and do not understand why we have this odd attitude to the EU. Most of them think we are mad, frankly, and it is very hard to disabuse them of that.
I was thinking, in preparing for this debate, of something that Roy Jenkins said many years ago. In a way I hoped it would be out of date, but it is not. He said that our problem was that we had not really come to terms with the end of empire. He said it a long time ago, but there is still an element of that running through our attitudes to our membership of the EU.
Let me be specific about some points in the Bill. I am delighted that Members of this House are going to have a chance to vote in the referendum. If it is worth voting on our position in the EU in a referendum, it is also worth while having a vote in general elections, but that is for another day.
I used to think that giving 16 and 17 year-olds the vote was not a good idea, but I have come to realise that I was wrong. It is a healthy change, and I very much hope that this House will vote an amendment into the Bill to give the vote to 16 and 17 year-olds. We will then see what the Government do when it gets back to the other end.
The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said earlier in the debate that, even if Scotland votes to remain in the EU and the rest of the country does not, that would not effect a referendum in Scotland. I really do not think that would be the case, although I bow to his greater knowledge of Scotland. If Scotland votes one way and England and Wales vote the other, the pressures for a further referendum in Scotland will increase and the likely outcome will be less certain than last time.
I turn to one or two specifics on justice and judicial co-operation. If we are not members of the EU, what is going to happen to the European arrest warrant and to our participation in Europol and Eurojust? We might lose those chances, because why should the EU countries go along with us if we say, “We are leaving you, but please can we stay part of this or that”? I think they would probably say, “Go to hell”. Why should they do so? Yet things such as the European arrest warrant are essential for our security. It enables us to get people who are a threat to this country back to Britain to face justice. Although the EAW may have some faults, it is essentially a measure that protects British interests. As crime is increasingly international, we need Europe-wide co-operation; that can be achieved only if we are members of the EU.
I think it was John Hume who said some years ago that the EU was the most successful peace process in world history. That is absolutely right and, before we knock the EU, we should be respectful of what it has done. Our membership of it has contributed to that achievement of peace in Europe. I do not believe that these things are inevitable; the cohesion and sense of solidarity engendered by the EU has very much helped European peace.
I want to spend a few minutes talking about the implications of a British exit on relations between Britain and Ireland, and the specific implications for Northern Ireland. The Irish Government clearly kept out of the referendum debate in Scotland—that was for us and not for them—but this time, I think, they see it a little differently. When Mr Charlie Flanagan, the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, spoke recently at Chatham House he referred to the constructive role that Ireland can play in the EU debate in the UK. He said:
“We have resolved, despite being respectful of the democratic process here, to make our voice heard. That means … a role that is supportive of the UK, our most important EU strategic partner, in helping it to achieve reasonable reform objectives. But a role that is equally respectful of our 26 other friends and partners within the European Union”.
He went on to say that,
“it is crucial that every effort is made to engage in debate, to provide information, to clarify, to explain”.
Mr Flanagan then drew attention to the importance that Britain’s EU membership had for Ireland. He indicated that he wanted,
“the UK in the EU because our Union is stronger”,
because of Britain’s participation in it. He said that Ireland benefits from Britain’s membership and that,
“it reinforces … the … bond between our two countries”.
I hope that the millions of people of Irish origin in Britain will take note of what the Irish Government say and vote accordingly in the referendum. Those 3 million or so votes would make quite a difference to the outcome.
I want to say a little about the economic and political aspects of our relationship with Ireland. The UK exports more to Ireland than it does to China, India and Brazil combined—a pretty formidable point. The UK is Ireland’s most important market; the value of Irish exports to the UK is at its highest level ever. In fact, Ireland is the UK’s fifth-largest market, with more than £17 billion in British goods and services exported to Ireland in 2012. About 200,000 people in Ireland are employed as a result of Ireland’s exports to the UK, while UK jobs resulting from exports to Ireland are estimated at more than 200,000. The UK is the third-largest investor in Ireland, after the United States and Germany. These seem to be important facts. The Eurosceptics will say that nothing would change if we left the EU. I think it would, as do the Irish Government, and the close bond we have would be lessened. As far as tourism is concerned, 3 million British people visited Ireland in 2013, while the year before about 2.5 million Irish people visited Britain. That is very important.
However, let me turn to Northern Ireland. The EU had a very positive influence on the peace negotiations there. The EU and the United States together made it possible and created the conditions which enabled us to proceed to the Good Friday agreement. Without the EU’s active involvement and support, things might not have moved forward as they did. We are talking about both the political and economic benefits to Northern Ireland. I think the accepted view is that the EU has been a force for good for everyone in every community, right across Northern Ireland.
If the United Kingdom were to leave the EU, the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic would be the EU border. We worked very hard to get rid of that border so that it is effectively not there—you do not see it at all if you drive from North to South—but who is to say what pressures might then be put on that crucial border between Northern Ireland and the Republic? It would be unthinkable if, having worked very hard to get rid of them, there had be some sort of mechanisms on that border. But something would have to be negotiated, as would the wider common travel area. The Government and the people who want us to get out have said nothing about all these things, but they are pretty important.
I have talked briefly about the situation as regards Ireland and Northern Ireland, which are important aspects of the total. I believe that a British exit would be a disaster.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. I always enjoy his breadth of interest, although I would probably hesitate to cite the European arrest warrant as the EU’s high-water mark.
I rise to support the measure before us and do so with enthusiasm. I congratulate the Government on its introduction; the time has surely come for this hugely important issue to be resolved. I have read most of the debates in another place. There were impressive interventions and the outcome was unambiguous. Since there is nothing obvious that I want to change about the Bill, my few remarks will be devoted to the nature of the debate that follows the Bill becoming law.
I have never made a secret of my Euroscepticism. However, I still believe that it is just conceivable that enough in the way of reform could be achieved to persuade me to vote in favour of remaining in the EU. To that extent, my mind is not closed. In fact, many of us have more open minds than has been acknowledged in the debate today.
One possible avenue for such reform might originate with our EU partners rather than with ourselves. Might it not be the case that a combination of factors could conspire to persuade our partners that Britain’s aspirations are not, after all, so very far removed from their own? Might it not also be the case that consensus develops among those partners that our leaving might be the last straw for such a troubled and dysfunctional enterprise, whose competence, economic performance and direction of travel have in reality ceased to inspire confidence?
Those of us who lean towards the Brexit outcome need of course to understand the downsides and costs, and not to underestimate them. By that I do not mean absurd and dishonest statements, such as the one that claims that 3 million jobs are dependent on our staying in the EU. That claim rests on the ridiculous assumption that this country, outside the EU, would cease to trade with its former partners. Anyone who persists with such an argument, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Davies, was, must surely need also to concede that, by the same measurement, 4.5 million EU jobs are dependent on trade with the UK.
I am after serious and detailed analysis of the implications of staying as well as leaving, as other noble Lords are. When my noble friend the Minister comes to wind up, could she try to tell us a little more about how people will be able to access authoritative and independent research on these issues? Whitehall analysis and comment on its own will not command public trust without what one might term some kind of independent review. I thought that my noble friend Lord Inglewood, who is not in his place, put this in context very well. I hope that the Minister will read his remarks with some care.
The debate, I believe—and this has not been touched on—should take account of a problem of the modern age, which is the increasingly corporatist nature of all activity throughout the western world and the resulting political fall-out. The state, perhaps inevitably a little bit corporatist, feels more comfortable dealing with large corporations than with small ones. The corporatist world—industry and commerce—meanwhile has to a great extent ushered in what I might call extreme politics, mentioned here by the noble Lord, Lord Liddle. The anger we see on the streets here and elsewhere is less directed at free-market capitalism, which in my lifetime has lifted literally billions of people out of poverty, and more towards corporatism, which has in the last few years cheated and disenfranchised many of the most vulnerable people in the world.
I am not arguing that the leaders of big business are all venal and bad; of course they are not. There are many admirable business leaders, and they are very well represented in your Lordships’ House. However, huge corporate size, wealth and power are almost inevitably corrupting, and in the end self-defeating, because they undermine competition, and those that they are meant to serve become lost to view. As it currently functions, the EU is the personification of corporatism and a denier of freedom and democracy. The link between the rulers and the ruled has faded almost to the point of invisibility,
I have always held that a much neglected problem with Britain’s relationship with the EU stems from the simple incompatibility of our legal systems. I am convinced, for example, that it accounts for much of Whitehall’s infamous gold-plating, which is so dementing for those of us who try to run a small or medium-sized business.
I remind your Lordships that such businesses generate 95% of the British economy and more attention needs to be addressed to their concerns. We have had many lectures today, led by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, about trade. I make the point that many of those lectures come from people who have never traded. I have spent my entire adult life trading with the rest of the world, and I can assure your Lordships, in spite of what the CBI says, that neither I, nor any of my colleagues or people whom I know, have any fear of our future outside the European Union.
Crucially, the debate should—and I fervently hope will, following the passing of this Bill—concern itself with how we are governed and how our people want to be governed. Our system of government can be traced back 2,000 years, when the inhabitants of these damp islands decided to put an end to unaccountable power. The ensuing constitutional journey, which included such milestones as Magna Carta, celebrated this year, has not always been smooth, but the version ultimately bequeathed to us gave us the rule of law, an independent judiciary and democracy. It was exported to the whole of the English-speaking world and seems to me to have stood the test of time quite as well as other systems adopted by countries that, in the main, are very much younger than our own. Europe is a young concept, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London reminded us.
I would not think of offering advice to other countries as to how they should govern themselves; nor, out of good manners, would I claim that our system of government is better than theirs. However, there needs to be a very compelling case indeed to give up our tried and tested form of government in favour of another. But with some 60% of our laws already being decided outside of this Palace of Westminster, and with the persistence of the mantra of “ever closer union”, that is precisely what is being asked of us if we are to remain members. As was eloquently pointed out in another place, “ever closer union” leads to only one destination and that is Union.
As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister pointed out in his Bloomberg speech:
“It is national parliaments which are, and will remain, the true source of real democratic legitimacy and accountability in the EU”.
For me, the preservation of our ancient freedoms and our democracy will ultimately be the test that trumps all others.
My Lords, I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the register of interests. I provide consultancy services to a number of companies and organisations in Brussels and across the EU. I discovered that the problem with speaking 50th in a debate such as this very popular debate is that many of the points that I wanted to make have already been made many times over by people who are much more senior and eloquent than I am. The Minister will no doubt be pleased that I will be relatively brief; I pay tribute to her forbearance in sitting on the Front Bench for eight hours listening to the EU being debated, though I notice that she brought along her own cushion to make the experience a little bit more pleasurable.
Many of the contributions that have been made so far have been almost a rehearsal of the arguments of the referendum campaign itself, rather than discussing the merits or otherwise of the Bill. I have listened with great interest to all the arguments about whether we should leave or remain, about whether we are a small island or not, about people’s experience from the war onwards and of their time on the Council of Europe—all of which, of course, have very little to do with what is actually in the Bill. I totally support the Bill: I campaigned in my party for many years for a referendum on Europe and I am delighted that my party sought the permission of people in the general election for that proposal. We gained their consent and we are now putting it forward into legislation, so the Government have my full support on that, not least because I am looking forward to the opportunity of voting in the referendum myself. I suspect that I am in a minority in this House in that I did not get the chance—I was not old enough—to vote in 1975 in the previous referendum. My father, who did, tells me that as a businessman, he voted enthusiastically for a Common Market and is now somewhat perplexed to find himself a member of a European Union—a point that has been made many times by other people as well.
I wish the Government well in their renegotiation attempt. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, I have taken part many times in negotiations in the European Union. It is a bit like wading through treacle, but I wish the Prime Minister well in his attempt to renegotiate the relationship. Actually, this referendum is probably the best tool that he has to enable him to get a satisfactory conclusion to those negotiations. To go into the debate and say: “Well, we would like all of these concessions; I know that they’re very difficult for you, but don’t worry, whatever happens at the end we are going to stay in anyway”, is not the best mechanism for persuading our partners to give us significant concessions.
I supported wholeheartedly the Prime Minister’s Bloomberg speech; I thought it gave an excellent list of problems with the relationship that he was seeking to rectify. I am somewhat concerned about some of the reports of backsliding from that speech since then, but I hope that the reports are incorrect and that the Government are going to surprise us and produce an excellent deal that will enable us all to support the renegotiation. I hope that when negotiations are completed —another point that has been made many times—the Government will feel able to produce a White Paper setting out the full details of what has been achieved and the consequences of voting to remain or voting to leave. That would be a great contribution to the debate, and I hope that the Minister will feel able to give us that assurance this evening.
On the subject of purdah, I welcome the amendments made in the other place and I hope—I know that the Minister has given us some assurances to this end—that the Government will not seek to use regulations to remove the restrictions that were voted on in the other House. It is also important that we ensure impartiality of the broadcasters, and to a lesser extent, of course, of the media as a whole.
I have heard many times references on the BBC to the claim that, if we vote to leave, we will be “leaving Europe”—as if we are going to take our island and tow it off into the mid-Atlantic. Of course we are not going to leave Europe: we will remain part of Europe, and we will still trade and be friends with our partners in Europe. The decision on whether to remain in the EU as a political organisation is entirely separate from whether we should leave Europe. It is impossible for us to leave Europe.
It is also important to ensure that the referendum is fair and equitable, and that spending restrictions apply equally to both sides. I know from my experience the power of the European Commission and its considerable ability to spend money. In addition, the European political parties are extensively funded by taxpayers’ money in Europe, so I hope that the Government will ensure that the spending restrictions are applied equally on all sides of the debate, and that they apply also to the Commission, the Council and the European political parties.
On the subject of the franchise, I am agnostic about the subject of 16 and 17 year-olds voting. I can see arguments on both sides; I suspect that most of them would not bother to vote anyway if they did have the franchise, but I look forward to taking part in the debate and hearing that argument explored further.
With regard to EU citizens, I do not see why they should be permitted to vote. If they are so keen to vote on whether the UK should remain part of the EU, it is open to them to apply for UK citizenship. If Spain, France, Germany or some other EU country had a similar debate, I would not expect British citizens working in that country to be given the right to vote there. I think it is fair that, as the Government have suggested, we restrict the franchise in this election basically to people who can vote in Westminster elections. I look forward to taking part in further debates as time progresses.
My Lords, I am the 51st speaker on the list, and I note that no speaker has mentioned the role of UKIP in obtaining this referendum. It is true that the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, who sometimes has his uses, mentioned Nigel Farage in an entirely different context, but the fact is that, however unpalatable it is to all the other parties, it is largely because of UKIP’s pressure—UKIP’s showing in the European elections and the recent national elections—that we have this referendum. The noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, mentioned that. UKIP has galvanised the country into understanding exactly what we have given away over the years—how much our Parliament and our Governments of all parties and every stripe have given away over a succession of treaties. Parliament has given away powers that were not its to give away. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, called it the freehold, and he was quite right. I did not agree with anything else he said in his speech, but the freehold of the British people has been given away by politicians who had no right to do that.
Who needs reminding about the—I do not want to use an unparliamentary expression but I shall borrow a phrase—terminological inexactitudes of Mr Edward Heath, who told us that joining the Common Market would entail no loss of national essential sovereignty? That was back in 1975, which was the last time the people of this country were given any say on our relationship with the EU.
Where are we now, 40 years on, after the give-aways in the Single European Act, the Maastricht treaty, the Nice treaty, the Amsterdam treaty and the Lisbon treaty? Forty years on, the EU has a flag, an anthem, a Parliament, a diplomatic service, a border force and its own Court of Justice to which English law is subservient. Who decides our energy policy? Brussels. Who decides our trade policy? Brussels. Who decides our agricultural policy? Brussels. Who decides our fisheries policy? Brussels. Who regulates our financial institutions? Brussels. Who decides what sorts of light bulbs and vacuum cleaners we can use in our own homes? Brussels. Who decides who we allow into our own country? Who decides our immigration policy? Again, it is Brussels. All this has happened in the past 40 years without the people of this country ever being consulted or asked whether they wanted to give away the freehold that was theirs to the unelected, unsackable Commission in Brussels. They were never asked if they wished to transfer those powers to a ramshackle organisation whose accounts have not been passed for the past 19 years.
I am delighted that finally we are going to have this referendum. We have the chance to ask and reply to the fundamental question. It is an easy one: out or not? Do we want to regain the powers to govern ourselves or do we want to continue to contract out the powers to Brussels? That is what the referendum is going to be about. It will be about whether we will be able to decide our own policies in this country, run our own policies and decide our own future. This referendum is going to be about whether in the end we want to decide how to spend the £20 billion a year which our membership of the EU costs us—an annual fee to join that ramshackle club. That is a positive.
The Prime Minister seems to think that if he skilfully asks the right questions and asks little enough of Brussels he will be able to come back and say to the country that he has a wonderful deal so it should back the Government and stay in the EU. As noble Lords have already said, the Sunday Telegraph published his four key demands. One is to ask the Commission to make an explicit statement that Britain will be exempted from the EU founding principle of ever-closer union, but we do not want to be exempted from any further closer union; we want to get back the powers we have already given away. Another demand is an explicit statement that the euro is not the official currency of the EU. That is completely irrelevant. The third demand is a new red card system to bring back powers to Britain by allowing groups of national parliaments the power to stop unwanted legislation proposed by the Commission. The only red card system that is really going to work is if we get out of the EU. That is the best red card system so that we do not have unwanted legislation foisted upon us by an organisation to which we do not belong. The fourth demand is a new structure for the EU itself. This is like a letter to Father Christmas saying, “Dear Santa, what I would like for Christmas is a new structure for the EU”. I suppose that maybe Mr Cameron believes in the Euro-Santa, but I do not think he is going to find that one in his Christmas stocking this year.
I have my own explicit statement for the Government: this sadly unambitious wish list will simply not cut the mustard. There is now an increasing groundswell in the country, largely because of UKIP, that the EU game is not worth the candle and that we would be better off out. This cuts across political parties, businesses which find themselves shackled by EU regulation and individuals who find that their everyday lives are adversely affected by EU rules.
The ice is cracking under the EU. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, is quite right that the euro has been an engine for mass unemployment and social unrest. The EU’s immigration policy has been wholly misconceived, both for its member states and for the luckless immigrants who put their trust in the EU and find that they have been misled.
The Britain Stronger in Europe campaign is wheeling out the tired old arguments we have heard so often before. We heard them this afternoon from the Europhiles who told us that we would be marginalised if we did not join the euro and that millions of jobs would be lost. We have heard that before. I have to tell the Europhiles that the fact is—the noble Lord, Lord Davies wants facts and here is one for him—that countries in the eurozone are suffering from crippling 20% unemployment and youth unemployment is 40% in some countries. It is also a fact that this country has created more jobs in the past two years than the whole of the eurozone put together. Those are the facts.
I shall finish by joining the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, in saying how odd I find it that the “stay in” campaign chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Rose—I find it rather odd that he has not participated in the debate—says that it would be unpatriotic to wish to regain our independence, to make our own laws and to decide our own destiny. That really is very sad indeed.
Let us remember—and I remind the Europhiles—that the United Nations has 193 members and 165 of them seem to get along very well without being members of the European Union. We can do the same. I end by offering noble Lords one thought: if we were not members of the European Union now, would we vote to join?
My Lords, it is always a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke. I was particularly pleased when he made it clear to us all that it was UKIP pressure that led to this rather inadequate debate. He went on to say that the same old arguments were being brought out, and I thought that that confession from UKIP was good for the soul.
I thank the Minister for a very clear introduction of the referendum Bill. It was rather technical; nevertheless, it was clear and succinct, and I thank her for it. In reality, of course, nothing in the Bill is to do with the circumstances we are facing. It is a mechanism much more concerned with papering over the cracks in the Conservative Party, some of which we have seen today. I do not say that in a partisan way; I recognise it, as does the noble Lord, Lord Radice, from our past experience of Harold Wilson’s referendum. He was not prepared to say what the demands were, proclaimed a great triumph when we got something and then had a referendum on the basis of it. This is the same pattern, and imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
I remember that referendum well because we had a parliamentary bookmaker at the time, one Ian Mikardo, the late Member of Parliament. I went to Mr Mikardo and asked him what odds he would give me for a yes vote in every constituency of the UK. He had to reflect on it overnight before he offered me 200-1. I put £10 on with Mr Mikardo, and there was a yes vote in every constituency in mainland England, Wales, Northern Ireland and mainland Scotland. However, the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, was wrong: not just Orkney and Shetland, but also the Western Isles, voted no. They were the only two constituencies in the whole of the UK that voted no, and even then by hair’s-breadth majorities of 50 point something against 49 point something. I lost because of those two constituencies; it was the Lamont curse from the Shetland Islands that got me. I suspect that the result in a referendum today would not be significantly different from that, because it will be fought on the basis of lots of people having their say in the circumstances.
The noble Lords, Lord Forsyth and Lord Lawson, and a number of other people have criticised the words “ever closer union”. You get the impression that those words were forced upon an unwilling British people some time after we had joined the European Union. That is of course nonsense; they were there in the treaty of Rome. When Geoffrey Rippon negotiated our membership on behalf of a Conservative Government, he was negotiating on the basis of the treaty of Rome, which contained those words that we adhered to. It is not something that was brought out of the cupboard afterwards—“Let’s force those Brits into greater federalism”—it was there at the outset.
The noble Lord will be aware that there was a difference. The treaty of Rome and so on talked about ever closer union of the peoples of Europe, but the solemn declaration at the Stuttgart European Council changed it—this still holds—to an ever-closer union of the peoples and member states of the European Union.
I think that is a very sensible change. It is still a change that has been there from the start. The “ever closer union” concept has always been there. What do we want if we do not want ever closer union? Do we want ever greater hostility? Of course not. We want proximity between the peoples of Europe on the things that matter.
I sympathise with a number of noble Lords, such as the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, who, during the course of the debate, have expressed their scepticism about referenda. I share that scepticism, but what is, is what is; we are lumbered with a referendum and we have to accept that. The Government had a clear majority at a general election, they had a manifesto pledge and they are entitled to hold the referendum.
Still, I strongly support the extensions to the franchise referred to in this debate. It is extremely important that we have a clear discussion, and we will do so in Committee, on two major issues in particular: the voting rights of 16 and 17 year-olds in a referendum, and in particular the voting rights of people who serve this country loyally overseas and have been denied their right here because they have done so for a period longer than 15 years. We are prepared to remedy that and we foresee doing so for the next general election, so we ought to remedy it for the referendum vote, because those serving our country overseas are significantly affected.
Governments, none more significantly than ours, love to rail about Brussels, the Commission, antidemocratic processes and the democratic deficit, but of course, most of the decisions of the European Union are made by the Council of Ministers. The European Parliament has a fair amount of co-decision with the Council. Other than the administration of policy, there are very few things the Commission has as an exclusive right. It has the right to initiate legislation, but that is the proposal. If only the Council of Ministers, individually and collectively, had the competence, confidence and coherence to kick out at an early stage that which they did not like, rather than rail about it after they had it, very often by rather benign neglect.
The noble Lord, Lord Lawson, called for fundamental reform. We have heard many such demands during this debate, but no one tells us what fundamental reform is. The Government’s renegotiation programme is a tightly kept secret. If it is anything like the Sunday Telegraph article, it is hardly a renegotiation but something that we could get just by asking for it, so there is very little in that. If the Prime Minister is going for any sort of reform, he has to bring back to us much clearer reports of what his demands were so that we can judge his competence and success in the negotiations. However, I believe that, whether he comes back with much or with little, when we put the issues to the British public they will follow the consent that comes from most of the affected people—from the political parties, industry, commerce and the trade unions, all of which I believe will argue strongly to keep the United Kingdom as a member of the European Union. A better member we will be if we exercise our membership with enthusiasm, vigour and conviction, and do not just see it as a slight shuffling of economic packs so that we can satisfy the Thatcherite demand, “We want our money back”. Europe has to be more than that. It has to have vision, and the vision I have for Europe is one I hope the Government will begin to think about encapsulating.
My Lords, I feel a bit like a shaggy old dog stirred from his hearth by a shadow at the kitchen door, the whistle of a familiar refrain and the instruction that it is time to go ratting again. I am in good heart, though, because although it has been a long day, it is not a Friday, we are dealing today with a Bill that has been endorsed by the voters at an election and—dare I say it?—it is a better Bill than the one that I had the honour and pleasure of presenting to your Lordships a year ago. Time and reflection have helped to tweak it, and perhaps it is appropriate for me to apologise to one or two noble Lords who came forward at that time with reasoned and perhaps sensible amendments to that original Bill. We knew that it was never going to work as a Bill, but it was the first light before the dawn.
I am the tail-end Charlie on this and I do not wish to go into too many details of the Bill since that has been done so eloquently by so many people today. However, I will say in passing that I look forward to the efforts the Minister will put into justifying how it is consistent to acquiesce to votes for 16 and 17 year-olds for a referendum on Scotland but not on Europe. I wish her luck—she may need it.
I am a passionate European. I was struck, as I often am, by the words of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London. We were schoolkids together—no, not at that school, at a grammar school in Hertford. His words have always been something of an inspiration to me. He asked, “What do we mean by Europe?”. For more than 2,000 years Europe has been the centre of the world. In fact, for almost 2,000 years it was the world: Plato, Homer, Mozart, Picasso—the great artists, the philosophers, the statesmen, the writers, the musicians —Shakespeare, Chopin, Beethoven, the Beatles and all the rest. It has been a pretty formidable and often glorious history. We have been the birthplace of democracy. It is said that the Greeks invented democracy, although it appears that they have been in a measure of chaos ever since. We have been the champions of basic liberties. We introduced the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. Okay, I accept there have been a few historical hiccups along the way—things that were less than beneficial—but in Europe we have been, and still are, a beacon of hope for those around the world who are less fortunate than we are.
It is 2,000 years of extraordinary achievement, and yet during those years we have had so many different forms of institutions. You can still hear the footsteps of Socrates and Michelangelo and the Venerable Bede, even though the streets they walked along have long been worn away and the institutions they served have gone. The republics, the monarchies, the empires, the leagues and the confederations are nothing but ancient echoes. The world has moved on. I think it is a great flaw in the wider debate about Europe that we have been having for so many years that it has focused excessively on institutions and not on those deeper issues, because our Europeanness is defined not by our institutions but by our culture.
That is why I was very distressed with the words of the German Finance Minister Herr Schäuble when he was talking about Greece. He said that elections would change nothing and that there was no alternative. I hope that his words lost something in translation because they are pretty cold, hard and unnecessary. The history of Europe tells us that there is always an alternative. In every corner of Europe that you go to nowadays there are voices saying that our institutions are wrong: both sides of this great debate agree on that. We must change, we must go off in one direction or another, but what we cannot do is stand still.
There has never been a better time for a British Prime Minister to argue that there has to be a better way for British leadership in Europe. I wish our Prime Minister well in that undertaking. It is an enormous task. We are playing with history here. This is not a light or an easy decision, but he is absolutely right in that whatever he manages to do, the people must be given the final decision. That is the essence of this Bill here. It is the people, not the institutions, who are the final source of political authority. We have just had this wonderful discussion between the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, and my noble friend Lord Lawson about ever-closer union. I have to tell the noble Lord that the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, is absolutely right. Right at the top of the treaty of Rome in 1975 the preamble talks first and foremost about ever-closer union among the peoples of Europe. Notice the plural—the peoples of Europe.
There are other words that I think are relevant:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”,
“Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it”.
Those were the wise words of the authors of the Declaration of Independence and I think they are as relevant today as they were 240 years ago. They seemed to make quite a success of it—and entirely without the benefit of a government paper setting out the consequences of their actions.
I am a passionate European in a way that my father and my grandfather could never have been. If I may take the Bard’s words at liberty, there is a lot of good in the state of Denmark—which means that I desperately want the Prime Minister to come back with a deal that I can accept: a clear, strong, substantial deal and not vague promises that might disappear like vapour trails in an evening sun. That would be good not just for Britain but for Europe as a whole—and then let the people decide.
My Lords, we have had a very interesting and constructive debate.
I will just comment on the “ever closer union” issue, having first studied how the European Union treaties were negotiated as a graduate student. Originally in the treaty it was,
“ever closer union among the peoples of Europe”,
because those who had come through the war, often spending the war in London while their states were occupied, wanted to go beyond the nation state. They left the nation states out because Belgium had failed under occupation, as had France, Germany and Italy. The reinsertion of “states” into “ever closer union” was a later recognition that actually you needed to retain the nation state. It was a shift back, away from the original emotional, enthusiastic, idealistic federalism of those who came through the resistance and the war to a recognition that legitimacy depends on states as well and that there are limits as to how far one can go beyond the state. So while we are looking at the history of the evolution of all of this, that is part of this very wonderful phrase “ever closer union”, which means so many different things to so many different people. That is why it is an ideal phrase; we can interpret it in so many different ways and perhaps we should not get quite so hung up on it.
I am most grateful to the noble Lord. It is a very interesting theory about this development of the “ever closer union”. Why did the original draft of the Maastricht treaty, before it was amended at the request of John Major, talk about “towards a federal union”?
It is not a theory; I am actually giving the noble Lord some history. I have great admiration for him and his wonderful interventions —he is the best Commons debater in the Lords, I have to say. There were those of the original generation who really did want to build a United States of Europe and they followed the American lead in this. After the war, the Americans had wanted to press on Europe the idea that the Europeans should follow the American lead and build our own United States on their model, as the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, has hinted. All of us resisted American pressure because we did not want to go anywhere near that degree of integration.
Forgive me for interrupting, but I would also remind the noble Lord that the United States, in order to achieve a single currency, actually required a civil war to do it, which is scarcely a model that one wishes to follow.
I should remind the noble Lord that, when I have given talks in Washington and elsewhere on European integration, I have often said—sometimes years ago—that, if we ever achieved a United States of Europe, I had no doubt that the policy process would work almost as well as the policy process in Washington. I hope that the noble Lord understands the point.
We have teased out of this debate what issues we have to deal with in Committee and on Report. We are now agreed that there is to be a referendum; the question is now settled; and the date is beyond Parliament’s control, except when the negotiations have been agreed and the Government come back to us. Therefore, we are left with a number of manageable issues.
On the question of purdah, clearly, if we have a long campaign, the Government have to go on negotiating with their partners in the European Union, and Ministers will have to say some things. In that area we will need to explore what the correct outcome is.
On the franchise, on which a great deal has been said, it is quite clear that the current British franchise is a mess. It is a historical, imperial legacy which means that someone who was born in Rwanda or Mozambique and moved to London last year can vote on whether we stay in the European Union. When we are in London, we stay in Wandsworth, where you hear French spoken extensively in the streets, which has been the case for 20 to 30 years. However, French people who have been working and living in London for 20 or 30 years, paying taxes here, contributing in every sense to our economy, cannot vote. There are a whole set of issues there which we need to explore in detail. This is not an ordinary vote. As has been said during this debate and elsewhere, this is a vote about the future of this country, and therefore we need to look at the franchise for this exceptional vote in exceptional ways.
The noble Lord, Lord Norton, and other noble Lords raised the question of threshold, which clearly we will have to explore a little, although it is a very difficult issue. Whatever happens at the end of it, if we have a narrow majority, either with a low or a high turnout, it will not settle the issue. However, we all know that referendums do not settle the issue. Six months after the 1975 referendum, the Labour Party was still arguing against staying in the European Union, and look at what happened in Scotland, where the referendum did not settle the future of that country.
The issue of the provision of information is extremely important and very difficult, and again we need to spend some time on it. We have to ask for a White Paper; certainly we need to look at the implications of leaving and, if possible, the prospect of staying. However, I bear hard scars from the problems of having to try to create dispassionate evidence on Britain’s relations with Europe. I spent two years in government negotiating 32 reports on the balance of competences between Britain and the European Union. Some 2,500 pieces of evidence came in; the Conservatives put that in the coalition agreement because they were convinced that this would provide the evidential basis for knowing what sort of powers we would want to repatriate from Brussels back to Britain. The overwhelming evidence submitted to the balance of competences review—from business, universities, financial and legal services—was that they think the current balance of competences is pretty good, thank you. The evidence submitted by easyJet began: easyJet would not exist if it were not for the single market in the European Union.
How did the press and No. 10 react to this? They did their best to bury the balance of competences reports in full. They were usually published at the beginning of the Christmas or the July Recess, just to make sure that the press were looking somewhere else instead. That is part of the problem in trying to get dispassionate evidence into our debate: myths float by us, undisturbed by reality.
I saw in a Church of England blog, which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London referred to yesterday, that a lay member of the synod of Canterbury said that one of the reasons why the BBC is so biased in favour of Europe is because it receives so much significant funding from the European Union. I look at that with amazement. That is clearly going round in some circles as part of this wonderful phantasmagoria of the EU as a monster, reaching across the Channel to seduce honest Englishmen, strangle our free institutions and reduce us to serfdom under German—and perhaps also French—domination. Therefore, we will struggle between evidence and myth as we go on through this debate.
I will remark on one of the myths, which I have heard several times in this debate: “We thought we were joining a Common Market, and no one ever told us that this was a political project”. Indeed, the Prime Minister himself, in his speech to the Conservative Party conference last week, said:
“When we joined the European Union we were told that it was about going into a common market, rather than the goal that some had for ‘ever closer union’”.
Last night, therefore, again I dug out Sir Alec Douglas -Home’s speech on 21 October 1971, on the first day of the Commons debate on the issue of principle of joining the European Economic Community. He said that,
“when Germany, France, Italy and the rest sit down to talk about their problems of security, and their attitude to world problems … it is vital that we should be in their councils. During the last year I have … been in the councils of the Ten, because they have anticipated the larger Community. Matters are talked about there which concern the defence of Europe and the defence of Britain. Matters are talked about—for example, the Middle East—which have the greatest implications for our country. It is essential that we should be in the councils when these questions are discussed, and that a decision should not be taken without us”.—[Official Report, Commons, 21/10/71; col. 922.]
I say that for all those who think that we would be better off as a sort of Switzerland with nuclear weapons, which I think is what—
The noble Lord intervenes on NATO. If you go to Washington now, you will discover that they think that NATO is a European organisation, and they argue very strongly that NATO and the European Union should work more closely together, because they see them as parts of the same outfit. There is not a sharp difference between the EU and NATO, and the overwhelming majority of members of NATO are also members of the EU. It is not a contradiction. The two go together; they complement each other.
The argument has also been made throughout this debate that the EU has changed beyond all recognition since 1975. That is partly because of British initiatives and efforts: Margaret Thatcher’s initiative on the single market; national deregulation and European reregulation, which of course meant different regulations as we negotiated some of them, but not an overall increase in regulation; and eastern enlargement, which Margaret Thatcher pushed for, with the unintended effect that of course when Poland came in, as she wanted it to, a large number of Poles decided that they wanted to move here, which was one of the interesting unintended consequences.
The world has also changed enormously since 1975. We are in a different global economy; the national companies that used to exist have become multinational; we have integrated production models in which every Airbus sold by the French has over 30% of British parts in it, and every car built in Britain and Germany has parts from other countries throughout Europe; and similarly, we have cross-border financial services, legal services and the like.
Britain has also changed. The noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, said, powerfully, “We want our independence back”. I would like to have back our regional economies. I spent much of my life in the north of England; in Yorkshire you used to have textile mills and building societies. He is from the north-east; we had ICI and Northern Rock. He will remember Northern Rock—it was quite a good building society in his time and did quite a lot for the regional economy. However, these things have all changed. Now Nissan keeps the north-eastern economy going, and I much regret that we no longer have regional banks. The bank that my father used to work for, Barclays, which used to do a lot of useful regional investment, has just chosen an American investment banker as its chief executive. That is rather different from the sort of national economy in which I grew up.
Therefore, we all have to adjust to a global world in which independence and sovereignty have gone. After all, sovereignty goes most easily with protection. Free trade requires international co-operation. Globalisation means global regulation, or regulation by the world’s leading economy, which so far, of course, has been the United States. If we wish to co-operate with others in managing a global economy, we should surely start by co-operating most closely with our neighbours, and if we cannot do that, we should not hold to the illusion that we would find the Chinese, the Russians, the Saudis and the Indians easier partners than the French or the Germans.
My Lords, I start by associating myself and these Benches with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, in relation to Lord Howe and Lord Healey. I feel that their contributions have been sorely missed today. They would have made this debate very interesting and their experience will be sorely missed in this House. Of course, our condolences go to the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, too.
We support the Bill and its passage through Parliament. We also support Britain remaining a member of the EU. We agree that the European Union needs to change. Like many in this debate we want reform in Europe on benefits, transitional controls, the way the EU works and how it relates to national parliaments. We also want the completion of the single market in services to boost jobs and economic growth here in the United Kingdom. We need to co-operate to achieve these things but the EU needs to recognise that there is a growing demand across societies in Europe for greater devolution of power at the same time. We need to co-operate and devolve, and the EU’s task in the years ahead is to reconcile these two forces.
While the Prime Minister has set out a strategy for the renegotiation of our relationship with the European Union, he has not set out in full what he is asking for. We have heard the Minister say before that it would be unwise for the Government to show their full negotiating hand. Like the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, I hope tonight she will be prepared to throw a little more light on the subject. The problem for the Prime Minister is that there is nothing he can negotiate that will satisfy a significant proportion of his parliamentary party. The danger is that our position in Europe will be dictated by the politics of the Conservative Party rather than the national interest. Whatever the divisions within the Conservative Party, the Government have a collective responsibility to ensure that the British people know what the consequences will be if they vote to leave the EU—a point well made by the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, and your Lordships’ committee. We shall therefore be making the case strongly in Committee that the Bill should include the requirement for the Government to set out to Parliament the consequences of leaving the European Union and what that means compared with our remaining a member. Those who want to take us out of the EU in the name of sovereignty will have to explain why leaving collective institutions where many of the rules of our economy are decided, and where we are currently represented, would enhance our power and influence. They will have to show why the major markets in the world outside the European Union would view us as a more attractive proposition if we left.
As my noble friend Lord Rooker said, lots of people have changed their minds on Europe. In the 1975 referendum I was secretary of my local Get Britain Out campaign. It was not a successful campaign but it is clear from today’s debate that many of the changes in Europe which persuaded me of the benefits of membership, such as the development and protection of workers’ rights, have had the opposite effect on many noble Lords. We have been travelling, in a way, crossing paths. To me, the development of the European Economic Community without the social dimension was very one-sided, but the development of that social dimension has changed the nature of the European Union for me and for my party for the good. As my noble friend Lord Radice highlighted, it is interesting that 40 years on it is the Conservative Party that has agreed to a referendum to try to deal with internal divisions. However, as he and my noble friend Lord Liddle said, reform is not just about what Britain asks for now; it is about the building of alliances—an approach that can bring considerable change over time. As my noble friend Lady Royall said, the proportion of the EU budget spent on the common agricultural policy demonstrates that change is possible by building alliances and arguing the case, not walking away. The EU will need to continue to reform in the years ahead not least, as we have heard in this debate, because the world is changing dramatically and the institutions of the European Union will need to do likewise.
On the franchise, I hear what the Government are saying: that it is right to use the same basic approach as 40 years ago in the last European referendum and as five months ago in the general election—in other words, to stick to the parliamentary voting register. On EU citizens, I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Balfe—I do not see him in his place—who mentioned that he would be quite happy to give assistance to citizens of other European Union states to become citizens of the UK. My husband, who has been my partner for 20 years and has been living in this country, is a Spanish citizen. I think that he would be quite keen to take up that offer of assistance, but I also assume that the noble Lord would be prepared to pay the £1,000 fee, which of course is what most European citizens would have to do if they were to take up dual citizenship.
As we have heard in this debate, referendums are rare; they are not part of the usual business of politics in this country. They have been used in matters of constitutional importance and, as in the case of Scotland, they have been described as once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. I do not think that our young generation should miss the opportunity to shape their future and it is really important that we address this issue. The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, mentioned the contribution in the other place from the Conservative MP Dr Sarah Wollaston. I should like to quote her. She said that,
“since nearly one in four 16-year-olds can expect to live to 100 years of age and will be living with the consequences of this decision for far longer than Members of this or the other House, and given that they have the mental capacity to weigh up these decisions and the enthusiasm to take part, we should extend the franchise”.—[Official Report, Commons, 9/6/15; col. 1062].
I could not agree more.
Contrary to the view of the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, failure to extend the franchise is completely at odds with the other rights that we already give to 16 and 17 year-olds, as we have heard in this debate, including the right to work, pay tax, join the Armed Forces, be company directors and consent to medical treatment. It is a long, long list. It is odd that the Government’s position in the Wales Act 2014 is to devolve to the Welsh Government the power to decide whether 16 and 17 year-olds can be given the vote. The Government are giving that power to Wales and it has been exercised in Scotland, yet they are blocking it in this instance. Why should English and Welsh 16 and 17 year-olds and Scottish 16 and 17 year-olds be treated differently in this referendum? What better way to get more young people involved in our democratic life than to give 16 and 17 year-olds the opportunity to take part in this momentous decision, which will affect their lives and their futures just as much as it will affect ours?
The Minister will no doubt say that we should not use this referendum to change electoral law, although of course we are doing that with a few exceptions, such as the small but overwhelmingly older generations in this House and the citizens of Gibraltar. My case is that this referendum is exceptional and we need to make an exception now for young people to vote on their future. As my noble friend Lord Anderson said, the world is constantly changing. The challenges that we face as a nation of creating jobs for future generations, of growing the economy so that we can continue to support the NHS and an ageing population, and of combating climate change, terrorism and insecurity cannot be solved on our own. Our future lies in co-operation in the European Union.
My Lords, today’s debate has been vigorous and passionate, and rightly so. I believe that it presages the same kind of energy that we will see across the House when we reach Committee, and I look forward to engaging with noble Lords on those matters. Of course, I will continue to hold all-party meetings with noble Lords and will make sure that there is one such meeting before Committee. We have also produced some factsheets to assist noble Lords with some of the technical detail, and those will continue to be available.
Noble Lords have ranged very widely in their speeches today, and there is nothing wrong with that. We have heard many thoughtful, considered arguments across the whole panoply of issues and I have valued the opportunity to listen to those today. However, I trust that the House will understand that in my response I will focus mostly on the Bill itself, looking at its provisions and the principle of holding a referendum. Even though this Second Reading debate started at 11 o’clock this morning, I can see that Members of the House are as vigorous on this matter now as they were then. It is a model of the House of Lords for others to watch and, I hope, admire.
I have been asked many questions about the negotiations and perhaps I may deal with that matter first. The Prime Minister made it clear that there are four areas where he wants change: sovereignty, economic governance, competitiveness and immigration. For example, ever closer union—on which we had a very interesting exchange on the Floor of the House earlier this evening—may be right for others but we believe that it is not right for Britain. We wish to protect Britain’s interests outside the euro. We want to increase economic competitiveness to create jobs and growth for hard-working families, and we want to reform welfare to reduce the incentives that have led to the mass immigration from Europe.
Policy talks have been taking place between the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Europe with a range of our colleagues across the rest of the European Union. Technical talks on the four areas for reform set out by the Prime Minister began in June following the June European Council.
The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, very properly asked the testing question—as he put it—of what the Prime Minister would do if he believes that the negotiation has not delivered the result he wants. In that case, would the Prime Minister recommend that Britain consider voting to leave the European Union? The Prime Minister has made it clear that, in those circumstances, he would rule nothing out. But he has also made it clear that he is confident that he will carry through a strong negotiation and achieve the right result for the UK and the rest of the European Union.
If I may, I will turn to the Bill itself. Noble Lords raised interesting points on the franchise for the poll, how we can ensure that the public can make an informed choice and, of course, the issues arising from Section 125 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act. I will try to address some of those issues now. With the leave of the House, I will give an indicator of the Peers who spoke on a given issue without referring to each individual, given that over 50 people have spoken. Sometimes, where only one person raised an issue, I shall do so.
First, I am glad to see such clear support in this House for the Bill making its passage through Parliament and becoming law. I know that there is, shall we say, a difference of view about how welcome referendums are in principle and, perhaps, in practice. However, overwhelmingly, there was support for the principle of giving the British people the opportunity to have their say. As my noble friend Lord Dobbs said, let them have their voice and make the choice. On the other hand, my noble friend Lord Bowness thought the referendum unwelcome, but he recognised that the Bill should pass.
I am grateful to noble Lords for making it clear that the matter of the referendum question itself is settled and gives the British people the opportunity to make a clear choice: remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union. It is crucial to our ability to move forward as a nation that the referendum is fair and is seen to be fair. That is what this Bill sets out to deliver. Noble Lords made several suggestions about bringing forward amendments to, as they see it, improve that fairness.
The franchise has been raised, quite reasonably, as an issue of importance for the referendum. There have been multiple suggestions about who should be added. Noble Lords who referred to the franchise in various guises include the noble Baronesses, Lady Royall, Lady Morgan of Ely, Lady Smith of Newnham, Lady Crawley, and Lady Suttie; the noble Lords, Lord Tyler, Lord Jay, Lord Teverson, Lord Harrison, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, Lord Shipley, Lord Elis-Thomas, Lord Hannay, Lord Rooker, Lord Maclennan, and Lord Tomlinson; and my noble friends Lord Tugendhat and Lord Dobbs. I suspect that there are others who I have managed to miss, and I apologise to them.
The link between franchise and favouring one result over another has also been mentioned. It is important that we have a franchise that is seen to be fair. Given the national importance of this decision, we believe that the appropriate starting point is the Westminster franchise. To that, as noble Lords have commented, we have added Members of this House, who are already represented in Parliament, and Commonwealth and Irish citizens in Gibraltar. We believe that, in following the Westminster franchise, we are following precedent. The 1975 poll on EEC membership and the 2011 poll on the alternative vote system used the same franchise, with the exception of Gibraltar. The European Union Act 2011 used the same franchise, except, of course, that this Bill adds Irish citizens in Gibraltar for consistency with the position in the UK.
Noble Lords pointed to the inconsistency between the voting ages for different elections. We have responded to requests to increase the powers of the devolved Administrations. As a result, the power to determine the voting age for Scottish Parliament and local elections in Scotland was devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Therefore, 16 and 17-year olds in Scotland will be able to vote in these elections in 2016. The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, said that he believes that the Cabinet had been persuaded that it was a good idea that 16 and 17-year olds should vote in Scotland. The decision was taken by the Cabinet to devolve the decision to Scotland on the basis that it was right for them to make the decision. It was made clear at the time that that was the case.
Will the Minister give way?
I shall, although I suspect that I shall then be cutting out a reference to other noble Lords. I am accurate in what I have said.
I will be as brief as I can. Is the Minister therefore saying that the Cabinet was not fully aware of the consequences of giving that decision to the Scottish Administration?
My Lords, I did not say that in the slightest. I was correcting the impression that the Cabinet had made the decision to give the vote to 16 and 17 year-olds. I would not wish the accurate facts to be misunderstood: the Cabinet took the decision that the decision should be devolved to Scotland. I think it is right that Scotland made the decision because it was a referendum about the position of Scotland.
The Wales Bill will give to the Welsh Assembly the power to determine the voting age for Welsh Assembly and local elections in Wales. This change will not be made in time for the 2016 elections.
It is a fact that devolution gives rise to inconsistencies. I appreciate that there will be very lively debate on these matters when we get to Committee. Noble Lords have said, in support of extending the franchise to 16 and 17 year-olds, that we should value their views. We do. Others have said that young people are engaged and politically active, and that they are able to take these decisions. Indeed, this may well be true, but it is also true of many 15 year-olds, and we have not had a thorough debate on where the franchise should extend. One or two noble Lords referred to the fact that political engagement is not necessarily true of all 50 year-olds, but that is another matter. Political engagement, surely, or lack of it, should not be enough justification for giving or denying a vote to someone.
As I set out this morning, we believe that changing the entitlement to vote should be achieved through specific legislation. It should be considered properly; there should be full consultation; it should be considered through both Houses of Parliament in the normal manner; and it should command a consensus. Although I hear very strongly the views of the House today about 16 and 17 year-olds, I say to noble Lords that there is not consensus on this matter at the moment. I shall look forward to hearing further arguments in favour of changes to the franchise when we reach Committee. Apparently, Parliament has not had the time to scrutinise properly the implications of such a change.
The question of EU citizens voting has also been raised and debated. There is nothing in the EU treaties that says that EU citizens should be allowed to vote in referendums or parliamentary elections in other EU member states. This is for member states themselves—meaning this Parliament—to determine. It is the norm across the EU that EU citizens are not able to vote in national polls in other member states. I am not aware of any other member state that would extend such a vote to citizens of other EU states.
British citizens were not enfranchised, for example, in the Dutch or French referendums of 2005. Many EU nationals who have lived here for many years are a valued part of our society, and many of them choose to take UK citizenship. Whatever the cost, they choose to do so. They will, therefore, have the right to vote.
There are also questions about why certain people living overseas cannot vote.
Will the noble Baroness recognise the point made by an earlier speaker that none of the precedents she talks about in the European Union relates to a country voting on whether to leave the European Union? The argument for giving EU citizens here the vote is that their rights are going to be fundamentally affected. They were not fundamentally affected in the same way by these other referendums. I think, therefore, that it would be good if she could recognise that there is a total difference in nature between this referendum and the others that have taken place in the European Union.
My Lords, I always respect the views of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. Indeed, this is the first time that a country is facing the opportunity to vote to leave the European Union, but it is my understanding, from colleagues across Europe, that they certainly viewed the referendums held there as being of great seriousness for the future of their countries.
I have been asked specific questions. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, asked how many British citizens live abroad. There are a number of different estimates, but in 2013 the United Nations estimated that there were 5.2 million British-born migrants abroad, of whom 1.3 million were in other EU member states. There are, however, no figures distinguishing how many have been away for longer than 15 years. I know from visiting our embassies overseas that when British citizens travel or settle, they do not usually let the embassy know—so we do not have the opportunity to gather that information.
Noble Lords asked about removing the 15-year rule for overseas voters. We are committed to doing so; it was in our manifesto; and we are keeping the promises in our manifesto. A Bill will be brought forward, but it will be a Bill to consider the matter of franchise and not something to be rushed through in time for any particular piece of legislation in this Session.
I was also asked about an anomaly by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, who commented that Peers overseas can vote if they have been there for more than 15 years and others cannot. What I can say to her is that Peers are in the same position as anybody else. If they are resident overseas and have been for more than 15 years, they are subject to the same 15-year rule, just like any other British citizens resident overseas.
There was very strong debate on public information, with the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Ely, the noble Lords, Lord Hannay, Lord Jay, Lord Tugendhat, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard and Lord Cavendish of Furness, and many others very properly saying that it was important that the public should be able to make their decision based on reliable information. It is difficult to know how individuals determine what they believe to be reliable information, but that is something we will have to consider. I listened very carefully indeed to every noble Lord who made points about the publication of material, whether it was by government, whether it was government to commission work from the OBR, whether it was government to provide some statistics that would be in some way scientific and independent, or whether it was a White Paper. I would like to consider further exactly what that material might look like and what kind of information could be produced that is proper and helpful, and noble Lords have a strong role to play in those discussions.
Clearly, there is a role for the Government in all that. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, proposed that there should be a White Paper on the matter of leaving the European Union. Whatever information is produced by the Government should also say very strongly what the implications are of staying in the European Union, because it is a matter of inviting people to make a decision between remaining and leaving. Therefore, the Government’s duty is to look at both those matters.
The Bill is all about putting the question to the British people. It does not make provision about what happens next. I was asked whether the result would be legally binding. Clearly, at the moment, it is not sensible for us to guess about the best way to implement the result, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, this would be the first time that a member state had had the opportunity to vote to leave. If we got to the position where the country decided that it wished to leave, we would then get into the newer territory of working through those procedures.
Perhaps I may deal first with whether the result would be legally binding. I was asked by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London whether the Government would respect the result of the referendum. The Prime Minister has made it clear that we will respect the result of the referendum even though it is not legally binding. In March 2010, the Constitution Committee of this House considered referendums in the UK and concluded that, because of the sovereignty of Parliament, they could not be truly legally binding—my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth was on the Constitution Committee, so I know that he will appreciate the details of that.
With regard to the process of leaving, I was asked about the Article 50 process by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, I believe. She nods her assent. The Prime Minister, of course, is focused on success, as I mentioned earlier, so we are not going to speculate on might what might happen if there is a vote to leave the European Union. In general terms, and I have certainly had advice on this before from my noble friend Lord Bowness, Article 50 provides a mechanism for states to withdraw from the EU. Once a member state has notified the European Council of its intention to withdraw, it would have to negotiate its future relationship with the EU. This is agreed by a qualified majority of the member states, with the consent of the European Parliament. Article 50 gives a limit of two years for these negotiations, which can be extended with unanimous agreement before the treaties cease to apply.
While I am dealing with individual questions, I will refer to one from the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, who asked about the implications of the lobbying Act. The Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act does not prevent companies setting out their views on EU membership. That Act amended the rules for third parties campaigning in elections; it did not amend the rules for campaigning in referendums. The Bill applies Part 7 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act, which sets out the rules for campaigning at referendums. These rules do not prevent companies making their views known to workforces and customers.
On campaigning itself, the campaign rules were considered in another place. It has been such a long time since PPERA was passed in 2000 that the House of Commons agreed to uprate the spending figures in line with inflation. Fact sheets are available with information on that. Noble Lords rightly concentrated their fire on the whole issue of Section 125 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act. This concerns restrictions placed on publicly funded bodies and individuals on publishing certain material in relation to the referendum in the final 28 days of the campaign. The restrictions of this section will apply in full following an amendment made on Report in the other place. The power to which noble Lords referred to set out in regulations any exemptions to those rules was also added to the Bill at the same stage. Clause 6, which stands in the Bill before us, was passed without vote in the other place. There was no dissent. It is only proper that any regulations made using this clause will be subject to the affirmative procedure in both Houses.
To my noble friend Lord Lamont and the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, I can say that Section 125 places a restriction on publishing material that deals with,
“any of the issues raised by”,
the referendum question. Publication means to make something available to,
“any section of the public, in whatever form”.
We are now taking stock, as I mentioned earlier, reviewing the implications of living with Section 125 in full and determining whether that is possible or whether we will need to use the power to make regulations.
I was about to come to my noble friend’s questions.
I now come to the questions posed by my noble friends Lord Forsyth and Lord Ridley. I was asked about the Government’s commitment to four months’ notice of a campaign that would last for 10 weeks. It was suggested that this should be in the Bill. The four months’ notice applies only when regulations are made under Clause 6. There must then be at least four months between the making of these regulations and the referendum date. We believe it would be wrong to set the referendum period now, while the date of the referendum is itself undecided. Paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 to the Bill provides a power for Ministers to set the referendum period in regulations subject to the affirmative procedure. However, the Government have indicated that we do not intend to set a referendum period any shorter than the 10 weeks provided for in the PPERA.
My noble friend Lord Forsyth said that he believed Section 125 does not apply to Scottish Ministers and the Scottish Government. Section 125 applies to,
“any other person or body whose expenses are defrayed wholly or mainly out of public funds or by any local authority”.
So, yes, it does indeed apply to the Scottish Government. The activities of the Scottish Government are funded entirely from the Scottish Consolidated Fund.
I am most grateful to my noble friend for that helpful piece of information. Can she just tell me how long it will take her to take stock? I am trying to be helpful but there is a degree of suspicion that perhaps the Government might be tempted to water down the position on purdah. I really do not understand why the Government cannot take stock and produce regulations while we are considering the Bill, so that the House has an opportunity to discuss it. What exactly is the problem? Is it the shortage of manpower in the Foreign Office? What is the difficulty that prevents the Government saying what these regulations should be?
My Lords, if it were an easy matter we would have resolved it by now. It is a matter whereby, to ensure that we properly bring forward regulations—if we do at all—before this House, we take full legal advice and take into account all the ramifications of government business. On the position of Members of another place and ourselves, if we are speaking outside parliamentary privilege and all related matters, this is not a matter to be resolved in a way that this House would find unsatisfactory. We are taking care. The debate today and further debates will feed into those decisions. That is the important matter. Noble Lords have that voice, and I know I will listen to it.
My noble friend Lord Ridley referred to John Penrose giving a commitment to a 16-week referendum period which should be on the face of the Bill. All I would say is that my honourable friend John Penrose made it clear that we do not intend to set a referendum period any shorter than the 10 weeks provided for by PPERA and the 16-week—or four-month—period is already in the Bill. If my noble friend has a moment later to look at Clause 6(6), he will see that the provision is there. I have been rescued—I have been giving away too many copies of my Bill; clearly it is too popular a document. Subsection (6) states:
“Any regulations under subsection (2) must be made not less than four months before the date of the referendum”.
I am very grateful for the care, attention and energy displayed by noble Lords today. It is a privilege to stand here and bring forward this Bill for your Lordships’ attention. What we are doing is so important, as many noble Lords have said. It is a chance in a lifetime to give the British people their say on whether the United Kingdom remains a member of the European Union or leaves it. I look forward to the vigorous debates to come. I believe that today we have set this Bill on the road to giving the British people the chance to make their decision. I commend the Bill to the House.
Second Reading (Continued)
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
House adjourned at 8.49 pm.