House of Lords
Wednesday, 28 October 2015.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Portsmouth.
Oaths and Affirmations
Baroness Campbell of Loughborough took the oath, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Small Businesses: Late Payments
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what has been the outcome of their consultation about giving bodies representing small businesses wider powers to challenge unfair payment practices, and what progress has been made in improving small businesses’ access to short-term finance to mitigate the late payment of debts owing to them.
My Lords, our consultations on proposals to give representative bodies wider powers to challenge grossly unfair payment practices closes on 27 November. It is a part of a package of measures to tackle late payment. We will also improve small businesses’ access to short-term finance and will soon lay regulations to nullify bans on invoice assignment. This is a new measure to enhance small businesses’ access to working capital.
My Lords, given that according to the British Chambers of Commerce the new small business commissioner will only marginally help small businesses, which are deprived of £55 billion at any one time because of late payment by big businesses and government, and given that this commissioner will anyway be absented from answering disputes in the construction industry, where this problem is at its most intense, will the Government finally respond to the Federation of Small Businesses’ request for an in-depth inquiry into late payment on commercial debt or will this Government remain all talk-talk and no action?
As has already been mentioned, there are special problems when it comes to the construction industry. In particular, SMEs in the construction industry have lost £30 million through cash retention so far in 2015. Will the Minister make a strong commitment to look at this issue, which is vital for the survival and growth of small businesses?
I agree with the noble Baroness that late payment has to be got rid of in the public sector and in the private sector. We have taken a great many steps in the public sector, including in the health service. We are now seeking to do more in the private sector. We are discussing that in the Enterprise Bill, which makes really important changes.
My Lords, I declare my interest as chair of Go ON UK. We know that online banking not only prevents fraud but enables faster payments to small businesses, yet 25% of small businesses in this country have no basic digital skills and a further 5% have no access to broadband. Will the Minister say what the Government can do to help these business which would benefit greatly from online banking and financial services?
I commend the work that the noble Baroness has done as digital champion and agree with her about the importance of digital to small businesses. As she will know from our productivity plan, we are producing a digital transformation plan because we need digital skills across the economy, government and small businesses if they are to take advantage of the opportunities the digital revolution brings.
My Lords, there are arrangements, particularly stemming from EU directives, about the payment of interest on late payments. The difficulty is that they are not always pushed, especially by smaller companies. We need to change the payment culture in this country, which is what the Small Business Commissioner is about and what the regulations that we will be bringing in early next year, bringing transparency to payment terms, are about as well. The small will know what the big are doing and whether they are up to scratch.
My Lords, the Enterprise Bill excludes the possibility of a complaint being resolved where a small business is in dispute with another small business as a result of a larger business’s unacceptable payment practices, especially where the small business caught in the middle is not protected from reprisals. Can the Minister tell us how much this exclusion reduces from the overall figure of late payments that the small business commissioner will be responsible for?
My Lords, we are trying to focus the work of the Small Business Commissioner when we set him up particularly on complaints from smaller businesses about bigger businesses. The noble Lord rightly says that there can be issues between small businesses in respect of payment. We are debating and looking at that but we plan to focus on the imbalance at the large/small end initially.
My Lords, that is indeed the problem, which is why we are establishing a Small Business Commissioner who can help them and change the culture, and bringing in payment transparency which will show the payment track record of bigger companies. Not everything is bad. Some practice is good. Some companies pay small businesses quickly because they understand their brilliant contribution to the economy and to innovation.
My Lords, can the Minister tell the House what the Government are doing with large companies which are contractors to the Government to ensure that they are paying small companies on time? If they are not doing anything can we build in sanctions or parts of the contract to ensure that we do that? We should start at home.
My Lords, I completely agree that we should start in our own backyard. We have done exactly that by legislating to cascade 30-day terms down the public sector supply chain, new reporting requirements in government to hold contractors to account and a mystery shopper scheme where things go wrong.
My Lords, the Government are committed to providing the resources needed to protect our national security. In the summer Budget this year, the Chancellor announced that counterterrorism spending would be protected in real terms over the next spending review period. The size and make-up of the police workforce is a matter for chief constables to take locally in conjunction with the democratically elected police and crime commissioners.
My Lords, crime today is very different from crime 40 or 50 years ago. We have serious threats from counterterrorism, as the noble Lord identified, and, as we have seen this week, from cybercrime. I am sure that the Minister appreciates that security and counterterrorism are not just about new legislation but also about mainstream policing. Local knowledge is vital to that work, as has been pointed out by the head of counterterrorism, Mark Rowley, Peter Clarke, the head of specialist operations, and the Met commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe. Because of the further cuts, not in the counterterrorism area but in local policing—the eyes and ears on the ground—Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe has said:
“I genuinely worry about the safety of London”.
Does the Minister share the concerns of those professionals or does he think that they are wrong?
The noble Baroness is right when she talks about crime changing. It is changing and policing must change in response to it. On the specific comment made by Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, earlier this year we had Operation Strong Tower, which tested the resilience of the capital to terrorist attacks. Following that, Sir Bernard said:
“With events like today we are committing around 1,000 people to exercise our plans and make sure that should the worst happen we are ready. And we will be”.
In other words, he was saying that he felt that there was a resource available to protect the capital. Of course, we are in the midst of a very difficult spending round and set of discussions. There is a new policing formula on which we are consulting at this very moment. The outcome of that will be known in November and we will respond further then.
My Lords, I rise more in sadness than in anger. I have asked the Minister on a number of occasions in this House what the national strategy for policing is. The Minister, courteous as he is, has always answered, “Reducing crime”. Unfortunately, this week we know that, as we all suspected, crime has not reduced; it has just moved to the internet. What is the strategy for policing now, and what is the current strategy for the policing that supports counterterrorism? If you are faced with a 40% cut but you still have the same amount of crime to deal with, what is the strategy? Is it amalgamating forces? Is it more private sector involvement? Is it more volunteering? What is the national strategy for policing? I ask that because there does not seem to be one.
As the noble Lord will be aware, there is a National Crime Agency, an ongoing security and defence review of our capabilities, and a policing college, which is sharing best practice. In terms of what we believe, we share the view of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, which found that significant further savings were still to be made by reorganising the way in which services are delivered—by getting more co-operation between the blue line services and sharing back-office functions. There are ways of protecting the front line while making significant savings in administration. That is what the Inspectorate of Constabulary found and we agree with it.
My Lords, if we are going round in order, it is the turn of the Liberal Democrat Benches, which have not yet asked a question.
My Lords, last night on BBC’s “Newsnight” the head of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, Sara Thornton, predicted that the cuts that the Government are about to make will mean the end of routine police patrols. The Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police said that he was anticipating losing 8,000 police officer posts in London—25% of its current establishment. Can the Minister please explain how the police can maintain relationships with communities, from which counterintelligence comes, in the face of such cuts?
I watched that same interview and listened to it very carefully. It seemed to me that Sara Thornton was saying that the nature of policing is changing and that perhaps patrols in low-crime areas can no longer be guaranteed at the same level as in the past. There is a big philosophical question facing policing and I do not dodge it. It is a question of whether in low-crime areas you want the comfort of seeing a police officer walking down the street or to see crime levels falling—as they are, by 8% year on year. Crime is down by 30% to its lowest level since 1981. We believe that the target in policing is to cut crime and that is what the police are doing.
My Lords, I just want to correct the Minister. I hope I am right, but I read last week that crime is not falling. Crime has, in fact, increased in the last statistics by around 70% because, for the first time, we have included cybercrime. Why on earth this has not been included for years, I do not know. However, I return to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Blair. We all want the Home Office to be, in every aspect, fit for purpose. But when he was asked what the strategy for policing is, the Minister told us that there was a review of one aspect of it, a policing college and that best practice was going to be shared. With the greatest respect to the Minister, none of those, either individually or in aggregate, constitutes a strategy. Will he have a go again at telling us what the strategy is? If it is classified, he can talk to me on a Privy Council basis.
The national strategy is to cut crime. That is what we are about. The strategy is twofold. We want to cut crime, and crime is falling. According to the Crime Survey for England and Wales, crime is down 8% year on year. The big point is that we want to work nationally on tackling cybercrime and big organised crime; that is the reason for the National Crime Agency, the counterterrorism units and the College of Policing. But also, we believe that the answer lies in local people making local decisions. That is why we support police and crime commissioners working with their chief constables to allocate resources where they are best needed to tackle crime in that area. I am delighted to see that the Opposition now support that.
British Bill of Rights
My Lords, the Government will fully consult on our proposals before introducing legislation for a Bill of Rights. Further details regarding this consultation will be announced in the autumn.
I thank the Minister for his reply to my Question. The House will know that the Ministerial Code has recently been amended to remove the reference to Ministers having to comply with international law and treaty obligations. This follows the Permanent Secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office saying that human rights are no longer a priority for his department. Will the Minister please give the House a categorical assurance that the amendment to the Ministerial Code will make absolutely no difference to Ministers’ existing duty to comply with international law and treaty obligations? If, as I hope, the answer to my question is yes, why has it been necessary to amend the Ministerial Code at all?
My Lords, as the noble Lord will be aware, we have a dualist system rather than a monist system. Neither Parliament nor the courts are bound by international law, but a member of the Executive, including a Minister such as myself, is obliged to follow international law, whether it is reflected in the Ministerial Code or not. All Ministers will be aware of their obligations under the rule of law.
My Lords, independent reports—the Minister’s answer appears to confirm this—state that there will be no pre-legislative scrutiny of this vital and, frankly, ill-defined proposal and that the Government will go to legislation after a consultation of about only 12 weeks. Can the Minister refute those reports and promise full pre-legislative scrutiny of a constitutional measure of this fundamental importance?
We will consult fully on our proposals, and will announce further details in due course. There have already been two consultations pursuant to the commission on a Bill of Rights, and there will be a third consultation. This is in marked distinction to what happened on the Human Rights Act, which was brought in without any consultation at all, within six months of the Labour Party gaining power.
There are no plans to leave the European Convention on Human Rights. My noble friend is correct to say that Conservatives had a significant role in drafting the convention. There are considerably more difficulties with the Strasbourg jurisprudence, rather than the convention itself.
A number of us are worried about the impact on our European colleagues, not least because of the message that what we are talking about doing sends to Vladimir Putin and a number of east European countries. I am concerned about that, and I think a lot of people in Europe are concerned about it too, particularly as it comes from a country that has taken such a leading role on the rule of law throughout history.
A number of objections have already been raised, before we have even published our proposals, and I hope that all Members of this House will approach this British Bill of Rights—something that was floated not only by the Liberals but twice by the Labour Government—with an open mind. Among the various objections to a proposed Bill, the idea that the fact that we have any doubts about the primacy of the Strasbourg court might affect Putin’s foreign policy is one I find absolutely ridiculous.
Will the Minister tell us whether the Attorney-General was consulted about the change to the Ministerial Code? What is his view of the remarks by the former Treasury Solicitor and head of the government legal service that:
“It is disingenuous of the Cabinet Office to dismiss the changes to the ministerial code as mere tidying up”,
and that Ministers,
“will regard the change as bolstering, in a most satisfying way, their contempt for the rule of international law”?
I have already made clear to the House what Ministers regard as their duties, and I do not resile for a moment from that. As the noble Lord will well know, details of internal discussions and advice are not disclosed to the House—and I do not propose to depart from that well-established convention.
I cannot for a moment pretend to understand President Putin’s thought processes or his secret desires. But whether or not we are satisfied with the decisions of the Strasbourg court can hardly justify some of the extraordinary tactics that he uses in Ukraine, or to treat dissidents and those who oppose his policies.
My Lords, will the Minister be able to address the issue of the Smith judgment, whereby officers such as myself, who fought to the best of our ability with the weapons we had at hand rather than going away and waiting until we had better weapons, would now be liable for the actions they took? Can this be addressed?
I do not want to comment on what will or will not be in the consultation, but it is surely likely that in the course of the consultation, a number of people will want to advise us on the scope of Article 2 and its effect on combat immunity and what happens on the battlefield.
Syria: Military Involvement by Canada
My Lords, we have not had any discussions with the new Canadian Government, who take office on 4 November, about their intention to withdraw from air strikes against ISIL in Iraq and Syria. We welcome the new Government’s manifesto commitment to continue to focus on the training of local forces in the region and to provide more humanitarian support, including for refugees from Syria.
I am extremely glad that the noble Earl welcomes the election of the new Liberal Government who are delivering on their manifesto commitment to withdraw combat forces from the campaign in Iraq and Syria. Will he accept that this is a recognition by the Canadian people that the facts on the ground have changed? Russia is in Syria now; Iran is more constructively engaged. Indeed, the Foreign Secretary is in Saudi Arabia today. Will the Government accept that it is time for a peace process to stabilise Syria and to desist from continuing on an open-ended campaign which even the Americans say will last for years and years?
My Lords, I agree that the facts in Syria have changed by reason of the Russian intervention. That is undeniable. What has not changed is that ISIL represents a direct threat to this country as much as ever it did, if not more, and it is very much in our national interests to see that threat eliminated. However, I take the noble Baroness’s point that ultimately the end of this conflict can be reached only by political means, and we are engaging as strenuously as we can through diplomatic and political circles to see that satisfactory conclusion.
My Lords, I note the Minister’s response to my noble friend’s Question. We support our troops in the advice and training role in Iraq. However, I am concerned to learn that American trainers have been involved in combat and there have been casualties. Will the Minister clarify the position with our trainers? How many are there? Has their role changed to replicate the US model, and have there been any casualties?
My Lords, I am not aware of any casualties among those of our personnel who are engaged in the training of moderate Syrian forces. Both we and the United States agree that we need to continue to support the moderate opposition in Syria. We acknowledge that the training programme has faced some challenges. The noble Baroness may be aware that only the training element of the programme is currently paused. We will continue to enable the efforts of the moderate opposition in its fight against ISIL and focus on equipping. That will allow us to reinforce the progress already made in countering ISIL.
Was my noble friend not struck by the fact that the appallingly difficult problem we face, raised by the noble Baroness, makes it extremely difficult to see at present how anything except a political solution can possibly resolve what is becoming a galloping crisis of refugees as the situation goes from bad to worse? As winter is now coming on, we can only pray that at last we can get some central resolution. We welcome the fact that Iran as well as Russia will now come to the discussions to be held shortly, together with the United States and other parties that are concerned.
There is no doubt that any eventual political solution will require the major powers and those countries in the region to agree on that solution and, of course, if Iran can be involved in that as well as the United States, Russia and Saudi Arabia, all the better. The effect of the Russian action to date in targeting the moderate opposition groups is to take the pressure off ISIL, allow it scope to make territorial gains, which in recent days is exactly what it has done, and in so doing put back the date of that eventual settlement.
My Lords, the noble Baroness who asked the Question seemed to indicate that if the Russians were involved that was a ground for our getting out. Is the noble Lord aware that many of us, certainly on this side of the House, take the view that if the Russians are involved that is an additional ground why we should be involved, not that we should extract ourselves from it?
My Lords, I cannot disagree with the noble Lord, particularly on what I said earlier about the threat to this country from ISIL. We cannot let up in our efforts to defeat what is a very pervasive and destructive force in that area and potentially to our country.
My Lords, I heard the noble Earl say that we are both politically and diplomatically involved in a search for a political solution. Will he explain what role we or the European Union are playing in the talks between the Americans, the Russians, the Iranians, the Saudis, the Jordanians and the Turks? I get the impression from reading the press that we are not involved with that at all.
My Lords, it is certainly true that the diplomatic efforts are currently being led by the United States and the other countries that the noble Lord mentioned. However, the House needs to know that there is a comprehensive, cross-government strategy that supports those diplomatic efforts. It is a full-spectrum response, led by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, not only in counterterrorism but in diplomatic efforts on Syria, Iraq and Libya, and with cross-HMG work on strategic communications and stabilisation. The noble Lord need be in no doubt that we are at the table in that sense.
My Lords, can I come back to the issue in the Question, on how Canada is reacting to the situation? The new Canadian Prime Minister stated that he will continue to engage in a responsible way in the fight against ISIL without being involved in the combat mission. Will the Minister say whether they will discuss how the new Canadian Government can contribute through these political and diplomatic efforts? Also, will the Government undertake to bring up the response to the refugee crisis with the new Canadian Government?
Most certainly. It is important to emphasise that Canada is not disengaging from the region or abandoning the coalition. It will still keep its military trainers in northern Iraq and be engaged very substantially in the humanitarian relief effort. It is still very much part of the political and diplomatic discussions that are going on. Indeed, Canada will be represented this week in London at the coalition’s strategic communications working group, which is co-chaired by the UK.
House of Lords: Government Review
Private Notice Question
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to their announcement yesterday that they are to conduct a review covering the procedures and responsibilities of the House of Lords, whether they will provide information including the terms of reference for the review, its membership and the timescale set for its report.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Strathclyde’s review will examine how to protect the ability of elected Governments to secure their business in Parliament. In particular, it will consider how to secure the decisive role of the elected House of Commons in relation to its primacy on financial matters and secondary legislation. My noble friend will be supported in that work by a small panel of experts and we expect the review to conclude swiftly. The membership of the panel will be communicated to both Houses as soon as it is agreed.
My Lords, last night the Government issued a statement—to the press, rather than to your Lordships’ House—to say that they were setting up this review. They do not seem to have got very far with any work on what it actually is. As the noble Baroness said, it is to ensure that the Government can secure government business. The Government made clear that they intend to review the powers and processes of this House. The noble Baroness called it the review of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. My understanding is that it is a government review undertaken by the noble Lord.
It is obvious that the impetus for this was the Government losing two votes on Monday on the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lady Hollis and of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. Prior to that vote, we heard the Government threaten first that this House would be suspended; then that the Government would make 150 new Conservative Peers; or that they would clip our wings. Clearly, the Government intend to clip our wings. Less than six months into a new Parliament, the Government are trying to change the rules to ensure that they will not lose a vote again.
Clearly, some in government have very short memories. If noble Lords look back at the number and content of the defeats endured by Labour Governments, it is clear how very little justification there is for this move. It is a gross overreaction. I am not against a review. We have called for a constitutional convention to address much wider issues that affect your Lordships’ House, but any review must be in the public interest and not for short-term party-political gain.
I do not think that the noble Baroness really answered my question, but I will press her on membership. She said that there will be a small panel to assist the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. Will she confirm whether that will be a cross-party panel or merely a Conservative panel? Will she tell us when it will report and to whom?
My Lords, on Monday this House withheld its approval from a financial measure—that is what happened. The measure had been approved three times by the other place. That has never happened before. Monday was a significant day for this House and the events on Monday justify the review. It is a government review about how elected Governments can secure their business when an established convention has been put in doubt. The noble Baroness made reference to a constitutional convention. What the Government have done by asking my noble friend to lead this review is to simply look at the issues arising from the events on Monday. It is limited and it is focused. My noble friend will have at his disposal a panel of experts and, as he said himself today, he will talk to other political parties. Ultimately, we are trying to ensure that elected Governments can be confident that they can secure their business, when that business has had the support of the elected other place.
My Lords, will my noble friend ask my noble friend Lord Strathclyde to extend the scope of his review to include the procedures of the House of Commons, so that the House of Commons is properly able to scrutinise business? A particular issue is the use of the automatic guillotine, which results in large tracts of legislation coming to this House which have not even been considered by the House of Commons. This was a manifesto commitment, in the election before last, of the Conservative Party.
I would much rather that my noble friend concentrated on the very serious issue arising from the unprecedented step taken on Monday by your Lordships’ House. It is a significant issue and we need to look at it and concentrate on it. We must do so swiftly and get ourselves back on to an even keel.
My Lords, I welcome this Question. It is regrettable that, despite all the public pronouncements about this particular review, no statement has been issued to your Lordships’ House. Indeed, it is discourteous to Members here. Will the Leader agree that an excellent review of the convention was published by the Joint Committee in October 2006? The review took in to account the Salisbury/Addison convention, secondary legislation and financial privilege. Does the Lord Privy Seal disagree with any of its conclusions, and what are we likely to learn from the new review that we do not already know?
The noble Lord is right to point to the Joint Committee’s review that took place in 2006. The reason we need the review I have outlined today is that one of the conventions that that Joint Committee discussed and highlighted as important to the effective role of Parliament has now been put in doubt by the actions of this House on Monday. On Monday, this House withheld its approval from a financial measure. That is what happened. The measure had been approved and voted on three times by the other place. That has never happened before.
My Lords, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House keeps referring to a “financial measure”. I believe that what this House did on Monday night was to delay consideration of a statutory instrument under normal welfare legislation. I understand the meaning of a finance Bill. I understand financial SIs that are considered only by the House of Commons. What I do not understand is the term “financial measure”, because most of the legislation that we pass has financial consequences. Will the noble Baroness define the term?
The piece of secondary legislation that we debated on Monday was very clearly and exclusively about a financial matter, to the tune of £4.4 billion in terms of the savings it would deliver in the first year of its implementation. It was a decision arising from the Budget in July. What happened on Monday is something that has never happened before.
My Lords, can the Leader of the House reassure us that the work of the committee will be evidence-based and, in particular, will take note of the following piece of evidence? It is that, during the five years of the Cameron premiership, on average there have been 20 government defeats per year. In the five years from 2002 to 2007—a period with which I am very familiar—under the Blair and Brown Governments, there were on average 59 defeats a year. I remind the House that that was at a time when the Labour Government had a majority of around 170 in the Commons and Labour was not even the biggest party in this House, let alone a majority party. The Prime Ministers of the time did not work themselves up into a synthetic lather about government defeats. If the Prime Minister is anxious to find evidence about Governments being defeated on a regular basis, I am at the end of the phone to give him that information.
I cannot imagine that when the noble Lord was Government Chief Whip in this House, if he and his Government had experienced the events of Monday in the same way that this Government did, they would not have defined the result in the same way as we have done. The noble Lord talks about the rate of defeats. This was not about the rate of defeats under this Government compared with those under previous Governments; this was about a specific event on Monday that was unprecedented. But if he wants to talk about how often this Government are being defeated, since the general election this Government have been defeated in 75% of all the Divisions that have taken place in your Lordships’ House.
European Union Referendum Bill
Committee (1st Day)
Relevant documents: 5th Report from the Constitution Committee, 9th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee
Clause 1: The referendum
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 6, at end insert—
“( ) Regulations under subsection (2) must appoint a day at least 10 weeks from the day on which the regulations are made.
( ) A draft of regulations under subsection (2) must be laid before each House of Parliament at least 16 weeks before the day to be appointed thereby.”
My Lords, I regret that I was not in your Lordships’ House for the Second Reading; I had business abroad at the time. But I very much support the Bill and indeed feel that, 40 years after we were last given an opportunity to vote on whether we wanted to be in or out of the European Union, it is probably time that we had another chance to vote.
The problem is that we all want—and I know that my noble friend on the Front Bench is as keen as anybody—to see a level playing field when it comes to the whole business of how this referendum is held. The problem is that there can never be an entirely level playing field for the simple reason that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has the choice as to the date on which the referendum is held. That therefore means that—whatever happens otherwise—the playing field is always slanted slightly in the direction of those who feel we should stay. That is assuming my right honourable friend the Prime Minister actually leads the campaign to stay in the EU—I am not sure that is a complete given. He is clearly finding negotiations with the EU difficult. I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Lawson, the former Chancellor, is leaving us because he referred to the wafer-thin concessions that we were likely to get from the EU with our negotiations. If the opinion polls indicate that a serious majority in the country want to pull out then the Prime Minister may conceivably change his mind as to which side he backs, but at the moment I think it is pretty safe to assume that he will be keen to campaign that we should stay in the EU, and he has the choice over which day it will all happen.
The amendments I have tabled are all to do with the timing of the regulations that are to be brought forth. On Second Reading my noble friend the Minister made the point that this whole question was covered by Clause 6(6) of the Bill. For the sake of clarification I will read it out:
“Any regulations under subsection (2) must be made not less than four months before the date of the referendum”.
Unfortunately that is not the whole story because Clause 6 deals with the whole question of Section 125 and the business of purdah, so under the Bill it would be incumbent on the Government to bring forth the regulations four months before, but it is not incumbent on the Government to ensure that the regulations asking the question happen immediately afterwards and that the whole thing is a continuum.
The Minister in the other place made it quite clear that it was the Government’s intention that things should start 16 weeks before with the regulations being drawn up, then statutory instruments going through both Houses and then the whole business of the referendum would go smoothly through to referendum day at the end of the 16 weeks. However, as the Bill is written that does not have to happen. It would be quite possible for the Government, at a given date, to draw up the regulations covering purdah and then leave it until a later date before holding the referendum with 28 days’ notice. The Government have given undertakings that that will not happen so in many ways they should completely approve of my amendment, which ensures that that is what is going to happen.
Fortunately the Electoral Commission had a look at these amendments before they came before your Lordships’ House today, and supports this amendment, saying:
“Our experience of administering and regulating referendums in the UK since 2004 has shown that campaigners and electoral administrators need time to prepare themselves properly to follow the detailed rules which Parliament has specified”.
The Electoral Commission recognises that people need time and do not want to be bounced into a referendum with 28 days’ notice. Therefore my amendment is very much in support of what the Government are already undertaking to do, and has been approved by the Electoral Commission. In those circumstances I cannot see why the Government would not accept these amendments and therefore I beg to move.
My Lords, may I briefly speak to Amendment 1? It seems to be extremely straightforward. For a fair referendum, we want an entirely clean situation where adequate notice is given and where there is no possible scope for the public sector, the Government, the EU or any public body to spend money influencing the course of the campaign. As has just been stated, the Electoral Commission supported this amendment. It is in line with what the Government have said they are seeking to do. I find it quite irritating that there is such complexity surrounding what is really a pretty straightforward point but I very much hope that the Government will accept the amendment in the spirit in which it is offered.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 2, which has been somewhat incongruously grouped with Amendment 1. However, I do not mind that because I am speaking to this amendment somewhat tongue in cheek, not in the expectation that the Government will accept it but to make a point about the fairness of this referendum and the need for the outcome to be accepted for a generation to come.
My amendment would change the date from 2017 to 2019. I have put this down to make a broader political point: that there is, in my view, a fundamental contradiction in the Government’s renegotiation strategy. They say that they want a fundamental change in the relationship with the European Union and, at the same time, they have chosen to impose a unilateral timetable for this renegotiation by saying that they need to have the referendum by the end of 2017. In practice it should be said—I think that the Government would sort of accept this—that the real deadline is the end of 2016. No one really thinks that you can muddle up a British referendum with the French presidential and German Bundestag elections, which will be dominating Europe in 2017. The Government have in practice set themselves a very tight deadline for their renegotiation. The truth is that they cannot achieve within that timescale some of the objectives which they have apparently set themselves.
First, there is no prospect of comprehensive treaty change by the time of the referendum. Secondly, even on matters such as benefits for Polish workers in Britain, while it may be possible to achieve some kind of political consensus among the member states about what changes are necessary, there is very little prospect that such changes in European legislation, even if agreed in principle by the Council of Ministers, could have gone through the complex legislative procedures of the European Union, given the role of the European Parliament and the Council in co-decision, by the time of our referendum. I am sure that the former Members of the European Parliament who are in this House will agree with that. We are dealing with a situation where the Government will have to be content with agreements in principle and, possibly, devices such as the protocols which were granted to Denmark and Ireland, which were basically promissory notes of future changes in EU treaties when such treaty changes come to be made.
I would like to see honesty from the Government about this situation because if we are to win this referendum we do not want to create a situation where lots of people who campaigned against British membership immediately turn round and say, “We was robbed”, which is what happened in 1975. I think there is some risk of this so the Government have to be franker than they have been so far about their renegotiation strategy and what they can achieve within the timescale they have imposed. Let us remember, this is a unilateral British timescale; the European Union is not causing the problems. It is a unilateral timescale that we have laid down.
I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I was heartened by his aspiration that this would be settled for a generation but how can he be confident about that, bearing in mind that the agitation against our membership after a massive two-thirds majority in 1975 began only 10 or 11 years afterwards with the turbulence around Maastricht and all that? The evidence is that there is a minority in this country who are very strong xenophobes and chauvinists and dislike particularly European foreigners, so how can he have that kind of confidence in such a clear result, particularly when there is a the danger of quite a close result in the end?
The noble Lord, Lord Dykes, is right, of course; after 1975 some people said within a year or two that they would not accept the result. This was true in my own party so I remember that. However, I think that the Government can act in order to mitigate the risk.
Are there not two other good precedents? In Quebec the Parti Québécois and the Separatists kept on going back in the hope that they would one day have a majority of one, if only that, which they almost did in 1994. In Scotland, were the Brexit to take place, the Scottish referendum would be immediately revived.
My noble friend is, of course, right. My point is this: assuming that the Government reject my amendment, which I am sure they will—as I say, I moved it tongue in cheek—and we stick with the deadline in the legislation, if we are going to win this referendum there has to be honesty on the Government’s part about what it can and cannot achieve.
I am most grateful to the noble Lord. On the subject of honesty, I know that the Labour Party’s policy is a little fluid at the moment and there is a debate on these matters, but will he explain how his amendment, which says that we should delay the referendum until as late as 2019, is consistent with the Opposition’s attack on the Government that by holding this referendum they are creating a period of uncertainty which is doing damage to British business?
Of course the noble Lord is right about that. However, I think that at the same time, he and some of the supporters of Britain’s withdrawal from Europe who argue that they will stay only if they get fundamental treaty change, the right of the national Parliament to overturn EU laws and a fundamental alteration to free movement, are hypocrites because they are saying things that they know are not achievable. If we are to have a decent conversation with the electorate in this referendum, we have to be honest about what can and cannot be done.
I am saying that those who argue that they will support continued membership of the EU only if there is fundamental treaty change hold a hypocritical position because that is not possible to achieve within the timescale that the Government have set out.
The Government should follow Harold Wilson’s example—
Because there might be fundamental treaty change—for instance, within the eurozone—by that date. There is no possibility of that within the date of the renegotiation. This means that the Government have to be honest about what they can achieve and what they cannot; they have to adopt the position that Harold Wilson wisely adopted in 1975 and say, “We did want to achieve quite a lot of things in this renegotiation. We haven’t achieved them all, but we have achieved some useful reforms which in our view justify staying in”. I think that that is the best that the Government can do on their own policy. That is why I have tabled the amendment.
I am rather in sympathy with the noble Lord’s proposal. Does he not agree that, as the years progress, the whole of the eurozone in particular and the EU generally is becoming more and more accident-prone; that one drama follows another; and that by 2019 the whole thing will probably be falling apart?
No, I do not agree. Britain should not push unreasonable demands in the next 12 months on top of the very real issues the European Union has to deal with: resolving the long-term issues arising from the euro crisis—the short term has been resolved—and putting together the more Europe that we need effectively to tackle the migration crisis. Those are very serious problems, and Britain is getting in the way of solving them. That is an added reason for the Government to be honest with the people about the feasibility of the fundamental reforms that some noble Lords appear to think are possible—they are not.
I support my noble friend’s amendment because I do not believe that the British public should be bounced into a snap poll. There has been talk by some spin doctors—probably around the edges of the staying-in campaign—that a quick poll in 2016 would be advantageous. They seem to feel that the longer the electorate has to consider whatever deal the Prime Minister brings back from Brussels, the more likely it is that the electorate will vote against it. I suggest that some people may perceive that there is an incentive for the Government to try to rush the poll as soon the Prime Minister says that he has a deal that we can sell to the British people and we should stay in.
Everyone rightly says that this is the most important vote in 40 years—and maybe for the next 40 years. Therefore, the pros and cons must be given very careful consideration. The Government will have to set out their case. There are amendments on the Order Paper asking for a White Paper-type document which sets out not only the facts of the deal that the Prime Minister has achieved but the consequences of staying in and the consequences of leaving.
That document will not be like party-political manifestos, which set out the already well-known policies of the political parties. Manifestos may have a few nuggets of new information but no real surprises on the political direction of each party. Thus, one can get away with publishing a political manifesto two or three weeks before an election and the public are not really kept in the dark by that short timescale. The document that the Government will publish on the EU referendum will not be like a party-political manifesto. It crosses all party boundaries and there is no clear policy decision known in advance of the deal that the Prime Minister will get.
We have no idea what the deal will be. There may be big concessions or there may be small, trivial, cosmetic ones. The consequences of staying in or leaving will be immense, and both campaigns will have to issue their own views on the deal and conduct big public debates on it. That process cannot be rushed; we would be doing a huge disservice to the public. Nor does my noble friend’s amendment call for an indefinite delay. Announcing a date 10 weeks hence seems to be a reasonable period of time for all the relevant documents to be published and the debates to be held. It does not hold up any poll indefinitely.
We have all been discussing the possibility of a referendum on Europe for years. When this Bill becomes an Act, we might just be a minimum of six months away from a poll, and it may possibly be on a date two years from now; so in relation to that long timescale that we have been discussing and that we might face, a period of 10 weeks to give proper consideration to the deal and its consequences is nothing in comparison. I support my noble friend’s amendment.
My Lords, Amendment 2, moved by my noble friend, has a certain merit: to give adequate time for the negotiations. He brings to our debate very much experience of the workings of the Brussels bureaucracy. It is clear that 2017 will be a year full of elections and pitfalls. There is the French election: I do not imagine that Mme Le Pen will win, but she could possibly do very well, which could have an effect on the French position. There is the German election—the Chancellor’s election—and at the moment, we know that, perhaps because of her position on migration, Chancellor Merkel appears to be under some real pressure for the first time. Of course, there is the EU presidency of our own country, so there is some merit in saying, “Let’s play it long”.
There are a lot of suggestions in our press that, thus far, negotiations have been very slow; it has been a technical matter. Perhaps it is only now clear, when the obvious point has been brought forward that the Norwegian precedent has some attractions. I am part Norwegian myself and, dare I say, my family were bitterly divided about the referendum. That precedent, as any Norwegian will tell you, and as the Prime Minister has said, means that Norway is adhering more to the rules than most actual, current members of the union, without any say at the table in framing those rules. It is said that we are making extremely slow progress; it will need a very big bang indeed for the broad lines of an outcome to be available within a reasonable period.
It is fair to say, as, perhaps, many noble colleagues on the other side would agree, that the Prime Minister has set out a perhaps realistic but rather minimalist agenda for what he hopes to achieve. The problem is this: the agenda of our partners in the European Union is very crowded indeed at the moment. We saw that at the last Council meeting. The focus is on migration; the effect is only to show the divisions within the European Union on this most sensitive of issues. Even if for us, our own position in regard to the Union is by far the number one issue, it might well be that for all our partners, it is not, in fact, the number one issue and they will have other issues on the agenda.
There will be changes, too: we should think of the different interpretations of the effect of the Polish agenda. Will it make the Poles even stronger, for example, in relation to welfare benefits for the Poles who are already in this country contributing massively to our own country? There will be other changes as a result. The real problem, however, is this: will there be adequate time, as my noble friend asked, for treaty amendment? The writings and speeches of Mr Liam Fox in the other place are honest and true; there will not be adequate time for treaty amendment in all the other countries. We have seen the precedents of this in terms of France, the Netherlands and Ireland: all of this takes time.
It is also very true from one’s own experience that, in these referenda, it is often not the main issue that is decided by the electorate, but rather the extraneous matters that come to the fore. There is a great problem: I think Mr Liam Fox mentioned a post-dated cheque, and my noble friend mentioned a promissory note. How much credence or weight can one put on a promissory note? The existing Governments may well say that they are happy to give us the protocols that we want, but is that bankable? Each of those countries may have elections between the time they make the promise and the time of the referendum, or afterwards—which, because of the change of Government, they will not be able to deliver.
For us, the overriding interest must be what is in our own national interest—an early decision or a time that gives adequate momentum for a decision. My own judgment is that it is in our national interest to have a decision as soon as possible, even if the broad parameters are not totally evident. There would be uncertainty in the mean time, until 2019, not only for our partners but most importantly for business, and there could be real problems in boardrooms to know how they will invest, not only in respect of foreign direct investment from inside and outside the community but also for those companies that are already established here. For example, the automotive industry depends very heavily on the market in the European Union, and will be afeared of the tariffs that may arise. The Japanese companies, as they have made clear, see our own country as a springboard to the European Union market; they see us as part of a wider market, and if we were by some ill action to take ourselves outside that market they would have a very different view about the stability of their investment in this country.
My noble friend has made some valuable points, but on balance I am against the suggestion of extending the period for another two years.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, I have some reservations about the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Liddle. It takes us into risky territory in two ways. First, I have taken the liberty of checking the Conservative Party’s manifesto, and it is very clear that the referendum should take place by 31 December 2017. In your Lordships’ House this week, we have created some precedents in terms of voting against the Government, but I am not sure that trying to go against something that is in the Conservative Party manifesto is necessarily one of the things we should attempt to do in this Bill.
In another sense, I am concerned that extending the deadline for the referendum increases uncertainty, as the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, said. The more we talk about it and think about possible renegotiations and the more we have public debates, the less helpful it is for the City of London, British business or for Britain’s engagement in the European Union. If, as I and my party believe, Britain is better off in the European Union, it is better to have made the decision and to play a full role in the European Union. If the decision is that we leave, it would still be better that we and our European partners know where we stand. Extending the deadline to 2019 would extend uncertainty, and I think that the slightly tongue-in-cheek amendment should be treated with the joviality that perhaps it deserves.
My Lords, I slightly worry about the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, and his use of words such as “hypocrite”. Earlier in the week, we had a noble Lord from the Opposition referring to the Prime Minister as a liar. We have rules in this House about asperity of speech. If the noble Lord cares to look at the Companion, he will find that it is a very difficult and unpleasant process if those rules are called into being.
I have dealt with the problem of the use of rather extreme language, so I shall deal with the problem that arises from the noble Lord’s assertion. To suggest that people who take the view that we should leave the European Union but are open-minded enough to think that if certain changes were made they would change their position are somehow hypocritical or acting improperly is ridiculous. It is plain common sense. If the Prime Minister comes back and says that we can control our borders and decide our own social legislation and that Parliament not Europe can, for example, decide the amount of money that people have protected in their bank accounts, I, for one, will raise three cheers and see a completely reformed European Union. The noble Lord is quite extraordinary. He seems to be advancing a case that whatever is decided, and whatever happens to the European Union, Britain must remain a member. I can see that from the European Union’s point of view, it might be in its interests, but he is supposed to be in this Parliament to look after Britain’s interests.
That is Labour Party policy. Whatever comes out of this renegotiation, we will campaign to stay in the European Union because that is our judgment of the national interest. I believe that it is possible that Mr Cameron can achieve a useful set of reforms through his renegotiation. I do not believe that the kind of fundamental changes that the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, was talking about are achievable in any sense whatever, and he knows it.
The noble Lord may be right about that, but the reason I am against his amendment is because he is not prepared to let the British people decide this by March 2017. He wants to delay because he wants Britain to remain in the European Union whatever the British people think, and if he had his way, we would not be having a referendum at all. As was pointed out, the Labour Party’s position is that we need to get this sorted and out of the way in order to end the period of uncertainty, so he is out of line with Labour Party policy as well.
I shall tell the Committee a story. I spent two, I think, years of my life going to European Social Affairs Council meetings in order to prevent the European Union and the Commission abusing the rules and defining the working time directive as a health and safety measure rather than an economic measure in order to get it through by qualified majority and undermine our veto. I sat through endless meetings where people read out prose. I knew that in the end we would have to go to the European Court and argue our case and that it would find against us because it is under an obligation to preserve the acquis. The result was that the working time directive was imposed upon us, even though we had joined on the basis that those matters would be decided by unanimity.
At a meeting of Ministers one night after one of those long and tedious sessions, we were having a few drinks, and I decided to take it upon myself to lecture them on the benefits of supply-side reforms. I pointed out that if they went on like this, adding to the costs of labour and to the disadvantage that European countries would have competing in the global economy, the results would be huge levels of youth unemployment and a slowing down of growth in the European Union. I think it was the Dutch Minister—maybe it was one of the others—who turned to me and said, “Ah, but you do not realise. We understand all of this but what you do not realise is that we have proportional representation and have already given people these rights. It is impossible for us to remove them. We want a level playing field, and we do not want you to have a competitive advantage over us”.
The noble Baroness asked whether I think we will get these changes. I hope and pray that the European Union makes these changes for the sake of the large numbers of unemployed young people—50% in the southern European states—and for the sake of what we see in Europe, which is a country that is failing to grow and meet the aspirations of its people. What I see at present—and the Prime Minister has to contend with this—is that we are not leaving the European Union; the European Union is leaving us. Monetary union means, as the noble Lord said—he talked about the inevitable process of moving closer together, except he used different language as he sees the way forward as further integration because of the consequences of the single currency, which the same people who are advocating—
I shall give way in a second. The same people who are telling us now that we need to remain members of the European Union regardless of the terms are the same people who told us that, if we did not join the euro, Frankfurt would become the main centre for financial services in Europe and we would fall behind and become irrelevant. Thank goodness we did not join the euro; otherwise, we would be in the same predicament as France, Spain and Italy and the others. I give way to my former colleague.
I am most grateful to the noble Lord. I am perfectly happy to say my noble friend because he is that outside the Chamber. If the Prime Minister—maybe likely, maybe not—got the concessions that the noble Lord has just set out, would he then vote for us to remain part of the European Union?
I might want to add to the list. Broadly speaking, if we get our country back, are in control of our borders and are able to decide on the regulations that govern business, not only would I vote in support of our continued membership of the European Union but I would say that the European Union has been saved and that the Prime Minister was a magician.
It is not what I think that matters. This is not what we are discussing; we are discussing giving the British people an opportunity to decide for themselves. It is a great disappointment to me that the noble Lord who used to be on our Benches, and who I know is a great democrat, really does not want the British people to have that opportunity and that is a great sadness. I give way to my other Scottish friend.
But never in the same party. For some time I was in the other House on the Front Bench as a spokesperson on foreign affairs and Europe. I remember the Single European Act and the Maastricht treaty being pushed through that House, in spite of some of our questions about it, by the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. There was a younger Member called Michael Forsyth who went through the Lobbies in favour of all those centralising Motions. I wonder if he is any relative to the noble Lord.
Yes, indeed, and it has only just dawned on me that, just before the Single European Act came before the House of Commons, I was made a Parliamentary Private Secretary to our late friend Geoffrey Howe, who was Foreign Secretary. Does the noble Lord think there might have been a coincidence perhaps? As a member of the payroll vote, I was expected to vote for it, and I did vote for it. Indeed, the late Lady Thatcher supported it, but I can tell noble Lords that if Lady Thatcher were here today she would be saying that we should leave the European Union. I have no doubt about that whatsoever.
I have been reflecting on the exchange between my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, on the question of degrees of hypocrisy. I wonder whether it might be viewed as pretty hypocritical to push an amendment to delay the referendum for two years, hoping that it might go away in time for the general election.
My noble friend is absolutely right, but even the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, could not keep a straight face. He said that his tongue was in his check. I do not know where his tongue was, but certainly the arguments coming from it were not very persuasive.
I actually got up to speak in favour of the amendment in the names of my noble friends Lord Hamilton and Lord Flight. Perhaps we have taken up a lot of time unnecessarily, because I assume that my noble friend the Minister is going to accept the amendment. Clearly, there can be no arguments against accepting it. The Government have given undertakings that they will not bounce us into a referendum campaign, and what better opportunity is there than this to put them on the face of the Bill? Ministers have already given those undertakings, so they must be government policy. The amendment is in order, so I expect that my noble friend will say that she accepts it. Therefore, I will not delay the Committee by making the arguments for it.
However, I would like to mention our experience. When I referred to the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, as my friend, I was referring to him as a fellow unionist—as unionists campaigning in the referendum in Scotland. Then, we started off with about 28% of the vote in favour of independence and ended with 45% in favour of it. We allowed the Scottish Government to decide the length and date of the campaign, as well as the question, and that was a huge mistake. As a result, following that referendum people like me are going around saying, “Well, it wasn’t actually a fair contest because the rules were set by one of the participants”. I do not know what the Government’s position will be after these negotiations, but it is very important that we have notice of the campaign; otherwise, we will have a sort of “neverendum” starting now, with the possibility of the Government jumping us into a short campaign, which would mean that it would not be possible to get across these arguments.
The Government have said that they will do nothing of the sort, which is why I expect they will accept this amendment. However, I want to make the point that it would also be entirely consistent with the policy of the Government—both as a coalition Government and as a Conservative Government—who gave us the Fixed-term Parliaments Act. I was against that Act, but the Government’s argument was that it was completely unfair to allow a Prime Minister to have the patronage of deciding the date of the election and that people should know what the position was. Therefore, if we accepted the amendment of my noble friends Lord Hamilton and Lord Flight, we would know that we had at least a 10-week period in which to campaign, and I think that that would be seen as fair.
Yesterday we did not accept the advice of the Electoral Commission on the grounds that its role was to advise, and I thought that the argument put forward by my noble friend Lord Bridges was absolutely persuasive. However, I cannot think of a single argument that one could deploy against taking the advice of the Electoral Commission to accept the Government’s undertaking. That leaves one argument. When I was a Minister and I was absolutely desperate to find an argument to support not agreeing to an amendment for which the arguments were overwhelming, I would say, “It’s not necessary to put it on the face of the Bill because the Government have already given this undertaking”. I have the utmost respect for my noble friend and I hope that she is not going to deploy that argument, for there is nothing to be lost by accepting my noble friends’ amendment.
I am going to disappoint the noble Lords, Lord Hamilton and Lord Forsyth. The sad fact is that I find myself in agreement with them. I do not agree with all that the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said this afternoon. Indeed, I had to wait until close to the end of this, his second Second Reading speech, to find the point at which I agreed. I agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, and I agree with his amendment. I, too, have a worry about timetables and I, too, know what the Government’s assurance has been. Since that assurance has been given, why should it not be in the Bill? My particular worries about purdah are not exactly the same as those of the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, but we will discover that when we come to later amendments. However, it seems to me that Amendment 1 has to be correct, and I hope that the Government will buy it.
The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, provoked a lively debate on Amendment 2, and we should be grateful to him. However, it seems absolutely clear to me that the Bill should not be amended as he proposes. We are operating on the basis of the Conservative Party manifesto, which the country voted for. It is clear that the referendum must happen by the end of 2017. For us to play with the idea of an extension would be extraordinarily dangerous.
As the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, took the opportunity of pointing out, it is the case that it is not possible on that timescale to secure treaty change. When the strategy was first unveiled, in the Bloomberg speech, there was time for the five stages that treaty change must go through; the final stage being national ratification, in some countries by referendum. It would have been possible then, but it is not possible now—we all know that. Therefore, the point about honesty was a little overdone, because the country is well aware that a treaty change is not securable on that timescale. However, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, was only teasing, and we should move on now from this second Second Reading and get back to the detailed scrutiny of the Bill. I support Amendment 1 and oppose Amendment 2.
My Lords, there is a long tradition in this House that is always deplored: the debate on the first group of amendments to a Bill should not be another Second Reading—but we always do it.
I do not know whether it will please the Minister or not, but I want to ask a very genuine, simple, short, Committee stage question. The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, with his tongue in his cheek, suggested that the referendum might be as late as 2019. I do not agree with that, for pretty well all the reasons that have been stated around the Committee. If we are to have this thing, we need to have it as quickly as possible, otherwise it will poison the whole process of British government and politics for another two years. We really do not want that.
Clause 1(3) says that the referendum must not be on 5 May 2016 or 4 May 2017. These, of course, are the ordinary days of local elections in those years. As I said at Second Reading, I very much approve of that. The Bill says that the referendum cannot take place on local election day. What it does not say is that local election day could not be moved to take place on the same day as referendum day. If the negotiations are quicker and more successful than perhaps people expect, it might be that the referendum could be in May or early June next year, but if they drag on and on for much longer than people hope, it could be in the spring of 2017. There would then be a real temptation, I suspect, in at least parts of the Government, to combine the polls. I am asking for a commitment from the Minister that that cannot happen. Will she explain to me why, in the absence of this prohibition in the Bill, it cannot happen?
My Lords, I take the liberty of correcting the noble Lord on what he said about the referendum being held in May or June next year. The fact is that this Bill is very unlikely to get Royal Assent before Christmas, and we need 16 weeks from then, which takes us to the end of June.
Further to the brief exchange between the noble Lords, Lord Forsyth and Lord Liddle, about the use of the word “hypocrite”, may I, at the start of our Committee proceedings, suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, that he should no longer describe those of us who wish to leave the European Union as xenophobes—or, indeed, as Little Englanders, dangerous nationalists, swivel-eyed Europhobes, and so on? I wonder whether he and his noble and Europhile friends understand that those of us who wish to leave the European Union do so out of a very genuine love of Europe. But to us, Europe is the Europe of nations; it is not the failed project of European integration. We therefore think that we are actually better Europeans than those who wish to stay in that failed experiment. I trust he will accept that. If he does, I and my Eurosceptic friends will try not to use the word “quisling” about those who wish to continue with the project.
My second point is a question to the Minister. The noble Lords, Lord Liddle, Lord Anderson and Lord Kerr—who knows a thing or two about this—all seem to think it impossible that we will have adequate treaty change in our relationship with Europe in time for the end of 2017. Is it part of the Government’s thinking at the moment that they may go to the country on the promise of treaty change to come, on the grounds that all our dear colleagues in Europe have said in some Council meeting that they will eventually support treaty change? As we go forward with the Bill—and, indeed, with the negotiations in Brussels—we need to know that.
My Lords, we have heard that Amendment 2 is a tongue-in-cheek amendment. We have never had one of those before; it is, I think, without precedent. We have had wrecking amendments and probing amendments, but we have never had tongue-in-cheek amendments. Leaving that to one side, the amendment enables me to make one short but serious point.
The argument that has been made for getting on with things is clearly a strong one, because of the confidence factor and so on. We shall find out fairly quickly whether we can get the results we hope for in terms of change—certainly in terms of treaty change. For instance, on the question of repatriation of powers we shall fairly quickly come up against something called the acquis communautaire, which dominates, and is endemic to, the entire set of treaties. It requires all the movement to be one way; it does not allow any return of powers within the treaties. Given that unanimity would be required to change a treaty, we shall find out fairly quickly what the situation is. So any amendment, tongue-in-cheek or otherwise, that would cause further delays is a bad thing and should be voted against.
My Lords, Amendment 1 is perfectly acceptable, and I hope the Minister will accept it. However, I cannot understand why on earth Amendment 2 has been grouped with it. I am surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, did not insist that it be listed separately. He will be surprised to hear that, to some degree, I agree with what he said. 2017 will be a very difficult year.
As the noble Lord mentioned, there will be presidential elections in France, but also, I believe, in the second half of the year this country—the United Kingdom—will have the presidency of the European Union. It would be very difficult, would it not, if the Prime Minister did not have his programme and had not achieved his objective and he wanted to recommend that we leave the European Union at the same time as we had the presidency of the Union and were presumably promoting it? I think the noble Lord has a very good point about 2017 and I am surprised that the Prime Minister and his advisers had not looked forward to that. Basically, we will have to have the referendum either before 2017 or after. I know that will be difficult for the Prime Minister and for the Conservative Party because the date of 2017 is in the manifesto. I see some difficulties and I think that those difficulties will have to be addressed by the Government. They should tell us exactly how they will address them.
I hope that we can have a reasonable and polite discussion about these matters. For myself, I was never in favour of joining the Common Market. I made my first speech against it in 1962. I have taken part in all the debates ever since and I have opposed every treaty change. I still believe that this country would be far better off outside the EU and would prosper.
My position is absolutely clear—it always has been clear. That does not make me a Europhobe. I do not hate Europe—I love Europe. I love the countries of Europe but I believe in the countries of Europe and not a corporatist, central government of Europe. We have to make that absolutely clear.
I agree entirely with the words the noble Lord is using and I have followed much the same pattern myself. Does he agree with me that those who tell us we can never come out of Europe would have to accept that we are in fact—I am going to use a fairly strong word—enslaved?
I think “enslaved” is perhaps going a little far but at the same time, of course, we have lost the ability to govern ourselves in many respects. The noble Lord is right that things change. I always remember the dictum of Harold Wilson:
“A week is a long time in politics”,
and a decade, of course, is an aeon.
I was about to say that I wish we would not call each other names. I respect those who think that Britain should be part of a large agglomerate but, on the other hand, many of us believe that this country has succeeded for 1,000 years by its self-government.
I do not want to offend the noble Lord but the country that has been successful for 1,000 years is England. It is England. With my name being of Scottish origin, I would want to join Scotland with the success that the United Kingdom has achieved, certainly since 1706.
When it was mentioned that Lady Thatcher changed her mind, I thought that there was some dissent. I can assure noble Lords that she did change her mind. The reason I know that is that in 1992, when we were discussing the Maastricht treaty, there was a committee consisting of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, and many other people, and Margaret Thatcher—Lady Thatcher, if I might correct myself—led the opposition. I was chairman and she used to sit on my right hand side and make contributions that made it absolutely clear that her view then was that we should leave the EU. There was only one little problem. As the meeting went on I found that it was slipping away from me. It was slipping away from me on the right, but a little glance at her handed the meeting back to me. Margaret Thatcher became a convert to Britain leaving the EU.
I assure noble Lords that I never had an ambition to be Prime Minister. The fact is that Prime Ministers sometimes make mistakes. Sometimes they are badly advised. I think that she was very badly advised to agree to the Single European Act. On behalf of the Labour Party, Donald Bruce—Lord Bruce of Donington—and I sat on that Front Bench opposing the Single European Act. Unfortunately in my view, the Labour Party has changed its view, but it might come back to reality in due course and get on the right trail with this.
I agree entirely with Amendment 1 and, as I said earlier, the noble Lord has raised an important point.
My Lords, bearing in mind the contributions that we have had so far, for one moment I thought that I could be tempted to recount my 45 years’ membership of the Labour Party and my journey towards Europe. I will resist that for now, although I might come back to it.
It is important that we address some of the details of Amendment 1. It is fundamentally about a level playing field. I understand that noble Lords opposite are focusing on a level playing field over how the date will be set and the arrangements for purdah, but there is more to a level playing field than simply purdah. The Electoral Commission’s remarks or comments on this amendment are important. These show that in the commission’s experience since 2004, in referring to PPERA and its requirements, campaigners and electoral administrators need time to prepare themselves properly to follow the detailed rules that Parliament has specified. These rules relate to donations, campaign funds and, of course, how a campaign is properly designated.
I had hoped that noble Lords would refer to the ninth report of your Lordships’ Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, which raises this point quite properly. It says that there is a bit of a problem here with the requirements in the schedules about establishing or designating an appropriate organisation that will come within the terms of PPERA, and with the campaign period of 10 weeks. The issue for me—the Electoral Commission makes this point—is that we will have a much longer campaign than 10 weeks. It has already started: organisations either have been or will be set up in the hope and expectation that they will be the designated organisation. At some point they have to get their act together and ensure that they meet fully the requirements of PPERA.
A level playing field is devoutly to be sought. We can do as much as we can in Parliament and in this House to ensure that the rules are fair, that the donations question is settled properly and so on. Does my noble friend agree that there will never be an even playing field in this country as long as the press—often the foreign-owned press—is overwhelmingly against Europe?
I agree with my noble friend. One of the problems of PPERA and trying to establish a level playing field in elections generally is our free press, which is very important and which we must defend. We have to consider that the concentration of ownership in our press has distorted its ability to express a range of opinions.
I very much recall it, because, as I said in my Second Reading speech, I was secretary of the Spelthorne Get Britain Out campaign, so I was fully aware of what we were up against. I will come on to this on Amendment 2.
I want to focus on specific questions relating to this. Everyone is familiar with the 10-week campaign period and everyone is talking about purdah. However, there is a period before that relating to the operation of PPERA and designated organisations. Your Lordships’ Delegated Powers Committee said,
“if as suggested in the memorandum the start date for applications for designation is likely to be earlier than the start date for the referendum period, this will have the knock-on effect of reducing the minimum length for the referendum period”.
In considering the issue raised in these amendments, the committee said:
“We consider that, if the Government intend there to be a minimum of 10 weeks for the referendum period, they cannot rely on the operation of the 2000 Act”—
“to deliver that minimum period. In our view, the 10 week minimum for the referendum period should be specified on the face of the Bill”.
I would like to hear from the Minister whether the Delegated Powers Committee is correct. If it is not, how can she give the guarantees that we all accept have been made? I accept that there is a need to ensure that, when we enter the process of the referendum, there is a proper level playing field which everyone accepts and understands. To do otherwise would undermine the whole process because, as noble Lords have said, whatever we have at the end, we want a settlement. That brings me to my noble friend’s Amendment 2.
The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, was very helpful in his contributions. He reminded the House of the Labour Party’s policy and our stated opinion in this regard. Of course, there has been a general election and there was a clear manifesto commitment, which should be totally respected. There was not a clear manifesto commitment on the issues we discussed on Monday, which is why this House expressed its view, but we do have one for a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. It is important that that referendum is conducted as speedily as possible because, as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said, uncertainty about Britain’s place in Europe is not good for the British economy. We need to ensure that there is a clear decision as speedily as possible. However, I accept my noble friend’s assertion that his amendment was a bit tongue in cheek. He provoked an interesting debate, which has been rather like Second Reading.
There is this issue of who is taking what position and where they are coming from. I accept that the Prime Minister is entering these negotiations in good faith. He wants to achieve change. Personally—and I think this is the view of the Labour Party—I think that we better achieve change by engaging with the institutions and ensuring that our voice is properly heard. We have achieved such change in the European Union over a considerable period of time. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, made points about some of the elements of the Social Chapter. The elements he described were precisely those that helped change my mind about Europe. Health and safety is not red tape. Nor are drivers’ hours, which ensure safety. These are very important matters, especially because of how the world has changed; drivers must now, because of the markets they need to address, drive across boundaries.
I was not implying in any way that health and safety is not important. Indeed, I was a Health and Safety Minister in the Department of Employment for at least a year. The point I was making was that employment rights, when we signed up to them, were subject to unanimity and we had a veto. They were then presented as health and safety in order to get round that and make it possible to change them by qualified majority.
I hear what the noble Lord says but I think these issues will be part of the general debate and I do not want to use these amendments for a broader discussion. The only point I will make, in relation to the debate we had on Amendment 2, is that there is a point in the process of negotiations where people put forward demands that they know full well cannot be achieved. In the Labour movement, we used to call people who made those sorts of propositions Trotskyists. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, would be offended, or would think that it was unparliamentary for me to use those terms, but sometimes, I have to confess, he does sound like a little bit of a Trot.
My Lords, I will speak first to the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Hamilton before turning to that in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Liddle. Both amendments deal with the date, which is why there was a rationale for the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, to remain in this group. He certainly added extra pizzazz to the debate—I am not sure that is a parliamentary word but never mind.
There was a very serious thread in the arguments brought forward by noble Lords; that is, that in considering the date on which the referendum should take place, the Government should take into consideration very firmly fairness and, as my noble friend Lord Blencathra said, that the Government should not seek to bounce the country into a referendum. That is certainly not what the Government are seeking to do. They seek to find fairness and a level playing field. That has certainly underwritten the way in which the Government addressed the drafting of the Bill, particularly when one looks at some of the technical schedules, to try to achieve that fairness.
As one or two noble Lords have said, it is rather our tradition in this House that on the first group of amendments, whatever they may refer to, somehow we revisit Second Reading. After nine hours of Second Reading, that would be quite a long revisit. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, was not able to take part in that debate so I will try to comment on one or two of his points when we reach my responses to the noble Lord, Lord Liddle. But listening to some of the interventions, I felt I was hearing the way that noble Lords were going to vote in the referendum even though we have not yet concluded the negotiations, let alone set the date.
Amendment 1 in the name of my noble friend Lord Hamilton would put in place two restrictions on how the referendum date is agreed by Parliament. First, it would require there to be at least 10 weeks between setting the date in regulations and the date of the referendum itself. Secondly, it would require at least 16 weeks between the draft regulation setting the date being laid in Parliament and the referendum. My noble friend quoted in support of his view the statement made by my honourable friend Mr Penrose, the Minister in another place, when he gave a commitment about timing. My honourable friend Mr Penrose said that it would be clear that there will be 16 weeks from regulations to the date of the referendum.
I appreciate that this is a technical Bill—it is straightforward but it is technical—and therefore it is very easy to read one set of regulations against another. In this case, on occasions noble Lords may have been referring to Clause 6(6), which refers of course to the Section 125 PPERA regulations—the so-called statutory purdah—when in fact Clause 1(2) deals with the setting of the date. I think we need to disaggregate that, and we will deal with Clause 6(6) next week when we consider amendments in the names of some of my noble friends, and others.
Some noble Lords put forward the point that it would be right immediately to accept an amendment which put on the face on the Bill a minimum referendum period of 10 weeks. Some indeed might see this amendment at first sight as writing into the Bill a minimum referendum period of 10 weeks, as recently recommended by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. I note, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, said, that the committee says, in paragraph 33:
“We consider that, if the Government intend there to be a minimum of 10 weeks for the referendum period, they cannot rely on the operation of the 2000 Act to deliver that minimum period. In our view, the 10 week minimum for the referendum period should be specified on the face of the Bill”.
Since I am currently looking almost eye to eye with the chair of that committee, I suddenly realise that I can continue to say how highly I have respected its views throughout my time here. Since we are looking at its recommendation, I would not be able to say today exactly how we would respond, but the committee has certainly presented a detailed, thorough report, which we are looking at and discussing in detail with colleagues before we come back with any firm commitment and proposal in response. That is the normal process in Committee, because all noble Lords who have taken part in discussions with Ministers or have been Ministers will know that there is a process by which these matters go forward.
I would like to express appreciation, because I think that the other people who happen to be in the Chamber today are not in a position to respond on behalf of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. I serve on that committee and I think the committee will appreciate that it is entirely appropriate that the Government should take some time to think about that, but we feel strongly about it so we will look forward to hearing what the noble Baroness says on Report.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Tyler. It is not the only point made in the committee’s report, and one of the factors which may not be appreciated by those outside this House is that, when the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee commits itself to these pieces of work, the work has to be done very swiftly but it is always done with great consideration and much detail.
My Lords, I know that my noble friend hoped that I might immediately accept the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Hamilton. Perhaps I can skip forward a bit and disappoint my noble friend Lord Forsyth but he might welcome the rational answer that I wish to give him.
The trouble is that the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Hamilton does not actually achieve the change that he wants to achieve, because it does not refer to the right part of the Bill. It simply builds in a delay between the process of laying and agreeing regulations on the referendum, but not the regulations to which he was referring. It does not make any provision at all for the length of the referendum period itself, which is what I think he was trying to achieve. To try to be helpful and to achieve that sort of change, we would need to amend paragraph 1 of Schedule 1, which creates the power to set the length of the referendum period. I think I have perhaps set in train some further work for my noble friend Lord Hamilton and my noble friend Lord Forsyth, and we will certainly come on to that that later next week.
I apologise for interrupting my noble friend, but I had forgotten that there is another argument that is put forward when you are a Minister and you do not want to accept the amendment and your arguments are a bit thin, and that is that the drafting is not correct. Would it not be possible at a later stage in the Bill for the Minister to bring forward an amendment which was drafted correctly and met my noble friend’s purpose?
My Lords, I was trying to be very reasonable by saying that we are looking at the proposal from the committee’s report, which appears to chime exactly with that of my noble friend Lord Hamilton. With the respect that I pay to the committee and to my noble friend, I want to be able to bring back a proposal which is appropriate and would achieve a result that the Government feel is workable and the House feels is right. That will be a matter for debate on another occasion.
In any event, the Government has always been clear that we do not intend to propose a referendum period shorter than 10 weeks. I know that some confusion has also arisen because of the issue of when the lead campaign should be designated. What we have tried to do is to provide more flexibility in this Bill by saying that that can happen before the 10-week period, and if it does it extends the whole period to which we are referring. I do not wish to confuse the matter even further. We had a good debate on those first two amendments. The Delegated Powers Committee has made a recommendation, and we are certainly looking at that very closely.
I turn to Amendment 2, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Liddle. As other noble Lords have said, he introduced it by saying that it was a little tongue in cheek. It is none the worse for all that because it certainly initiated a strong debate. Perhaps I can be a little tongue in cheek back. I noted that, when the Private Member’s Bill in the name of my honourable friend Mr Wharton was staggering through Parliament in 2013—a little while ago, in other words—the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, made the point that he did not approve of setting out a date for a referendum at the end of 2017, which would have been four years on, because he felt that would have been an inappropriate delay. Since he has put down an amendment today for a four-year delay, I need say no more.
However, a serious point has been raised about when the referendum should take place. We heard quite a few remembrances from Second Reading. For example, the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, asked: will the Government go into a referendum with a promise of treaty change? The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, also made a point about whether there would be adequate time for treaty change. Others pointed out that it is possible for other procedures to go ahead. There have been reports that it is possible, as other countries have found, to lodge a protocol at the UN and achieve a promise that is legally binding. These matters are all germane to renegotiation.
The Prime Minister has clearly said that we will only come to the House to set a referendum date which the House then decides. It is a date proposed by the Prime Minister but decided by the House—because it will be in an affirmative statutory instrument. We would only do that after there had been a renegotiation and after the Prime Minister had been able to put that to the country for resolution. I can see that one or two noble Lords would like to intervene, so I will hesitate at the moment.
Does the Minister agree that the discussion we are having at this stage of the Bill would be vastly improved if we had the letter that the Prime Minister has committed to send to the President of the Council and make available to parliamentarians? At the moment, we have all sorts of hypotheses coming into the discussion about what might be there. Would it not be better if we knew the agenda for the discussions?
My Lords, it is right for this House to be apprised of the agenda for discussions further than it has already been—the agenda has, after all, been set out in several speeches by the Prime Minister—but that is separate from the process of having referendum legislation. As I said at Second Reading, this is merely the legislative vehicle for the referendum itself. The noble Lord is right that Parliament should have the opportunity properly to examine the proposals put forward by the Prime Minister and what has happened at the end of that. I am sure that we will discuss that further next week.
At this stage, I would like merely to give the straightforward answer to the noble Lord, Lord Liddle. The Bill currently provides for the referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the EU to take place no later than 31 December 2017. His amendment would move that deadline later, to 31 December 2019. As other noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, pointed out, holding this referendum by the end of 2017 was a clear manifesto commitment. It has been repeated by the Government since the election, and as drafted, this Bill will fulfil that commitment and allow the British people to give their view by the end of 2017. That is why I can confidently say that we would not accept the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Liddle.
However, I was asked one or two questions and perhaps I might try to address those. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, made the point that there will be other events around the rest of the European Union over the forthcoming couple of years. I would say that when we are holding the presidency of the Council, we will be perfectly competent to carry forward a referendum at that time, given the experience elsewhere in Europe. There are so many examples, but I will try to pick out one or two—I have gone on long enough already so I will not test the House’s patience too much. In 1993, the Danish Government held the presidency for the first six months. On 18 May during that period, they held a referendum on the Edinburgh agreement, setting out arrangements for Denmark. During the Polish presidency of July to December 2011, Poland held a parliamentary election. All seats in both Houses were up for re-election and that brought in Tusk for a second term.
Those are not adequate precedents because, for example, the Danish referendum was on some amendment to Denmark’s relationship with the European Union. What is proposed in this Bill is a possible total reversal. It would be wholly impossible, as the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, has said, for the UK, in the middle of its presidency of the European Union, to find that it is no longer a member or will shortly not be a member. It would place the UK presidency in an impossible situation.
I know the noble Lord’s experience of these matters so he is probably well ahead of me on this, but perhaps I can remind him that in 2006 and 2007 Germany and Finland swapped presidency dates to avoid national elections in each, so it can be done.
I was also asked a pertinent question by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves—
I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. I honestly think these so-called precedents which she has brought to the House to show it can be done ignore one really rather important point. She is probably in a similar position to the Prime Minister—that nothing is excluded as far as his own position in the campaign is concerned—but what is surely totally excluded is that, in the middle of our presidency, the Prime Minister of this country should campaign to leave the European Union.
We have not reached that point yet, since this is merely the first clause of a Bill trying to deliver the ability to hold a referendum, but these are all serious points. Noble Lords are pointing out that any decision about setting a date must take into account all the circumstances under which a referendum would be expected to operate. The Government would have to take a decision about which date to recommend to Parliament; it would then be for Parliament to consider that and to set their view.
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, pointed out that in the past there has been at least one occurrence of local election dates being moved. Amendments were agreed in another place to rule out those May dates in 2016 and 2017 specifically to ensure that the referendum does not clash with known local government dates. There is certainly no expectation that local government dates should be moved. That is not our plan and we do not see that happening. However, without wishing ill on any Member of any party in the other place, if there had to be a completely unforeseen parliamentary by-election or local government by-election and it was decided that a by-election might be held on the same day as the referendum, I think the House might consider that to be rather a different matter, but we have no plan to move other elections to combine them with the referendum.
My noble friend Lord Hamilton has moved his amendment and the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, has spoken to his. At this stage, I say formally to the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, that I hope he may see fit not to move his amendment when it is called from the list, and I invite my noble friend Lord Hamilton to withdraw his Amendment 1.
My Lords, I may have misheard, but I thought my noble friend said in the context of the date of the referendum that the Prime Minister would make a recommendation to both Houses and both Houses would be able to decide. As that is by regulation, would that not get us into some difficulty in this House?
My Lords, I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, that the grouping of the amendments is somewhat weird. I cannot quite understand why Amendment 1 was grouped with Amendment 2, other than that one followed the other. They do not seem to have an awful lot in common. I congratulate the noble Lord, because his amendment certainly created much more interest and lively debate than mine.
I am very grateful to the House, because there seems to be almost complete unanimity over my amendment. I take my noble friend’s point that the wording could perhaps have been better, but I was enormously encouraged—almost shocked—to get the support of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, to whom I am very grateful. The point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, about the Delegated Powers Committee having a view on this as well was also very encouraging. We have the Electoral Commission and the whole of your Lordships’ House, I think, in support. Indeed, it is in the spirit of what the Government have already said. On that basis, I take my noble friend’s point that it was not very well worded, so work must be done. May I check with her where this leaves us today? Presumably, an amendment will be put forward which is better worded but applies itself to the spirit of my amendment and will be tabled at Report as a government amendment. Is that correct?
My Lords, as I explained, the normal procedure is that the Government, having seen the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform report, considers all its recommendations and consults in government and then considers next steps. That is when decisions are made, so I cannot give my noble friend any undertakings at this stage; clearly, that is not the normal procedure.
I am very grateful to my noble friend for that, but I am also mindful of the seemingly total support in your Lordships’ House, so I hope that we can get a better amendment tabled at Report. I am not quite sure who will be voting against it. I thank my noble friend very much and I withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Amendment 2 not moved.
3: Clause 1, page 1, line 12, leave out “remain a member of the European Union or leave” and insert “leave the European Union or remain a member of”
My Lords, this is a rather more modest amendment, as you will see. Unfortunately, I cannot plead in aid the support of the Electoral Commission, which for some reason does not seem to want to support the amendment. The only point I would make about the question in the Bill is that in all previous incarnations, the Electoral Commission has always taken things in alphabetical order. When you have a voting paper, if your name is Brown, it comes higher than somebody called Smith. That is an arbitrary rule that has been imposed for all voting papers. On that basis, it is somewhat confusing that in this case the Electoral Commission recommends that we do not go in alphabetical order. I do not quite understand what the thinking of the Electoral Commission was on this. I think, having moved once already on whole issue of the question, it feels that it has done all it can, but it is rather odd that it has not followed the precedent that it has set in the past. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 5, 6 and 7, which are grouped—again, rather strangely—with the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton. I suppose it is to do with the wording, and that is the common thread.
Before going into detail, perhaps I may note that I did not speak at Second Reading, and I shall be very careful to take good note of the strictures of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, on making Second Reading speeches—I will not do that. My noble friend Lord Elis-Thomas spoke on that occasion, and I was delighted to be on the same side as him, because back in the 1975 referendum, when I was certainly a “yes” voter for Wales and the UK to remain members of the European Community, he was on the other side, as was almost the rest of my party. I am glad to say that my party has come round. I am still totally committed to the European ideal and shall most certainly campaign, wherever I can, to ensure that the UK remains part of the European Union.
I have had some doubts about having a referendum, but by now, I have come round to realise that this issue cannot just continue as it has. It is causing so much uncertainty. It affects investment, particularly from parts of the world that might be looking at Europe as a bloc. I think of the United States, China and Japan. Inward investment undoubtedly is being undermined by uncertainty, and we need to put that uncertainty to bed. Therefore, everything that I shall do in the context of this Bill will be to facilitate, encourage, and maximise a vote to remain in the European Union.
Turning to my amendments, I remind noble Lords that the Welsh language is now, of course, a full and equal official language in Wales. It was “full and equal” but not “official” in the 1993 Act passed by this House, but now it is an official language as well. Therefore, there is a need for the wording on the ballot paper to be totally transparent, beyond reproach and, in particular, to be such that it does not lay itself open to any challenge in the courts. In the context of a very close result, I can just imagine some protagonists being tempted to go down that road. Let us therefore make sure that the wording in both languages is clear and beyond any dubiety. That is where Amendment 7 is relevant: there is now a legal requirement in Wales for the two languages to be treated on the basis of equality for official purposes. Failure to do so would put the Government in default of the requirement of the law in Wales.
On Amendments 5 and 6, the wording as it stands uses the Welsh word “aros”. That is best translated into English as “stay”, not as “remain”. The term “dim aros” appears on road signs: it means “no stopping” or “no parking”. I am not quite sure that the connotations of the wording that we have in this translation for the purposes of the ballot paper convey what the Government want it to. The word I propose, “Parhau”, is a much better equivalent of “remain”.
This is not just my opinion. I am not a Welsh scholar: I was a physics graduate, and my life was in industrial finance before coming to Parliament. I therefore spoke to a good colleague and friend who is a lawyer and an ex-chief executive of a local authority in Wales with a good degree in Welsh. He agrees with my interpretation on that, so I ask the noble Baroness, if she is responding to this debate, what consultation there has been in Wales and whether the Government are absolutely sure that the interpretation they have used is beyond question.
In the spirit of Committee, these are clearly probing amendments. I am asking the Government, if there is any possible doubt, to consult further in Wales between now and Report, and do anything necessary at that point. I will not trespass unduly on noble Lords’ patience, but I also press for a government assurance that all the official documents published by the Government in Wales in the context of this referendum will be in both languages, as has by now become the norm with regard to practice in these matters in Wales.
My Lords, I rise in support of Amendments 3 and 4, proposed by my noble friend Lord Hamilton. The unspoken point here is that some people believe that whatever proposition comes first on a referendum has a marginal advantage because people react to the first thing that they read. I personally rather doubt that that is the case. But there is an argument that, if you have a referendum, you do not have one to say that you want no change—you have a referendum to consider whether you want change or not. Therefore, it is not unreasonable that the change proposition should come first. But there will no doubt be an ongoing tug of war on this issue, due to the view that whichever proposition comes first has some advantage. I would like to see evidence as to whether that is the case.
My Lords, I defer to my noble friend Lord Wigley in his knowledge of the Welsh language and look forward to learning further from the Front Bench with respect to the validity of the Welsh question. I had the misfortune to attend a traditional Welsh grammar school, where I was able to give up Welsh for Greek at a tender age, but I look forward to the further debate on this—and I look forward to appearing on the same platform with the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, as we did in 1975. Indeed, the first time we met, when we got on famously, was when as a young industrialist he came to see me; I had been in the Foreign Office, working on a European desk, and he came to—wait for it—seek my advice on the European Union. We have not looked back since.
On the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, in the earlier part of this evening’s debate we decided that the rules should be set by the Electoral Commission. At this point, surely the presumption on a matter of this sort should be—this is the very purpose of the Electoral Commission—that we defer to it in respect of such rules and, if we do not follow those rules, we have a very good reason for so doing. With all respect to the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, and the presumption that I made, I have not heard from him a weighty case against the change and for the reversal he now proposes.
My Lords, I, too, support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Hamilton. I was interested in the remarks of my noble friend Lord Flight. It is interesting that the Electoral Commission did not support the amendment; I thought that perhaps it was because the status quo should go first and a departure from the status quo should come second but, as my noble friend Lord Flight remarked, normally in a referendum the change that you seek comes first and the present position—the status quo—comes second. I am not clear which is right, so I think that probably my noble friend Lord Hamilton is right in saying that alphabetical order should prevail.
I am not going to enter into the debate on the intricacies of the Welsh language, as put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. I am perfectly happy to accept that what he says is correct. But I was clearly struck by the fact that he is one of those noble Lords who will campaign to remain a member of the European Union—and, I would like to say, to remain a member on the present basis, whatever the Prime Minister is able or unable to negotiate.
He also remarked in quite strong terms that leaving the European Union would be extremely detrimental to investment. It is not possible to know that without knowing the basis on which the United Kingdom might cease to be a member of the European Union—I would rather say, might cease to be a “full member” of the European Union. Ideally, I think that the Prime Minister should work for a trading relationship with the European Union, which could well be as a trading member of the European Union. So I do not really like the referendum questions—“remain” or “leave” the European Union—because “leave” sounds like a tugboat will come and attach a tow rope to our little island and tow us off into the Indian Ocean or somewhere where we might enjoy better weather. The reality is that we cannot leave the European Union in a geographical sense because we are adjacent to core eurozone members.
I would like to see the Prime Minister achieve substantial and significant reforms to our basis of membership, which may well mean that we cease to be a member on the current basis. The relationship with the other members of the European Union might be some kind of associate status or a reformed EEA or a reformed EFTA. I therefore take issue with the noble Lord’s strong comment that it would be detrimental to investment if we were to leave the European Union.
I was startled to hear the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, give as a reason the way in which names are produced. It is entirely true that it normal practice to use alphabetical order for names and for names of countries, but it is not so for verbs—and these are two verbs. So I do not think this has any validity. The Electoral Commission wants the wording in the Bill for the very simple reason that it put it forward. It would be a bit startling if it now found that it had put forward the wrong wording. It has not; it has put forward the right wording, and the Government, who did not start with this wording, moved to the Electoral Commission’s wording in the other place—and I honestly suggest that that is the best place to stand.
My Lords, I am rather new to the process of legislation. This is the first time that I have been involved in the passage of a Bill. Until the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, spoke, I was thinking that perhaps I had slipped back to Second Reading, even though we are on the second group of amendments. I am slightly puzzled by hearing a whole set of reasons from people who are in favour of leaving or remaining. I hope that my intervention will be wholly objective. I do not claim that my Welsh is up to knowing whether “aros” is the right word, but will the Minister confirm that the Government have checked the translation, in addition to the work done by the Electoral Commission?
In response to Amendments 3 and 4, I find it bizarre that we are discussing whether “leave” or “remain” should be in alphabetical order. This is not an election between people; it is a referendum on a question. The Electoral Commission has undertaken a lot of consultation, we have been extensively briefed and the other place was extensively briefed. The Government have taken the Electoral Commission’s wording, and I suggest that these amendments are not helpful.
My Lords, the Labour Party has consistently argued that we should follow the advice of the Electoral Commission on the question. It changed its mind on the question. It said that the previous question that came before the House was not adequate. It has tested this question, and that is why we support the current wording. It is worth noting that the Electoral Commission’s briefing states that when it tested the reverse order, which is being recommended in this amendment, participants felt it was a more leading question than if the words were put the other way round. We do not believe there is a need to change the order in the question.
I turn briefly to the Welsh language question. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and I could turn this into a Welsh language festival. I must stress that I do not expect the Minister to have a detailed understanding of the nuances of the Welsh language, but I suggest that she takes note of the recommendation made by the noble Lord.
I am a fluent Welsh speaker, as is the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. There are about half a million Welsh speakers in Wales. Interestingly, there are no daily Welsh newspapers and the difference between oral and written Welsh is quite significant—one is very formal, one very informal. On this issue I have consulted one of the top translators at the National Assembly for Wales and I have also looked at the Welsh language dictionary and confirm what the noble Lord has suggested: “aros” is more like “to stay” and “parhau”, “to remain”. If noble Lords want a direct translation, I suggest the noble Lord’s is more correct. I note from the briefing given by the Electoral Commission that alternative questions were tested as well—
I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. I greatly admire her linguistic skills but I want to be quite sure where her loyalties lie. Will she please confirm that the translation she is recommending, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, does not change the question to be one about the independence of the Principality of Wales?
I assure the noble Lord that if that were the question the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, was suggesting, I would not be supporting him.
I think the Minister should look at this, go back to the Electoral Commission and make sure that it really has tested the wording with Welsh speakers in Wales.
My Lords, I will first address the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Hamilton. As other noble Lords have commented and as my noble friend explained clearly, with his Amendments 3 and 4 he seeks to swap round part of the referendum question from:
“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”,
to, “Should the United Kingdom leave the European Union or remain a member of the European Union?”. The Government accepted the advice of the Electoral Commission about the text of the question after it carried out a consultation following the publication of the Government’s Bill. The Bill was amended in another place in accord with the Electoral Commission’s recommendations at that point. I understand my noble friend’s point. He wants to see whether there is a level playing field. Is it fairer to have the phrases in the Bill in the order he prefers? I note in passing that he has not tabled corresponding amendments to the Welsh version of the question, but we will come to Welsh in a moment.
The Electoral Commission carried out extensive analysis of the referendum question before recommending the formulation that currently appears in the Bill. Its briefing makes the point that it is concerned about my noble friend’s amendments and reminds the House that its research found that starting questions with “leave” was less intuitive and more leading than starting with “remain”. In other words, it argues that if we were to accept my noble friend’s amendments and change the order, we would be unsettling a level playing field and drawing more attention to saying that people should vote to leave. In that circumstance, I am not minded to accept my noble friend’s amendment but I appreciate the way in which he has brought it forward to give us the opportunity to consider the question itself.
Amendments 5 and 6 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, also refer to the question but look at the way in which it has been provided in Welsh. I am grateful to the noble Lord for making the point that Amendments 5 and 6 are probing amendments. They would change the wording of the Welsh language that would appear on the ballot papers in Wales. As with the English language question, the wording was recommended by the Electoral Commission following a period of research over the summer. I will say one or two words about that research and our response to it because the matters were also raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan.
The research included consulting the Welsh Language Commissioner, as well as members of the public and other bodies, including local government bodies. As the Electoral Commission noted, its research explicitly considered the words that appear in the noble Lord’s amendment. The participants whom it contacted and researched deeply preferred the formulation in the Bill to that proposed by the noble Lord. I certainly do not have knowledge of Welsh, so I have to look at the research.
I have to say that I miss hearing Welsh spoken in the corridors here, as I did commonly when Lord Roberts of Conwy was in conversation with, I think, a former Leader of this House, Lord Cledwyn. It is a melodic and fascinating language. All I did was to teach for five years at a Welsh girls’ school but, regrettably, I did not learn Welsh during that time.
The Electoral Commission, in carrying out its research, tested Welsh versions of the questions during its fieldwork. It found that, overall, participants did not like the word “para”, which is not the word used in the noble Lord’s amendment but is close to it. It was felt that “para” sounded like other words, such as parachute or the mutated version “bara”, which is the Welsh word for bread. People said in particular that they did not like the alternatives that are specifically in the noble Lord’s amendment—that is, “barhau” or “parhau”.
Obviously I shall not chase this matter for any length of time, but has the noble Baroness considered the methodology that may have been used by the Electoral Commission? She is putting all her eggs in that basket and, if there were any question as to the methodology, the conclusions might also be suspect. I ask her only to look at this matter again between now and Report so as to be absolutely sure.
My Lords, I will certainly be happy to look at the methodology adopted by the Electoral Commission. In my early life I was a sociologist—although I hardly dare say that in front of my noble friend Lord Forsyth—and I can say that, looking through the report, the Electoral Commission has carried out research through citizens advice bureaux. The methodology it has used shows that it has taken advice not only from organisations but from individuals, and from individuals not only in one particular area but in sample areas around the country. Therefore, I respect its research, although I will of course consider the matter.
The noble Lord referred in particular to the word “aros”. I understand that most participants noted that either “aros” or—I apologise for the fact that I shall have to spell this—“ddal i fod” could be used in the referendum question. Both options were considered to work well, but in fact “aros” was felt to be more straightforward and clearer.
We would say that the Electoral Commission carried out proper research but, in the light of the noble Lord’s request, of course I will consider what he said. If I may, I will come back to him outside the Chamber so that we may talk about this before Report. I hope that that will be helpful.
The noble Lord’s Amendment 7 seeks to ensure that the English and Welsh language questions and answers are given equal prominence on the ballot paper in Wales. That has indeed been the practice on ballot papers in Wales. I have copies of a range of them, which show that the options have been arranged very carefully side by side. The noble Lord’s amendment gives me the opportunity to explain that, but the amendment itself does not perhaps give great clarity as to how a ballot paper would achieve that balance. I am very happy to share that textual information with the noble Lord if he so wishes.
Finally, I invite my noble friend Lord Hamilton to withdraw his amendment, if he is so minded. I hope that he will be, and I hope that when it comes to be called, the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, will choose not to move his amendment.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Wigley—at least he has some commitment from my noble friend the Minister to come back to him. I did not get the impression that there was the overwhelming support from the Committee for Amendments 3 and 4 that there was for Amendment 1. Therefore, I am not looking to come back with an improved form of the amendment on Report and I am more than happy to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 3 withdrawn.
Amendments 4 to 7 not moved.
Clause 1 agreed.
Clause 2: Entitlement to vote in the referendum
8: Clause 2, page 2, line 4, at end insert—
“( ) This section is to be read as if references to the age of 18 in sections 1(1)(d) and 2(1)(d) of the Representation of the People Act 1983 were references to the age of 16.”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 8 on behalf of my noble friend Lord Wallace and myself, I make it clear that the other amendments in this group are all heading in the same direction; we have just taken slightly different routes to the same end, and I am sure that other noble Lords will speak to their amendments shortly. In that context, I know that your Lordships will be terribly disappointed that I am not going to repeat my Second Reading speech. Instead, I want to refer to some of the other contributions made in that debate.
I think that there is now a general view in your Lordships’ House that we should move to the inclusion of 16 and 17 year-olds in the question of the future of our country in the European Union. I think we can take it as read that my colleagues on the Liberal Democrat Benches have supported this view consistently for many years in other contexts, and indeed in relation to the referendum, so I shall not repeat in detail the contributions to the Second Reading debate of my noble friends Lady Smith of Newnham and Lord Teverson, nor indeed that of my noble friend Lord Shipley. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Ely, will forgive me if I do not repeat exactly what she said. Again, she was strongly in favour, but I think it is well known that the Labour Party has now also come round to the view that this would be an appropriate extension of the franchise.
However, I do want to refer to some very notable contributions during the Second Reading debate. The first was from the noble Lord, Lord Jay of Ewelme, who I think was in his place a few minutes ago but is not now. He said:
“Like others, I think that there is a strong case for extending the franchise, as in the Scottish referendum, to 16 and 17 year-olds. The purity of the general election franchise has already been breached to allow Peers and citizens of Gibraltar to vote. It would surely be right to allow the generation who will be so greatly affected by the outcome of the referendum to take part in it”.—[Official Report, 13/10/15; col. 102.]
Wise words, my Lords. However, I was even more struck by the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, whom I am delighted to see in his place. He said:
“The other point that I want to make refers to the 16 and 17 year-olds. We have a very interesting example before us in Scotland. My impression is that it worked well. I do not agree with those who say that if there is to be a change in the voting age, it should be introduced for general elections rather than for referendums. General elections are about the next five years. This referendum is certainly for the next generation and perhaps for very much longer. It does, therefore, touch the 16 and 17 year-olds very precisely. I will listen to the arguments but I incline very much at the moment to support those who would extend the franchise to 16 and 17 year-olds”.—[Official Report, 13/10/15; col. 113.]
That point was very eloquently argued just now—although perhaps he did not mean it to be—by the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, who said that the most important decision for the next 40 years is the decision on our future in Europe. If it is for the next 40 years, I dare to suggest to your Lordships that one or two of us will not be here. Therefore, one or two of us may not have quite the same interest in that long-term view as 16 and 17 year-olds.
However, the most persuasive arguments that I have heard are from the other end of the building. They come from a number of Conservative Members of Parliament who have been very eloquent in saying that they think that on this particular decision 16 and 17 year-olds should be included in the franchise. This is what Mr Neil Carmichael said. He may not be well known to everybody but he is very well known to me because he is my local Member of Parliament. He is a Conservative but he also happens to be the chairman of the Education Select Committee, so he is very much in touch with the extent to which young people these days are well informed and well and truly mature enough to take this decision. He said:
“The closer we get to the referendum, the more we are hearing about the issue of extending votes to 16 and 17-year-olds. The strongest argument for doing so is that it is this generation which will have to live with the decision, probably for the majority of their lifetimes—and it is their opportunities that would most be affected by the vote. I believe it is absolutely right that they must have a say”.
That is what he said in the Stroud News and Journal. He has obviously been taking account of the views of his constituents, such as me. He extended that view, rather more eloquently, in City AM.
This is a one-off event and it is particularly important—
My Lords, before the noble Lord concludes his summary of the contributions on the subject made in the other place, does he recall that the honourable Member for Totnes, also a Conservative, said something to the effect that one-quarter of those born today will live to be 100. They will be here, even if some of us will not be.
I am sure that the noble Lord will be here. He has already displayed the sort of longevity that we expect in this House. Indeed, it may not be known to Members on all sides of your Lordships’ House that we currently have 14 years’ greater longevity than the average citizen in the United Kingdom, which says something about the way in which we are looked after in this place—it may also say something about the intellectual stimulus that we occasionally have in this place. However, I agree with the noble Lord; I referred to that particular Member of the other House, who spoke very eloquently on this point.
The noble Lord seems to be advancing two propositions, both of which I find puzzling. The first is that those of us in this Chamber have no concern for the future of our country after we are dead. I do not believe that that is the case at all. The second proposition is that 17 year-olds are somehow of a different generation from 18 year-olds. I do not understand that either.
My Lords, I have not actually come to my own views on this subject. I have simply been reporting the views of the noble Lord’s colleagues in both this and the other House. If, for example, he has an objection to the views of my local Member of Parliament—a Conservative: Mr Neil Carmichael—I suggest that he take it up with him. All I am trying to suggest is that it is now the common experience and approach that young people are mature, well-informed and ready to take this particular step on this particular issue. This is widely accepted in all parts of your Lordships’ House—and, I suggest, in the other House.
When we discussed this in the context of giving the Scottish Parliament the power to decide this, I warned that the Scottish Parliament would give the vote to 16 year-olds and that this would then be used as an argument for doing the same here, which is what the noble Lord has been doing. Does this not relate to the issue of the age of majority? In Scotland, 16 year-olds are not allowed to buy a pint of beer or a packet of cigarettes. Should we not look at this in the context of the appropriate age of majority and not in the context of a Bill of this kind?
I want to pick up on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. Those who are 16 are not allowed to buy cigarettes or buy a drink, but they are not being told that they will never be allowed to buy cigarettes or buy a drink. After the referendum, if we decide to leave the European Union, that is it—we would leave. They would then never have the opportunity to decide whether or not they wish to be in the European Union. It seems to me that the analogy does not work; I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Tyler.
I am grateful to have that additional support from the Cross Benches.
I was about to go back very briefly to the other, very comparable, situation that the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, referred to. We have to take into account the practical example of the Scottish independence referendum.
I have to confess that, until now, many of us on this side of the House—certainly those of us on the Liberal Democrat benches—have theoretically had to argue this case. We do not have to do that any longer. We know now, from the Scottish independence referendum campaign, that young people in Scotland took this issue very seriously. They were very well-informed and registered in much greater numbers than opponents ever thought that they would: 109,593 young people in this age group registered and 75% of them voted. That is more than the next cohort up, where people tend to go away from home—off to new jobs or university— and lose touch with the electoral process. Only 54% of 18 to 24 year-olds voted, and 72% of 25 to 34 year-olds voted. Young people debated the issues with great intelligence and personal integrity, ignoring vested interests. Indeed, they were rather more balanced in the outcome, as far as we can detect, than middle-aged men, who were actually taken in by some of the myths of the separatists.
Here, then, is the practical example. What is so important about this is that it demonstrates that, when young people are asked what they think about a longer-term issue of such huge importance to the country and to them, they take it very seriously. Some Members of your Lordships’ House who go on behalf of the Lord Speaker to sixth forms very often find that that age group is rather better informed, and perhaps more mature in their views, than some 60 and 70 year-olds.
Has it ever occurred to the noble Lord that old people never get younger but young people, granted reasonable luck, get older? The older they get, the more they become like old people. It is a very curious thing. He is saying that their views as young people should be counted but that those of us who are in our advanced years are silly old fools who really should not be trusted with the future of the country at all.
I have not yet proposed an age limit for voting. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, will have a vote in this referendum. He does not get one in a general election any more than I do, but he will be allowed a vote in this, which is one reason that some Members of your Lordships’ House feel that there is a clear case for extending the franchise. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, will vote the right way, although I have more confidence in the judgment of some 16 and 17 year-olds than I do in his.
It was not, my Lords. This issue is one on which the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, and his colleagues—who may have doubtful views on these matters—are just as likely to persuade young people to vote their way as I am. I just think that the judgment should be in the hands of the people who are going to be affected.
There is no concrete evidence of that—the ballot is secret. I think that there was a slight margin among 16 and 17 year-olds to vote no to independence. In the next group up, there was a slight increase.
I dare anybody in your Lordships’ House to say to the 16 and 17 year-olds in England, Wales and Northern Ireland that they are not mature or well-enough informed, do not know what they are talking about and would be influenced by the wrong people—yet that the Scots are up to it. I just do not understand how we could do that. It is critical that this bedrock, this foundation stone of our representative democracy—the franchise—should in this respect be exactly the same throughout the country. I beg to move.
My Lords, I want to say a few words about my experience in the Scottish referendum, which the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, mentioned. I feel so strongly about this issue that I am here tonight despite the fact that in another place—I do not mean down the corridor, but in Tynecastle Park in Edinburgh—Heart of Midlothian are playing Celtic in the quarter-finals of the Scottish league cup. If any of my colleagues here know about my passion and enthusiasm for Heart of Midlothian football club, which I had the privilege of chairing for a couple of years, they will know that it is a great sacrifice for me to be here tonight. That indicates my strength of feeling on this issue.
If I was not convinced before the Scottish referendum that 16 and 17 year-olds should have a vote, the referendum campaign convinced me. I know that my noble friend Lady Adams, who was there as well, agrees with this. I was canvassing for people to vote against independence, and the enthusiasm for participating was absolutely fantastic. To give one example, I was going round Portobello, and some sixth-form pupils from Portobello High School came out and spoke to us on the corner of the street. They were arguing the case: they knew all the arguments on both sides. Some of them supported yes and some of them supported no; they were arguing with me and they were arguing with each other. We were doing that for about half an hour, and then one of them looked at me and said, “Hey, you’re that Foulkes fellow, aren’t you?”, and I said, “Oh, well done”. They really know what is going on.
No, it would not. As I think the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, said, in so far as we know how they voted, the votes of the 16 and 17 year- olds were very similar to the 55:45 result among the older age groups, especially those immediately above them. Clearly, the information they received and the passion that they had did not make them all independence supporters—quite the reverse.
Let us look at general elections as well. The turnout of 18 to 24 year-olds has risen sharply in the past decade, from 38% in 2005 to 58% in 2015. Those people are participating more, and that is something that we should encourage—as well as encouraging the younger people as well.
I do not want to go on at length about this—although, as I said, I feel passionately about it. But I must add that young people understand the situation in Europe and the advantages they gain from our membership of the European Union. The ones that I have met and spoken with have a passion to ensure that we never go to war again. They have read the history books and they know—particularly this year and last year, with the centenary—about the Great War. They also know about the Second World War. They know that those wars started in Europe, and they want to make sure that peace and prosperity are secure—and they know that the European Union helps to ensure that.
Young people also move around the European Union and meet people. They meet French, German and Polish young people in a way that never happened in our time. They go interrailing, they work and they holiday throughout the European Union—and the interrelations that take place are fantastic. That helps understanding; the fact that they know what life is like in other parts of Europe helps to make sure that we shall not have conflicts in the future. More and more young people also study. People from other countries in Europe study here in Britain, and people from the United Kingdom study in Europe. One of the great European Union programmes is Erasmus, which has provided £112 million for young Britons to study abroad, broaden their horizons and improve their skill sets in a fantastic way.
Finally, I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, who raised the idea that 16 and 17 year-olds cannot buy a pint of beer in the pub, and mentioned some other things for which people have to wait until they are 18. But at the age of 16 people can work, they can pay taxes, they can join the Armed Forces, and they can marry. Those are far more responsible things than just drinking a pint of beer. There is every reason why we should make this change—and I hope we shall do it enthusiastically on all sides of the House.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 9 and 20, in my name, which are linked to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, and are aimed at achieving the same objective. We have all seen a number of different proposals for doing that, but there seems to be a broad-based feeling that, for this purpose, the vote should be extended to 16 and 17 year-olds throughout the United Kingdom.
Many of the arguments have been ably put by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, on the basis of his experience of the Scottish referendum. I too campaigned in the Scottish referendum—although I am sorry to say that we were not on the same side, and that I probably campaigned less successfully than he did. One thing that we could all see, whichever side we supported, was the enthusiasm that was there and the willingness to engage. I am sure that a lot of young people will take what they got from that referendum campaign with them through the rest of their lives. I very much hope that the lessons from Scotland will be borne in mind, and that even if we do not come to a conclusion on this matter tonight at Committee stage, they will be borne in mind on Report.
Another factor that has not been mentioned is the way in which the interest and enthusiasm of 16 and 17 year-olds, and other young people, can affect older people. Older people find that they have to engage with arguments that perhaps they have not previously thought through themselves. Some may be led to follow the line taken by 16 and 17 year-olds and some may not. Certainly in Scotland many families were divided—and not necessarily on an age basis. I accept that we cannot say which way young people’s votes went, but my goodness, they made a difference to the process of holding a referendum, and the longer-term benefits were that people would be more active citizens as a result of their experience, whatever the outcome of the referendum might be.
I remind noble Lords that for a possible referendum in Wales on tax-varying powers—I believe that my noble friend Lord Elis-Thomas could confirm this—powers have already been passed over to the National Assembly by Westminster, so that any such referendum that may take place could be open for 16 and 17 year- olds to participate in. So the principle is being extended for the purpose of referenda. If it is valid in the context of a referendum on tax-varying powers, how much more so is it when such far-reaching decisions are being taken in the context of the relationship with Europe?
There has been talk in Scotland among some people—I do not necessarily agree with them—that there should not be referenda too frequently. I certainly feel in the context of Europe that we should not be having referenda too frequently, and a decision taken now is likely to stay with those 16 and 17 year-olds for the rest of their lives. It is very far reaching, and whichever way it goes, it will be with them.
The other consideration is whether they are equipped to make a decision. I feel that 16 and 17 year-olds—indeed young people generally—are more likely to be equipped to take a decision on this than many older people, if we are trying to come to a conclusion on capacity to take a decision. We have heard of three factors and I want to underline and stress one of them. We have heard about tax-paying and the ability to enrol, if not directly to fight, in the Armed Forces. That is the question and it was the basic rationale behind the creation of the European Union two generations ago. There were people with a vision that never again would our continent tear itself to bits with two bloody civil wars. These young people’s future can be determined by that. More than any other argument that we will pursue from now until the referendum, there is the question of holding this continent of ours together and not fighting each other in future. That must be basic. For that purpose, if for no other, those young people should have the vote.
My Lords, earlier this year I tabled a Private Member’s Bill that came so low down the list that it is never likely to be debated. It sought to extend to European citizens the right to vote in British elections, on the basis of no taxation without representation. If people pay taxes to the British Exchequer, the fact that they hold a different passport should not preclude them from exercising a say in how their money is spent. Having tabled that Bill, I went into the electoral system that we have in great depth. I did not realise exactly how complex it is. That certainly led me to conclude that a debate on the European Union Referendum Bill is not the place to start extending the franchise.
All my life I have heard guff about young people. When I was 16 years old and I became an official in the local branch of my trade union, everybody was saying, “Isn’t it marvellous. We really need young people here”. There is a sort of idolisation of the young. Of course, we need young people but we also need mature people. I spoke in our group meeting not so long ago against the idea of throwing all noble Lords out of this House when they get to 80. I am some way short of 80 but I do not propose to support something that disfranchises people because they have reached a certain age. I know some people of 60 who are nowhere near as bright as our good and noble friend Lord Plumb. He is not here at the moment, but at the age of 90 he gave one of the best speeches I have heard in the European Parliament recently when he spoke at the Former Members’ Association.
To get back to the point, when this was proposed initially, I thought it was tabled because the “yes” side thought that more young people would vote yes than no. I am not sure that that is the case now, having looked at the evidence. I now ask, why are we extending or changing the franchise on the back of a Bill about the European Union? Why are we making these changes when we consider the difficulties that we could have in registering the said people? I ask the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, to respond to that. This is not like Scotland where there was a long lead-in to the referendum between the Act and the voting date. This referendum could take place within a very short time. For the moment, I am not convinced that the age and wisdom of a small group of people spanning just two years is worth making a fundamental change to the electoral system.
When the noble Lord is canvassing, I wonder whether he has had the experience, as I have, of knocking on a door and having a conversation with somebody who really does not know what you are talking about. They then sort of talk back at you, and when you say, “Where did you get that information?”, they say, “I read it in the Sun”. I am afraid to say that a lot of 16 and 17 year-olds who have citizenship lessons at school and who live in a world where there is information coming at them from every which way, are more able to take decisions than many people who currently have the vote.
It is not a matter of opinion when we are talking about the maturity and capacity of young people, as my noble friend said. If we look back over the span of 40 years since the last European referendum, we will see some astonishing changes. I have figures from the House of Commons Library showing that the number of young people going into further and higher education in the year I was born was just over 3% of the population. Today, all that time later beyond 1950, it is now coming up to 50%—it is 45% or around that figure. Young people today are more fit for purpose than they have ever been. They are fit for purpose on higher education, travel, literacy, computer literacy and cultural awareness, and are the best and most fit-for-purpose generation of young 16 and 17 year-olds that we have ever had.
I also thank the noble Baroness for her intervention but this is a Bill not about extending the franchise but about a European referendum. I intend to vote yes in this referendum unless some dreadful tragedy happens in the renegotiation. I am not persuaded that extending the vote is part of the purpose of this Bill. It is as simple as that. It will lead to a lot of problems. It may be within the noble Lord’s prerogative, as he appears to be responding to this amendment, so I ask him to raise with his colleagues the need for a fundamental look at the electoral system in this country.
I was recently monitoring an election in a place called Kyrgyzstan, on the border with China. It has introduced biometric testing for being on the electoral register. I learnt when I was there that Mr Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the UN, believes that this is a way of having votes without fraud. There are all sorts of ideas out there and I believe that these amendments, which I might be prepared to support in a Bill extending the franchise, are none the less not right for this particular Bill. I ask the noble Lord to communicate to his colleagues the desirability of a look at the way in which the franchise works. It seems to me odd, and has done for a long time, that people can pay tax and not have a vote, and people can pay no tax at all, can be living in, for instance, Brussels with highly paid jobs for many years, and according to some noble Lords be completely out of touch with reality and the world, yet they can vote in a UK election.
I suggest that we need a fundamental look at the franchise. I have steered three children successfully through the gap from 16 to 18—they are now well beyond it—and they vote for a variety of parties. I look round and see that all three of the major parties represented in this House have had votes from our family in the recent past, so they are certainly capable of making up their minds. I end where I began: I do not think this Bill is the place to extend the franchise.
The noble Lord made it clear, and I would make it clear, that we are not moving a general change to the franchise. We are arguing the case for 16 and 17 year- olds to have the vote in this referendum and this referendum only. The more general case will no doubt come up at a later stage, because that seems to be the way in which public opinion is gradually moving, but that is not why these amendments have been tabled. They have been tabled for reasons that others mentioned: the outcome of this referendum will be of crucial importance to people of 16 and 17 next year and the year after.
Before I go any further, perhaps I should declare an interest. I have two grandchildren who will benefit if this were to take place, but I have not asked them how they would vote and I would not dream of doing so. The case, however, is a strong one. It has been argued here that the evidence of the Scottish example is enlightening. When the Scottish Parliament made its decision, it did so because, as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said with deep regret, the Government, who are moving this Bill, held the door open for it, just as they have done in the Welsh case. We are asking the Government to hold the door open on the European referendum, and that alone, for the 16 and 17 year-olds. It would be odd if the Government, having facilitated these moves for 16 and 17 year-olds in other referendums, were to deny them the same in this one, which is likely to have more profound effects on their lives than anything that has been voted on in recent years.
I hope that we can move forward during this debate to establishing these amendments in my name, and in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, and of a number of other noble Lords. This would be the right thing to do and we would not regret it. This has nothing to do with how this particular cohort would vote. The history of the 19th century is littered with governments who were interested in changing the franchise in the belief that it would help them win the next election and who were proved totally wrong. That is a mug’s game and is not what we should be talking about tonight. We should be talking about the equity of giving 16 and 17 year-olds the vote in something that will affect their lives over, in many cases, 70 or 80 years.
My Lords, I agree with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, on the Scottish experience in September last year. At a time when there are genuine concerns about voter apathy and lower voter turnout, the Scottish experience showed that you can engage and enthuse young people to believe that their vote really will make a difference. All the 16 and 17 year-olds to whom I have spoken were extremely positive about being able to vote in that referendum.
With this high turnout and higher levels of voter engagement achieved, it would be a backward step politically, not least in the Scottish context, not to include the same 16 and 17 year-olds in the referendum on the EU. If the referendum is held in the summer of next year, we could potentially face a situation in which a young Scot, who had just turned 16 in August 2014, for example, and so was able to vote in the Scottish referendum, would find themselves unable to vote on the future membership of the EU next summer. Can the Minister confirm whether the Government have given due consideration to the potential political impact, as well as the factual one, of this group of young Scots? Have they assessed the numbers involved in Scotland in this situation?
My Lords, there is no way, either empirically or by reference to theory, in which one can reach what might be an agreed doctrine on the right age at which people should begin to enter into a parliamentary franchise. We could debate the matter all night as to whether it should be 16, 17, 18 or some other age, or why it should be one particular and not another. We would never come to a definitive conclusion.
If we debated what have to be the essential qualities of a law, and especially the essential qualities of a constitutional law or rule, we would come to a definitive conclusion. By definition a constitutional law or rule must have a very wide degree of support. It must have legitimacy. That is the essence of an effective constitution. You cannot have legitimacy if you have a law that is contradictory and incoherent. At present we have a law or set of rules that are utterly incoherent.
It is not possible to find a respectable argument to say to a young Scot, in exactly the sort of case cited in the noble Baroness’s intervention a moment ago, that they had the right to vote in the Scottish referendum on independence and the break-up of the United Kingdom but no right to vote in the referendum on the future of our membership of the European Union. I have yet to hear a respectable argument that could be delivered to such a young person. If somebody on either side of the House has one I would be delighted to give way immediately so that we could hear what that respectable argument is. I simply do not think that it exists.
It is also not a respectable argument to say to a young English person, “The Scots were able to vote in an important referendum but you are not capable of exercising the same degree of choice as a Scottish person of the same age”. That would be a hideous thing to say to anybody. Of course this applies equally in Wales. The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, gave us a good example. Young people in Wales are now being told that they have a right to vote on whether the Welsh Government should have tax-raising powers, but not on whether Wales and the United Kingdom should remain part of the European Union. On what possible basis can one make that distinction? What possible respectable argument could one use in saying that to such a young person, who would quite rightly be challenging that kind of judgment?
At the moment we have complete incoherence, which we should not have because it is deeply damaging to the legitimacy of our constitution. The logic of what I am saying means that we should also change the voting age for Westminster general elections. One thing that we absolutely should not do is keep the present franchise for the referendum on the European Union, cutting out 16 to 18 year-olds throughout the United Kingdom, including Scotland, and then a year or two later change the voting age for Westminster elections. In other words, we should not deliberately close the door on a referendum that, as had rightly been said, affects people for the next 40 or 50 years—this will not affect us in the House in this time, but it will affect those young people—and then say that these people can vote now in Westminster elections after all: we have waited a couple of years but have cut you out of the referendum, which is even more strategically important for the country. That would be an indefensible thing to do.