European Union Bill — Committee (6th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:15 pm on 17th May 2011.

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Photo of Lord Liddle Lord Liddle Opposition Whip (Lords) 9:15 pm, 17th May 2011

My Lords, we have heard many fine speeches in this short debate. I shall be brief and focus on what I regard as the central problem with Schedule 1. The Government need to accept that there is a central problem, and they have to agree to some amendment to the Bill that addresses this issue.

Schedule 1 is the most extraordinary apples-and-pears mix comprising all kinds of different issues which it seeks to subject to precisely the same treatment-the requirement for a referendum. Some of the issues contained in it are of fundamental constitutional significance. If one imagined a move to a federal Europe-which some people have advocated, and indeed there may be a case for in time-with a president of Europe directly elected by the people and with the European Parliament representing constituencies on an equal basis somewhat like the House of Representatives, one could also imagine future treaty revision being done by a Europe-wide referendum. That has been proposed by some people. Those issues are of fundamental constitutional significance and would, in the opinion of noble Lords on our side of the Committee, require a public debate on whether we wanted to move to that kind of Europe. Those would be proper subjects for referenda.

There are 40 potential referendums in this long schedule. The noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, has counted them; I have not. However, it contains themes which, on any proportionate analysis, certainly do not pass the test of requiring a referendum. We have already been given illustrations of how some of these provisions, which we could remove only by means of referenda, have been inserted in the treaties against the UK's national interest. It is foolish to require a referendum in order to make a change that favours your national interest.

In an earlier day in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, talked about the changes to the list of military products exempt from internal market provisions. That is a classic example of an area where we might want to make progress in common defence procurement to make defence affordable for the nation states of Europe. Given the banking crisis, we might want to look again at some stage-I do not know whether we would-at the Article 127(6) provision concerning the conferral on the European Central Bank of specific tasks relating to prudential supervision. However, the problem is that this schedule comprises a total apple-and-pears mix.

The Bill needs a mechanism to measure proportionality in terms of what issues should be put to a referendum. Yesterday we suggested that there should be a parliamentary process, possibly advised by an independent committee of experts, to examine where referenda are justified and where they are not. It is not as though such a process would drive a coach and horses through the Bill, as the Bill itself accepts that for certain decisions an Act of Parliament is required. The Bill does not say that absolutely everything has to be subject to a referendum-although I think it says far too much should be-as it accepts that some changes can be made only through an Act of Parliament. Why not try to institute a process that gets a better balance between the requirement for a referendum and also an Act of Parliament and a requirement solely for an Act of Parliament?

I think that the schedule, as presently drafted, is a complete mess. It would be shameful if the Government came back with it on Report. I hope that they will be willing to give fundamental consideration to an amendment to the Bill.