Report (1st Day)

Part of European Union Bill – in the House of Lords at 4:45 pm on 8th June 2011.

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Photo of Lord Tomlinson Lord Tomlinson Labour 4:45 pm, 8th June 2011

When I heard the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, speak about nonsenses, that seemed to be a cue inviting me to participate in this debate. The noble Lord talked extensively about ceding powers to Europe, but the very essence of the Bill is that the issues subject to referenda are issues that require unanimity in the Council of Ministers. The Government have every power that they need; they have only to say no and by that process they can stop any ceding of powers to Europe or anywhere else. They can deny unanimity. That is not what it is about. The idea that the Bill is the last bastion defending the rights of Englishmen, to stop his rights being transferred to Brussels, is really the argument of the knave who knows better, because it does not do that at all.

If we are to have what I believe to be nonsensical referenda inflicted on us, there has to be at least some measure to give a minimum standard of credibility to the referenda. Like the noble Lord, Lord Richard, I am not particularly happy about the amendment, although I will support it. The idea of putting to a referendum an issue where people can vote for or against does not really transfer sovereignty to the British people. I would far rather see a question with four options: "For", "Against", "Don't know" and "Don't care". If we had that, considering some of the issues which will be subject to referenda, I suspect that it would be a combination of "Don't know" and "Don't care" that would win in every case. The amendment would not give us a great deal of protection, particularly as, as I said, power already rests in the hands of Ministers. If there is such a reluctance of Ministers to use the power that they already have, an honourable retreat is available from Government to the Back Benches, so that they can continue their impotence from there. When the Government have every power that they need, they also need the political will to use it, not to use a fig-leaf argument trying to bind a successor, in circumstances where they seem to be predicting their imminent defeat at the next election.