Report (1st Day)

Part of European Union Bill – in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 8th June 2011.

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Photo of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Crossbench 5:00 pm, 8th June 2011

My Lords, I rise to support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, which is a Tory amendment. I am surprised to find myself sounding more Tory than the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, which is a feat I had not expected to attempt. The noble Lord, Lord Williamson, comes from the West Country, and I suspect him of being a Burkean. At Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, took us through John Locke. The Taverne view against referenda was derived from Locke, and he contrasted that with the evil Rousseau, who led the French in the direction of referenda. I would have preferred to have dinner with Fox, but Burke impresses me on the role of Parliament. The reasons I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, have nothing to do with the European Union; they have to do with the position of Parliament.

Burke's speech in 1774 was to the Bristol electors who had just elected him. He had the guts to say:

"The wishes of the people should have great weight with their Representative, their opinion his high respect, their business his unremitted attention. It is his duty...to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiassed opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to them...Your representative [in Parliament] owes you, not only his industry, but also his judgment; and he betrays you, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion".

That seems to me to be the core of Tory philosophy on parliamentary democracy. I agree with all that; it seems to me to be 100 per cent correct.

This Bill is a constitutional innovation. It says that once an Act of Parliament has been passed, it will be struck down by the people if they say no in a referendum. This is not the alternative vote referendum scenario. As Conservative noble Lords may remember, we did not vote for the alternative vote; we voted for a referendum on the alternative vote. In the case of this Bill, the treaty amendments that would have been considered by Parliament, and the 57 varieties of decisions-the baked beans can of decisions-that would have been considered by Parliament would have been subject to Acts of Parliament. They would have received parliamentary approval and then they would go to referenda. That is the first time, I think, that has happened in our constitutional history.