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 Dykes Lord Dykes Liberal Democrat 5:00 pm, 8th June 2011

I rise briefly to speak enthusiastically in support of this amendment and to thank the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, for his remarks-I agree with them all. I was, like others may be, a little startled when the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, began to say that he rather agreed with the first part of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Waddington. But I understand what he was getting at. The beauty of the amendment is that it can appeal to a whole range of Members of this House in deciding, irrespective of their own particular views on the virtue of referendums, or referendumitis, or the danger of referendums, or whatever, that this would be a good way of making more respectable a given referendum result with a turnout requirement-following the wisdom of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, in a totally different context-and would make sure that we were not trivialising the exercise in a way that would disconcert the public in a big way. The beauty then is that, if the threshold is not reached, the power goes back to Parliament and the Government as the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, would always wish.

On 5 April, in the early stages of the Committee of the whole House, the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford, in referring to Schedule 1, said:

"if we present to the electorate the sort of issues in Schedule 1 and ask them ... to turn out at the polls"- in referendums-

"we are being not only completely unrealistic but deeply insulting to them".-[Hansard, 5/4/11; col. 1694.]

I have left out a few of the smaller words, but essentially that is what he said.

The electorate would say that that is what they elect parliamentarians to decide. We could easily have participation rates of less than 20 per cent, and we would return, therefore, to the Vernon Bogdanor example. I believe that this matter is important for parliamentarians in both Houses, but particularly here, as this House has an opportunity to improve the Bill in a way that government Ministers have already started to do with their generous amendment. We must work hard to restore public faith in the public's ownership of first-rate parliamentary standards of tradition, work and devotion to the public good. My personal view is that I am very fearful of referendumitis and this Bill would deliver a lot of it in the future if the situation were allowed to get out of hand.

Most sensible citizens are highly intelligent and quite rightly regard subjects other than mere politics as far more important and crucial. I often do. I would cite family and children, the local community, jobs and job prospects, football and-even better-rugby, holidays, the kids' results at school and music. Very many of those things are more important than politics. The public want to enhance political quality by leaving the political decisions to their elected representatives, even if some of them in the other place are sometimes rather nerdy people, like Bill Cash or John Redwood. We have to remember the warning words of my noble friend Lady Williams when she spoke of the disastrous example of California, which had become a bankrupt state as a result of excessive referendumitis and foolish populism. This amendment provides a pragmatic way of making the results of referendum-if there has to be one-more respectable. I hope that this House will support it.