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 Lamont of Lerwick Lord Lamont of Lerwick Conservative 5:00 pm, 8th June 2011

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, as always, made a very careful and thoughtful speech which places me in a slightly awkward position. I find it surprising that there is so much enthusiasm for this amendment from those who accuse the Government of obstructing the process towards greater European integration. They have said that the Government have been putting locks on moves towards further European integration. Here they are putting a padlock on the lock; they are putting another obstacle in the way of European integration. Let us not forget that one will get a referendum only when the Government are proposing to acquiesce in a step towards European integration. Therefore, I find it a little strange that those who are enthusiastic about more integration and think that the Government are being obstructionist about this want to put up another obstacle.

I do not accept the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, that there is a danger that we will have lots of referendums on trivial subjects such as the number of advocates-general or the voting system for having advocates-general. There are several reasons, which we went through in Committee, why we will not get a whole series of trivial referendums. First, these sorts of changes tend to come along in packages after major treaty revisions and we have been assured there will not be major treaty revisions. It seems unlikely that any one country is going to invest a huge amount of political capital pressing for a change in the voting system for choosing advocates-general. If some power has not been given to Brussels even after the Lisbon treaty and the Maastricht treaty-the series of constitutional treaties we have had-if powers are left to individual countries, there is a very good reason for that. Obviously in previous negotiations countries have not wanted to cede those powers. The idea that we are going to get a lot of referendums on trivial matters is unrealistic and is a chimera. If that was the basis of the noble Lord's argument I would not accept it. There are many subjects that are by no means trivial, such as our borders and our criminal justice system, where it would be wholly appropriate to have a referendum. That is why I am broadly a supporter of the Bill.

I said at the beginning that the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, places me in a slightly awkward position because I was, as some of my noble friends will remember, a very strong supporter of the 40 per cent threshold for the referendum on AV. Indeed, I voted twice against my party on it. I do not like to make personal comments but I got to my feet largely because of my noble friend Lord Dykes, who I have known for many years. On the AV question, my noble friend was a very firm opponent of the 40 per cent threshold to which he has put his name on this occasion. As I am placed in an awkward position and he is also exposed in an awkward position, I am prepared to do him a deal. If he will not support this amendment, I will vote for it.