Report (1st Day)

Part of European Union Bill – in the House of Lords at 5:15 pm on 8th June 2011.

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Photo of Lord Risby Lord Risby Conservative 5:15 pm, 8th June 2011

My Lords, it is worth pointing out that the referendum is now part of our political culture. Indeed, it is not only part of our political culture, but right across the European Union referendums are deployed to get people's views. It is now a fundamental part of the whole democratic process. However, the potential effect of this amendment is to make the referendum advisory. That is the point because if it is below 40 per cent the decision is referred back to Parliament. The essence of that argument is that the result ceases to be mandatory and effectively becomes advisory. That destroys the whole point of the reconnection process.

We are trying through the Bill to reconnect the people of this country with the European Union. It is a big challenge. If we are going to re-engage people in that process we must recognise that, if there is going to be constitutional change, the vast majority of people will want to feel that their voice is represented in the process. We owe that to them. I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, that the 40 per cent figure is arbitrary. It would be absurd in a local or European election, when sometimes the figure drops below 40 per cent, to reject the result. That is not the way we do things. We must remind ourselves that the vast majority of people will want a referendum if there is going to be an important transfer of powers to the European Union.

The AV referendum showed us that on an important constitutional issue, the people of this country will be fully engaged. They took it seriously and voted in great numbers. I have the greatest confidence that in a matter such as the one before us, the potential transfer of additional powers to the European Union, they will of course be very interested. Therefore, I feel that turnout would be quite high.

We must make sure that people feel that when they vote, their vote counts and is decisive. Otherwise, it will destroy the point of the referendum. The referendum lock should be given without qualification; it is in the spirit of what the Bill is about. The fullest acceptance of the referendum result voted by the people is something that we should recognise. It is our duty as parliamentarians to do so.