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 Deben Lord Deben Conservative 5:15 pm, 8th June 2011

I am always worried when my noble friend intervenes upon me but I am very pleased on this occasion to say that I agree with him entirely. This is an issue for Parliament and Parliament should make up its own mind-I have no doubt about that at all. He need not worry. I am a great defender of Parliament. But I ask this House not to allow itself to get into the situation which the Swiss got into. After all, Switzerland was the last country in Europe to allow women to vote. Why was that? Every time they passed it in Parliament, it was the referenda which defeated it. I ask noble Lords to be very careful about this.

Let us look at this amendment. I have great sympathy for the view which the noble Lord, Lord Richard, expressed. It seems to me that this is a very simple concept. We who are arguing for it have accepted that in our view, for bad reasons, we are going to have referenda. We are unlikely to have a referendum on something trivial-I do not really agree with the noble Lord, Lord Williamson; I think it will be likely to be on something of note. It will be on something which the Government have decided not to veto. It is going to be quite a rare occasion. It is going to be something which the Government have presented to Parliament, Parliament is going to vote for it, and it will then be placed before the public. All we are saying is that if less than 40 per cent of the public think it worth while voting, Parliament can reconsider the matter. It can take into account what the public have said and then ask itself what should it do.

I finish by saying that I would say this about a proposal for a referendum on something that I believed my side would win in all circumstances. This is not a matter about the subject; it is about the mechanism. It is that which we should face. May I suggest to noble Lords that this House has got to do its duty in ensuring that when there is a major change, as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, said, we ensure that it is not one with unforeseen circumstances? All we are saying is that if enough people vote, then it is mandatory; if not enough people vote, it is advisory. That seems to me to be a sensible compromise, so I ask the Minister to help those of us who find this Bill very difficult indeed and at least allow us to have this compromise, which is in the best tradition of British parliamentary democracy.