Report (1st Day)

Part of European Union Bill – in the House of Lords at 5:30 pm on 8th June 2011.

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Photo of Lord Taverne Lord Taverne Liberal Democrat 5:30 pm, 8th June 2011

My Lords, I want to make three short points. First, I refer to the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, who always argues his case with great force and effectiveness. However, on this occasion, it seemed rather strange. He said that if there is a low vote, it simply proves the lack of enthusiasm for the European Community and the fact that people will not vote is equivalent to a no vote. The circumstances, as has just been pointed out, will be whether the Government support a change in the law. Suppose the next Government are a Conservative Government. They are not likely to make a major transfer of powers to Brussels. On some of these minor matters in Schedule 1, they might see the advantage in not having a veto and make that part of their case. If there is a very low vote, it is a toss up as to which way it will go, but a 10 per cent vote in favour of a transfer of power and 9 per cent against is a quite a likely result. In effect, the argument put by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, is that it makes a transfer of power more likely.

The noble Lord, Lord Lamont, says that it is not likely that there would be an individual vote on some of the minor matters set out in Schedule 1 because they would be packaged, which is also what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, has told us on a number of occasions. But a package is particularly unsuitable to the referendum process. Let us suppose that some people in the country are passionately concerned about joining the European public prosecutor's office, while others are passionately concerned not to have an extra judge in the European Court of Justice. Yet others may be very concerned about not having a new protocol for the deficit procedure. All those issues may be part of a package. Which way should people vote if they are in favour of one and against another? What should they do? It makes a nonsense of any sort of referendum.

The second point I want to make is that if this amendment is not passed, we are likely to be left with referendums on some of these minor matters. Are they really going to bind this country closer to Europe and reconnect the public with Brussels? Are they going to make Brussels more popular? Of course it is a result that I do not necessarily approve of, but would it not make referenda less and less popular with the public?

That brings me to my last point. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, referred to Burke. I should like to comment on that since I was the first person to bring Burke into the argument. In his doctrine, Burke says that the will of the people should always prevail; it is the anti-Rousseau argument. What is interesting is that while there have been some tests of it, although only a very few, they suggest that Burke is actually quite popular. I shall give two examples. In my speech at Second Reading, I referred to a by-election in which I resigned on an issue over which I was unpopular in the sense that a local poll showed a majority of three to two against our joining the European Community. But I argued for the principle of Burke that I was entitled to exercise my judgment, and Burke prevailed by a substantial majority. I can give another example. One of my neighbours where I lived until recently was a Conservative MP I greatly respected. He was the late Norman Miscampbell, who was a Member for Blackpool. Many people will remember that a police superintendent was murdered in that town, and a campaign was launched by his widow to restore the death penalty for the murder of a policeman. It had overwhelming support in Blackpool, but Norman Miscampbell, on principle and very bravely taking the Burke view, voted against the restoration of the death penalty. His fellow Conservative MP in Blackpool, the late Peter Blaker, supported the petition and voted in favour of it. At the next election, Norman Miscampbell's vote increased by somewhat more than that of Peter Blaker. Burke is not unpopular. When they reflect on it, people think it very reasonable that Members of Parliament should exercise their own judgment and not act as puppets.