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 Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Chair, EU Sub-Committee F - Home Affairs 5:30 pm, 8th June 2011

My Lords, perhaps I may make a few remarks in support of this amendment. I find some of the arguments that have been used against it quite bizarre. The noble Lord, Lord Risby, said that the vast majority of people in this country want these referendums. If so, he has nothing to fear from the amendment. If the vast majority of people in this country want referendums, more than 40 per cent of them will vote when a referendum question is put, and this Bill, as amended, will then provide mandatory outcomes. It has been suggested that this is all about engaging with the British people, but if we cannot get 40 per cent of the people to vote, is that not a failure to engage with the British people? Surely that is precisely what it is, which is why having a threshold makes sense.

I argue that we should not go down the primrose path of thinking that the referendum fashion is sweeping across Europe. First, we are not talking about Europe; we are talking about Britain. I do not see why we should accept that argument as valid in our case. In any case, I have a strong feeling that most people who have supported referendums around Europe now bitterly regret it. In the most recent one, last weekend, the Slovenians voted against raising the pensionable age to something quite a long way below the pensionable age in this country; not, I would have thought, a very sensible thing to have happened-something rather like the incinerator case, I suspect. I am very much in the same group as the noble Lords, Lord Deben and Lord Forsyth. It is not a very good idea to have these referendums. The Government could quite easily have avoided most of the petty referendums by drawing up a much simpler Bill, but they chose to throw in the kitchen sink. Given that, the case for a threshold is really rather compelling and I therefore support the amendment.