Report (1st Day)

Part of European Union Bill – in the House of Lords at 6:15 pm on 8th June 2011.

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Photo of Lord Williamson of Horton Lord Williamson of Horton Crossbench 6:15 pm, 8th June 2011

My Lords, it is traditional to say we have had a wide-ranging debate. On this occasion it is true. When I put the amendment forward, I hoped I would get a measure of support from different parts of the House. I have done that, but of course there has been a good measure of disagreement as well. I have also succeeded in doing something I did not set out to do: I have clearly split the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats. That will, perhaps, give me a reward in heaven, although I will go on a little longer to say that I will be first to have a reward here in the Chamber.

I would like to make one or two very brief points. The first is that this amendment comes forward because of circumstances that have been dictated by the Government's Bill. They are nothing whatever to do with a blank space about how we are going to deal with Europe. We have a Bill on the table that potentially introduces more than 50 referenda. I do not think we will get those, but in any event what is happening in the near future, to which the Minister referred, is not relevant because the Government is not going to take this action during the current Parliament.

What we are discussing is what sort of referendum regime we want to build into our constitution for the medium term and what role we think Parliament should play in that. I think Parliament should play some part, particularly in those cases where the British public has shown a complete lack of interest in-or even their disagreement or contempt for-the Government's attempt to hold a referendum by voting in negligible numbers. I think it is perfectly reasonable, in those circumstances, for Parliament to take responsibility. That is the basic approach and I stand by it.

I do not want to go into all the other details because I know nothing about the incinerator in King's Lynn. I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, that we have reached the death of the political class. I know they are a bit threatened, but I do not think they are dead. All those issues are beyond me.

One final point is that there have been a good number of comparisons with elections, local elections and so on, which have no 40 per cent bar. I think all those arguments are totally irrelevant. In particular, we had a Second Reading of a Bill yesterday that made possible a large number of referendums on local government. Every one of those referendums was going to be advisory, not mandatory. The position of the Government, particularly the Liberal Democrats, is in favour of advisory referenda and I cannot see why they wish to act differently in this case. I think I have said enough, and I wish to get my reward here and not in heaven. Therefore, I wish to test the opinion of the House.