Report (1st Day)

Part of European Union Bill – in the House of Lords at 7:00 pm on 8th June 2011.

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Photo of Lord Empey Lord Empey UUP 7:00 pm, 8th June 2011

Yes, and all the better for it. However, time has moved on and things have evolved from what we did when kings were able to come into this building and chop people's heads off. Our constitution continuously evolves. Just because we are attracted to the idea that a representative should be free to come into Parliament and express his or her opinion on behalf of those they represent-and people believe that to be a sacrosanct position-in the way the modern world has developed, the referendum genie is out of the bottle whether people like it or not. You are not going to be able to push it back in so the question is, what triggers it? Do we leave the trigger with the institution which has led us to the position where this Bill is on the table or do we put in some safeguards so that people know they will get their say?

I think that there is little alternative but to give this a try. It is not something that will last for ever-it might change. After 10 or 20 years it might no longer be sustainable and we need to improve it. We have moved on, people have moved on, communication has moved on and, thank God, people are educated to a much greater extent. Years ago, when people came into these buildings they represented the masses outside who could not read or write. Perhaps very few people had any grasp of what was going on around them. Their world was confined to their farm or, in more recent years, to a factory. Today, the people out there are much more sophisticated and probably know more than many of us in here. We have to respect that and trust the people.

We all make mistakes and sometimes referendums produce results that we do not like. The same happens in elections: it is the peril of the democratic world. However, we should look at the alternatives around the world. Whatever faults we may have, ours is a better system, but it has to evolve. I fear that this amendment, if passed, short-circuits and defeats the whole purpose of the legislation. Therefore, I am unable to support it.