Report (1st Day)

Part of European Union Bill – in the House of Lords at 7:30 pm on 8th June 2011.

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Photo of Lord Liddle Lord Liddle Opposition Whip (Lords) 7:30 pm, 8th June 2011

My Lords, I have to confess that I am staggered by the Minister's reply. He misrepresents the position of the Opposition, and I do not think he understands the content of the Bill that he is putting before this House. Let me briefly say why. He goes on at length about allowing people to vote on decisions that affect their daily lives. Is he putting this forward as a general principle? Do the Government think that there should be a vote on the merits of their health reforms and the changes to their health reforms? How many people in the country do they think would vote for that? The idea that this Government stand for a general principle of giving people the right to have a say over decisions that affect their own lives is a nonsense.

Why is it that this principle should simply be applied to the European Union and be applied in a way in which the Government do not appear to understand what they are doing? The Minister says that we are saying that this Bill will require referenda on anything or everything. In the case of the European Union, there are 56 instances where this Bill requires a referendum. Is it seriously being suggested that there are 56 issues of profound importance affecting Britain's future in Europe which would require a referendum? I suggest not. We know what those major issues are. We will have amendments later to confine the referenda to those major issues. It is a nonsense to suggest that we should have referenda on 56 issues. As far as Europe is concerned, that is anything or everything.

There is a point-blank refusal on the part of Ministers to understand the need for some flexibility when we are dealing with the future. I do not think that the government Benches understand the point of an Article 48(6) simplified revision procedure, which is under Clause 3. It is to deal with circumstances which we cannot foretell, yet in every circumstance, apart from very limited exceptions, this legislation says that such an amendment would require a referendum. It is the view of every expert on the European Union that that is going to inhibit greatly Britain's ability in future years to play a leading role in the European Union.

As for the Minister's remarks about how parliamentary committees are all fixes and you cannot trust what they say, I thought that he had respect for the workings of Parliament and for the workings of the Constitution Committee of this House, for instance, which puts forward very objective reports, despite the party composition of its membership. I would have thought that if we agreed, as this amendment proposes, to a parliamentary process for deciding what was proportional, such a parliamentary committee would do its job independent of the Executive in such a way that we could all respect its judgment.

I am afraid I am unconvinced by the Government. I am not prepared to withdraw the amendment, and I wish to test the opinion of the House.