European Union Referendum Bill — Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:43 pm on 13th October 2015.

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Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Conservative 1:43 pm, 13th October 2015

That is exactly what I said. The noble Lord will be speaking later in the debate and I urge him to listen to some of these arguments in the hope that he may be converted as a result.

Of course, the other person who was there on display was Danny Alexander. I am told on good authority—I have read it in the newspapers—that Mr Brown and Mr Blair, and indeed John Major and Danny Alexander, have been offered places in this House and have turned them down. Instead, they prefer to argue outside Parliament. Is that because they realise what all of us in this House realise, that Parliament is becoming increasingly marginalised and what we decide here does not matter because it is done by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels? That is the most important point that my noble friend Lord Lawson made. This is an argument about accountability, the authority of Parliament and Britons’ ability to take decisions for themselves.

I absolutely agree with my noble friend Lord Lawson about the scare stories that came out around the time of joining the single currency. Do your Lordships remember? Frankfurt was going to become the financial centre of Europe if we did not join the single currency. My noble friend Lord Tugendhat talked about the Scottish referendum. In the Scottish referendum we started off with only 28% in favour of independence. We ended up with 45% being in favour of independence because we stupidly ran a campaign in which we told the Scots that they were too small, too wee and too poor to be able to be independent. We threatened them with scare stories. Far be it from me to give advice to those who wish to stay in Europe but if they campaign in this way they will drive people into the other camp. British people are not going to be told that they are too little and too lacking in enterprise and ability to be able to make their way in a global world, where they see a European Union which cannot even manage its own borders, let alone its own money.

Very disappointingly for those who wish us to stay in the European Union, we heard that the Labour Party was unanimous—it is amazing it is unanimous on anything—at its party conference on the idea that it would vote to stay in regardless of the negotiations. We heard the same from the Liberal Back Benches. What kind of negotiation is it that you go into battle waving a white flag? It is extraordinary that they should say, “Whatever you agree to, we are going to vote for it”. I have never heard such nonsense.

Turning to the Bill, my noble friend very kindly agreed that she had given an undertaking in cross-party meetings throughout the House. Might I suggest that those undertakings given by her and Ministers in the other place should be put in the Bill so that there is no doubt whatever about the Government’s commitment? I look forward to hearing the arguments against that in Committee. One of the most important was that we would have four months’ notice of a campaign which would last 10 weeks. I also urge my noble friend to consider producing a White Paper setting out the results of this negotiation, whatever it is about. I know that the ever closer union features in it. I voted for the

Maastricht treaty—none of us is perfect. One thing that persuaded me to vote for it was that John Major was able to change the terms and get us various opt-outs, substituting “ever closer union” for “federal union”. So those words were put into the treaty by us to mitigate it, and we are now told that getting those words out of the treaty will somehow deliver a new paradise. It is nonsense.

Clause 6 effectively gives the Government the power by regulation to reinstate purdah; it enables them by regulation to change the rules regarding purdah, which could get us back to a situation where purdah did not apply. In the Bill as it stands, purdah does not apply to Scotland or the European Union. So are we going to have Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond campaigning, using public money in Scotland but not in the rest of the United Kingdom? That loophole needs to be dealt with, as does the loophole that purdah applies only to publications and not to government advice.

Finally, on the subject of Scotland, can we scotch the myth that if Britain votes to leave the European Union, somehow the United Kingdom will dissolve? All the evidence is that the Scots follow the English on this matter. If Britain votes to leave the European Union, Scotland will. Those who say that it will precipitate a referendum should look at what Nicola Sturgeon is saying this very week—that a referendum on Scotland’s independence is inevitable. Once it was “once in a generation”, and then “if there is a change of circumstances”; it is now, “it is inevitable”—and it is inevitable, she says, when she thinks that she can win it. So let us leave Scotland and the United Kingdom out of this and as a United Kingdom work together for Britain’s interests, which do not lie in remaining in this failed state that is the European Union.