My Lords, I am privileged to open Second Reading of the EU Referendum Bill. The Bill will enable the Government to deliver our manifesto commitment to hold a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union before the end of 2017.
That commitment was rooted in our desire to give the British people the final say on an issue that goes to the heart of the governance of this country—an issue on which we have not directly consulted the people for more than 40 years. Since 1975, the United Kingdom has held referendums on devolution, as well as on our voting system, and in the long years since that vote in 1975, the UK’s relationship with the European Union has changed beyond all recognition. Whether noble
Lords believe that this change has been for good or ill, or somewhere inbetween, it is right that the people now get to have their say.
Voters in other member states have had their opportunity. Their Governments have continued to ask for their consent. Indeed, in the past four decades, there have been more than 30 referendums on the EU right across Europe—Ireland alone has had eight—but not one has been held here, to give the British people their say, since 1975.
Of course, the referendum does not stand in isolation. This Government are committed to negotiating a new settlement for the United Kingdom in Europe: a settlement that ensures that the European Union is able to meet the challenges of the 21st century; above all, a settlement that addresses people’s concerns about the European project.
The negotiation will be difficult. There will be noise and possibly setbacks along the way, but the Government are confident that we can negotiate a new deal to put to the British people at the referendum.
I will now briefly set out the provisions of the Bill. The EU Referendum Bill does what it says on the tin. It will enable a robust and fair referendum to take place and, crucially, it will enable a referendum that is also seen to be fair.
The Bill is simply about the mechanics of the referendum, and is based on existing electoral law: particularly the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. It sets the end of 2017 as the deadline to hold the referendum. It also rules out
The Bill also sets out who is entitled to vote. This is a vote about the future of the United Kingdom in Europe, so it is right that we use the Westminster franchise as our starting point for this referendum, which is of vital importance to this nation’s future. This means that British citizens in the UK, British citizens who have been abroad for less than 15 years and resident Commonwealth and Irish citizens will have a vote. Noble Lords will already be aware that we have added Members of this House to the franchise, in line with our normal practice for referendums.
I am aware of the strong feelings of some noble Lords about extending the franchise. I have heard calls for the enfranchisement of 16 and 17 year-olds. The Government remain firmly convinced that the Westminster franchise should remain the basis for this referendum. Including 16 and 17 year-olds would be a major constitutional change. We do not believe that this Bill, or any other Bill not directly addressing the franchise in general, should be the vehicle for doing this. Any such change should enjoy the support of Parliament and the country as a whole, after a full and proper debate.
I have also heard calls to extend the franchise to EU citizens resident in the UK. The Government recognise the strength of that feeling. Many EU citizens have made the UK their home and have made significant contributions to life in this country. No one would wish to deny that. However, this is a vote about the future of the United Kingdom in Europe so it is right that we use the Westminster franchise as the basis. Using a franchise that does not include other EU nationals is entirely consistent with the practice in other EU member states and with the EU treaties themselves. I suspect that many of the British public would view the inclusion of EU citizens as a crude attempt to fix the result.
In addition, many noble Lords will be aware of the Government’s manifesto commitment to extend the franchise to British citizens resident overseas for more than 15 years. The Government will bring forward a Bill separately to amend the Westminster franchise to enable this, on which noble Lords will be able to engage in due course.
Finally, we have added British, Commonwealth and Irish citizens in Gibraltar. The Government believe it is right that Gibraltar should take part. Broadly speaking, the EU treaties apply to Gibraltar, and Gibraltar votes as part of the South West England region of the UK in European parliamentary elections.
The general election franchise is the right basis for such a crucial referendum, with the modest additions of Commonwealth and Irish citizens in Gibraltar and Members of this House. I am sure that noble Lords will have followed this debate in the House of Commons. Various proposals were made to expand the franchise, including lowering the voting age and adding EU citizens, each of which was firmly rejected. Nevertheless, as always, I look forward to listening to the views of noble Lords on these important issues, both inside and outside the Chamber, in the coming weeks.
I will say a little more about the addition of Gibraltar. The Government have remained in close contact with Her Majesty’s Government of Gibraltar throughout this process. I know that the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, and the Minister for Europe are all very grateful to the honourable Fabian Picardo MP and his Government for their engagement. Wherever possible, the Bill leaves it to the Gibraltar legislature to make provision to implement the referendum in Gibraltar. As a result, Her Majesty’s Government of Gibraltar intend to introduce their own referendum Bill in the Gibraltar Parliament, which will be complementary to the UK legislation. I know that Gibraltar’s inclusion in a referendum was an important point for Members of both Houses during consideration of the Private Member’s Bill in the last Parliament. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Dobbs, who sponsored that Bill in difficult circumstances.
As well as the franchise, the Bill sets out the question to be asked at the referendum. The Electoral Commission carried out detailed research and consultation over the summer. It concluded that the question should be amended to ensure the maximum level of neutrality. The Government brought forward an amendment on Report in the Commons to reflect this recommendation.
The question is now settled as: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”. Voters will be able to mark one of two options: “Remain a member of the European Union” or “Leave the European Union”. This departure from a yes/no answer is novel but the Government agree that the change will strengthen the perception that the neutrality of the referendum is beyond doubt.
The Bill also deals with electoral administration rules. Clause 3 and Schedule 3 to the Bill set out the overarching framework for the conduct of the EU referendum, and provide for the appointment of the chief counting officer, regional counting officers and counting officers for the administration of the poll. The framework follows that used for the conduct of the parliamentary voting system referendum in May 2011. The Government have also prepared draft regulations which will eventually be made under powers in the Bill and which will supplement the provisions in Clause 3 and Schedule 3. We published that draft by way of Written Ministerial Statement in this House and the other place in July and we consulted over the summer. We are now taking account of comments from the Electoral Commission and others to produce final draft regulations, which will be subject to Parliament’s approval before being made. This early action will give electoral administrators across the United Kingdom and Gibraltar the certainty they need to begin their preparations.
The Bill also provides for the crucial campaign rules, using the established and well understood framework set out in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. To that, we have added best practice from the alternative vote and Scottish independence referendums in a range of technical areas as set out in Schedules 1 and 2. Taken together, these will ensure a fair and transparent campaign. I am sure that noble Lords will not have failed to notice that the main focus of Committee and Report in the other place was Section 125 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. Section 125 concerns restrictions placed on government and public bodies on publishing certain material in relation to the referendum in the final 28 days of the campaign. The other place voted to reapply the Section 125 restrictions in full and to create a power to make exceptions to these restrictions through regulations. As is proper, any regulations made under this new clause will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure in both Houses. The Government are also bound to consult the Electoral Commission and any regulations must be made at least four months before the referendum date.
Would it be possible for my noble friend to publish those regulations before we consider the later stages of this Bill? Clearly, the Government could by regulation, for instance, reinstate the provisions that abolished purdah. To ensure that we have a proper debate on this, why can the Government not let us know now what these regulations in draft form would contain?
My Lords, naturally we will discuss these matters further so I will say briefly, since this is the opening speech, that I have already given an undertaking to cross-party meetings in this House. The Government are not seeking to overturn the vote which they lost in another place. We will keep to that undertaking. On publishing the regulations, we are taking consideration about precisely what the risk will be of coming forward with regulations, with regard not to parliamentary procedure but to whether they would properly reflect the risk to the Government of acting or not acting on, for example, European business. If my noble friend will forgive me, we are at the stage where we are looking very carefully at a decision in another place. I feel sure I will be able to respond in more detail at a later date.
I deeply appreciate the concern felt by noble Lords on all sides of the House on this matter. I was about to say that if the Government propose any exceptions, we will of course be mindful that there will be two designated campaigns leading the debate and that it will be for those campaigns to take the lead, as Ministers have made clear from the start. It is worth dwelling on that point. It is absolutely right that the designated campaigns lead the debate over whether to remain a member of, or lead, the European Union. This is established practice in the United Kingdom, and forms a key plank of the Council of Europe’s best practice guidance on referendums. The campaigns will no doubt put forward their arguments with gusto, and there will be competing claims about the benefits or otherwise of a particular decision. The campaigns will assume primary responsibility for engaging the people of this country and ensuring that they are furnished with enough information to make an informed decision. Clearly, that is the right approach—but, also clearly, there is a role for government. The public will expect Ministers to set out the results of the renegotiation, how the relationship with Europe has been changed and if, and how, those changes address their concerns. As my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in June, I am sure that the Government will publish an assessment of the merits of membership and the risks of a lack of reform in the European Union, including the damage that that could do to Britain’s interests.
I have no doubt that, once the Prime Minister has announced the results of the renegotiation, there will be a lively and robust debate both in Parliament and in the media, as there should be. I know that this is a particularly important point for noble Lords. Indeed, a number of parliamentary inquiries, in the other place and here, have been launched into the renegotiation, including by the highly influential European Union Committee chaired by my noble friend Lord Boswell. He is now, of course, independent, but he will always be a friend. The Government will continue to engage with them actively.
The Government have a clear mandate to hold a referendum on the United Kingdom’s relationship with the European Union. The EU referendum Bill will enable that to take place before the end of 2017. The Bill takes the best examples of good practice from previous referendums in the United Kingdom, and sets out rules on who can vote, and how they vote, which are reasonable and robust. It ensures a fair campaign so that the deck is not stacked in favour of one outcome or the other. This Bill sets the stage for one of the biggest decisions that the people of these islands have been asked to make in a generation. I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time.
My Lords, I remind the House that if the eight minutes’ advisory speaking time for Back-Bench speeches is adhered to, the House should rise at 10 o’clock. In addition, the House will adjourn after the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, before Questions.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for outlining the proposals in the EU referendum Bill, and we look forward to working through the details as it goes through this place. Labour supports the proposal to hold a referendum on EU membership. We as a party are committed to retaining our membership of the EU and belonging to the club which has maintained peace, security and prosperity in western Europe for well over half a century. We understand, as does the CBI and most Union members, that our membership of the EU is integral to the success of the UK economy, and that the financial value of EU membership is the equivalent of over £3,000 per year to every family in the UK. But we have also come to realise that the constant debate on this theme and lack of commitment to the project by this Government are denting investor confidence and making people question where our long-term future lies. Therefore, we have agreed to support the call for a referendum to settle the question—but we also believe that it is imperative that we win and retain our membership, which gives us access to the biggest single market and largest trading bloc in the world, in addition to being the largest development aid donor.
It seems ironic that, at the time when issues and consequences of globalisation are literally landing on our shores, some believe that we can lift the drawbridge and isolate ourselves from the world. It seems desperately naive to me that, while our economies are becoming more linked than ever, some think that it is a good idea to withdraw our long-term commitment to support markets in the EU, where 50% of our trade in goods goes, for some whimsical hope that we can make up the ground in alternative markets, even as those markets are stalling.
Labour, of course, wants to see an EU committed to social justice and protective of people’s rights as individuals and in the workplace, and an EU understanding of the needs for environmental protection and long-term sustainable development. We want to stand in solidarity with our continental partners on the challenges that confront us all, because we are internationalists with an outward-looking vision. We know that our ability to exert influence in this increasingly complex world means that we need to sing in a chorus along with others, and it makes sense that those others are our nearest geographical neighbours.
We agree with the proposed changes in the wording suggested by the Electoral Commission on the question to be put to the public. However, on the issue of franchise, we think it is difficult for the Government to argue that they are sticking to the same franchise as for the Westminster elections. After all, as the Minister just outlined, Peers and Gibraltarians will be allowed to vote. The key issue for the Labour Party is that 16 and 17 year-olds deserve to vote. We all remember the intelligence and enthusiasm with which the youngsters of Scotland engaged in the independence referendum, and the Government have agreed that in any future referendum on tax-raising powers in Wales, 16 year-olds should be allowed to vote. There is no consistency whatever in the Government’s position of not allowing 16 and 17 year-olds to vote in the European referendum. This would be a once-in-a-generation opportunity for them to voice their opinion. It will, after all, be they who will live with the consequences of the result of the vote longer than any of us. It seems highly unfair to deny them the opportunity to speak on the important issue of Britain’s place in the world. We encourage the Government to change their mind on this issue. We are aware that some are already agitating from within the Government to make this happen.
There seems an incredible naivety in the Government’s approach to the referendum. For a party which has still not declared which side it will support, it is odd that there is almost no information or plan for what the UK’s relationship with the EU would be if we were to leave it. In any normal business environment you would ask, “What is the alternative?”. This basic question does not seem to have been asked, but one thing is clear: it has certainly not been answered.
The British people have a right to know what their country will look like and feel like if they vote to leave the EU. Labour will be proposing and supporting a group of amendments that will require some basic answers from the Government on this question. We believe that the British people deserve to know what the impact will be on their rights as individuals within the UK in the event of a “leave” vote. Will the EU social legislation securing maternity and paternity leave remain in place? Will temporary agency workers still be able to depend on a degree of protection? Will EU directives on health and safety at work still be honoured? Will we still be able to rely on the free movement of goods, people and capital? What assurances can the Government give on these basic questions? Will the European Charter of Fundamental Rights be incorporated into British law? We do not have a constitution in the UK, so it has been useful to know that we have the EU as a backstop protection for a whole host of rights, including the right to freedom of expression and information, consumer protection and the right to collective bargaining. Where would our assurances be on these issues if we were to leave the EU? How much further would the Government have gone on the Trade Union Bill had we not had the EU as a guardian?
What about the rights of EU citizens living in the UK? Would they be affected if we left the EU? Would they be allowed to stay? For how long? Would we just stop any more EU citizens entering? Would EU citizens need visas in future? What about the rights of UK citizens living in another EU country? We believe that there may be as many as 2 million of these. Would they be expected to come home? Would they need to uproot themselves from their new lives? Would they have the right to stay and use continental hospitals? Could they continue to have their pensions transferred abroad?
On the legislative and statutory consequences for the UK, we are told time and again by the Eurosceptics how much EU law is handed down to us on a plate. It is not true, of course—every EU law has to be discussed and generally approved by the UK Government—but it would be wrong to pretend that EU law has not had a major bearing on legislative practices at all levels of government in the UK. If we take environmental law—an obvious area for the EU to act, as pollution knows no boundaries—it is clear that much of our domestic law, not just here in Westminster, but in the devolved bodies around the UK and in local government, references or puts into regulation EU legislation. Have the Government made any calculation of how many laws will need to be rewritten if we were to leave the EU, or of how much it would cost to employ additional armies of legislators and how long it would all take? What of our ability to pursue criminals abroad, co-operate on anti-money laundering initiatives, monitor extremists and work with Europol? The Government’s first priority should be to protect their people. What assessment have they made of the impact on their ability to protect and co-operate in the areas of home affairs and justice if we left the EU?
We know that the coalition Government carried out a major exercise on the balance of competences between the UK and the EU. It was a massive job of work, incredibly comprehensive in its analysis. It produced a report, which has been buried without trace because it does not meet the internal row occurring in the Tory party. We need to know the consequences for each government department if we were to leave the EU. We appreciate that this is a significant piece of work, but the consequences of a no vote would also be significant. We argue that it is worth building on the balance of competences review. It would make sense for the Government not just to carry out this work, but to make sure that the public can access its findings. Let us not bury the next report. The public need and deserve to know, prior to any vote being held.
We also believe that the Government should go beyond these immediate questions and be absolutely clear on what the alternatives to EU membership will look like in the event of a no vote. The public need to know what the relationship with our biggest market will look like if we were to leave. We need to have some idea of what the Government think will be negotiable in the event of a UK vote to leave the EU, as an alternative to full membership. Let us not forget that every one of the 27 EU member states would have to approve this new relationship. Let us not forget also that the Prime Minister’s veto on EU treaty change in 2011 did not endear him to EU leaders. We know that just last week the leaders of Finland, Belgium, Romania and Spain opposed the Prime Minister’s plan to deny EU workers in the UK in-work benefits. If we were to leave, how generous do we think our former EU partners would be in terms of the price of access to their markets?
Would the Government like a complex Swiss-like relationship with the EU—a model that negotiates case-by-case deals with the EU? Despite the supposed beauty of this model to some, it should be noted that Switzerland has not managed to secure access to the EU market for its main economic sector, financial services. We should be absolutely clear that maintaining London as the pre-eminent financial centre of Europe would become more difficult whatever model we adopt outside of the EU. Switzerland is also part of the Schengen zone and has no border controls at its frontiers. It has to implement a larger proportion of EU law than the UK.
Alternatively, we could go for a Turkish model of a customs union and not much else, but it should be noted that Turkey cannot conclude any separate trade deals—one of the biggest supposed advantages claimed by the no campaign. Or would the Government rather a Norwegian model—a model, let us not forget, that insists on freedom of movement, goods and capital? There would be no change on EU immigration. Incidentally, we would still have to pay for the privilege of trading and would have to comply with every single one of the market rules, without any say in formulating them. Would this really enhance our sovereignty as a nation? Norway has already advised us that we should leave only if we,
“want to be run by Europe”.
If we dismiss all these alternatives, we are left with a much more distant relationship with our continental friends. We could rely on WTO rules to have access to EU markets but that would leave British car manufacturers facing a 9.8% tariff on the export of cars. Eurosceptics say that we could negotiate all this away because the EU has a trade surplus with the UK, and this is true. But it does not take account of the fact that the EU’s exports to the UK account for about 2.5% of its GDP, while it is 14% of our GDP. I am pretty sure that I would be driving a hard bargain if I was sitting on the EU’s side of the table. Or do the Eurosceptics have some other plan in mind? If they do, it needs to be spelled out publicly before the vote.
There have been numerous studies to investigate the impact on the UK economy if we were to leave the EU but never before have we been in a position where the possibility of this happening has been so real. Therefore, we call on the Government to ask the Office for Budget Responsibility to publish a report prior to the referendum on the effects of withdrawal from the EU on the UK economy. We should also underline the fact that globalisation has meant there is an understanding that pooling resources and co-operation is the direction of travel—just look at the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, signed between the US and 11 different Pacific nations in recent weeks. Retreating and turning our back on the world needs to be understood as a retrograde step. Finally, it is worth underlining that although all these reports are essential to inform the public, the case in relation to the EU also needs to be made on an emotional and patriotic basis.
Britain has and should continue to have aspirations to lead in the world. The defence of our national interest in Europe and beyond—economically, politically and diplomatically—will be put in jeopardy if we leave the EU. Our partners, particularly the US, would not understand a decision to exit. It would diminish Britain’s influence, image and reputation. Instead of seizing an opportunity to show leadership ourselves, we would be handing over leadership in Europe to Germany for a generation. It is also likely that our seat on the UN Security Council would soon be called into question. Our absence from the political and diplomatic debate on the current threats facing Europe, not least on the EU’s eastern borders with Russia, would hardly enhance our influence within NATO.
Being a part of the single market will create jobs for our children and grandchildren. It will give them opportunities to live, work, study and travel on a broader stage. It will allow us influence on the international stage and forge stronger scientific and innovative ties. Our universities would suffer grievously from the absence of R&D funding from Europe. Let us not forget that if parts of the UK were to vote against and others were to vote in favour, most notably Scotland, it would drive the nationalist agenda for separation and almost certainly lead to a second referendum north of the border.
My first job on leaving university was as an intern in the European Parliament. I remember very clearly my first day, entering an office where there was a very chic-looking Parisienne wearing bright red lipstick, and a confident-looking German man ready for work. The Parisienne came in, put her feet on the desk, lit a cigarette and said, “What goes on here, then?”. The German was infuriated and through gritted teeth he said, “Do you mind putting out that cigarette?”. She answered, “Why? Do you have a problem?”. For me, that first scene in Brussels summed up the need for the EU. The Parisienne thought it was her right to smoke, the German thought it was his right to clean air, and now they had to sit down and work out their differences. In all the talk of markets and rights and responsibilities, we must not forget that the EU is the most successful example of a peacemaking institution in history. In this world full of instability, threats and new global challenges, we leave at our peril.
My Lords, it is with some regret that I stand here opening for the Liberal Democrat Benches this morning as my noble friend Lady Ludford is not able to be with us for personal reasons. We send her and her husband good wishes.
It is also somewhat with regret that I participate in this debate at all. The Minister said she was delighted to open this debate bringing forward the Government’s proposals to hold a referendum on whether Britain should remain in the European Union. As a committed pro-European who joined a pro-European party more than 30 years ago, and believed that the question of Britain’s membership of the European Union had been resolved while I was still a child, it is somewhat demoralising to think that the question is being reopened, and that somehow a major constitutional issue which should have been resolved in 1975 is back on the drawing board.
Am I wrong in thinking that at the election before last the Liberals had a manifesto commitment to give Britain an in/out referendum? What is the noble Baroness talking about?
My Lords, the noble Lord is correct: the Liberal Democrats had a commitment to an in/out referendum and I will come to that in a moment. Temporarily, if he will allow me, I am speaking personally and I do not think that referendums are necessarily helpful. However, it was party policy for the Liberal Democrats to hold an in/out referendum at the time of treaty change in line with the 2011 EU Act passed during the coalition Government. That was not to hold a referendum on the basis of reform renegotiation along the lines of the Conservative manifesto of 2015. We recognise as a party that the Conservatives won the general election and that we are to move towards a referendum. That is absolutely clear. We will not get into the detail today of whether we will have a referendum: it will clearly happen.
Rather, I will flag up some areas that my colleagues will want to elaborate on during the debate. These are issues of the franchise, the question and reports, of the nature that the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, touched on. In particular, we will want to talk about the franchise. Here, the Minister said she had heard people calling for votes for 16 and 17 year-olds. I suspect that noble Lords will hear a lot more calls for votes for 16 and 17 year-olds in the course of today’s debate and through the passage of the Bill. It is the future of this country that matters. The Minister already said that this Bill is about the future of the United Kingdom, but if it is about the future of anybody it is that of our young people. The referendum last year in Scotland demonstrated that 16 and 17 year-olds can be trusted to vote and engage in political decisions, and these are questions about their future as much as that of Members of your Lordships’ House—many of whom already had a vote on whether Britain should remain part of the then European Community in 1975. Our 16 and 17 year-olds did not and it is their future as much as ours that is at stake.
In addition to 16 and 17 year-olds, many residents of the United Kingdom are disfranchised. These are EU nationals, who exercise their rights under the EU treaty to live and work in the United Kingdom and who thought they would be here as EU citizens. Surely they have at least as much interest in this referendum as Commonwealth citizens who happen to be resident in the United Kingdom. Therefore, I would like the Government to reflect on the extent of the franchise and votes for EU nationals, who contribute so much to the United Kingdom.
The Minister pointed out that another pledge in the Conservative manifesto of 2015 was to extend the franchise to Brits who have lived abroad for more than 15 years. In many cases that includes British nationals who are resident in Brussels and work in the EU institutions precisely because the United Kingdom is part of the European Union. I believe it also includes some Members of your Lordships’ House who are resident in France or in other countries. They will be enfranchised through the provision that Peers who are resident in France will be able to vote, but other British nationals who have been abroad for more than 15 years would not currently have the franchise. Yet surely they are exercising their rights under the EU treaty. Do they not have a right to have a say? It is not simply British nationals resident in the United Kingdom who have a profound stake in this referendum; it is also British nationals resident in other EU countries, who are benefiting from the current legislation to which we, the United Kingdom, signed up. Therefore, I ask the Minister to look again at the franchise and also to help us, as Members of your Lordships’ House, and the citizens of the United Kingdom and our partners and allies in the European Union, to understand what the British Government want and what the question really means.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, pointed out, the question has been reframed by the Electoral Commission. The Liberal Democrats, like the Labour Party, are happy to accept the revised question. It may indeed create maximum neutrality, as the Minister suggested, but it does not necessarily reflect maximum clarity. The previous wording,
“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?”,
with a yes or no option, at least appeared clear. We know what such membership entails, and to campaign or to vote on whether we stay or do not stay would appear to be clear. If we add into that the question of leaving, then we surely need some explanation of what leaving means. At one level it might appear to be entirely straightforward. We walk away from the European Union and from everything we signed up to in 1973. We walk away from the whole acquis communautaire that has been delivered ever since—legislation that the United Kingdom has indeed signed up to, which has been approved by both Houses of Parliament. That would be the relatively easy way of doing things—simply to tear everything up and start again. Superficially it is—to walk away, to be in splendid isolation, an autarchic country. That may be the UKIP position, but I suspect that it is not the position of Her Majesty’s Government, nor indeed of many Eurosceptics who wish to leave the European Union and who believe that there are alternatives—which could be the European Economic Area or the Swiss model, or perhaps something sui generis.
The question then becomes: are any of these other models more beneficial? We heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, that the European Economic Area may not be the deus ex machina that many people think. It is sometimes suggested that we could be like Norway. Indeed, we could try to be like Norway. It has the advantage of sovereign wealth funds. It has the advantage of being a small country that is integrated into the European markets. It has also signed up to much of EU’s acquis communautaire. But it does not have a seat at the table. It has what many people have referred to as “fax democracy”. I am told that that term is outdated. It is no longer fax democracy. Maybe it is e-democracy. The point is that the Norwegians are not able to sit at the table, as Her Majesty’s Government Ministers are able to sit at the table, and to legislate. They simply take what is given through the acquis.
It is true that the European Economic Area agreement has not been changed since 1994; it is in that sense static. But it is dynamic in the sense that, since 1994, 7,000 EU legal Acts have been incorporated into the agreement annexes. So the idea that somehow shifting to be part of the European Economic Area along with Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein would be in any way preferable raises a whole set of questions. The United Kingdom would simply become a policy taker without a seat at the table. Nor is the Swiss model any better because, essentially, the Swiss are required to do what they are told. The Swiss bilateral agreements at the moment include 100 sectoral agreements that already provide for considerable integration, and the European Parliament as recently as July this year reminds us that the free movement of persons is one of the fundamental freedoms and a pillar of the single market. It has always been an inseparable part of the preconditions for the bilateral approach between the EU and Switzerland. So the Swiss model is not necessarily going to be any better than the EEA model or, indeed, membership of the European Union.
It is important that we understand what “leave” means, and I ask the Minister what provision the Government are making for reports that explain what it might mean and what the alternative models might mean. Could she also explain to us her understanding of Article 50? If the citizens of the United Kingdom, whether or not on an expanded franchise, are voting to leave the European Union, Article 50 suggests that the other 27 member states will decide what agreement they will make with the United Kingdom. We will not have a seat at the table. So the idea that we can set out scenarios of what we want may in any case be fanciful. I ask the Minister to explain further what the Government understand by “leave” and to bring forward a report to explain what the alternatives would be and how they would be explained to the British public.
My Lords, I very much agree with the Minister on the importance of this Bill and of the referendum to come. The battle lines are already being drawn and campaigns are being drawn up, and personally I very much look forward to the jousting to come between, among others, the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, and the noble Lord, Lord Rose, both of whom I had the pleasure to meet for the first time in Paris.
I tie my own banner firmly to the lance of the “in” campaign. I believe that Britain’s economic interests lie firmly in membership of the European Union; the single market helps our exports and encourages European Union and non-European Union companies to invest here and, in doing so, to create jobs, many of them in high unemployment areas outside the affluent south-east. Trade, investment and jobs all benefit from our EU membership. Would the economy collapse if we were out of the EU? Of course not—but would that trade, that investment and those jobs be at risk? Yes, they would, and the consequences are unknown and unknowable.
The argument that our membership of the EU somehow hinders us from developing our trade with the growing economies of China, India, Brazil and Indonesia strikes me as bizarre. Membership of the EU has not hindered our trade relations with the United States, for example, so why should it with others outside the European Union; surely, we need to pursue both energetically. This is not a zero-sum game. The EU trade agreements with much of the non-EU world, negotiated with the clout of an EU of more than 500 million people, help our own trade. We can and do influence the negotiation of such agreements and we benefit from the results. Do we want to risk all that by leaving the EU? I do not think so.
Our influence as part of the European Union boosts our foreign policy too. Take the long, difficult but ultimately successful negotiations with Iran. Britain’s presence alongside that of France and Germany in formulating and supporting the EU’s position, linked to our strong relationship with the United States, had a real and positive influence over the outcome of those negotiations in Britain’s interest.
I fear that Ukraine provides a foretaste of what life might be like outside the European Union. Chancellor Merkel goes to Washington in February for talks with President Obama. Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande then go to Minsk for talks with President Putin, and earlier this month, the three meet again in Paris to discuss not only Ukraine but Syria. Where was the UK? Absent. Yet the civil war in Ukraine, on Europe’s borders, and the crisis in Syria really matter to us. It is surely in our interests to work within the EU with the French and the Germans to seek solutions with the Russians to crises such as those in Ukraine and Syria.
To advance our own interests, we need to be on the inside working with our EU partners and fully engaged—not in a static European Union. The EU faces huge challenges, notably over the future of the eurozone and the migration crisis. It has to evolve to meet those challenges, and we, the United Kingdom, need to ensure, as others will, that as it changes, our interests are advanced and protected.
I therefore hope that the present negotiations over our membership succeed. In particular, we need to ensure that a more closely integrated eurozone—which needs to and, I believe, will, happen—in no way conflicts with the single market of all 28 European Union states, and that the position of the City of London is thereby not jeopardised. I hope that the Minister will be able to give an account of the present state of negotiations, although I recognise the need for caution while they are continuing.
I hope that the negotiations can be successfully completed and the referendum held by this time next year at the latest. The closer we get to the French and German elections in the summer and autumn of 2017, the less likely they will be to make the concessions we need. I therefore see no advantage in drawing out the negotiations and delaying the referendum into 2017.
I look forward to Committee on the Bill. I do not think it should be greatly delayed, but there are issues which need discussion, some of which have already been mentioned. Like others, I think that there is a strong case for extending the franchise, as in the Scottish referendum, to 16 and 17 year-olds. The purity of the general election franchise has already been breached to allow Peers and citizens of Gibraltar to vote. It would surely be right to allow the generation who will be so greatly affected by the outcome of the referendum to take part in it. I also hope that the Government will agree to provide an assessment of the implications for Britain outside the European Union alongside that of Britain inside a reformed European Union. That seems to me both fair and necessary.
I have one final point. We have over the years under successive Prime Ministers had a real and positive influence over the EU’s development: the single market, enlargement to the east and south and a more diversified European Union. It seems to me to be firmly in the British interest and, indeed, the British tradition to have the confidence to continue to use our influence within the EU—within, I hope, a reformed EU—to advance our national interest and the interests of the EU itself.
My Lords, in a matter as grave as the future relations between Britain and the European Union, there is perhaps a case for a referendum, which one hopes would settle the direction of travel for a generation. The referendum habit has elsewhere proved contagious. They tend to be run again if those in power do not get the answer they want. There must be a very strong case to justify an exception from our settled preference for a representative democracy that permits the kinds of compromises that the art of government requires. As Burke famously remarked:
“Your representative owes you … his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion”.
I hope that as the referendum debate gets under way, focusing on the questions that have now been decided on in the form they appear in the Bill, it will be made clear that this really is a once-in-a-generation event. I also hope that, although the national interest of the country will inevitably occupy centre stage, we shall not forget that there are wider considerations. We are debating our future relations with the Union, not with Europe as a whole. As western hegemony fades and gives way to a more multipolar world and the memories of World War II recede to be replaced by a different sense of the economic, political and ecological challenges that we face, I hope that the debate will be wide enough to make a contribution to what in any case is necessary: the reimaging of Europe. It surely is not a case of Britain versus the rest, but a proper articulation of anxieties and an agenda for reform that is widely shared by other countries in the Union. The noble Lord, Lord Jay, has already made the point that the question of how members of the eurozone relate to the other members of the Union clearly demands new thinking.
Europe as a concept may seem very old, but your Lordships will recognise how new Europe is in its present form. The father of the nymph Europa in the myth was actually the King of Tyre in Lebanon. By the time of the Homeric hymns, the term “Europe” was used only for central Greece, because Europe, like Proteus, has continually changed its shape and character. After the cataclysms of the years 1914 to 1989, Europe was remade, as Tomas Masaryk said, in,
“a laboratory … atop a vast graveyard”.
Our present situation is not the result of any historical inevitabilities; it is just one of many possible outcomes of the protracted 20th century European civil war.
Our task in this referendum is to be active and creative partners in identifying afresh the resources to establish a foundation for the common values and principles of a Europe that is still a project in the building. The Church of England, in partnership with the Church of Scotland, hopes to contribute to this new thinking by hosting a blog which has recently been relaunched, entitled
. The intention is to provide a platform for faith-informed debate.
Reimagining Europe has no editorial line. I believe that prelates and parsons should not aspire to the influence that is proper to the partisan, so there is no place in this blog for telling people how to vote. But we should not shrink from seeking to enhance public understanding of an issue that many find confusing and divisive, but which is one of extraordinary significance. There must be more to this referendum than a calculation of the temporary individual economic benefit or disbenefit of membership of the Union in its present form.
My Lords, I start by congratulating the right reverend Prelate on what was an outstandingly good speech. I have to embarrass him by saying that I agreed with every word—as of course I did with my noble friend the Minister. Having also agreed with most of what the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Ely, said, I caution her about her throwaway line about splits, pointing to this side of the House. I think she needs to look behind her, and also to remember that if it had not been for the courage of Roy Jenkins, we would never have been able to enter the European Union in the first place.
Perhaps I had better move away from controversy and back to Edmund Burke. Another reason why I agreed with the right reverend Prelate is that I have always adhered to the basic principle of democracy as brilliantly and famously elucidated and promulgated by Edmund Burke: that it is the responsibility of parliamentarians to use their experience and, above all, their judgment, the better to resolve the policy challenges of the age in which they live. Taken at face value, that principle appears to militate against the use of a referendum, but I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, that although I agree in part with her comments about a referendum, I was persuaded at the time of the Lisbon treaty that it was time to test public opinion again on our relationship with Europe. I can see no other way of drawing a line under the fractious, divisive debate over our relationship with Europe which has threatened to paralyse not only my party but politics and political discourse in this country more generally.
Over my lifetime, I have heard much talk of the sovereignty of Parliament, but sovereignty ultimately belongs not to Parliament, nor to parliamentarians, but to the people. When the union between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, which I passionately support, is at stake, or when our role in the family of nations of Europe, as embodied by the European Union, which I also passionately support, is at stake, the fundamental question of sovereignty is also at stake. When sovereignty is pooled, shared or invested—whichever term of art we choose—then, sometimes, it is right to put the argument directly to the people; or, to put it another way, it would be wrong not to do so.
We in this House—and even our colleagues in another place, who enjoy a democratic mandate that we do not—can and should claim no ownership over the sovereignty of the people. It is entrusted and leased to us by them, but the freehold does and must always remain with them.
I add that while the prospect of promoting a positive role for the United Kingdom at the heart of Europe was an inspiration to me and played a major part in bringing me into politics and active public life, like many others in this Chamber and elsewhere, I have had more than my fair share of frustration with the European Economic Community and the European Union. I said before that I agreed with every word spoken by the right reverend Prelate. I also agreed with every word spoken by my then leader, Margaret Thatcher—I speak as a former chairman of the Conservative Group for Europe. I was present when our leader launched the yes campaign in 1975, 40 years ago. It was the first occasion on which she appeared on the same platform as Ted Heath. I remind people exactly what our leader said, which was that,
“the Conservative party has been pursuing the European vision almost as long as we have existed as a Party”.
After quoting Disraeli and all our other previous leaders, she made the clear point that:
“We are inextricably part of Europe”.
I so strongly agree.
I must tell the House that when I was Secretary of State for Employment I took a case to the European Court, because sometimes the European Union felt like the bane of my life. I fought tooth and claw to retain the flexibility in the labour market that this nation so desperately needs if it is to compete effectively in the global market against the more collectivist and protectionist instincts of colleagues, even centre-right colleagues, from elsewhere in the EU. I greatly regret the decision of the Blair Government to sign up to the social protocol of the Maastricht treaty, from which Sir John Major as Prime Minister had so skilfully extricated us.
Despite these occasional frustrations, I have never doubted that our great nation is a part of Europe and, in order to retain our extraordinary, hard-earned and benign influence in the world, it must remain part of the European Union. We will hear much in the months ahead about the economic arguments for remaining within the European Union but I hope we will also think very hard about the political arguments about this highly respected nation of ours retaining a place at the top table. All our true friends elsewhere in the world agree with that proposition and virtually every President of the United States has been eager to see us play a full role at the heart of Europe.
In conclusion, this referendum will provide us all with the opportunity, after four decades, to put our distinctive and authoritative stamp once again on the most important decision our nation has taken since the end of hostilities in 1945. I am confident that the Prime Minister will present a deal that is in the best interests of this country and, when he does, I shall relish playing my own part in the campaign to persuade the people to endorse it. To quote Margaret Thatcher in 1990 again:
“We want Britain to play a leading part in Europe and to be part of the further political, economic and monetary development of the European Community”.
How right she was in 1990 and how right we all are to endorse that principle now.
My Lords, your Lordships will be aware that I am not a natural supporter of this piece of legislation. I still regard the Government’s renegotiation and referendum strategy as a reckless gamble, not just with our position in Europe but with the future of the United Kingdom itself. I think that has to be said. But now that a referendum is inevitable, I will be campaigning wholeheartedly for us to remain. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, that at the Labour Party conference, which I had the fortune—or misfortune —to attend a fortnight or so ago, a resolution was carried saying that whatever the outcome of Mr Cameron’s negotiation, Labour will be campaigning to remain in the EU, and there was not a single voice in opposition.
I also think that this is a cross-party question and I want the Prime Minister to succeed in his renegotiation efforts. I do not think that we will succeed in the referendum without a positive lead from him. I want to make just a few remarks about how I think he can succeed. First, he should listen to what this House has to say about this piece of legislation. Surely on an issue of historic significance which will matter for generations to come, we should legislate to have both the widest possible franchise and the widest range of objective analysis available to citizens about the issues at stake—not just a narrow calculus of the costs and benefits of membership but a thorough examination of the alternatives to membership and a more geopolitical argument about how we see Britain’s place in the world. This objective analysis is essential. We cannot let this issue be decided by the pockets of the hedge fund managers who will finance the anti campaign.
The second advice to the Prime Minister is that he must beware those pressing for delay to get, as they claim, the best possible deal. Of course, within the EU the Prime Minister must make his case robustly for the changes that he wants. However, the view seems prevalent among some people that if only the Prime Minister goes into that European Council room and bangs the table again and again, he will get whatever he wants. That is not the way the European Union works. It completely misunderstands the nature of the EU, which is a complex system of law and due process built up over decades precisely to try to stop countries behaving in that kind of arbitrary way.
Yet the people who say that the Prime Minister should up his demands do not do so because they think he will get his demands but because they want out. Noble Lords in this House who argue that, yes, they would be prepared to stay in Europe if we got comprehensive treaty change, a cut in the EU budget, a fundamental rewriting of the rules on free movement and the right for the House of Commons to veto EU laws must know that those are impossible demands. They make them only to justify a campaign to leave. We have a lot of experience of that in this party. Some of us fought Trotskyist infiltration in the past—and might have to do so again. I urge my friends opposite to avoid being taken in by what are called transitional demands.
Thirdly, the Prime Minister cannot solve everything in his renegotiation. He should look upon it as a pointer to the Europe that he wants to see with Britain at its heart. There is a tremendous opportunity to achieve reform in Europe. The new European Commission set out a very British agenda about deepening the single market, reforming the way Europe regulates and having trade deals with the rest of the world. I would also like to see a strong social dimension in that—others, such as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, might disagree. The agenda is now one of reform and our Prime Minister, if he wanted, could lead that. As the noble Lord, Lord Jay, said, there is also an opportunity for our Prime Minister to take a much stronger role in using the EU to demonstrate that Britain can still have an influence in the world. With French and German elections coming up, and with the end of the Obama presidency, there is a tremendous opportunity now for the Prime Minister to demonstrate that leadership using our membership of the European Union. I hope that he does so.
Finally, the referendum is basically an asymmetric choice. A vote to come out will be final. If we voted to come out, we would invoke Article 50 of the treaty and in practice exclude ourselves from the EU Council chamber and any of the debate about what Britain’s future role with the EU would be. We would be on our own and there would be no way back. One dangerous thing that we have to avoid is people on the other side somehow thinking that a vote to leave is actually a vote for better terms. It is not, and it never can be; it is a vote out. On the other side, a vote to remain is not a vote for the EU status quo. It is a vote for a strong Britain to argue for reform in Europe in the way that Britain wants to see. Therefore, I say to the Prime Minister, “Don’t mess about. Get on with it. Take courage in your hands and let’s go for this referendum quickly”.
My Lords, I wholeheartedly support this Bill. It fills a democratic deficit. As the Minister said, people have not had a direct say on a European issue for more than 40 years. No one under the age of 58 has been able to have such a direct say on our relationship with the European Union. I am pleased that the Opposition are not opposing this Bill, although in the Commons they opposed the previous Private Member’s Bill by Mr James Wharton. Nevertheless, I welcome their support for the Bill today.
However, some, like the noble Lord, Lord Liddle—he and I have often debated this—are quite unhappy. Even if they do not oppose the Bill, they think, as the noble Lord made quite explicit, that it is wrong to gamble with something as big and significant as our membership of the EU, since so much time and capital have been invested in it. To my mind, such an attitude reveals a distrust of democracy. That is and has been one of the weaknesses of the European Union. If there is any blame to be attached to why we are having a referendum, I suggest that it lies with those who promised a referendum on the Lisbon treaty and then went along with converting the constitution into a constitutional treaty, for the obvious reason that they wanted to avoid a referendum. That created enormous cynicism. It was a blatant manoeuvre to avoid democratic accountability and it confirmed the suspicion that Europe is about building a political project regardless of political opinion in the member states. Of course, Europe today is very different from the Europe that was put to the British people when we last had a referendum—and, indeed, when we joined the EU in the first place.
No doubt we will have intensive discussions in Committee. It has already been clearly signalled from the Benches opposite that there will be amendments about the franchise. I wholly support what the Minister said. If we are going to alter the qualification for voting, we should decide to do that for general elections first; that is when we should consider it. If we want to encourage more participation of young people in politics, let us concentrate on getting the 18 to 24 year-olds involved in the first place before we lower the voting age.
I do think that Clause 6 needs looking at. It is not at all clear why the Government have to disapply any part of Section 125 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. I read what Mr David Lidington said in the House of Commons and it is not at all clear what he was worried about and why we cannot have a full purdah during the period of the referendum. Perhaps my noble friend the Minister could give an example of exactly what the Minister and the Government are so worried about that they have to have this only partial application of Section 125. I remind the House that Section 125 is about material that is put out to the whole public. It is not about circulating documents to people who may be affected by some negotiation.
My position on the referendum is that I will wait to see the results of the renegotiation before I finally make up my mind. A renegotiated settlement for Britain that changed our relationship significantly would have much to commend it. I know this will offend some enthusiasts on the other side but, because of our opt-outs from Schengen and the single currency, we are already semi-detached, country club members—associate members. Sometimes I wonder whether Europe, as it goes forward, is not going to leave us rather than us leaving it—in many ways I think that would be a preferable way to proceed. But Europe goes on.
I am somewhat underwhelmed by what appeared in the Sunday Telegraph about the Government’s apparent negotiating objectives. I know you must not show your hand in negotiations and that an element of bluff is involved, but I thought that you had to bluff your opponents rather than your supporters. That is what worries me a little. I do not think that removing the phrase “ever closer union” will be of great legal significance. It is largely symbolic. I believe strongly that the red card system for national parliaments is not coming out of the negotiations at all. As the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, has demonstrated, it has been on the table for a very long time already. It is just qualified majority voting by a different route. I do not think that it is enough just to buttress the wall between the eurozone and ourselves. I believe that Britain could survive perfectly well outside the European Union.
Does the noble Lord consider that we should opt out of, for example, foreign policy and security policy discussions in the European Union? That is a very important issue.
I do not believe that we should have a foreign policy determined by voting. Foreign policy should be intergovernmental. If we were outside the European Union I am sure that one of the things that we could easily co-operate with the European Union on would be foreign policy. The European Union would be extremely ill advised if it did not want us to co-operate with it on foreign policy.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rose, who, before he became leader of the yes campaign, said that he thought that it was a red herring, nonsense and ridiculous to imply that if Britain were outside the European Union we would lose inward investment or that firms would leave this country. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, did not think very much of the Swiss arrangement, but she must look at the results of that arrangement, whatever she thinks of it. Switzerland, though not a member of the EU, is more integrated with the European Union economy than we are. Its exports per capita are higher than those of this country. The proportion of its GDP that is traded with the EU is higher than that of this country. Contrary to what was said about not having access to the market, Swiss banks and insurance companies operate throughout Europe.
If a man from Mars came and looked at this country’s trade statistics, he would find it impossible to identify when we joined the European Union. In fact, the period when our trade increased most with Europe was immediately before we joined. But this is not about just economics but something more. On
I wish the Government well. They will need energy and determination. Once we have the results of that renegotiation, it will be for the British people to decide.
My Lords, I sometimes wonder how we got to this situation. Some of the things that the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, said are absolutely right, about the duplicity that there has been in politics on all sides about the referendum. Having said that, as a Liberal Democrat and someone who, like most of my party, is very much in favour of Europe, wants to see the development of Europe and a successful Britain within a successful Europe, I am hugely disappointed that, during this period of focus groups in politics and trying to find out what people and electorates are thinking when manifestos are put together, Europe peaked at only number 10 or 11 rather than somewhere near the top of the list of electoral issues that people felt were important. Yet this—not health, the economy or even migration—is the area on which we have a referendum, due to a very hostile press and a strong campaign by a minority of people, particularly in the Conservative Party. So it is a strange place for a democracy to be.
Just to correct something said by the Minister, there may have been lots of referenda elsewhere in the European Union, usually around treaty changes, but none of them was an in/out referendum. On the challenge to us as Liberal Democrats made by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, it was of course only when Liberal Democrats were in government, ironically, that we legislated for the circumstances in which there would be a referendum on European issues, which effectively would have been an in/out referendum. So the party can stand fairly tall in that area.
The big challenge of the European Union referendum is that, once we go through the process—first of all winning it, because the consequences of not winning it, as has been said so well from the Labour Benches, will be fundamental and irreversible for Britain’s future as a unitary state and its position in the world—we need to make sure that we do not have the situation that we already seem to have in Scotland, whereby people ask for a second, third or fourth referendum. I am sure that those who lose the referendum, if it is lost—or if it is gained but the result is very uncertain, but the vote is to stay in—will still campaign for new referenda. We have to make sure that we do not become a second-class member of the European Union through our negotiations and that, if we win the referendum, there is a determination from the Prime Minister and his successors that Britain takes Europe seriously and we participate as fully as we can, even with the exclusions that we have, and take our role in Europe, in which leading it has to be part. Over the past few years, we have lost that leadership.
As the noble Lord, Lord Jay, said, we can see that in Ukraine; we have not figured at all in those negotiations. It seems a great irony to me that, particularly as soon we will be celebrating and thinking about the end of the Great War in 1918—we are halfway through that cycle at the moment—part of the reason for that war and British foreign policy for many years has been stopping continental domination by a single power. By our having shown that we have a very slight, difficult and reserved position on our role in Europe, we have handed that position to Germany and Angela Merkel. We now have a Europe that is quite unhealthy in terms of German domination. The greater irony, of course, is that this is the last thing that Angela Merkel and Germany want. It is really important for not just Europe’s position in the world but our own to make sure that through this referendum, if it is won and we stay in Europe, we fulfil our role there.
Another lesson from the coalition period was when my then colleague, the right honourable Ed Davey, led on much of the negotiations for the Paris treaty on climate change later this year. By fully engaging and leading and working closely with other major European nations, the European Union was able once again to lead in the run-up to those negotiations, and Britain was at the front in getting an EU position. So it can work.
The franchise is clearly going to be a major part of the debate in Committee and on Report. I just looked at the figures in the Scottish referendum and there was something that said that participation among 16 to 17 year-olds was not as great as among people my age—but it was 75%. To me, the interesting thing was that in the age group above that—the 18 to 24 year-olds, the ones who entered politics, if you like, at 18 and were able to vote—participation was only 54%. That shows that if you get engagement early, that is an opportunity for these people to take an interest in the political system. It is important for this referendum, particularly because these people will be affected by the decision far, far more than me and many people in this House.
I also ask the Government to reconsider the franchise for UK nationals abroad. On page 49 of the Conservative manifesto, it says:
“We will introduce votes for life, scrapping the rule that bars British citizens who have lived abroad for more than 15 years from voting”.
That was a manifesto commitment. The Government have an opportunity to do that now and I ask them to comply with the Salisbury convention and make sure that they do not vote against the manifesto of the winning party in the general election.
The only other area I want to mention, which has been highlighted already, is that we do not know what the alternatives are to being a member of the European Union. I have this wonderful device on my iPhone, as, I am sure, do many of your Lordships. It is called TomTom and I can put it up in my car and it guides me to where I am going, which is quite useful because, like many Members, I go all over the country to visit people. If I go off-course or I change course, miraculously this little computer in my iPhone redirects me down the new route to where I am going. There is certainty; I know where I am going and that I will get to my destination. That is absolutely not the case in this referendum and we must make sure that this area is discussed fully.
Finally, when Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party, the Prime Minister put out a tweet saying:
“The Labour Party is now a threat to our national security, our economic security and your family’s security”.
I thought that was rather pathetic and it demeaned the office of Prime Minister. The fact is, I am afraid, that Jeremy Corbyn is very unlikely to ever become Prime Minister. David Cameron is Prime Minister and the EU referendum affects all those areas of threat. As Prime Minister, David Cameron has a huge responsibility to deliver this referendum positively and I sincerely hope he will be able to do that.
My Lords, there are two things on which everybody in this House can agree: that this referendum and its outcome will be very important to the country and that therefore it is incumbent upon this House to do everything we can in Committee and on Report to ensure that, when the Bill gets on the statute book, it is as good as it can be. By that, I mean that it should be formulated in such a way as to provide the British people with the basis on which to make a clear, well informed and objective choice.
I hope, too, that both sides of the battle will respect the patriotism of the other. The tendency for people to accuse the other side of being unpatriotic has always been a rather disagreeable aspect of debates on Britain and Europe. I certainly believe that it would be profoundly damaging to this country’s short and long-term interests to leave the European Union but I know that those who want to take us out believe the contrary and that they are as devoted to the well-being and strength of this country as I am.
I start with a general point: the Prime Minister should be given time to conduct these negotiations with other member states as he thinks best. He won an election and earned a right to our trust. When he completes his negotiations, the country can judge for itself what he has achieved. Those negotiations should be conducted not in public but in private. Once the Prime Minister secures whatever deal he believes is the best that he can, the public should be given the opportunity to cast their vote on it. When that result is known, there should be no hanging about. As we saw in Scotland, referendums cast a long shadow. The period of uncertainty should be as short and the referendum called as quickly as possible. I would like to see it called next year. My principal point is that once the negotiations are completed, it should be called as quickly as possible thereafter.
It is important that the British public should be as well informed as possible on the implications of the alternatives. This is not just a simple question of in or out. People need to know what the implications are of changing the status quo. In Scotland, one of the weaknesses of those who wanted to break with the United Kingdom was that they were unable to answer a host of questions about what that would actually mean. They could not even answer the questions on the currency. In this referendum, which is just as important for the United Kingdom as a whole as the Scottish referendum was for the people of Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom, it is absolutely essential that people should know in detail what is involved in coming out in terms of the legislative changes that will be required and of our trade with the European Union and with third countries with whom we have trade agreements signed as part of the European Union. We need to know what the implications will be for the free movement of British citizens within the European Union. We need to know what the impact on the scientific research programmes and universities in this country will be. We need to know what the budgetary implications will be, and a host of other things. This is something in which people need to see both sides of the balance sheet. If there is to be a change in the status quo, people need to be as well informed as possible on what that involves. Her Majesty’s Government have a duty to provide that.
Turning to the franchise, it is right that it should be for the British people to decide. I agree with the Minister on that point. It would not be right for other EU citizens to be able to participate in this referendum. However, by the same token, I do not particularly see why Pakistanis, Zimbabweans, Australians or Canadians should be able to participate in it, either. I sought advice from the Library and I find that if Australia, Canada or New Zealand—to take three monarchies within the Commonwealth—hold important referendums,
British citizens resident in those countries are not able to participate, and I do not particularly see why we should. If the Australians are having a referendum on the monarchy, that is their business and not ours; and if we are having a referendum on whether to stay in the European Union, that is our business and not theirs. If the Minister believes that it is important that this is a British issue for British people, I hope that she will do something about the non-British people who are at present able to vote.
The other point that I want to make refers to the 16 and 17 year-olds. We have a very interesting example before us in Scotland. My impression is that it worked well. I do not agree with those who say that if there is to be a change in the voting age, it should be introduced for general elections rather than for referendums. General elections are about the next five years. This referendum is certainly for the next generation and perhaps for very much longer. It does, therefore, touch the 16 and 17 year-olds very precisely. I will listen to the arguments but I incline very much at the moment to support those who would extend the franchise to 16 and 17 year-olds.
I look forward to playing a part in the battle ahead. I look forward to putting the case for Britain in Europe to the people of this country. I look forward to showing up what I believe are the weaknesses in the case put forward by those who want to leave. I know that we have a fight on our hands. I take nothing for granted. However, I am confident that in putting forward the case for Britain to remain in Europe, I am putting forward the case for the best interests of Britain and the British people.
My Lords, I remember the 1975 referendum, and at the time it was much criticised for being unconstitutional and outside the traditions of the United Kingdom. Indeed, I think it was the brainchild of Anthony Wedgwood Benn—or, as he was fondly called by my Conservative opponents in those days, Viscount Stansgate. I believe that that criticism is still valid. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, made a valiant effort to counter the fact that it is a largely non-parliamentary approach. The better approach, in my view, is the parliamentary discussions that we have in this Chamber and at the other end. The cry that you hear from time to time that this has not been properly debated is simply wrong. The subject of the European Union has featured in just about every general election that I can remember. I well remember that William Hague—soon to be Lord Hague—foundered in 2001 by basing his campaign on saving the pound.
The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, must understand that it is not right to invoke our Irish colleagues, who have habitually, as part of their parliamentary process, used referendums from time to time. Nor is her aspiration right that a referendum will achieve a final say; I very much doubt that that will be the case. I look no further than the recent Scottish referendum. Most of us feel in our bones that there will be another coming along soon. Referendums, for the most part, seldom answer the question.
On the technical points, I agree that 16 and 17 year-olds, whose future we are here debating, should be part and parcel of the process, and I hope that the Government will think again. I also add to the questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, recognising that there are various constituencies in the United Kingdom. For the past few years I have had a very real interest in financial services in this country. What of the 300,000 or so French people in this country, most of whom work successfully in the financial services sector?
The referendum is simply the wrong approach. I shall illustrate that. I recently chaired a meeting on the mortgage credit directive and I was surprised how reluctant our financial services were—it was backed by a speaker from the Financial Conduct Authority—to see the opportunities in the single market for our highly developed mortgage credit industry to penetrate the single market of 28 countries. Colleagues were surprised when I made that point.
Our habitual stance is defensive. We worry that we will lose something by conceding to other colleagues—the other 27. The truth is, if you go as a group of friends to the cinema, somebody chooses the film one week and somebody else chooses it another. That is the way that friends, colleagues and companions work. It is the sensible way that is recognised by most of us. I note that the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, will speak later in the debate. In his pivotal position I am sure he will know, understand and recognise when I say, on a recent parliamentary visit to Romania, they were astonished that we were contemplating leaving the European Union. I am sure that that is replicated by the noble Lord’s experience.
We also adopt the wrong tone. When Mr Juncker was proposed as Commission president, we found ourselves with the Hungarians as the only other one opposed. Why, for goodness’ sake? When we recently had in 2011 the budgetary discipline Bill, which was to be incorporated in national states throughout the European Union, we again prevented our 27 colleagues from achieving that.
The referendum comes at the wrong time. We propose to finish this by late 2017. That is when the French and Germans will have major elections, and, folly upon folly, when, in the second part of 2017, we will hold the UK presidency. We have recently passed a law that will prevent a UK Minister coming out and explaining to the people what was discussed and decided, because of the idea of purdah that should be laid across us and which was encouraged by the noble Lord, Lord Lamont. How strange.
What do the Government actually want: ever closer or ever looser union? It is very unclear. They also say from time to time, when they lift the curtain, “We’d like greater work done between the national parliaments” —of which we are a major chamber—“throughout the European Union”. No one can disagree with that, but physician, heal thyself: just look to the other end of this corridor and see how poorly we understand, scrutinise and develop European Union strategies—except, of course, in the House of Lords, which is, in its European Union Committee, pre-eminent in studying these things carefully.
We also say that we are opposed to the red tape that is supposedly launched on us. Timmermanns, deputy to Juncker, has been given the job of preventing useless proposals coming to the EU. In this country, we know that UK gold-plating encourages red tape. You never hear the argument made by a Minister that the biggest slasher of red tape to help businesses is the project of the single market of the European Union. That is the attempt to reduce from 28 different sets of legislation to an understandable single set which is then promoted. Who is the author of that but a noble Lord who sits in this House, Arthur Cockfield?
There is one other exception apart from Schengen that we do not recognise in this country. We are the only monoglots in the European Union. Everyone else has to learn English. We have to make a better effort at understanding other countries, in making sure that we communicate better with them, by not always using the English language. It would be a great benefit to David Cameron if he could speak a few words of other people’s languages.
My Lords, I can certainly speak another language: my home is in France, so I can tell the noble Lord that all is not lost.
I start by saying that I warmly welcome the Bill and warmly commend the Prime Minister for saying clearly that fundamental reform of the European Union is needed. So far, it is not entirely clear what reforms he has in mind. Perhaps my noble friend will tell us in her wind-up speech today. The problem is that if it is not made clear, it will come to be believed—quite wrongly, I am sure—that he is engaged in a fishing expedition and that whatever fishes he happens to catch, whatever tiddlers they may be, he will say that that is what he always wanted. It would not be good for the negotiation if that impression were to get about.
The bottom line is that the European Union is a political project, not an economic project. That is not a disgrace, but it is a fact. It is a political project known as “ever closer union”. It is a project which we do not share. The Prime Minister says that he wishes to have an opt-out from ever closer union. In a sense, we already have one. The fact that we are not members of the eurozone—we have retained our own currency and have not accepted the euro—shows that we do not accept it, but actually, an opt-out for the United Kingdom, even if it is formally stated, is totally meaningless. What is needed is for the European Union explicitly to resile from ever closer union—the creation of a united states of Europe—as its objective. Otherwise, as long as the European Union maintains this objective, there will continue to be European Union legislation to which we are subject, whether or not we formally have an opt-out from ever closer union. That is a meaningless phrase.
It should not be too difficult for the European Union to resile from that objective because, although it is profoundly desired by the European elites, it is not desired by most of the peoples of Europe. Indeed, one of the least attractive and most pronounced characteristics of the European movement is a contempt for democracy. The existence of a democratic deficit within the European Union has been well acknowledged on all sides.
Of course, there is a counterpart to this democratic deficit, which might be called a bureaucratic surplus. It is a particular problem for this country. The regulatory burden imposed by membership of the European Union in the case of the United Kingdom has been calculated to cost something like £25 billion a year. That is a huge burden and no economic advantages outweigh it. I have no doubt that overall the European Union does more harm economically than good for member states as a whole, not just for this country. That is perhaps not surprising because, since it is a political venture, whether there is an economic benefit would be purely coincidental. You only have to look at the performance of the European Union, particularly the eurozone, to see that it has not been a howling economic success.
It is said that by leaving the European Union we would still be bound by European Union regulations but would no longer have any influence over them. That is tosh for two reasons. First, while we have never had as much influence over European Union regulations as we fondly believe, since crossing the watershed of the creation of the eurozone our influence is dramatically diminished and will diminish further. There is now a eurozone bloc vote, which means that we have been and will continue to be overruled time and time again. Secondly, 85% of our GDP has nothing to do with the European Union. Our exports to the European Union are roughly 15% of our GDP, and the other 85% is either the domestic economy or exports to other countries. Although we would certainly have to accept European Union regulation when trading with the European Union—just as we must accept American regulation when trading in the United States, which our banks do a great deal—the great bulk of our economy would not be bound by this morass of European Union overregulation.
It is also said that outside the single market we would be unable to export to the European Union. Of course, that, too, is tosh. Exports to the European Union from outside it have in fact, over the past five years, increased by twice as much as exports from the United Kingdom to the rest of the European Union. In any event, I have little doubt that outside it we would be able to negotiate a free trade agreement with the European Union. The United Kingdom even now is a £300 billion a year market for the rest of the European Union. That is exactly the same as the rest of the European Union sells to the United States. We are massive, and that is why comparisons with Norway do not really apply. We would do a far better deal than Norway could because of the size of the UK market, which is so important to the rest of the European Union.
I recall that many people in business and banking said that if we did not join the euro and stayed with sterling it would be a disaster for the United Kingdom. They now say exactly the same about membership of the European Union. The same suspects say exactly the same thing. They were wrong then and they are wrong now. Let us not be afraid. There will be a whole lot of scare stories. We have heard some today. Above all, let us not be little Europeans. Let our horizon be global. The future growth of the world economy is going to happen much more outside Europe, as countries in Asia, Latin America, Africa and elsewhere grow faster as they gradually catch up with the western world. We in this country have better worldwide links because of our history—and, to some extent, the language, but they are interconnected—than any other country in Europe.
Let us concentrate on them. The time has come to rediscover our national self-confidence, to abandon a political project that we do not share and to embrace a global future.
My Lords, in the limited time available I want to concentrate on the franchise proposed in the Bill. Last Friday, as part of the Lord Speaker’s outreach programme, I spent an extremely interesting hour with the sixth form at Sir Thomas Rich’s School in Gloucester. The students were articulate, informed, inquisitive, mature, enthusiastic, committed and challenging—above all, they were clearly ready and willing to be full citizens in our democracy. In short, they were typical 16 and 17 year-olds. They were more knowledgeable than many of their 60, 70 or 80 year-old fellow citizens and they were quite ready to compete in debate with Members of Your Lordships’ House. Indeed, I think they would well match the noble Lord, Lord Lawson of Blaby.
I see that the noble Lord is in robust good health but I venture to suggest that the young citizens in Gloucester are likely to have longer experience of the outcome of this vote than he will. That is the big difference. When it comes to the referendum on the future of this country—as part of the European partnership of nations or adrift in the Atlantic—this age group will have a far greater personal, long-term interest than most of us here. It is unthinkable that they should be refused a vote. I do not have much time but I will give way to the noble Lord.
I think it is deplorable or regrettable to have it suggested, as has been done on a number of occasions, that those of us of a certain age are not concerned about the future. Most of us are deeply concerned about the future, particularly those of us who have children and grandchildren.
I agree entirely with the noble Lord and I am absolutely concerned about the future of my children and grandchildren, as I am sure are other Members of your Lordships’ House, but that does not in any way weaken my point.
It is unthinkable that these young people, whose future is so much at stake, should be refused a vote. The Intergenerational Foundation has pointed out already how top-heavy our democracy is—as is, indeed, our demography. The argument that has been used in the past, that this age group is immature, ill-informed and not interested, is belied by the hard facts of
They rose to the challenge: 109,593 registered, 75% of them voted and already the comparison has been made with the 54% of the later age group of 18 to 24 year-olds who turned out and the 72% of those in the 25 to
34 year-old cohort. As has been said often in this House, they debated the issues with great intelligence and personal integrity, ignoring vested interests. One of the best witnesses of that is the leader of the Conservatives in the Holyrood Parliament. Moreover, they seem to have voted with more balance and maturity, rejecting the myths of the separatists, unlike many middle-aged men in Scotland.
Ministers in both Houses have failed so far to produce any rational objection, having accepted it in the Scottish case, to the inclusion of these new citizens in the decision-making process. This morning I reread the Hansard for the debate in the other place and searched in vain for any explanation for this extraordinary position. The most moving speech in the other place was by Dr Sarah Wollaston, the Conservative Member of Parliament for Totnes, who argued that there should be a free vote on this issue. I noted today that a number of noble Lords in other parts of the House thought that might be appropriate. I hope that the Government will think very carefully about that.
Even in your Lordships’ House, this argument has been accepted on the similar referendum in Wales—that it should be on that extended franchise; with the help of my noble friend Lady Randerson, the coalition Cabinet agreed. More recently, on
I have no doubt that the claims of EU citizens working and living here, together with UK citizens working and living in other EU countries, will be successfully argued in the coming weeks, in your Lordships' House. I hope so. Our conference a few weeks ago overwhelming voted for an amendment, to which I spoke, to support them.
However, the clearest case of all is that of young citizens whose future will be so dramatically affected by the huge implications of the referendum decision. Is this choice any less long term in its significance than that on the ballot paper on
The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said at the beginning that what is in the Bill is a starting point and basis for the franchise. I put it to your Lordships' House that we have to move from that starting point into a much more logical and rational position. It is unthinkable that Ministers should ignore the hint that even the Prime Minister has given that we will have to move in this direction, and I hope that they will recognise that they should accept the inevitable.
My Lords, I know that I am right in saying that I am the only living Conservative remaining who voted against joining the Union in 1971, when the decision was taken in the House of Commons on the principle of joining. The Government of the day had a huge majority in favour; a few months later, on the Bill itself, that was diminished to a majority of four. So I think that I have the right to say, “I told you so”, because everything that I feared has, little by little, turned out to be more or less right. I did not take that stand lightly; I held a full referendum in my constituency, which I paid for, which was overwhelmingly against joining. A great deal of argument had gone on, on both sides, before the vote was taken.
I was not satisfied just to go by the result of the poll because that would not have been democratic, in my view. I then visited the four major cities and four different members to speak to people—they were twinned with Gloucester at the time—to find out about them and see what their views were of living in what was then a fairly new form of government. It is a form of government because it governs us and does so throughout. The most important thing to be established before any referendum takes place and before the Government give any advice about the outcome of the negotiations is to know what bottom line they are negotiating for. They need that to be known by those who oppose them. That is the fundamental requirement before the whole referendum takes place.
I fear that so many of the things that one dreaded happening have happened rather quietly and through the back doors. There have been endless, ghastly regulations, debated for long periods in the common market itself and then negotiated once again in this country for long periods, none of which brought any benefit to the people of this country. There have been stupid regulations. In a recent one, especially at a time when payday loans are such a problem, it was forbidden in regulations to put the cost of the loan in money figures. It had to be done only by means of the AER. How many Peers could stand up at this point and say what the AER is? I cannot see any volunteers. That meant that people entering into small loans could not see the actual cost of the loan in money terms. We renegotiated and renegotiated over years, and at last we can now put the actual cost of a payday loan, although we can only do it on the basis that it is printed in smaller letters than the printing of the AER. That is just typical. It is not in itself a huge issue or one of the great things, but I assure noble Lords that there are many more such stupid regulations that we have had to adopt over the years.
The stupid assumption that this has been some huge advantage to us in terms of trade has been waylaid by my noble friend already, who said that in fact probably less than half our total imports and exports are affected by the European Union. I understand that at the moment we are negotiating for a special trade agreement with the United States. I am sure that if that were achieved it would be of great value to this country, if not exclusively, and would certainly sit alongside our membership without any problems whatever as the two would not cut across.
At this stage, I do not know whether I want a come-out solution. Nobody knows that because they do not know what will be achieved at the end of the negotiations—or even what they want to be achieved. It is quite right that that should be an open decision throughout people’s prospects. So many people we have known for years and who have not had strong feelings now say, “I want to come out, I only want to come out and there is no other thing that would be satisfactory”.
I personally identify very much with all the views strongly expressed by our Foreign Secretary, who was here earlier. They give very little way to anything other than what I imagine we want as our bottom line. I will want them to be adhered to throughout negotiations of such importance. Finally, I congratulate this Government on being the first one since the inception of the Union, since the early vote when I voted against, to give this country the opportunity to see what we have gained, what we have lost and what we can improve—and, if we cannot improve it, get out. My congratulations remain firmly with the Government.
My Lords, I begin by declaring an interest as an elected Member of the National Assembly for Wales who is married to an interpreter accredited to European Union institutions in pursuance of its co-official languages provision.
I warmly welcome the referendum and particularly the debate that will happen throughout the United Kingdom as part of it. After all, on this Bench my noble friend and I are veterans of at least three referenda on devolution and a possibly even more significant one on the opening of licensed premises on Sundays in parts of Wales that we both represented. I can also say that the question is absolutely unambiguous in both official languages of the National Assembly for Wales.
We will support any amendment which enfranchises 16 year-olds. We obtained that concession on the Wales Act before the Westminster election. It is totally inappropriate that there should be a different franchise between a referendum on one issue and a referendum on another.
Like my noble friend, I am a veteran of the 1975 referendum, where I must confess publicly—not for the first time—that I voted on the wrong side. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for whom I once worked in pursuance of his bilingual policy is surprised by that. In those days, the party of which I am still a loyal member in this House and elsewhere had a strange slogan which I am sure my noble friend will remember. We had a car sticker which read, “Europe yes, EEC no”. I believe that it was subsequently withdrawn because it was not clear to the electorate what it might mean. My noble friend was on the right side in those days, being more perspicacious than I was. I have tried to make up for it since.
Renegotiation is not a one-off process. It was not something that happened in 1975, then occasionally when there were treaties to be agreed later and is happening again now. The European Union is constantly in a process of negotiation. I remember very clearly, after voting on the wrong side in 1975, my first visit to the European institutions as an elected Member from down the corridor. I met Irish colleagues and was laughed at out loud for taking such a view. My experience as an elected Member here in Westminster and in Cardiff is one of strong, continual co-operation between elected colleagues in the Republic and in the north of the island of Ireland. Particularly in the area of agriculture and fisheries, they have common policies which are part of a renegotiated European policy. Being able to work alongside other parliamentary and Assembly colleagues in different regions of Europe has been the most pleasurable part of my life—apart from coming to this House, of course; I have to say that.
Before devolution, led most ably by Peter Walker when he was Secretary of State for Wales and by other Secretaries of State, there was a policy that ensured that Wales was alongside much more powerful so-called “motor regions” in the European Union. Welsh local authorities played a key role. The National Assembly is now an active member of the Committee of the Regions. My colleague, the reverend Rhodri Glyn Thomas, will be delivering an opinion yn Gymraeg—that is, in the Welsh language; as I mentioned, the Welsh language is a co-official language—on marine energy in the Committee of the Regions this week. During my period presiding over the National Assembly, I was privileged to be part of the standing conference of European regional assemblies, where we shared experiences of our constitutional framework.
The renegotiation in the previous Parliament—the current Assembly for us—of the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy is a very good example of the way shared competences, even exclusive competences, of the European Union are constantly reconsidered, re-examined and redeveloped. This is the way the Union operates. On energy policy and the environment, on the major question of climate change and on transportation we have this understanding of the need to create a European infrastructure. This applies across the Union.
The current renegotiation is but part of a story. Let us not delude ourselves that this will be the final decision. In the development of constitutions there is no such thing as an end game. Constitutions in democracies continually develop and redevelop. It is because of that that participation is the key issue: discussion and debate. This is how these unions develop.
For me, perhaps the most important aspect of the debate about the relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union is the debate on identity and nationality. I wear a badge constantly —it is my anti-UKIP device—which has the European Union flag and, of course, the red dragon of Wales, currently much displayed on the football and rugby fields. I have to say that because I suspect that my colleague is on his way to support the national team tonight. No doubt, that is why I am speaking in this debate.
The identity of Wales is of a European region: a nationality within the United Kingdom and within the European Union. When I presided in Cardiff and chaired the Assembly Commission, I had one major responsibility —for flagpoles. I ensured that we had four flagpoles, one with the logo of the Assembly, and others with the European Union flag, the United Kingdom flag and the red dragon. The key thing about those flags is that they always flew at the same level. For me, identity is pluralistic. I am not a member of a particular nationality; I am also a Welsh European. I believe in subsidiarity and in sharing competences and understanding. That is nothing exceptional. It is the world that I was born into in 1946. I want to ensure that it will be the world of my grandchildren as well.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord. I noticed that in her opening remarks on behalf of the Liberal party, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, said that we could be Norway or Switzerland. I say to the noble Lord, let us just be Britain and make a success of Britain in a global marketplace.
I congratulate my noble friend the Minister on bringing forward the Bill, which gives the British people the opportunity to decide this question, which has been denied them by the parties opposite for far too long. Her timing is particularly brilliant, for, had she lived, this would have been Baroness Thatcher’s 90th birthday. I have to say to my noble friend Lord Hunt, whom I served as a Minister of State—he was one of the best Secretaries of State I worked for, if not the best; I learned a great deal from him—that I do not think that had Lady Thatcher been here today he would have gone in for the selective quotation that he did in his speech. I am not quite sure how she would have reacted to being described by—what are they called? The BSE campaign, an odd choice of name—Britain Stronger in Europe as a quitter. I am not sure that Margaret Thatcher ever was a quitter.
On the subject of quitters, when the campaign was launched yesterday a number of Members of this House were present—my noble friends Lord Rose and Lady Brady, and the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson—decrying the quitters. Well, they seem to have quit the field today because they are not here to make their case, which is absolutely extraordinary. The noble Lord, Lord Rose, talked about leaving the community being,
“a leap in the dark”.
He certainly knows about big leaps because he has leapt from being involved in Business for Britain to being involved in business for Brussels. A rose by any other name does not smell as sweet in this case.
But it was nice to see Mr Blair and Mr Brown united on something, was it not? Of course, we all owe Mr Brown a great debt because if Mr Blair and most of the other people who are involved in this campaign to keep us in the Union had had their way, we would be in the euro, our economy would be on its back and millions of people would be unemployed. The euro has proved to be the engine of destruction of the jobs of young people throughout Europe. The extraordinary thing is that it took until last week for the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, to finally admit that he was wrong about the euro, while defending it in the face of all the tragic evidence before us of what a disaster that has been—a disaster because it is a project that has been driven by political expediency rather than the needs of the European peoples.
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.
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, on his usual, vigorous House of Commons speech. He made it with great skill and a lot of very good jokes. I also refer to the 1975 referendum, mentioned by a number of noble Lords. I want to draw three lessons from that earlier referendum, which may possibly be of relevance to us today. The 1975 referendum was the brainchild of Tony Benn, as the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, said. When the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, first heard that Tony Benn was talking about a referendum, he called him in and said,
“I understand you are suggesting a plebiscite on the Common Market. You can’t do that”.
However, as the row inside the Labour Party over Europe grew in intensity, Wilson changed his mind. He turned to the referendum as a means of uniting a divided party—yes, we were divided—and remaining in the EU. As the Foreign Secretary, Jim Callaghan, had predicted, it proved to be a useful “rubber dinghy”.
David Cameron was against an in/out referendum in October 2011. He argued that such a complicated issue could not be reduced to a simple choice. He even imposed a three-line Whip against a Tory Back-Bench Motion in favour of an in/out referendum. However, under pressure from Eurosceptic Tory MPs in Parliament and from UKIP outside, in his Bloomsbury speech of January 2013, Cameron committed the Conservative Party to such a referendum. The conclusion that I draw from this bit of history is that both Wilson and Cameron had a referendum imposed on them not so much by a democratic groundswell from below but by pressure from within their own parties. That is the reality. Let us not be too high-minded about all this.
Secondly, on the renegotiation of the terms of entry, in 1974-75, Wilson’s tactics were to renegotiate the terms of entry. I remember it very well because I had just become a Labour Member of Parliament. The German Chancellor—we clearly always turn to the Germans when we are in trouble; it was Helmut Schmidt then—was able to help secure a renegotiation. In March 1975, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, remembers, Wilson and Callaghan announced that negotiations had been finalised, and highlighted an important deal for New Zealand lamb and butter and the way in which the UK budget could be related to the gross national product. I admit that this then had to be renegotiated by Margaret Thatcher.
My point relating to David Cameron is that, significantly, Wilson did not pretend that the negotiations had been a complete success. He claimed that he had achieved significant improvements and, on that basis, asked the British to vote in favour of remaining in the Community. I think that David Cameron has been reading back on this history. He appears to be following much the same path as Harold Wilson. He assured his party that he was negotiating a new settlement with our European partners. It is true, of course, that nobody, least of all our partners, is entirely clear what the new settlement entails. I think that, for understandable reasons, the Prime Minister does not wish to reveal his hand, least of all to his own Eurosceptic Back-Benchers, because we know exactly what they would do if he revealed this. However, we have the benefit of the Sunday Telegraph of
It is quite clear that it is going to be very difficult for David Cameron to represent a package along these lines as a complete success, given the way the terms have been ratcheted up all the time by the Eurosceptics. But if Cameron follows the Wilson example of claiming only a limited victory—that is what I advise him to do—and follows this up, like Wilson, with a call to vote for staying in, this could in fact be an effective approach if, as I think, he wants to stay in.
In any case, in 1975, it was not so much the detailed but more the fundamental questions that decided the two-to-one outcome in favour. The British people voted to remain in partly for economic reasons and partly for political reasons. They believed that staying in would give us greater influence, while outside we would have little say in European affairs; and I think they were right. In other words, outside we should be clinging to the shadow of British sovereignty while its substance had flown out of the window.
As in 1975, I predict that whatever we hear from the boffins of the Eurosceptics such as the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, these more fundamental issues will decide the referendum. Those of us who wish to stay in will emphasise the benefits of the single market. That will be an absolutely key issue. Secondly, we will also emphasise the additional clout which being a member of the EU brings to this country. Incidentally, the reason that the TTIP negotiations are going on is because we are a member of the EU. It is the EU that is negotiating TTIP, not Britain alone. We will also point out that those who want to leave have totally failed to offer a credible alternative—I am sorry, but I have not been convinced by anything I have heard in this debate. We are told by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, that a “no” vote would not risk the break-up of the UK as well. I wish I was as certain as him on that, but of course he is an expert on Scotland and I am not.
In conclusion, the British people, when they consider these deeper, vital questions, will, as in 1975, vote to remain a member of the European Union.
My Lords, when we debated the Private Member’s Bill in the last Parliament, I made a number of contributions on matters relating to the franchise. It seemed to me that who would be entitled to vote was a very important matter and that simply to use the parliamentary register raised some questions of principle.
Clause 2 of this Bill confirms that the referendum will use the parliamentary franchise, although with some additions, as did that Private Member’s Bill. A vote will go to: British citizens living in the UK; Irish citizens resident in the UK; citizens of Gibraltar; Commonwealth citizens who meet the residency requirement for registration as an elector in the UK; British citizens who are overseas voters using their entitlement to register as overseas voters for up to 15 years after leaving the UK; service voters; and, now, Members of the House of Lords. In addition, Commonwealth and Irish citizens who would be entitled to vote in European elections in Gibraltar are also entitled to vote in this referendum.
This means that citizens of other EU countries resident in the UK who are eligible to vote in local government, devolved legislature elections and European Parliament elections may not vote in this referendum even though they were able to do so in the Scottish referendum last year if resident in Scotland. To add further complexity, EU citizens from Cyprus and Malta resident in the UK can vote as Commonwealth citizens even though they cannot vote as EU citizens. In addition, Irish citizens resident in the UK can have a vote even though they are not in the Commonwealth.
I have come to the conclusion that all UK passport holders living outside the UK and at the very least those now living elsewhere in the EU should have the right to vote in the referendum, however long they have lived outside the UK. At present, a 15-year limit applies. The reasons for that number of years seem arbitrary. Indeed, the Government recognised this and made it clear that they are committed to abolishing the 15-year rule. I welcome that but cannot understand why the votes for life Bill cannot pass the legislative process in time to enable those restricted by the rule to be able to vote. Surprisingly, I read that a Downing Street spokesman confirmed that the 15-year rule will remain in place for this referendum even if the votes for life Bill is passed before the referendum takes place. So the legislation would be in place but would not be implemented for this referendum, which is now likely to take place in 2017—up to two years from now.
I hope that the Minister in replying will be able to explain whether a clear commitment from the Conservative Party manifesto is to be jettisoned for this referendum when there is time to implement it.
There is a further issue of principle. On balance, I think that Scotland was correct to extend the right to vote in last year’s referendum to resident non-UK EU citizens. If I have a criticism of the decision, it is that it excluded all the Scottish voters who lived outside Scotland. That is because the parliamentary electoral register was not used. I should have preferred that both registers were used.
I accept that, in 2013, the European Parliament reported that EU countries did not permit the right to vote to other EU citizens in their national elections. The UK and Ireland were the exception to that, with nationals being able to vote in the other country on a reciprocal basis. The UK was also exceptional given that it permits votes for resident citizens of Cyprus and Malta as Commonwealth citizens. In a further piece of work, the Citizenship Observatory surveyed electoral rights in EU member states, and it seems that other EU member states do not grant foreign nationals a vote in national referendums either. If the UK took the same line, it would of course prevent Commonwealth and Republic of Ireland citizens from voting. As it is not the Government’s intention to do that in the Bill, I find it hard to understand why citizens of some EU countries have special rights. It seems to me a matter of fairness.
Many EU nationals, not just those from the Republic of Ireland, Cyprus and Malta, have settled in the UK. They work here and pay taxes here. They have a real stake in the outcome. We must think very carefully about whether it is fair to exclude them when three EU countries’ citizens are not excluded. The principle that should apply is that those who could be directly and personally affected by the outcome should be entitled to have a say in the decision. The many UK citizens—about 2 million—who live elsewhere in the EU, and the many EU citizens, about 2.4 million, who live in the UK are right to be worried by the possible exit of the UK from the EU. It is no surprise that significant numbers are said to be considering dual nationality. If we left the EU, work permits could return, more people could have to apply for skilled migrant visas, reciprocal health schemes could be reduced, the operation of UK state pensions could be affected and the general ease of mobility for UK citizens across the EU would become much more complicated and uncertain. I wonder whether the Government have calculated the impact if large numbers of UK citizens decided to return to the UK in the event of our exit from the EU.
Finally, the Prime Minister has said that the franchise should remain at 18 for the referendum, but he also said that it was an issue for Parliament to decide. My view is that the Scottish referendum demonstrated convincingly the value of permitting 16 year-olds to vote and, given the implications for 16 year-olds if there was to be a vote to leave, we should lower the voting age. Sixteen year-olds have a right to be involved as their future will be affected.
In conclusion, I hope that it will be possible to explore all these issues in Committee; they matter.