Relevant documents: 5th Report from the Constitution Committee, 9th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee
Clause 2: Entitlement to vote in the referendum
Moved by Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer
14: Clause 2, page 2, line 7, at end insert—
“( ) any United Kingdom citizen who does not fall within paragraph (a), but is resident in the European Union and has registered to vote in the referendum,”
My Lords, I remind the Committee of my interests as declared in the register: when Parliament is not sitting, I live in France, where my husband and I have a vineyard and a wine business. We have many friends there who are UK citizens, a number of whom have lived there for more than 15 years.
I am very grateful to the other noble Lords who have put their names to my amendment. I am sure they will have many good examples to bring before the Committee. Last Tuesday, when we discussed elections, the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, asked for examples of real people. I am very happy to provide them. Indeed, I gave a couple of examples at Second Reading. But, first, I want to talk about the principle. I make it absolutely clear that I am not arguing for votes for life in general or local elections. Those elections involve different arguments about whether someone has invested in another country emotionally and financially more than they may have done in the country of which they are a citizen. What is before us today is a totally separate and different matter of whether British citizens who have lived in the EU for more than 15 years should have an exceptional franchise in this EU referendum. I am sure that they should.
If we can make a rule that exceptionally, Peers can vote in this referendum, we can surely make the same exceptional provision for a group with at least as great an interest in the matter as anyone in your Lordships’ House—and a group, I submit, with a lot more at stake. These British expats in the EU will face a giant step into the unknown, should the vote lead to an exit from the EU. They will face a mass of questions. Will they need to apply to become a citizen of the country in which they live? Will that even be possible? Will they pass any financial or language requirements? What will happen to their healthcare arrangements? How quickly will reciprocal arrangements cease? These issues have all been raised with me by very worried people. Even driving a motor car is not a given. My American friends Hank and Cindy, who live in France, have had real difficulty passing the French driving theory test, which comprises some 3,000 questions, all in a foreign language. I am not sure that many British expats of 70 and over would be able to do that.
Then there are those with businesses. For them, the implications are immense. Brian Cave from south-west France, who has long campaigned on this issue, says:
“There are another half million or thereabouts in business on their own account or employed who are likewise concerned. It hardly needs expressing but they are concerned about the possibility of work permits—free movement around the continent. Free movement of capital for their businesses AND for their own future pensions”. With all these massive questions hanging over their future, surely these expats are absolutely entitled to a vote on whether or not the UK should remain in the EU. The fact that they have lived abroad for more than 15 years does not diminish that right but increases it. Years ago, they took to heart in an especially personal way the idea of the EU as a place in which to live and work, and so they have much more at stake. Many moved to the EU for employment after university. Those people often now have children at a critical stage in their schooling, and they will face upheaval in their own careers. In November 2012, a Home Office study showed that the majority of British citizens who emigrated abroad between 1999 and 2010 did so to work. Therefore, they moved abroad for a good reason and do not deserve to be penalised for it.
At this point I will give one example. Jane Golding says, “I now work in Germany as a lawyer under my home title practising EU law. I can do this because EU rules on mutual recognition of professional qualifications allow me to practise under my own title throughout the EU”. She has had an international career spanning four different EU countries. She says: “I now work in Germany as a lawyer under my home title practising EU law. I can do this because EU rules on mutual recognition of professional qualifications allow me to practise under my own title throughout the EU”.
There are many who would fall into a different category: retired people. Those who have retired abroad will face great upheaval and many in this group are still UK taxpayers. The have worked as teachers, in the Armed Forces, as doctors, for national and local Government, as firemen and nurses. They receive the UK Government pension, so they are UK taxpayers. They have invested a lifetime of work in the UK. Why would they not deserve a vote on its future? None of these people deserves more of a say than other UK citizens, even though their lives will be more affected as a result; nevertheless, they deserve a say, and that is in the vote.
I have asked myself why the Government would resist giving them a vote, especially a Government who allegedly want to give them a vote for life. I have asked myself whether it is a matter of the cost. That is why I have tabled Amendment 18, so that the Minister can explain whether it is too difficult and costly to register them. I find that hard to believe, however, given that the Electoral Commission advertised in February 2015 in the ex-pat press that you could still register online to vote in May 2015. For me, there is no rational reason to deny these people a vote. This Bill provides for exceptions to the normal Westminster franchise, and this group have a right to be an exception and be given the franchise for this EU Referendum Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support this group of amendments. Amendments 17 and 19, which are mine, are of a similar thrust to that of noble Baroness, Lady Miller, whose amendment has been clearly and compellingly introduced.
When the Minister replies, I hope he will recognise that we are in calmer waters than we were last Wednesday in discussing the franchise. There is no difference of principle between those moving these amendments and the party of which he is a member, which stated in its manifesto that it believed that this category of person—people who have lived abroad for more than 15 years—should get the vote. I heartily support this view.
I hope that the Minister will also recognise that this class of voter—as I hope it will be—in the European Union countries has a greater interest in voting in this referendum than he or she ever had, or will have, in national parliamentary elections. It would be extraordinary if the Government did not exert themselves to ensure that these British citizens have the vote on this occasion, when their own rights and livelihoods are at stake. The Government have made a great deal of the saying, “the people must have their say”. Surely these are people who ought to have their say. They and their futures are directly involved in this. Frankly, it would be appalling if the Government, later in this Parliament, in an act of supreme generosity, gave them the vote—but after the referendum in which they wish to vote. I hope the Minister will give serious consideration to this issue.
Naturally, since I rose to speak to some amendments on the Marshalled List, those are the amendments I am speaking to. If I did not repeat on each occasion, “Those citizens living abroad in other EU countries”, then I am sorry but that is what I intended.
My Lords, this is clearly controversial territory and I look forward to hearing the Government’s rationale as to why the line has been drawn where it has. I have to say that I cannot see the argument for allowing British expats in EU countries to have the vote, but not all expats. There does not seem to be much difference between your career taking you to Berlin or to Singapore. Indeed, those who have gone to Singapore are often more likely to return to live in the UK in due course. Where to draw the line is a tricky question. The Scottish referendum was arguably wrong to exclude Scottish citizens who were at that time living in England. If we are to have expats, we should have them all, not just a particular category.
My Lords, I support the amendments which are on the Marshalled List and which have been comprehensively introduced. I note what the noble Lord, Lord Flight, says, and I would probably have no problem in widening the scope of these amendments to all expats. However, it is clear that people who have moved to the European Union to work are much more directly affected by the European Union than people working in Japan or America, for example. UK citizens who go to work in other member states are specifically worried about their personal and professional status, which will be directly and seriously affected by the EU referendum. As has been said, some face losing their right to work under EU mutual recognition rules, and thus their livelihoods. Changing citizenship would not help them. Of course, if British citizens work for British companies they might also pay national insurance and taxes in the UK. Retired former public servants such as police officers, military personnel, teachers and nurses receive a government pension, taxed at source in the UK, and make a contribution to the UK Treasury. All these people deserve and need a say in the referendum.
Like others, I ask the Minister: if the Government believe it right for British citizens to vote in future general elections, as announced in their manifesto, and will be introducing such legislation, why is it not right to give these people a vote in a referendum that will have a greater impact on their lives than any general election? Perhaps I am being terribly cynical, but I wonder whether the main reason why the Government wish to give Brits abroad a vote has nothing to do with principles or democracy, but with the fact that polling tends to demonstrate that the Conservative Party would gain more than other parties from receiving the votes of British citizens living abroad.
The Minister often cites what happens in other member states to support the Government’s case regarding extending the franchise. They say that it is not done in other member states and therefore should not be done in this country. I respectfully point out that 23 member states provide lifelong voting rights for their overseas voters. While I am on my feet, I pay tribute to the many members of Labour International who have campaigned on this issue for many years. I will specifically mention Harry Shindler, a 94 year-old resident of Italy who is an Anzio veteran, and who has campaigned tirelessly to scrap the ban.
My Lords, I support this group of amendments. We have had some quite intense debates on this subject already. Many of the amendments debated previously were perfectly respectable but, some might argue, a little far-fetched whereas with this group of amendments, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, pointed out, we seem to have moved into calmer waters. We are talking about British subjects who happen to be retired or working inside the European Union. The effect of the referendum on their lives would be quite substantial. As the noble Baroness has already pointed out, many of those who are retired are taxpayers here in the United Kingdom. Consequently, given that we have already made a concession to enable members of your Lordships’ House to vote in the referendum, I can see no possible reason why we cannot make a similar commitment to British subjects who are working or living abroad.
My Lords, may I say how much I agree with my noble friend Lord Flight? It is right that expatriates should have the vote, not just in the referendum but in general elections as well, whether they live in Singapore or the EU. When one looks at the way in which Australia, for instance, to take a Commonwealth country, or France, to take another European country, enable their citizens to do that, it seems extraordinary that we are unable to do so.
However, on this occasion we are talking about the EU referendum Bill and what should happen in the case of the EU referendum. I think the most important points have already been made by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, and by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. If we want the referendum to be fair, to express the will of the British people and to take account of the interests of British people of all sorts, it would be wrong to exclude those British nationals who are living and working in the European Union. We are members of the European Union. We have been encouraging our firms and citizens to take full advantage of the economic opportunities it offers, and for many that involves working elsewhere in the European Union. These people have been contributing to the British interest and British economy.
Other British people living in the European Union have retired—in Spain, Malta, Cyprus, or places of that sort. They too have rights. They have spent a lifetime in this country working, paying taxes and earning their pensions, and their lives will also be greatly disrupted.
We will come, in due course, to an amendment dealing with the consequences of leaving the European Union. We do not yet know what they will be. It will be a jump into the unknown—the start of a period of great uncertainty. But one thing is clear: we cannot be sure that the free movement of people will remain. A lot of people in this country want to prevent free movement. If they are successful, British people who are working, living and retired elsewhere in the European Union will find that their rights are restricted and their lives will be changed. This underscores the considerable interest that they have in the amendment.
Finally, mention has already been made in this debate, as in others, of the Scottish referendum and the lessons that we can learn from it. One of the things which struck all of us, even those who are as non-Scottish as I am, was that a great injustice of that referendum was the exclusion, not just of Scottish people living in England and elsewhere, but in particular of Scottish soldiers in Scottish regiments, let alone in other regiments who were outside Scotland at the time and who could not vote. That was an injustice and we do not want a repeat on this occasion. I hope the Government will look with favour on this group of amendments.
My Lords, I have one question. Some very powerful points have been made and I do not dissent from the case for granting the vote to British residents in the EU. But we need to be clear that we are talking about a very substantial number of people here. The number of British citizens in the EU is about 1.3 million, according to the UN Population Division; maybe a couple of million, according to other estimates. We do not know the number of adults, but it is likely to be quite high because of the very high percentage of retired people in certain countries, so we could be talking about something like 1 million potential voters. Some of them will have been abroad for less than 15 years and would therefore have the vote under the present arrangements, but we could none the less be talking about pretty substantial numbers who, under this amendment, would get the vote in this referendum.
What is the justification for confining the vote only to those British citizens in the European Union instead of conferring it more widely? It seems to me that if the 15-year rule is to be abolished—and there are good reasons for that—it should be abolished for everybody. Otherwise, there is a clear risk that passing this amendment would look as though it was an attempt to skew the franchise, with damaging consequences for the longer term. The key thing about this referendum, surely, is that it must be fair and must be seen to be fair. If we are going to do this, let us do it for all overseas citizens.
My Lords, with respect it is easy to distinguish between those in Singapore and elsewhere, and those within the European Union. The essential principle should be not only to avoid anomalies or absurdities but to ensure we include those British citizens who have a clear and direct interest in the outcome—those who are clearly stakeholders because of free movement and because they perhaps still have pensions here, and so on. Because of the network of arrangements between us and our partners within the EU, they will be very closely and directly affected, far more than those in Singapore or various other areas. We should seek if possible to try to meet them.
I know from personal experience of having a residence in a part of south-west France that many people there keep a very close interest in what is happening in this country and have a direct financial interest. It seems to me that they have as great an interest as, for example, someone who may come here from outside the EU as a result of marriage, who may have very limited English and who may know very little about our culture and our history. Quite rightly, if they assume citizenship through marriage, they have a say, and so also should those who have perhaps spent a lifetime in this country until they go abroad in retirement. They have very close links with this country and a direct interest in it. Yes, those in Singapore may have that as well, but no one can seriously argue that they have as great a stake as those who live in the EU and keep very close links with us.
My Lords, I support this group of amendments, as I did in the Private Member’s Bill last year and also at Second Reading and on the first day of Committee. They represent a very major issue of principle. The Minister said on the first day in Committee that the Government had decided to use the Westminster franchise. I think the reasoning was that it is an established system that is easy to implement. The problem is that it is actually a very weak system because of who it excludes. We have heard all the reasons for that in the debate so far. The Government have accepted the principle of votes for life, and planned legislation to amend that anomaly, so I find it very puzzling to understand why the Government feel unable to implement it in time for this referendum, given that there is a fairly good chance that the referendum will not be held until early 2017. I hope that the Minister will explain in some detail why the timetable for legislation cannot permit the votes-for-life legislation promised in the Conservative manifesto to be implemented in time for it to apply.
One point that has not been made so far in the debate is that it is not difficult, in administrative terms, to resolve this problem. All those who qualified for a vote in this year’s general election and who may exceed the 15-year limit when the referendum is held are known to electoral registration officers, and extension of their right to cover this referendum would be straightforward to implement. Those not registered to vote in a general election who have lived outside the UK and the EU for more than 15 years could be invited to register using passport, national insurance number, evidence of current residence and evidence of their last residence in the UK.
The noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, talked about the numbers involved. Of course, this is an issue of principle—there may well be a lot of people, but the issue of principle seems to me to transcend the issue of how many people might be entitled to vote and how many people might register to vote. I agree with the noble Lord that if the votes-for-life Bill is for all those who live outside the United Kingdom, whether in the EU or elsewhere overseas, that is an issue we need to address. I would be very happy to support an extension to all UK passport holders wherever they live in the world. However, this group of amendments relates to those who live within the European Union. Of course, I accept that an extension of the kind proposed by this group of amendments would give the Government a bit of work. However, set against that should be the rights of all UK passport holders living in the EU to have a say in their future.
We have heard of the concerns that people have. I am particularly concerned as to whether the UK Government will continue to uprate pensions. In many parts of the world, pensions are not uprated. They are uprated within the European Union, because it is part of our agreement as a member of the European Union. Other issues have been raised, but this is really important to those living within the EU outside the UK. It is very important to be clear about these matters, and very important to acknowledge the right of those with a stake in the outcome to have a say. I hope, when the Minister comes to reply, that he will explain why the Government think it is appropriate for them not to have a say.
My Lords, the noble Lords who have tabled these amendments have performed a most valuable service which has wider international dimensions, as my noble friend Lord Flight and others have pointed out. I have strongly and consistently supported the removal of the arbitrary 15-year limit on the right of our fellow countrymen and women living overseas to vote in our parliamentary elections—a right first conferred by Margaret Thatcher’s Government. I urged its removal in my first speech in this Chamber in early 2011. I tabled amendments to the Electoral
Registration and Administration Bill in 2013 in order to press the case for change. I took part in subsequent discussions on overseas voting arrangements in a cross-party group chaired by my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth—a group in which my noble friend Lord Tyler played a conspicuous part.
I was delighted when my party included an unambiguous commitment in its recent general election manifesto to sweep away the iniquitous 15-year bar. Swift implementation of that commitment would have dealt with all the aspects of this issue, both as regards the parliamentary franchise and, as a direct consequence, the forthcoming EU referendum. However, the Bill to give effect to the unambiguous Tory commitment has not even been published. I was greatly taken aback to be told, in answer to an Oral Question in July, that there was no certainty whatever that the Bill would reach the statute book before the referendum took place—and it has become even less certain since then. This is deeply disappointing. Nothing could have been more precisely predictable than the emergence of the huge problem with which we are now confronted if swift and early action was not taken.
It is extremely unfortunate, to put it mildly, that work was not set in hand at the earliest opportunity. The Tory pledge was made in September last year. A branch of the Conservative Party’s organisation with which I am closely connected, Conservatives Abroad, has two outstanding experts on all the issues involved in extending the right to vote to all British citizens living overseas. They could have helped prepare the way for the Bill, which, if it were now before Parliament, would have prevented the wholly foreseeable problem that the amendments seek to address; unresolved, it will inflict great injustice on a significant number of our fellow countrymen and countrywomen overseas.
It simply cannot be right to hold a referendum in which some British citizens living in another EU member state or elsewhere in the world are able to take part, while others are excluded because they happen to have been absent from our shores for more than 15 years. The outcome within the EU will affect them all equally and profoundly. It will surely be incomprehensible to our fellow citizens living abroad that an election manifesto commitment cannot be implemented by one means or another in time for them to participate in a vote of such overwhelming importance for the nation to which they belong.
We need to imagine ourselves in the shoes of Harry Shindler, to whom the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, paid tribute, and our other fellow countrymen and countrywomen who have been living overseas for over 15 years and have retained a strong sense of British identity. How would we feel about being excluded from this momentous referendum while those who have not reached the 15-year limit can take part? The Bill should be returned to the other place and amended in order to include British citizens who have been living overseas for more than 15 years. In that way, we would uphold the principle enshrined in the Conservative election manifesto.
My Lords, I added my name to two amendments in this group. I speak in support of the amendments and of the principles that have been enunciated today. The franchise as envisaged in the Bill is full of anomalies, and it was quite clear from the first day of Committee that not all those anomalies will be removed. This, however, is a very simple point, and it is one of justice and fairness. We are speaking of people who have made possibly lifetime decisions to go and live and work in the European Union, and we are proposing to have a referendum that will determine whether or not the state of affairs of the United Kingdom being within the Union continues. In my submission, those people must in fairness have the right to participate.
On the first day of Committee I heard words to the effect of, “a decision to be made by British people”. I hope that it is a decision to be made by all British people, not just those whom we are going to be selective about. We have heard that there is a promise to extend the franchise. That makes it even more unjustifiable to deny those British citizens the right in this referendum.
It would be wrong for those who are opposed to it to see British citizens abroad as somehow tax exiles. Many British citizens living abroad may well be non-resident in terms of not living in this country but they will not be non-resident in the eyes of HMRC, whose grasp is tight and long. Those who have family, properties, sources of income or other matters that bind and tie them to this country remain within its net. Therefore, that is justification for enabling them to have the vote.
Putting it into context, we are seriously proposing that they should not have a say in this decision, in contrast with the arrangements of some other member states which ensure that their citizens who live abroad are represented in their legislatures by members specifically elected by those expatriate communities. I do not suggest that we move in that direction, but I think that it helps us to see the context in which this argument is taking place. I support the amendments in this group.
My Lords, I would like to make a brief intervention, having heard the words “matter of principle” used by a number of contributors. As someone new to this particular debate and this group of amendments, it is slightly odd—is it not?—that a British citizen living in Stockholm under this amendment would be able to take part in the referendum but a British citizen living in Oslo would not. I certainly cannot see an issue of principle that would establish why that should be the case other than what seems to be a weak argument—certainly a very weak argument if it is elevated to being an argument of principle—which is that somehow or other one’s entitlement to vote in an election, whatever the election happens to be, should be dependent on someone else’s assessment of how significant the outcome of the vote would be for the individual concerned.
We do not do that in any other election that I am aware of. If you have young children at school, you are more likely to be affected by the outcome of a local government election than if you do not, because, as we all know, the bulk of local government expenditure goes into education. A person’s right to vote is simply not dependent—or it could never be described as a matter of principle to be dependent—on our estimate of how greatly or significantly the outcome of the vote will affect them. I wonder whether in the rest of the contributions we could acknowledge the validity of that argument.
My Lords, just before the noble Lord sits down, could I possibly correct him in so far as my own reference to a principle was concerned? When I introduced the amendment I said that I did not think that there could be any difference of principle between those of us moving this amendment and the Government who represent a party which in its manifesto said that it was going to give these people a vote. That was the issue of principle which I said did not exist between us; I did not widen the reference.
My Lords, I was not pointing the finger at any individual and certainly not at the noble Lord, Lord Hannay; I was simply making what I think is a very valid point that it is not for us to judge how significant an election outcome is to someone when we are proposing either to give them the franchise or to withhold it from them.
My Lords, I very much welcome the Government’s manifesto commitment to give votes to all expats, no matter how long they have been abroad. It is a very welcome commitment which I look forward to seeing being put into place—but whether it is iniquitous that they have not yet been given the vote, as my noble friend suggested, I am not sure. These are matters of balance and practicality and it is to the practicalities that I will refer very briefly.
I take the point of my noble friend Lord Flight, who asked why, if we are giving votes to people in one part of the world, we should not give them to British citizens in all parts of the world. The Oslo and Stockholm example that the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, offered is very telling. There are something like 5 million British expats living abroad and 2 million of them, give or take a few, live in the European Union. For a very long time they have had the right to vote if they have been there for 15 years or less and I find it deeply distressing, because I believe that they should take an active role in their democracy, that fewer than 20,000 British expats in the European Union have taken up that right to vote. Despite all the efforts and the funding that has been given to advertising by the Government to get them involved, as a group they have shown a very sad lack of willingness to get involved.
My noble friend is right about the situation that existed in 2013 and 2014, but a magnificent effort was spearheaded by Conservatives Abroad, though not on its own, which helped greatly to increase the number registered to over 100,000—not all in the European Union—at the last general election, which was the largest number ever registered.
I am delighted to receive that update, although as my noble friend says, they were not all in the European Union. However, even if we take the figure of 100,000 around the world, that is not an overwhelming example of enthusiasm by that group of 5 million. I wish it had been more—let me put it that way. That is not a criticism. I just wish that it had been more.
Even a figure of 100,000 is lower than one would like it to be. However, could it be that the small number who have registered for general elections believe that they have a stronger interest in this momentous decision in the referendum than they have had in general elections in the UK, and therefore may be more inclined to register?
I have to grant that that is a possibility. However, this referendum has not exactly been a hidden secret: we have been campaigning about it for years. I would have hoped that if they had a real interest in that referendum, they would have taken the opportunity, as has existed, to sign up. This is not as simple an issue as some noble Lords have made out. It is a matter of great principle. It is a balance. Sadly, we do not know where these people are, in which countries, or how many they are. We will have difficulties contacting them because we do not know where they live. I am nervous that if we make a commitment that we cannot meet, it will end up in a mess. We are all concerned with making sure that this referendum—
It is most interesting that the noble Lord should say that the number of registrations is so low. Of course, it will be higher if there is actually a referendum. But if the numbers are relatively small, perhaps I should turn my argument on its head and say that if a large number of people are not concerned here, why take the risk of appearing to alter the franchise in your own direction?
I would hate to turn the noble Lord’s argument on its head, and I ask him to forgive me if I have encouraged him to do so. I am simply trying to set out some of the practical difficulties. This referendum could be held as early as September of next year, and I believe that this legislation could not be implemented until the early part of next year. It imposes extraordinarily difficult practical problems, and the last thing that any of us wish is an outcome that looks like a mess because of unsatisfactory registration. I ask my noble friend to consider that. If there were a sensible way of ensuring that all British expatriates abroad could be put on the register by the first possible opportunity of September next year, I would very much welcome it.
Is the noble Lord aware that the Electoral Commission does not anticipate any great difficulty? As a result of the very considerable efforts made before this year’s general election, to which the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, has just referred, the arrangements are hugely improved—not least, of course, because of online registration. If the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, has information from the Electoral Commission that is adverse to that particular advice that it has given previously, perhaps he will give it to the Committee.
I will be delighted to, and I thank the noble Lord for his intervention. I talked to the Electoral Commission just a little while ago, before the vote last week on individual electoral registration. It emphasised that if we were, for instance, to offer 16 and 17 year-olds the vote, which is a position, as he knows, that I have put forward, it would have exceeding difficulty—the noble Lord shakes his head. I am not quite sure what I have said that he could possibly disagree with, as I have not yet come to a conclusion. Maybe he has already made up his mind. The commission said that it would have exceeding difficulty in making those arrangements for 16 and 17 year-olds who are in this country before the autumn of next year. How much more difficult would it be for people when we do not know who they are or where they are? I ask this Committee to consider the practical difficulties of what we are asking for and not to end up passing bits of legislation that make the referendum a mess.
My Lords, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Green, was implying that we would expect ex-pats living elsewhere in the European Union to vote in one direction rather than another. Certainly during my most recent visits to southern France, southern Spain, Portugal, Italy and Cyprus, it became clear that the two British newspapers that are most readily available are the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph. The Guardian is the most difficult one to obtain, so I am not sure that one should assume that people will naturally vote one way or another.
Again, I am grateful for the intervention, but I hope now to be able to sit down. I do not think that the noble Lord was listening because I do not believe that I made the slightest indication as to whether ex-pat voters would vote one way or the other. That is not our concern, and the decision should not be based on whether they are likely to vote in one direction or the other. It is a matter of rights and of practicality.
My Lords, I support the remarks of my noble friends Lord Flight, Lord Dobbs and Lord Lexden, and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Green. It seems to me that if you are going to enfranchise British citizens living in the EU, you must spread that across the whole world. It is only on the margin that you can argue that somehow a citizen living in the EU has a much greater interest in the outcome of this referendum than one who, say, works in financial services in the Gulf, Singapore or Hong Kong and has every intention of coming back to the United Kingdom.
As my noble friend will recall, I supported the contention of my noble friend Lord Flight that everybody should have the franchise, but surly there is a very big distinction between somebody working or living in the EU and somebody living or working outside the EU. If we leave the EU and we inhibit freedom of movement for people coming into this country, then freedom of movement for people going out from this country will be affected. Therefore, the people living in the EU will perhaps have their lives very materially affected, which those living in Cape Town or Sydney will not.
Of course, when we come to debate whether we should stay in or go out, this is really going to be the basis of the whole campaign: there will be all these wonderful scare stories about how barriers are going to be put up. I remind my noble friend Lord Tugendhat that there are probably just as many EU citizens living in the United Kingdom as there are British citizens living in the EU, and therefore in the inevitable negotiations that will take place after a decision to leave—if such a decision is made—something will need to be done to cater for these people so that they can travel without visas between both countries.
I also remind my noble friend that we are not part of the Schengen agreement, so there is not free movement of citizens directly from the EU into the United Kingdom. They have to show their passports, which they do not have to do when crossing borders in the EU, as we have discovered through the inordinately large number of immigrants now coming into the EU.
I also want to pick up on the point about the timing made by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley. This is obviously of major concern to the Government, and I know that my noble friend will be covering it in his response to the debate, but we must know exactly what is involved in getting these people to register. I make it absolutely clear to the Committee that if an amendment on this is tabled on Report, I shall certainly ensure that another amendment is tabled to enfranchise all citizens around the whole world.
My Lords, I had planned to keep my comments incredibly brief. Obviously I support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady Miller and the amendments in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, myself and others. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, I feel that we should speak to the amendments that are listed to be dealt with today. While there may well be a case for enfranchising British people who have been abroad for more than 15 years wherever they live, that is not what we are discussing today.
One issue that has come up several times is the number of people. Frankly, I do not believe it matters whether there are 1 million or 2 million British people living in the European Union or EU nationals living in the United Kingdom, or how many 16 and 17 year-olds there are—which was the subject of debate on our first day in Committee. We should be talking about the principles and whether we believe that EU nationals resident in the UK and British citizens who are resident for more than 15 years in the EU or elsewhere should be allowed to vote. Those are matters of principle; the actual numbers really do not matter greatly. Although it was interesting to hear the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, turn himself round on this issue, I am not persuaded that the numbers matter.
What does matter—as we heard at the outset from the noble Lord, Lord Hannay—is that it is the Government’s policy to enfranchise British citizens who have been abroad for more than 15 years. As this is an issue where we seem to have cross-party support, I would have hoped that we might have had this debate rather more quickly. Can the Minister offer some thoughts on how the Government will deal with this specific aspect of the referendum, which we have been told in the past will be a one-off, once-in-a-generation event? Waiting for a revision to the Representation of the People Act would significantly disenfranchise people who have a real interest in it precisely because, in terms of the amendment, they are British residents of the European Union making use of the rights that they have as citizens of the European Union. We do not need to be a member of Schengen to have the benefit of free movement, but those people will clearly be affected by this referendum.
It is notable that pretty well every speaker has spoken in support of what the noble Lord, Lord Flight, said. It was the reason why I intervened on the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, when I asked him whether he really meant “abroad”—because if he had, it would have been a very significant thing. However, we are where we are. I hope the Government—
I am sorry; I think the noble Lord has misunderstood yet again what I said. In my opening remarks I said that I welcomed and supported what was in the Conservative manifesto. When it is brought before this House, I will vote in favour of it. I am in favour of the vote being given to all British citizens who live abroad, irrespective of where they live. However, in the context of this Bill, which is about an EU referendum, I have advanced an amendment which is designed to give people who have a serious interest in that referendum the vote. But there should be no mistaking it: I am not distinguishing between the two except in the context of this Bill. I shall be there to vote with the noble Lord when the Representation of the People Act comes forward.
I very much understand why the noble Lord makes a distinction, because—I will say it again—the amendment that he has produced in its form will hope to skew the results. One point made in this short debate is that the reason for having this rather skewed amendment is that people who live in the European Union like living there. Well, fine, but it gives a perspective on the answer that they might give in a referendum. I have no doubt that the noble Lord has that in his mind. I therefore say to the Government, who are meant to be neutral in all this, that in the interests of fairness and neutrality, and if they are going to extend the franchise, they should listen to the arguments for doing so on a worldwide basis.
My Lords, I, too, wholly agree with what my noble friend Lord Flight said—that if we are going to extend the vote in the referendum to those United Kingdom citizens who live outside the United Kingdom, it should be extended to all of them. However, I do not feel that those who live outside the United Kingdom have quite an equivalent right to vote as those who live here. As democracy was being extended in this country, it was often said, “No taxation without representation”. I seem to remember that when I went to live and work in Japan, I stopped paying United Kingdom income tax fairly immediately, although I did have to pay Japanese income tax, which was at rather a higher rate.
I later became chairman of Conservatives Abroad in Japan, and asked for the franchise for those of us who were abroad for a relatively short time with the clear intention of coming back. If you have been abroad for a long time and made your life abroad and have no intention of coming back to the UK to live, your right to have your voice heard in a general election or referendum is somewhat less. There may well be a case for extending the franchise beyond 15 years to United Kingdom citizens abroad, but there are practical difficulties in tracing who they are. On which electoral register would they be if they no longer have any family members living in the area where they previously lived? It seems rather complicated, so I cannot support the amendments.
On the point about British citizens living in the EU, of course I go along with the principle of no taxation without representation, but many of our citizens who live on the continent worked in Britain all their lives, paid taxes all their lives and have gone to the continent to retire. So it is a bit hard to deny them the vote on the no taxation without representation ground.
I hate to break the cosy consensus that is obvious here in the Chamber today, but the Labour Party does not believe that the vote should be extended beyond 15 years to people living in the EU. We are intensely aware that some British people who live abroad, especially in EU member states, have maintained a close connection with their mother nation. As we have heard, many of them continue to contribute through taxation or simply feel that the UK is still their home. But the fact is that they do not live in this country, and we argue that 15 years is a reasonable amount of time to take into account short-term work contracts, for example.
The issue of citizenship and the responsibilities of citizens is a complex and difficult area, especially in the UK. We heard last Wednesday about the report written by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, on the six different categories of citizenship in this country. It would be appropriate for this House to have a broader discussion on citizenship at some point. However, if in principle, as we were discussing on Wednesday, we want people who have been in this country for more than 15 years integrating, taking part in their communities and setting down roots, should we not ask British people to do the same in their adopted countries? That was part of the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard.
It is also worth taking note of the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott. If we introduce a system whereby we look at who is going to be impacted, and whether they therefore get a vote, we are on a pretty dangerous path.
It is also worth taking note of the practical issues set out by the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs. How do we register these people? We are keen to see the franchise extended to 16 and 17 year-olds. How do we start rounding those up across the EU or the whole world?
We are particularly aware, however, that there are people in the EU who have remained there because they are flying the flag on behalf of our country. I know that people who have worked in the EU institutions for many years are upset that they are going to be disfranchised following years of service in the European Commission or the European Parliament.
We know that many people have lived in the EU for more than 15 years. They will feel very vulnerable at this vote because the one thing we cannot be sure about if the UK votes to leave is what their status will be in the countries in which they have made their homes. Will they be able to stay in some countries but not others? Will they be able to use the health service in their adopted nations?
Will not the noble Baroness accept that there are large numbers of EU citizens living in this country? There will be a period of prolonged negotiation if the vote is made to leave, and obviously the status of EU citizens living in the United Kingdom will be addressed in the same way as British citizens living in the EU. All these matters will be resolved through negotiation.
That is easier said than done. The suggestion is that this will be a prolonged period. However, the reality is that the negotiation would have to be concluded within two years. That is not a long time for people to look at their status within a nation and for us to look at the status of EU citizens within this country. You have to understand the practicalities of the mechanism for disentangling our relationship with the EU if people were to vote to leave it. It is important to understand whether people would be able to get their pensions transferred if we were to leave the EU.
We have had no answers from the UK Government on these issues but there must be no question whatever about the legitimacy of this referendum. We believe there should be a cut-off point in terms of when people should lose their entitlement to vote if they have made their home abroad. We think the current cut-off point of 15 years is about right. However, let me make it absolutely clear that there is no inconsistency in the Labour position on this. The Conservative Government have said clearly that they want to see it extended; that they want British citizens who move abroad to be able to vote for ever. We do not believe that and we will object to that Bill when it comes to this House. I hope the House will agree that at least there is a degree of consistency in the Labour Party position on this issue. We do not want to see this franchise extended beyond 15 years.
My Lords, the purpose of this group of amendments is to allow British citizens resident in other EU member states to vote in the EU referendum irrespective of the time they have been resident overseas. This would lift the current 15-year time limit on voting rights for British citizens resident overseas, but only for those Britons resident in the EU. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said that with this group we were entering calmer waters. The waters proved to be calm-ish. As noble Lords will be aware, the Government are committed to lifting the 15-year rule. I trust that some of the support that has come from various quarters of the House will be extended when we bring forward a dedicated Bill in due course.
We should not make novel changes to the franchise lightly. Both Houses will need to consider it very carefully. It would require complex changes to the electoral system; we would need to take decisions about how to deal with potential fraud, and how to update electoral registration and ensure that changes are fair and robust. The principle—though I hesitate to use that word in this debate—is simple, but there is real complexity here as well. Critically, we want to include all British citizens living overseas, not only those living in other EU member states. The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, pointed to differences that might arise between Stockholm and Oslo with this amendment; my noble friend Lord Flight compared Berlin and Singapore. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, is not concerned with those outside the European Union, and that the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, said that things are rather different if you are not in the European Union. However, it may not be easily justifiable to distinguish between those living within and outside the European Union. The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, was right to say that degree of interest—either specifically or in terms of effect—is not the criterion for deciding whether somebody is allowed to vote. Some who live within the European Union may be entirely indifferent to what happens in Europe; some who live outside the European Union may be either directly affected or significantly concerned with the outcome.
During the debate, reference was made to the number of British citizens living overseas and in the European Union. As I understand it, there are no official statistics on the number of UK citizens resident overseas, but the figure that the Government believe most accurate is from the World Bank’s estimate of migrant stocks in 2010, as updated by the UN Department for Social and Economic Affairs in 2013. This report estimates that approximately 5.2 million British-born migrants live overseas, of whom approximately 1.3 million are in other EU countries. We have no figures that distinguish between British citizens who have lived overseas for more or less than 15 years.
My noble friends Lord Dobbs and Lord Lexden had an exchange about the number of citizens who applied to vote. My noble friend Lord Dobbs was right to say that, ahead of the 2015 general election, 113,000 overseas citizens applied to register to vote. The highest number before 2015 was 30,000, when British citizens resident abroad were first given the right to vote. That increase in overseas registrations can be attributed to a combination of a greater ease of registering and a £500,000 investment by the previous Government to encourage those living overseas to vote.
The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, who is not in his place at the moment, made reference to what he thought the Electoral Commission had said about the relative ease of amending registers to deal with the results of this amendment. There is nothing in the Electoral Commission report to support what he says. In a passage that was referred to in our previous debates, the Electoral Commission concluded that:
“While the date of the referendum remains unknown, it will be difficult for EROs, the Electoral Commission and campaigners to plan activities required to target and encourage any newly enfranchised electors to register to vote”.
As has been said in this Chamber in other contexts, it is most important that registration should not be rushed, in case those who may be newly enfranchised feel that they have been excluded from the register because it has all been too rushed.
Is the Minister seriously suggesting that, if and when the piece of legislation we are now discussing goes on the statute book—which I hope and think will probably be around Christmas—the Electoral Commission will have any inhibition at all in getting on with it, should it contain a provision that this group of people should have the vote? Surely he is not suggesting that the Commission has to wait until the Government decide the date of the referendum before it starts work.
The date of the referendum is of course unknown. No doubt the Electoral Commission will fulfil whatever the existing legislative obligation requires it to do. It may require a great deal of energy and expenditure, and while I am not saying from the Dispatch Box that it would be impossible, one should not underestimate the complexities involved in the process.
The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, said in effect that he is concerned that there was some form of delay by the Government. Perhaps I may reiterate that the Government are committed to scrapping the 15-year rule and they are currently considering the timetable to do this. The date of the referendum is not known, so I am afraid that I cannot make any commitment that votes for life will be in place in time for the referendum. However, we should remember that many British citizens living abroad will be eligible to participate in the referendum vote.
My Lords, forgive me, but I am bound to ask this. The Minister has cited the complexities of introducing new legislation, which I accept entirely. But knowing of the complexities involved and the organisational challenges mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, and knowing that we are going to have a referendum, why was the legislation to extend the franchise to all citizens living abroad for the forthcoming elections not introduced as one of the first Bills of this parliamentary Session?
The Government have their priorities and a considerable amount of legislation has been introduced, some of which has moved fairly slowly through your Lordships’ House. I cannot speak for the Government’s assessment of their priorities. This is an important matter and it will no doubt take its place in due course.
The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, suggested that the Government’s enthusiasm for UK citizens having a vote outside the EU might be motivated by their apparent desire to vote Conservative. As I have said consistently from the Dispatch Box, we have no idea how people would vote, whether they live in the EU or outside it. The Government are simply not concerned with trying to second-guess anything. They are concerned only with legitimacy—here, I agree entirely with the noble Baroness—that people feel there has been no manipulation and no sense that there has been an attempt to skew the result, however illegitimate they might think it was. We suggest that the best criterion is to have the Westminster franchise. Of course, I am sympathetic to much that lies behind the amendment, having regard to the Government’s commitment in respect of votes for life.
I should finally point out that many British citizens living in the EU and elsewhere in the world will be able to vote in the referendum as long as they have not been living overseas for 15 years or more. The parliamentary franchise already allows them to vote. So while I am sympathetic to the amendment, I do not believe that this is the time or place to make those changes.
My Lords, I warmly thank all those who have spoken in this interesting debate, which I think has fleshed out some of the major questions. I would like to make a couple of points. The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, asked what the difference is between someone living in Oslo and someone living in Stockholm, and other noble Lords had that question in their minds. The difference is that the people living in EU countries, when they decided to work or to retire abroad, for example, did so on the basis of being EU citizens, not citizens of anywhere else. What we are possibly about to remove in the EU referendum, if it goes the other way, is that EU citizenship. That puts them into a totally different category.
But, my Lords, as soon as you start speculating about other people’s motives, you end up in pretty deep water. It might be that someone has gone to live and work in Oslo because Norway is not a member of the European Union. You simply cannot make those kinds of judgments about people’s motivations.
I am clearly not going to agree with the noble Lord on that one. I think that there is a basic difference between us in our understanding of what being an EU citizen is. However, I was not as depressed by that argument as by the one put forward by several noble Lords—notably the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs—that it really all seems to be much too difficult. There are too many people and how would we reach them? That is not a reason for not giving people the vote.
The noble Baroness really must not misunderstand me. I was not saying that it would be too difficult; I was simply saying that there are practical issues which need to be taken into account. They cannot be swept aside by somebody’s passion for a principle that they have suddenly grabbed on to in opposition, but seemed to be rather quiet about when they were in the coalition Government.
I think what the noble Lord said when he referred to Hansard was that there were too many practical problems. That comes back to the Government’s attitude, too. I can see that we are not likely to agree at this stage, but I am very glad to have discovered the true objection to the reason for giving people a vote. Before Report, it would be very useful if noble Lords dissociated votes for life, which is a totally different issue, from the right to vote in the EU referendum. I respectfully say to the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Ely, that she talked a lot about what is effectively a votes-for-life issue. When we come back to the Bill on Report, we need to concentrate solely on the EU referendum and not get diverted by something the Government seem to offer as a sop, saying that there is going to be a Bill on votes for life, if there is time, in this Parliament. Most of the EU ex-pats I have come across are Conservative voters—so I am not batting for them because I think we will do well out of it in the long run—and they are appalled at being given such a short straw.
Finally, several noble Lords who oppose these amendments seem to draw comfort from the fact that lots of EU citizens have been in the EU for less than 15 years and therefore would have a right to vote. That is no reason to feel better, because noble Lords themselves have discovered the inequity in their argument. I will come back to this issue on Report, but in the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 14 withdrawn.
Amendments 15 to 19 not moved.
Clause 2 agreed.
Amendment 20 not moved.
Clause 5 agreed.
Moved by Lord Hannay of Chiswick
21: After Clause 5, insert the following new Clause—
“Report on the consequences of United Kingdom withdrawal from the European Union
(1) No later than 12 weeks prior to the appointed date of the referendum, the Secretary of State shall publish, and lay before each House of Parliament, a comprehensive report on the possible consequences of withdrawal from the European Union, taking into account the reports published under the Review of the Balance of Competences.
(2) The report provided for by subsection (1) shall include information on—
(a) the effect of withdrawal on the rights of individuals within the United Kingdom, including the effect on employment rights;
(b) the rights of European citizens living in the United Kingdom following withdrawal;
(c) the rights, following withdrawal, of United Kingdom citizens living in another country that is a member of the European Union;
(d) the legislative and statutory consequences of withdrawal for each government department and for the devolved governments of the United Kingdom, including for social and environmental legislation; and
(e) consequences of withdrawal for law enforcement, security and justice in the United Kingdom and in the devolved jurisdictions.”
My Lords, we have now moved away from the franchise—and not before time, as we have spent quite a lot on it. I suspect the Minister will be able to pass on the baton at this moment, but we are moving on to a matter of substantive policy. Above all, these amendments seek to address what most debaters on both sides of the argument in this House, the other place and the country recognise as being a genuine problem: the lack of objective information about the implications of the referendum vote. All the opinion polling over many years has demonstrated that there is a great deal of misunderstanding, and sometimes misrepresentation, of the facts of our membership and what would be implied by our leaving the European Union if the vote goes in that direction.
These amendments are designed to persuade the Government to include in the Bill certain obligations to provide, or to have provided, information of an objective kind that will enable the electorate to make up their own mind—not to tell them how they are to vote. There will, of course, be a huge amount of advocacy from both sides in the months ahead. That is exactly as it should be. This is a democratic process and advocacy is part of that process. I am not for one moment criticising the fact that that will take place, but it will not be designed to provide objective information. It will be designed to present information in a persuasive way, and that is a different thing. As I say, there appears to be a rather wide lack of objective information on this area of the European Union. I hope that the Minister, who is always extremely good at listening to points that are put, will consider that very carefully.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I do not disagree at all with what he is saying about providing as much information as possible on the consequences of withdrawal. As other amendments propose, that information should also address the consequences of remaining in. Both sides should be presented. What I am not absolutely clear about is his suggestion that there can be an objective set of propositions on these matters. How would one present an objective position on, for example, the costs of the common agricultural policy?
I am sorry to disappoint the noble Lord but the amendments to which I am speaking do not relate to presenting anything about the common agricultural policy. That is not in the list of areas provided here. These amendments, and the request for a report from the Government, address factual areas where people’s rights or responsibilities will be affected by a vote to leave. The previous
Government provided a lot of evidence-based material of that nature in the balance of competences review—a review which the present Government seem to prefer to forget that they had any paternity interest in, but they did. It was, I thought, a pretty good piece of work and there is a huge amount of material there. However, it is not yet addressing satisfactorily some of the factual areas. What are those factual areas? First, there is the question of the rights—
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord again and I am grateful to him for giving way. He slightly threw me by saying that this has nothing to do with the common agricultural policy. However, subsection (2)(d) of the proposed new clause refers to,
“the legislative and statutory consequences of withdrawal for each government department”.
It would be very strange for the information on the consequences of withdrawal for the department concerned with agriculture not to include a reference to the common agricultural policy.
I am sorry. I will get to that. I hope that the noble Lord will be patient and wait until we get to that part of the amendment. I will then explain what it is intended to suggest.
The first area where it is suggested that it would be valuable for the electorate to have a factual assessment of the consequences of a decision to withdraw relates to the rights of individuals, including their employment rights. It is not important to tell them how these rights would be affected by a decision to stay in as in that case the rights would be the same as they have now. The second area concerns the effect of withdrawal on the rights of EU citizens in this country, many of which are secured under EU law. They also need to know what the consequences would be.
The third category is the rights of British citizens in the rest of the EU, the people about whose ability to vote we were discussing in the previous set of amendments, but who have serious rights bestowed on them under EU law that they would lose if we left. I am afraid that it is no good, as the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, kept saying in stating that it is sure to be all right on the night, and that there are an awful lot of EU citizens here and an awful lot of our citizens there, and that it will all roll out. That is the leap in the dark proposal. People who leap into the dark sometimes find that they have fallen rather a long way.
Then there is the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, which is a further category—the legislative and statutory consequences of withdrawal, department by department, and addressing the legislative burden. That asks the Government what they would have to do in order to replace the common agricultural policy if we withdrew. Presumably nobody in this House seriously believes that the British agricultural economy could survive without any governmental involvement. There would have to be a British agricultural policy and that would have to be enacted by Parliament. There would have to be a British policy on research and on business regulation, and a whole range of things, many of which are contained in European Union law. This amendment asks the Government to set out what those requirements would be in the circumstances that I am describing.
Does the noble Lord accept that there would indeed have to be a new policies on these, but that there would be plenty of money to pay for them as we would not be paying our net contribution to the EU any more?
I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, is intervening in my speech. Perhaps I could reply to the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton. That is the normal practice. The point that he raised is perfectly valid, but it is not called for in this amendment. The question of the financing of these policies would as usual escape the control of your Lordships’ House and be dealt with in a Budget. I imagine that British farmers need to know under what regime they would live, what the rules and regulations would be, and above how all that regime would be brought about in time.
My Lords, perhaps I can put a little flesh on my noble friend Lord Hamilton’s question. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, saw the Pink Book figures that emerged on Friday. They state our gross contribution for 2014 as £20 billion, of which the mandarins in Brussels were graciously pleased to send back to us a mere £7.5 billion. In the spirit of the noble Lord’s question, does the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, agree that we would have at least £12.5 billion clear to meet any financial difficulties arising from the points that he is making?
No, I do not agree and I do not have to address it in this debate, because it is not what we are debating. I remind the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, that in the most recent certified figures, which were produced for 2013—I am not aware of the ones to which he has just referred—the British net contribution per capita was ninth, behind that of France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemburg, and a few other countries.
It is not about the budgeting—I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I want briefly to draw his attention to a Legatum Institute report today which ranks the prosperity of various nations in the world. Britain happens to have the best record in the last year of any major European country. Interestingly, according to that report the first and second most prosperous countries in Europe turned out to be Norway and Switzerland. I do not know what the noble Lord reads into that but I thought that it would be of interest to his discussion.
I will probably cause the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, apoplexy if I say that what I read into it is that we are probably paying less into the European Union than we ought to, if we are so prosperous and yet only ninth in our per capita contribution.
Can I ask one question about what is in the noble Lord’s amendment? In Amendment 21, subsection (2)(e) of the proposed new clause refers to comparing what the effect will be on jurisprudence, criminal law and so on. How dynamic will be the base from which this assessment will be made? It is always argued, for instance, that we will never have a totally Europe-wide criminal law but we all know that that is the direction we are going in. What is the baseline from which this assessment will be made?
I think that the noble Lord is referring to the last paragraph of the subsection, which is on law enforcement. The situation there is fairly easy to follow. The present situation is that we have opted back into, I think, 36 justice and home affairs measures—no, it was fewer than that. It is Protocol 36 but the number is somewhere in the 30s, and those measures are the ones that apply in this country now. The ones that we did not opt back into do not apply and would therefore not be affected by a decision to withdraw. The ones that we did opt back into and which do apply in this country would be affected by a decision to withdraw. They include things such as the European arrest warrant.
If I may skip on to this part of the amendment, the implications for law enforcement, security and justice and, above all, for the European arrest warrant are extraordinarily serious. We discovered at the time of the Protocol 36 discussions, which were pretty intensive in this House, in the other place and in the public press, that the consequences for law and order on the island of Ireland could be extremely serious if the European arrest warrant did not exist. It has in fact managed, for practically the first time in recorded history, to depoliticise the issue of extradition between the two parts of the island of Ireland. It is now possible to get back criminals, including terrorists, who are wanted for trial in Northern Ireland from the south without a highly politicised process, and very expeditiously. That would be lost if the European arrest warrant ceased to apply in this country and, I suggest, that would have pretty serious implications for the rule of law in Northern Ireland.
Does the noble Lord not accept that there are extradition treaties with other countries that are not in the EU, so there is absolutely no reason why they should not go on within the EU after we had left?
I really do not think that we should delay the Committee with a replay of the Protocol 36 debates. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, is looking quizzically around. She was the Chief Whip at the time and was very familiar with the arguments. The fact of the matter is that every legal body in this country—the Bar Council, the Law Society and anyone else noble Lords might like to think of—came forward at that time and said that to renegotiate extradition agreements with each of the other member states of the EU would be defective and slow, and that it would not work as well as the present arrangements.
In any case, this is not a request to go around that course again. Parliament has decided that we are in the European arrest warrant and in the other wings that we opted back into. This is a request for the Government to provide factual information about what would be at stake if the electorate were to vote to withdraw from the European Union. It is surely reasonable for that information to be provided and along with it, naturally, the implications for law and order, law enforcement and so on—and for Northern Ireland.
On the need to introduce new legislation, I mentioned the agriculture and fisheries policy. We would have to construct a new tariff. We would have to decide the tariff we were going to apply, rather than the common external tariff of the European Union. That is no small matter. It affects every single business in this country. The level at which we would apply the tariff would have to be decided. It could be lower than the common external tariff, which would be helpful to freer trade; or higher, in which case we would have to pay compensation to every other country in the world; or the same, in which case, what the hell were we doing? These are important points and I hope that the Minister in her reply—
My Lords, before the noble Lord replies, can we get back to some sort of order, so that we can have the points explained with some degree of logicality? If the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has finished his original speech on presenting the amendment, could he perhaps move it so that we can get on in the normal way?
Yes, I would be delighted to do that. I have been interrupted rather a lot of times. I will reply to the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, before following that sage advice. I was not addressing just the question of our trade with other member states. There will be plenty of other opportunities to do that. I was talking about our trade with the rest of the world. If the vote goes for withdrawal, we will have to construct a new British tariff. If that tariff is above the level of the common external tariff, we will have to pay compensation under the WTO rules to every other member of the WTO. These serious matters need to be brought out into the open. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. I cannot see how any reasonable person could possibly object to the amendment, in terms of getting the information that is needed to enable people to come to a balanced decision. Of course, whichever way they vote, the information should be neutral and factual.
My Amendments 28 and 29 are linked to this group and refer to two specific areas, including agriculture, which the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, addressed a few moments ago. Amendment 28 raises the issue of European Union structural funds. This area is of great significance to two-thirds of Wales, which are within the structural fund area and which, since 2000, have received several thousand million pounds, first from Objective 1 funding, then convergence funding and now the current round that runs to 2020.
Currently many organisations in Wales in the public and private sector look to these sources of funding to make a vital difference. If leaving the European Union during this time is going to change the entitlement to such funding, it clearly has a direct, immediate effect on such organisations, whether universities, local government or people in the private sector. They have a right to know about this.
It is not unreasonable to ask for an assessment in the generality but also specifically with regard to the regions that have a direct entitlement to such funding. Some areas, such as South Yorkshire, Merseyside, Cornwall and Northern Ireland and, in the past, the Highlands and Islands of Scotland have benefited from such funding. It is of material consequence. It is made available on the basis of the low level of the economic performance in areas such as Wales. Our GVA per head now stands below 75% of the UK average, because of the failure of successive economic policies. We will not go into whether that failure is on account of what has been done here at Westminster or in the Assembly, but the funding is because of that failure. We are entitled to such funding to try to trigger the economy. Cornwall has undoubtedly succeeded to a considerable extent by using this funding, perhaps better than we have in Wales. Although the authorities in Brussels say that the way in which Wales has used the funding has been an example to other parts of Europe, none the less, we still have these economic problems. People in Wales deciding whether to vote to leave the European Union or to remain in are entitled to some assessment of what effect a loss of this funding might have.
I take the point that was made in the context of the earlier exchanges that perhaps the Treasury would make up for this loss. But history does not fill us with a lot of confidence about that. Until 2000, we were not getting anything at all, because the Treasury refused to put forward proposals to Brussels that would entitle Wales to such funding. It drew a map, divided from north to south, and made sure that neither side of that line was entitled to get the money. It was only when a new map was put forward that we got our entitlement.
Then there was the experience even after we started getting money from Brussels. In 2000, when the Objective 1 money was coming through, we found that it was not being passed on by the Treasury to the National Assembly. We were expected to spend the money but were not getting the contribution from the Treasury because we were already being looked after very well indeed. I went off to Brussels with a delegation to see the then Commissioner for Regional Policy about this. When we explained the situation to him, he turned to his officials and asked in French, “Could this possibly be true?”. His officials confirmed that, yes, Brussels was passing the money over to the Treasury in London and it was not being passed to those areas that were entitled to get the funding. It was outrageous. To his credit, the Commissioner took the matter up with the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr Gordon Brown, and in the financial review a few months later—in July 2000 or 2001, if I remember right—an adjustment was made of the £442 million that had come from Brussels which was meant for Wales but had not been passed over. How on earth can we be expected to have full confidence that London will step in and fill the breach when that has happened in the past? At the very least we should have an assessment made as to what the effects would be, not just in Wales but in the other areas that might be affected by this.
Amendment 29 moves on to the question of agriculture. Whatever the pros and cons in various parts of the United Kingdom of the common agricultural policy may be, the farming unions in Wales have no doubt whatever what the impact will be, as 80% of farm incomes in Wales are dependent on Brussels. Of course, we will be told, “Ah well, that will be made up for again”. Are we going to go back and have something like the Milk Marketing Board regime or the type of sheep meat regimes that we had prior to the European Union? So much of our market for sheep meat is in Europe and the dependency of sheep farmers in particular on the European Union is very considerable indeed. I am not saying that I know all the answers to these arguments—I do not—but the farmers and those in the universities and other sectors of the economy are entitled to know them. At the very least, clear and unbiased statements about the factual reality should be put out by a Government who have looked at both sides of the argument.
At present, Wales gets a net advantage of some £40 per head per annum from the European Union. It is not a tremendous sum but it is an advantage—other areas will no doubt have a disadvantage. People should know, to the best of our ability to tell them, what the effect of pulling out would be. That is the point of these amendments, which have the same objective as the earlier amendment that has been moved. I very much hope that the Government will give some firm commitment on these matters.
My Lords, I will speak to my Amendment 27. I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that this group of amendments and the consequences of leaving or staying in are among the most important that we shall debate in this House. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has moved an amendment asking the Government to report on the possible consequences to the UK if we vote to leave. I believe it is equally important that we have an assessment of the likely consequences if we vote to stay in. Some might ask how one can report on that when one has no idea what the EU might agree to in a future treaty. That is true, but only to a certain extent. There is a track record here; the EU has a bit of form on this. It is not as if we have not been here before on numerous occasions.
In 1989 we had the Delors report, calling for full European integration. It was pooh-poohed by the UK Government and press as something that was never going to happen, but that ignored the inexorable drive to ever-closer union—though that was not the terminology then—that led to the Maastricht treaty. We got qualified majority voting and the start of interference in justice and home affairs measures, as well as a host of other unexpected consequences. Of course, the British people were given no say in a referendum. So we got the Delors report, warts and all.
About 10 years later, we had the Valéry Giscard d’Estaing grand report, the draft treaty establishing a constitution for Europe. This, again, was pooh-poohed by EU supporters as not being a radical change, and nothing to worry about. If I recall, the UK Government and press condemned it and said that it should not and would not happen. It was vetoed by France and then the EU did what it always does; it reintroduced it in slightly different clothes as the Lisbon treaty. Some 95% of the EU superstate constitution proposed by d’Estaing was incorporated into the Lisbon treaty and the name was changed from “constitution” in order to deceive the electors of Europe. Once again, the British electorate were given no say.
The point I am trying to make with these two examples is that that there is a track record of the EU taking ever more power from national Governments and vesting it in the Commission. Now we come to the core of my amendments, based on the five presidents’ report, published in June or July this year. If we say to the British people, “Look at this report; this is what you can expect if we stay in”, the response of the BSE campaign will be that it is just some vague suggestions; it may not happen and if it does, it will be years away and will apply only to the eurozone members in any case. In other words, these are the same lines we were spun about the Delors report and the d’Estaing report, but a few years later they became binding treaties.
The noble Lord might not know that this House’s EU financial affairs sub-committee is looking into the five presidents’ report. He might like to see the conclusions of that before he draws these conclusions here.
I thank the noble Baroness. I would be delighted to see the conclusions of any of our august Select Committees. I was privileged to serve under the notable chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, for a while, but I am afraid that the conclusions that this House may draw as to what will happen to the five presidents’ report may not accord with the opinion of the five presidents—Jean-Claude Juncker, Donald Tusk, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, Mario Draghi and Martin Schulz. I am sure that the noble Baroness will show her conclusions to them; I only hope that they will pay some attention to some of them. My amendment does ask the Government to look at the five presidents’ report. My worry is that it is not a question of if some day it will happen but of when it will happen, because that is the track record of previous reports.
A key objective is EU representation on the IMF in place of nation states. Theoretically, the UK, not being part of the eurozone, would keep its seat and independent voice, but that is not the case. We might still have our seat but we would have to sing the EU tune. Under Article 34(2) of the Treaty of European Union, member states are required to,
“concert and keep the other Member States and the High Representative fully informed ... defend the positions and the interests of the Union, without prejudice to their responsibilitiesunder the provisions of the United Nations Charter. When the Union has defined a position on a subject which is on the United Nations Security Council agenda, those Member States which sit on the Security Council shall”—
I thought it might continue with “obey”, but it is not quite that—
“request that the High Representative be invited to present the Union’s position”.
That is the position on the United Nations Security Council, where our independent voice now has to be somewhat muted to comply with the EU position. Exactly the same would apply to the IMF.
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but I think I might have been responsible for some of the language there and I have to tell him that it was explicitly put into the treaty to safeguard the British position as a permanent member of the Security Council. If he reads it carefully, he will see that we are under no obligation whatever to follow a European decision unless we participate in it ourselves, and these decisions are adopted by unanimity. The saving clause is that our responsibilities under the UN charter are preserved despite the move forward on common foreign and security policy. So I am sorry to say that this fox is just about as dead as it could be.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, and of course I bow to his incredible knowledge of the workings not just of Europe but of the United Nations. Nevertheless, part of the treaty of the European Union has conditions asking all the contracting states, the members of the union, to concert with the EU high representative. That is not the position that we had 20 years ago, and it shows the inexorable move to the EU wanting to take more and more power. I give way to the noble Lord, Lord Kerr.
I see this as quite a difficult amendment because it asks the Government to speculate. The amendment that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, introduced a moment ago asks the Government to give information; this one is asking them to predict the future course of the European Union. Down the years men have dreamt dreams and had visions, and an awful lot of it has not happened.
The direction is not all one way. If the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, looks very carefully at the draft constitutional treaty that was rejected by the French, for example, he will discover that it does not include any aspiration to ever-closer union. Does he really think that the French are about to give up their seat in the IMF or on the United Nations Security Council? Many think that there should be reform of the Security Council but the day that the French give up their seat, flying pigs will be seen over Whitehall.
My Lords, that is the one safeguard we may have: the French will always want to retain their seat on the Security Council. I think that we can detect that the day the French wish to give that up, we can rest assured that the whole EU foreign policy will be dictated by the Élysée Palace. I also say to the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, that it is no more speculative to ask the Government to report on what is in my amendment than it is to ask them to report on, as subsection (2)(c) of the proposed new clause states,
“the rights, following withdrawal, of United Kingdom citizens living in another country”.
We have no idea what those rights may be. I do not think there is any EU law at the moment that says that the moment Britain or any other country withdraws, citizens living in that country will be immediately expelled or that conditions X, Y or Z would apply. It would be negotiated.
The noble Lord is very generous. Actually, the Government could publish what the effect would be on citizens’ rights of our leaving the European Union. It is completely clear what their rights with be: they would no longer be EU citizens. Therefore, British citizens resident abroad would no longer benefit from the right of being EU citizens. Similarly, of course, citizens from other EU countries in this country would no longer benefit from any rights that we chose not to confer on them. It would be for the Government to say what would be conferred. The principles of the negotiation with the EU—which would be with the EU collectively, not with individual member states—would be international law, not EU law, and reciprocity. It would be reasonable for the Government to tell us what they would be trying to secure for British citizens in EU countries in the knowledge that exactly the same rights, under reciprocity, would have to be granted to EU citizens living in our country.
I think I detected a slight change in the noble Lord’s argument as he was talking. Of course, the Government could easily say that if we leave the EU we will no longer be EU citizens and 56 million people will say, “So what? What are the consequences of that?”. The noble Lord went on to say that the Government could then spell out what they would aim to achieve in any renegotiation of people’s rights, but that is speculative. That is the point I am making. Of course we can say that people will no longer be EU citizens, but we have no idea, if we were to stay in or leave the European Union, exactly what the rights negotiated by the British Government and EU countries would be. I do not want to get bogged down. I have perhaps given way too much to the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, because I really like his accent.
Where the EU has a position under European law, we are under an obligation to co-operate with it and support it. For years we have watched the EU desperately trying to take over the negotiating positions of member states in all international fora. That is a trend. It has taken our place at the World Trade Organization. The result is that we have free trade agreements with little countries but nothing with the big power blocs that matter—nothing with the ASEAN countries, nothing with Japan, nothing with India, nothing with the Gulf Cooperation Council and nothing yet with the USA, although we are apparently close. These are all things that the UK could have negotiated years ago on its own.
I do not know whether the noble Lord reads the newspapers, but has he seen the recent speech by the US trade representative who said they would have no interest whatever in a separate trade negotiation with the UK?
I have to agree with my noble friend. The United States will do what is in the financial interests of the United States and its companies. It may talk tough about not doing a trade deal with the sixth largest nation on earth—the United Kingdom—but, when it comes to pounds, shillings, pence and dollars, the Americans will trade when it is in their financial interest to do so.
Will the noble Lord consider carefully whether he is falling into the best-known trap for British commentators on American policy, which is to think that we know what American interests are better than they do? In fact, that statement last week was made by a member of President Obama’s Cabinet. I happened to be at a conference at the weekend at which people from both sides of the divide in the United States—in quite senior positions—made it clear that the policy reflected a cool and careful judgment of where the United States’ interest lay. If we choose to ignore it, we do so at our peril.
Does my noble friend not agree that the position of the United States seems clear? There is a great deal of anti-Americanism in many parts of the European Union, including in France, where I live. The Americans see us as the most pro-American member of the European Union, therefore they are desperately keen that we should remain within it. If I were an American, I think I would take the same view but it does not mean that, because it is in the interests of the United States, it is necessarily the right thing for this country.
I thank my noble friend for his intervention. He has considerable experience in these matters and I agree with him entirely.
To conclude, we need the Government’s forecasts of the competitive position of the UK if we stay in, tied to a European economy that is becoming progressively uncompetitive in world markets. We know Herr Juncker wants more Europe and more of the social dimension, as he said to the European Parliament. That would be all very well if the USA, China and the Asian economies were also awarding themselves more pensions, more paternity leave, shorter working weeks, higher pay and more social benefits, but they are not and Europe is in slow decline against their economies.
Has not what the noble Lord just said shown the need for an objective analysis of the facts? Britain has a trade deficit of something between 5% and 6% of GDP, whereas the euro area has, I think, a small trade surplus with the rest of the world. Germany and the Netherlands have massive trade surpluses. Frankly, what the noble Lord is saying is nonsense.
I thank the noble Lord for his support. We need a factual analysis of a whole range of things. However, I merely suggest to the Committee that if the Government are tempted to accept the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, or a similar one, on producing a report on the consequences of leaving the EU—some of that would be speculative, as I have attempted to suggest—we also need a report on the consequences of staying in. In many ways that would be equally speculative, although no more so than the outcome of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. Therefore, we must have the Government’s analysis of the consequences for the UK if that decline in the European economy continues.
The five presidents’ report envisages competitiveness authorities taking over wage and work conditions. I will not quote from the Commission press release of
The report goes on to say that we need adequate access to,
“adequate education and … an effective social protection system … in place to protect the most vulnerable in society, including a ‘social protection floor’”.
I therefore suggest that we need a UK government analysis of the consequences of those proposals when they are incorporated into a treaty. It is no good for the BSE campaigners to say that they will apply to eurozone countries only. The Commission will use the excuse, justification and treaty base of the single market, as it usually does, to make them apply to us, and we will not be able to stop it since the eurozone countries will have an in-built majority.
I declare that I am currently chairing the inquiry into the five presidents’ report, which I mentioned. The noble Lord is misrepresenting the black ink on white paper in that report. They are national competitiveness authorities for the eurozone; they do not apply to the eurozone-outs.
However, I will give the noble Lord a broader point: he is asking the Government to produce their assessment of this. The Government will respond to the Select Committee’s report—it is just a matter of time. His amendment is more or less redundant, given the information I have just laid before the Committee.
The Government will respond to the Select Committee’s report, but that is different from an analysis of what the situation would be in this country if it were to take place. There may be similarities in the report we would make, but we still need that analysis of staying in the European Union.
I am almost concluded, noble Lords will be pleased to hear; at least I have provoked a bit of controversy in this debate. The five presidents’ report also talks about harmonising insolvency law, company law and property rights. We need an analysis of the dangers of that point.
In his speech two weeks ago, the Governor of the Bank of England noted that being in the EU had benefited us in the past. However, in the referendum we will be voting not on the EU’s past record but on what it will do for us in the future. What was most interesting in Mr Carney’s speech was the clear warning over further eurozone integration and its impact on the UK economy. He noted that the five presidents’ report states that there is “unfinished business” over further fiscal and financial integration in the euro area. The Bank’s report cautioned that the “necessary deepening” of integration, coupled with the,
“weight of … the members of the single currency”,
would impair the ability of the Bank to,
“meet its financial stability objective”.
I trust that the noble Baroness will question the Governor of the Bank of England on that statement in the Bank’s report. I look forward to reading the analysis.
As I understand it, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is going to Berlin today to explain that Britain supports this increased integration in the euro area because we have a strong national interest in the eurozone being an area of more dynamic growth. I just do not understand where the noble Lord is coming from, because his own leadership is arguing for this integration.
The leadership is entitled to do so. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor are negotiating hard for changes on behalf of the British people and the country. When the Government set out the deal they achieve, if the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, is accepted and the Government set out the consequences of leaving, my amendment merely suggests that they should also set out as far as they can the consequences of staying in.
My very final point is that the EU has made it clear that there will be no treaty change before 2017 and possibly not before 2020. In that case, I should like to know how the Government will guarantee that the deal that the Prime Minister brings back will be incorporated into a binding treaty change. Any promises not in a treaty are not worth the wasted breath, in my opinion. So I want to see a section in the government report explaining how we can guarantee that we will actually get the changes that the Prime Minister secures.
I am sorry that I have taken so long. Again, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. His amendment is important. I think that all the amendments in this area are important, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.
I shall describe Amendments 31 and 32, which stand in my name. In the earlier amendments in this group the Government are asked to set out the consequences of leaving the EU, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, said, it is only right and fair that they should set out the consequences of staying in. In my amendments I have selected two issues which I believe are likely to be extremely important to the public in general in reaching a decision on how to vote.
Amendment 31 addresses net migration, which, as most noble Lords will be aware, is about 330,000 a year. Of that figure, more than half—180,000, a number that has doubled in the last two years—are from the European Union. That figure is split more or less equally between the EU 14 and the new members in the A10. How that advances in the future, of course, depends on the economic developments in those two regions, but I think that the figures are likely to remain high unless something is done to reduce the level of low-skilled immigration from the European Union.
As noble Lords may know, 75% of immigration from the A10 and 25% of immigration from the EU 14 is low skilled, or certainly low paid, so there ought to be some scope there and the Government need to set out the effect on that low-paid immigration of their negotiations with the European Union. It is not just a matter of a large number of low-paid migrants without, at present, any break or limit on their numbers; what are important are the implications of the impact on the population of the UK, which will be huge. Noble Lords will have seen this very week the latest population projections prepared by the ONS. Based on net migration of 185,000 a year, it has told us that the population will increase by 2.5 million—more than twice the population of Birmingham—in the next five years and by nearly 10 million in 25 years’ time. Even that projection is based on some very optimistic numbers. The ONS thinks that immigration will be about 185,000 per year going forward, but the average over the last 10 years has been 240,000 and the current level is 330,000.Therefore, there will be a huge impact on the population, and, by the way, the same document shows that just over two-thirds of the future population increase will be as a result of immigration.
Is the noble Lord claiming that the extra population of 10 million will be due to EU migration? It seems to me that that is not the case: he is muddling together EU migration and migration from the rest of the world. Given that much EU migration involves young single people, does he think that in time the impact on the population from those people, some of whom may well go back to their own countries, is likely to be as significant as the impact from non-EU migration?
I mentioned earlier that more than half the intake—180,000—is from the European Union. The population increase over a 25-year period includes two things: the migrants and their future children, as well as the growth of the population already here. Over the long term, all population increase in the UK is a result of immigration; over the medium term, it is two-thirds. I am not suggesting that all immigration is from the European Union—it clearly is not—but it is a major factor; it is half of it. I am perfectly sure that, when it comes to the referendum, the public will want to know whether it will be possible to restrain the growth of the UK’s population from whatever cause. The present position is that there are things that can be done in respect of non-EU migration—there has been some very limited success on that front—but nothing can be done in respect of EU migration. The amendment therefore calls for a factual report from the Government as to what might be expected, what the effect of their negotiation has been and what the impact will be on population.
My second amendment, Amendment 32, addresses the present refugee crisis and its consequences—an extremely sensitive and difficult area which is almost certain to continue well into the referendum period. For the time being, we are largely insulated—we are not members of Schengen and we have no land borders—but most of those now arriving are likely to qualify for EU citizenship in a period of between five and eight years, depending which country they settle in. After that, they will have free movement to the UK. In addition to that, and it is not widely understood, one person who is an EU citizen can bring his full family to the UK and elsewhere, whether or not they themselves are EU citizens. We therefore need an assessment from the Government of what is involved here. There will clearly be consequences for net migration, for population, for public services and for social cohesion. These two issues are a very important consequence of staying in and they should certainly be reported on.
Finally, I want to inform the Committee that I intend to make two changes to the amendments that I proposed last Wednesday. The first is to remove any reference to Irish voters lest this fall foul of the Belfast agreement, as the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford, pointed out and, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, as well. The second is to introduce what might be called a “sunrise clause”, so that the amendment would take effect only from
My Lords, I shall speak in favour of Amendment 21, to which I added my name and which stands in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick. As this debate has progressed today, it has underlined the need for the kind of reports that we ask for in the amendment. It is of enormous importance that there be a point of reference where voters can see the implications of the decision they are being asked to make, whether that decision is to remain in the European Union or to leave it. It is my hope, although I appreciate that we are asking my noble friend on the Front Bench to accomplish something extremely difficult, that we will be able to find a form of words which is acceptable to both sides of argument as we have heard it articulated during the afternoon. I hope that the areas where information is needed can probably be agreed. They may be surprised and may not wish me to say it, but I think that common threads run through Amendment 21, which I support, and Amendment 27 put forward by my noble friends Lord Blencathra, Lord Hamilton of Epsom and Lord Flight.
Of course, I think I know what my noble friends hope the outcome of the referendum vote will be, and they probably suspect what I hope the outcome will be. Indeed, I have been clear about what I hope the outcome will be. It is probably the opposite of what I suspect they want it to be. However, the report that we are calling for should not lead voters one way or the other. That is for the in/out campaigns, between which we have heard some preliminary skirmishes this afternoon. Those campaigns will be coloured by rhetoric and a selective use of facts—hence the need for an effective report on the consequences of withdrawal, covering a wide area. The report must highlight the changes that will flow from an in or an out decision, and without comment.
I dare say that I might be appalled by the conclusions. Others will be delighted, but that is for the individual to decide and for their own reaction to the factors laid out. It is for the Government to lay out the facts. In some areas, there may not be an immediate change, as many if not all the European directives and regulations have been incorporated into our domestic law. I do not know how that situation will be dealt with or how quickly it could be dealt with. Will it be by piecemeal repeals and replacements, or by some big bang like the European Communities Act 1972? Other prospective changes may be dependent on the outcome of the exit negotiations.
I do not want to trespass into Amendment 24 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, and if I do so I apologise; I will not take the time of the Committee when we reach that amendment by intervening. I believe that the report that we are asking the Government to provide must spell out to the citizens of the United Kingdom that the changes that we seek in exit negotiations, if that is where we get to, are not a fait accompli. They are not ours to demand. We cannot assume that all the other 27 states will agree. It will be for the 27 to decide and agree, and we do not have a vote in that.
I support the thrust of the amendment and hope that the Government will find it possible to enter into discussions before Report on a formula for the report to cover unbiased, informative and complete information, which citizens will require to enable them to make their choice.
My Lords, perhaps as two of the amendments mention the EU balance of competences review, I might be allowed to comment on the extent to which the 32 reports that that review produced over two years in four tranches have provided a solid basis of evidence for a rather more dispassionate result. I am well aware that at the time of the 2010 coalition agreement, some in the Conservative Party thought that inviting evidence from stakeholders in law, business, the economy, aviation, and so on, would provide the basis to ask for repatriation of powers, which those various stakeholders felt were already excessively transferred to Brussels.
The outcome of the 32 reports, which I warmly recommend to the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton of Epsom, as evening reading over the next six months, was an overwhelming conclusion from most of the 2,500 pieces of evidence that came in that the current balance of competences suits us fairly well. That is part of the reason why people in No. 10’s press office and others wanted to ensure that the reports were published the day after Parliament rose for the summer or for Christmas so that they would receive as little publicity as possible, but they are there.
I particularly recommend to the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, the report on criminal justice co-operation and the evidence from the Association of Chief Police Officers and various other bodies on why the current arrangements are so strongly to Britain’s advantage. I also recommend the report on co-operation in civil justice, which contains evidence from the Faculty of Advocates in Scotland and the Law Society.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord for telling me what my reading should be, but can he explain why the existing arrangements cannot continue just because we vote to pull out of the EU?
My Lords, I think the noble Lord wants to negotiate that we should have a special status and be able to pick those things that we want and say no to those that we do not. However, all international multilateral negotiations are trade-offs and it is not always easy to get exactly the arrangements that you want. There are those who would argue—as I think the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, would—that much of what is currently imposed on us is a conspiracy cooked up by people in Brussels. I am merely saying that we need to get hold of the evidence of where we are and what are the costs and benefits of a whole set of very complicated international regulations in a highly internationalised economy and a world where the number of British citizens who cross the channel each year has increased by a factor of 10 over the past 30 years. That has certain implications for policing, crime and all sorts of other things.
My Lords, I apologise to the Committee for being late to our proceedings. British Airways cancelled my flight so I drove down from Scotland.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, has the advantage that he has read this competence review. Can he therefore explain why, for example, it is necessary that the guarantee on people’s money held on deposit in this country, which previously stood at £85,000, has to be reduced to £75,000 because the euro has fallen in value? Surely that should not be decided at a European level.
My Lords, politics is precisely about the level at which a whole set of decisions are taken. Until the mid-1980s, when Margaret Thatcher launched the single market initiative, international regulations were largely American decisions on standardisation which others—such as ourselves, the Germans and the French—had to accept. Now, these regulations are often negotiated at EU level and then, in turn, negotiated with the United States. The various reports go into some detail on the advantages and disadvantages of acting at the national, subnational, European and global levels. That is part of what happens across the world. I merely point out that some of this analysis has been done. It is extremely important that, as the debate continues, there should be further analysis.
Before we leave that point, is the noble Lord seriously arguing that a Government who guarantee through a guarantee scheme in this country deposits put by pensioners in their banks should be left powerless to decide the level of guarantee; and that the review of competences, if it allowed for that, was in any way competent?
The noble Lord may not have noticed that banking has become a little less national and a little more international over the past 40 years. That is part of the reason why the negotiations over the amount of bank reserves have taken place. That matter has been negotiated for the past 100 years through the Bank for International Settlement and a range of other bodies. Since modern banking developed, there has always been a range of international agreements on aspects of banking, although not in so much detail.
A small number of think tanks have provided some valuable advice. I have great respect for Open Europe, a largely Eurosceptic think tank in origin but which respects the evidence it finds and produces worthwhile reports. Similarly, I have great respect for the Centre for European Reform. There are others on both sides that are less reliable. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, that Migration Watch stands out by the careful way in which it tries to find out the most accurate figures. That is highly desirable. We need accurate figures. The question of what is happening on immigration to this country—how much is long term and how much is short term, in the case of Spanish and Portuguese workers here who may go back when their economies recover—gets us into the range of speculation, but at least we know where we are at present. That is what we need for this debate. It is not easy. We know that there are conspiracy theorists all round. There are great fears about what might happen. However, dispassionate analysis and evidence, where we can find it, are essential to intelligent debate, and that is what the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and others are about.
My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, will agree that it is essential to any dispassionate debate—if such a thing is possible—that both sides of the argument should be presented. All the amendments in this group are of a similar character—they all seek further information to present to the British public before the British public make a very important decision. I do not have a problem with any of the amendments because I am in favour of the British people having all possible information. I would like them to have even more information, were it possible.
I cannot find a way of tabling an amendment on this subject that would be in order, but I would love the British people to be able to consider—on the principle that it is better to look in the history book than in the crystal ball—the last time that a major decision in relation to the European Union was made in this country, which was when we decided not to join the euro. I think that that was a splendid decision by the last Labour Government. They went to some lengths to present to the British people the facts of the arguments of those who were in favour of Britain joining the euro as well as the facts as to whether the forebodings of their prophets of doom came into being. I remember that there were all sorts of arguments about the collapse of inward investment into Britain should we not join the euro, and so on. However, that point is out of order so I shall not speak to it at length.
The only problem I have with these amendments—it was part of my interventions on the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, although it does not, in my book, disqualify the amendments—is that I have considerable doubts that I could say that the word “objective” is a characteristic of every amendment in this group. By way of illustration I will refer again to the common agricultural policy. I mentioned the amendment in the name of the noble Lord—I was about to call him my noble friend, although he is not far off—Lord Wigley, with whom I agree on so many things. I agree with him very much that it is extremely important that there should be support for British agriculture in difficult terrain such as north Wales. The noble Lord knows far more about that than I do, but it is extremely important that there is support for that economic activity in our country. However, if we are to have a report on the consequences of coming out of the common agricultural policy, do we or do we not include the presumption—and only a fair-minded person would have to make this presumption—that some of the moneys currently spent by the British taxpayer on the common agricultural policy should be spent directly on British agriculture by the British Treasury?
It would be fine if that happened, but the figures are worth reflecting on. I find it difficult to imagine that the contribution to British agriculture would be less than it is currently via the common agricultural policy. I took the precaution of getting an up-to-date figure—I assume that responses from Ministers are accurate on these matters. I asked the Government two or three weeks ago what the current cost of the common agricultural policy was and the answer from the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner of Kimble, was €55 billion for 2015. He went on to say that the CAP accounts for 40% of the EU budget.
Noble Lords who regularly contribute to economic debates—which I do not—will be able to do these figures in their heads. However, €55 billion is the total cost of the CAP. That represents 40% of the EU budget. The UK contribution to the EU budget as a whole is €16 billion. Let us work that out. Off the top of my head, I think the British contribution to the cost of the common agricultural policy is 2 billion or 3 billion euros. I repeat that I have doubts about the use of the word “objective” in this kind of discussion, but it seems that anyone considering this objectively would have to consider that a very substantial contribution to agriculture—that vital industry in this country—would have to come from the British Exchequer if there were less support coming via our contributions to the CAP.
My noble friend asked rhetorically whether there was any reason to suppose that, if we came out of the EU, our level of support to our agricultural sector as a separate country would be any less than it currently is within the EU. I put it to him that there is one obvious ground on which one might expect that our support to agriculture would be much less if we were outside the EU. The political weighting of the agricultural sector’s interest is markedly less in this country than on the continent, in the Republic of Ireland or in other EU member states. If the noble Lord goes to Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands or France—let alone Poland or Romania—he will be able to satisfy himself of that. We have one of the very lowest proportions of population—which of course means voters—who are directly dependent on the agricultural sector: about 1%. That means that the political balance is very different here when agricultural matters are discussed from how it is on the continent, where there is much more political weight behind agriculture. Inevitably that will be reflected in the amount of money coming through to agriculture and in the willingness of the Treasury to continue to support agriculture at the current level, which is based on the aggregate weight of agricultural interests in the European Union as a whole and not on their weight within this country in terms of domestic and political debate.
My noble friend makes my point very effectively: these are matters of debate. There is no objective analysis of the cost of the CAP and the likely expenditure in the UK that can be resolved by putting statistics into a computer. He makes a perfectly valid argument from his own perspective.
I am tempted to go down memory lane. Believe it or not—this may come as some surprise to the House—40 years ago, in 1975, I would occasionally go to meetings of the Agriculture Ministers of the European Union, in my lowly capacity as a Parliamentary Private Secretary. I have to say that the conclusions reached by the Council of Ministers at the time were not always in Britain’s interests.
However, let us not go down that road, because I am not disagreeing with my noble friend. These are not matters of fact but matters of judgment. Part of the judgment might be whether—
I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. All afternoon, he has been making a very persistent effort to draw our discussion on to grounds that are not covered by the amendments. If he reads the amendments carefully, he will see that nobody is suggesting that the Government should be asked to quantify the support it would give to agriculture after we withdrew. They are being asked to state, purely as a matter of fact, what the consequences would be—statutory and legislative—if we ceased to be in the European Union and ceased to have the common agricultural policy applied to us. That information can be provided factually: so much in structural support, so much in market support, and so on. These facts are all to be found in the budget of the European Union. The amendments I have tabled do not ask the Government to speculate on other matters, although they do ask the Government to say what would be needed by way of legislation to fill that gap.
“No later than 12 weeks prior to the appointed date of the referendum, the Secretary of State shall publish, and lay before each House of Parliament, a report on the consequences of withdrawal from the European Union on the provision of financial support for agriculture in each region of the United Kingdom”.
Presumably he is saying that no part of that consideration would take account of the support, if any, to be given to agriculture in the event of our not being in the European Union. My contention is that undoubtedly there would be support for agriculture should we country not be a member of the European Union. That is why my comments are entirely relevant to these amendments—and certainly to that one.
In any event, my broad point is that any discussion of this sort inevitably goes beyond dry legal jargon. It ends with a matter of judgment at some point, as do nearly all matters of foreign policy—if I am allowed to refer to relations with the European Union as matters of foreign policy. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, knows that better than most of us. It seems to me that we either support all of these amendments or none, but we do it with the acknowledgment that they will not solve the problem for anyone. At the end of the day, people will still have to make their own judgments.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, said that he could not see how any reasonable person could possibly object to these amendments. I hope that I will be able to open his eyes just a little. We have already heard, even in the extended debate on this proposal, just how easy it is to slip into outright campaigning. It seems to be impossible to separate the facts from the campaigning. They say that there are facts, political facts and campaigning manifestos. I happen to have written a few campaigning manifestos in my time. I know what wicked statements they are, and I am very glad that I have left all that behind me and now simply write works of fiction.
The amendments of the noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Blencathra, and others call for an official report—but could any official report ever be worth the paper it was printed on? For instance, an official report at the start of this year that talked about immigration policy in Europe would not have known how events were going to impact on it, and would presumably have looked totally different six months later. The noble Lords, Lord Wigley and Lord Hannay, ask us to gaze into the future of agricultural policy. What will happen if we vote to leave? It depends who is making those decisions after we leave. You do not have to be a political seer to suggest that there is a strong possibility that, if we decide to leave the EU, we will not even know who is going to be Prime Minister six months after that vote. That is the political reality.
Does the noble Lord not accept that the Prime Minister himself, when he comes to a judgment on whether to recommend the package he will have renegotiated, will be making some assessments—presumably quantifiable—of the implications of that renegotiation? Is it not reasonable that those who are asked to vote on this have as much information as possible?
I agree entirely with the noble Lord that they should have as much information as possible. However, as well as known unknowns there are also unknown unknowns—as someone once said—which are completely dominant in this area. As far as the EU is concerned, it is the unknown unknowns that have come to the fore and gained strength in recent months and years.
I am most grateful to my noble friend. When he looks at these amendments, does he not think that it quite revealing that the Euro-enthusiasts in this house want a report on the perils of leaving and not on the benefits of staying in?
When my noble friend Lord Dobbs replies to my noble friend Lord Forsyth, will he note from me—presumably bracketed among the Euro-enthusiasts—that the reports are not about the perils? The request is for a statement of fact on the consequences of a decision to leave. That is what is being asked for, and indeed I would oppose any suggestion that the report should comment one way or the other, but unless people know about the consequences of leaving, how can they make up their minds?
Getting stuck between my two noble friends is a perilous position. As I made clear at Second Reading, I hope very much that the Prime Minister can bring back the reforms which will enable me to vote for and support him in continuing within the European Union. I do not adhere to my noble friend’s position where he will vote to stay in no matter what or that of the position of the noble Lord, which I suspect is that he will probably vote “out” no matter what.
Noble Lords have asked for a factual report. It is worth reminding ourselves of what happened in 1975 when a White Paper was produced. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, is probably not asking for the exactly the same sort of operation, but there was a White Paper, and of course it was huge. What the noble Lord and other noble Lords are asking for is a huge amount of work to be done, which will have to be distilled into something more manageable and digestible for public consumption. I have with me the 1975 version and I have to say that it is laughable in its simplicity and its paean of praise. There is very little that is truly objective about it. That indicates to me that it is impossible for anyone, let alone poor beleaguered officials, to come up with something that is going to satisfy everybody. I will not quote from the pamphlet because we do not need to delay ourselves.
Of course we need information. We need as much information as possible in the form of views, predictions and analysis, but that is surely the stuff of the campaign itself. It is the substance of the campaign, not that of some poor, hard-pressed official’s work that will never satisfy either side. These are issues which need to be argued in public with both sides in full cry. As I say, I am afraid that I have no faith in anyone’s ability to produce a report that will satisfy both sides of the equation. It will be no more than a fig-leaf on a very windy day and not worth the paper it would be written on.
My Lords, surprisingly, I agree with the spirit of both sets of amendments because, as the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, says, it is important that the people of our country have access to as much factual information as possible. Where I disagree with the noble Lord is that he says that it is up to the two campaigns to put forward the information. The information put forward by each campaign is bound to be biased because they are campaigning organisations. I would ask for a White Paper, and I think that the Minister herself mentioned a White Paper in our debate at Second Reading. I think it is imperative that the Government should themselves produce unbiased, factual information on which the people of this country can make their decisions. Of course the information provided by the campaigns will be of the utmost importance, but it is bound to be biased.
There is the political Government, but I believe that the civil servants of our country—there are eminent former civil servants around this House—can produce unbiased information if required to do so by the Government. Civil Servants per se are able to produce unbiased information, as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, is acknowledging. I think it is imperative that this should be done.
I want to come back to one issue that was brought up by the noble Lord, Lord Green. Of course I understand people’s fears and concerns about freedom of movement and I understand what he has said about refugees. However, personally, I deeply regret the fact that refugees and the refugee crisis are being brought into this argument. The facts show for themselves that at the moment most refugees wish to go to Germany and Sweden. They are learning the language—it is a prerequisite when they get there; they have to do that—they will have jobs, and I am sure that the majority of them will stay in those countries. But the fact is that these people are fleeing from areas of conflict. People are on the move going from south to north, and they will keep on being on the move until we resolve the conflicts and invest in the regions of the south. I do not think that what is happening with the refugee crisis should have anything to do with the referendum campaign.
My point is not actually about refugees because in seven years’ time they will not be refugees, they will be citizens of the European Union. Therefore the issue that may be in the minds of the electorate, at least, are the implications for us in the future if the European Union has lost control of its southern borders and if the chaos in the Middle East continues, which is quite likely. I am not talking about refugees. There is a lot to be said about them, but in this context we need to have our eyes wide open, and in so far as we can provide some guidance to the public, we should cover this issue.
My Lords, I understand what the noble Lord is saying, but I think we are muddying our feet and that we are in very dangerous waters when we go into these places. By raising these issues we are stoking people’s fears about refugees, and that is not a proper thing to do. At some stage we should discuss these things in more depth rather than in this sort of debate, but I think that it is a very dangerous way forward.
My Lords, I have been listening to this debate all afternoon and I find it very interesting indeed. I also realise that all the amendments are well meant, but I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, has hit the nail on the head. What she wants is unbiased information, and she believes that you cannot get it from the Government because they are in fact biased. I say that because the Prime Minister has just been to Iceland where he made his position perfectly clear, which is that he wishes to remain in the EU. He believes that it is the best thing for Britain to do, so he has made his position absolutely clear. How can the Government be unbiased? The noble Baroness said that we have civil servants and they will be unbiased. Civil servants are never unbiased; they take their lead from the boss, as in fact they should. Knowing that the Prime Minister has gone abroad and said that he believes that the United Kingdom should remain in the EU come what may will condition whatever is put into these reports. We should make no mistake about that.
Yes, I believe that the Prime Minister believes that, but the British national interest cannot be served in the European Union. That is because the European Union is exactly what it says it is and what it wants to become. It has been made perfectly clear by unelected officials and indeed by elected people that they want further integration. However the Prime Minister tries, he will never be able to join a full Union unless he is prepared to agree to more integration, and that of course will also mean joining the euro. Further integration must include the euro and anyone who wishes to be part of further integration will have to join it or else leave or become some sort of associate member. Those are the facts and we should not try to deny them.
The other thing that has worried me about this debate is the lack of confidence that so many people have in this country’s ability to negotiate with other countries and to stand on its own and build up its own businesses and exports. Why is it that other countries in the world can do it? Why can South Korea do it with a population of 25 million? Why cannot Britain, with a population of 65 million, negotiate successfully with other countries when smaller countries including Saudi Arabia and Iceland can? The Prime Minister of Iceland made it perfectly clear that it was doing very well outside the EU with a population of 350,000 and did not want to go into the EU any longer. Why have we lost confidence in ourselves? Why is it that so many people say we have to be members of this great organisation to succeed?
If the European Union did not sign a treaty with us but put restrictions on trade, it would be very much the loser. We are trading with the European Union at the moment on the basis of a deficit of £70 billion a year. Why would Europe not want to trade with us? It traded with us before we joined, when 35% of our exports went to Europe. Why on earth would the European Union wish to stop trading with us? Of course it would not. That is nonsense and I wish people would stop talking about these 3,500,000 jobs which are going to be lost.
I thank the noble Lord for giving way. I suggest to him that this lost confidence is in reality merely a scare campaign by the yes vote. There is no evidence that this country has lost confidence in looking after its own interests. It has emerged as the most successful economy of the past four or five years. It is no more than a scaremongering tactic; it is not true.
The noble Lord is absolutely right. As I have said before, I believe this country would thrive outside the European Union.
Lastly, I want to comment on the American official, whoever he was, who said that it would be grave from the point of view of America and its relations with this country if we left the EU. Of course that is American policy for two reasons. One is that America is scared that the European Union will succeed. It knows that most countries are anti-American so it wants a friend in sight. The other is that America does not really believe that Britain should shine in the world because the American interest is paramount under any circumstances.
The official concerned was the United States Trade Representative. I think we ought to assume that the United States Trade Representative is able to speak for the United States in trade matters and surely the point he was making was a very different one. Signing free trade agreements for the United States is a very complicated matter. It involves an infinite amount of politicking in Congress and it is very difficult to carry through. Therefore, from the point of view of the United States it is better to be able to sign trade agreements with very large units where there is a good deal to offer both ways rather than with relatively small units. That is the point he was making and, given that he speaks for the United States in trade matters, one should not be quite as dismissive as the noble Lord has been.
I was not being dismissive. I understand the point of view of the United States and of other countries. The problem is that they want huge agglomerates to discuss and decide matters and I believe that there will be a loss of democracy under those circumstances. I may be wrong but in any event the Americans will still want our whisky and we will still want their awful films so trade will go on.
I want to finish with a quote:
“The European Union faces long-term economic decline and the ‘love affair’ of integration is at risk”.
My Lords, I have listened throughout the debate and I remain a little puzzled. A number of possible reports have been proposed but no one has made it clear at which audience the reports are intended to be directed. I suspect very strongly that, even if all these reports were published, the percentage of those voting in the referendum who will have read any of them will be a tiny fraction. Therefore one is bound to ask: at who else are these reports to be directed? They may well be very useful for Members of Parliament but it is unlikely that any of them is going to change our views very significantly at this stage.
To take up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Green, I think it would be helpful if we had more information. I agree entirely with the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, about the problem of asylum seekers. There is great movement at present not only of asylum seekers but also of migrants. As the noble Lord, Lord Green, pointed out, very complicated issues are arising about the effect on the population and the way in which those coming to the country may eventually become full citizens. I think he is right about that but none the less I am very doubtful whether the various reports which we will consider will have much effect on those voting, even if we include 16 year-olds, but I look forward to hearing the view of the Front Benches on this issue.
Because this is an advisory referendum not a binding referendum, as the note from the House of Commons Library makes very clear, we may find ourselves with a somewhat inconclusive result, in terms of both turnout and the majority. In those circumstances the matter may well have to go back to Parliament and these reports may be very useful in that context, so I am in favour of the reports but we need to be clear what their purpose is.
My Lords, I hope that I may put this point to the noble Lord. All the opinion polling that has gone on in recent months has shown that the people who have made up their minds already are a relatively small proportion on both sides, and that a very substantial number of people have neither made up their minds or believe that they have yet been provided with sufficient factual information to enable them to do so. I do not believe that we should surrender to the sort of cynicism which has percolated through this debate whereby it has been questioned whether providing factual information will be of any use at all, will be read by anyone at all or will be unbiased, et cetera. The purpose of these amendments, which were carefully drafted so as not to stray into the realm of advocacy, is to try to fill a gap which I would have thought all the objective evidence shows exists and needs to be filled. I hope that the Minister, who has listened extremely patiently through this long debate, will see her way to moving ahead in a direction whereby help can be provided by giving factual information which would enable people to make up their own minds.
I entirely agree with the noble Lord that it is helpful to have more information; that is entirely common ground between us. I merely said that I thought it would be rather naive, for want of a better expression, to suppose that these reports would be read by more than a tiny percentage of the people voting. They may be taken up in the press, of course, and get somewhat wider dissemination, and that would be useful. I am merely saying that we should not exaggerate the effect on the people voting. However, the reports may have a useful purpose in the mean time and perhaps in the longer term.
My Lords, I have listened to this debate with fascination. It is, of course, crucial. It raises huge issues and takes us right back to the origins of the move towards having a referendum at all. In the end, what we need in this country is leadership and people who stand up for what they believe in and argue for it. This vision of nurturing an imaginary world in which somehow the provision of passive, impartial information will enable people to make up their minds is naive, as has been said. What enables people to make up their minds is an argument of real substance adduced with passion and conviction. That is the issue.
I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has given us an opportunity to have this debate although I have slight anxieties about how you can spell out the consequences of this situation. That seems to me a very absolute understanding of how human affairs are conducted. I do not know that you can say what the consequences are. However, you can say what the implications are and they can be well argued and substantiated, and a report of that kind would be helpful.
Having had the privilege to serve on the home affairs sub-committee of the European Union Committee, I know that the sense of urgency behind our deliberations has not been neglected. The sub-committee looked at the implications of change in the home affairs role and at crime and security. One thing was absolutely clear in those deliberations—modern crime is completely internationalised. Indeed, one thing was devastatingly clear—terrorism is totally internationalised. There can be no one in this House who does not lose sleep over security issues. We took evidence from people in the front line with practical, in-the-field responsibility in these spheres. It is worth noble Lords looking at not just that report but also the evidence because what came across to me as we listened to that evidence was that virtually without exception those with operational responsibility said that, unless we had gone mad, we must realise that we could handle this situation only with effective international arrangements in place. They had not a shred of doubt that we would have lost our marbles if we ceased to co-operate within the context of Europe. It is there in the evidence. Noble Lords should not listen to the opinions of fellow Peers but should read the evidence. However inadequate, however much there is need for change and improvement in the relevant arrangements, the European dimension has become indispensable to work in that sphere.
I think that a timescale of at least 12 weeks before the referendum is incredibly short for consideration of any report, but I also think that it is awfully luxurious in terms of how much time would elapse before such a report was available. If we are talking about the safety of our families and this nation and the protection of our industry, given the cyber issues that have been raised, we need factual information from the people in the operational front line about what we are luxuriously contemplating. The immediate security issues affecting our people today—tonight—demand that we know what we are going to do and how we are going to achieve that if we withdraw from the European Union, and how we ensure that the co-operation which those in the front line see as indispensable is maintained.
My Lords, I will not detain the Committee by going over all the arguments that have been made. I, of course, agree with those noble Lords who think that the information and any statements that may be produced should inform people about the consequences of remaining in as well as leaving the European Union. However difficult that may be, at least the Government should say what kind of association with the European Union they think would be desirable for the United Kingdom to pursue in the event that it votes to leave the EU.
My noble friend Lord Forsyth commented that under the Bank of England bank deposit guarantee scheme the maximum amount that is guaranteed has been reduced from £85,000 to £75,000. It is clear that that is because the euro is the currency of the European Union and all monetary values are determined in euro amounts. I suspect that this has happened because the sum was fixed at €100,000, which was approximately £85,000 and is now approximately £75,000. That is why the Bank of England has reduced by a significant percentage the maximum amount available under its guarantee scheme.
I also noticed that, according to the Daily Telegraph, Cabinet sources have informed that newspaper that the Prime Minister’s thrust for substantial alterations to our terms of membership will cover four main areas, and that he is asking for an explicit statement that the euro is not the official currency of the EU, making it clear that Europe is a multicurrency union. From that it follows that if Europe is to be a multicurrency union, it would not be possible in future for the Bank of England arbitrarily to reduce the maximum amount under its guarantee scheme in the way that it has, or to increase it, should the currency movement be reversed.
My noble friend is absolutely right. Is the situation not even worse, however, in that even if the Bank of England wished to set another level it cannot do so? British pensioners and savers are having to reorganise their savings to make a reduction. The British Government, the Prime Minister or the Bank of England do not have the power to decide a simple matter, such as how much is guaranteed on deposit. That illustrates how overwhelmingly intrusive Europe has become.
The noble Lord is completely right. As I said in at Second Reading, it is necessary that our renegotiations should include the repatriation of financial regulation, the independence of the Bank of England from the European authorities, and the independence and equivalence of our own financial regulators with those of the European ones, which should be those for the eurozone.
My Lords, in intervening briefly on this group of amendments, I apologise for doing so after having been unable to speak at Second Reading or in Committee last week, because of a serious family illness. I hope that the Committee will permit me to make a brief intervention, despite that absence.
I want to say two things. One has been said more than adequately by the noble Lord, Lord Judd. This concerned the point in Amendment 21 that stresses that the report on withdrawal should cover law enforcement, security and justice. The noble Lord is right: we should listen to the police and others in front-line operational roles. This indeed happened with the exercise of opting back in to 35 measures and that is what was so persuasive. That has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Judd.
Secondly, in supporting this group of amendments, particularly Amendment 21, may I take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart? He suggested that those of us who are perhaps on the inside have a lack of confidence in the UK. I deny that charge. It is not about lacking confidence in Britain, with its overtones of almost being unpatriotic, a charge I also deny; it is about living in the real world.
May I also take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra? Earlier, we heard that somehow we know better than the US trade representative. Mike Froman, a senior and serious person, has, in the words of the Financial Times, “poured cold water” on the prospect of the UK negotiating its own trade agreement with the US or with other major trading partners, such as China. He said that the US would have little interest in doing so and that the UK could face the same tariffs as China, Brazil or India. With respect, the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, suggested that we know better than the US what the US would want to do.
I am sorry if I gave the impression that we know better. I am not suggesting that; I am suggesting that we should distinguish between political rhetoric from a member of the US Government, who wants the United Kingdom to stay in Europe for a host of other reasons, and the reality that Americans would face should Britain decide to leave.
I had some contact with Mike Froman when I was vice-chair of the European Parliament’s delegation to the US. He is an extremely hard-headed and tough character. I rather doubt that he is just indulging in politics. He is talking about the real world and what is actually negotiable.
This debate on the report on our withdrawal from the European Union has strayed into the set of amendments beginning with Amendment 24, on the alternatives and our future relationship with the EU, which is what I really intended.
Could the noble Baroness help me with her great experience in these matters and her knowledge of these trade relations? Could she explain how it is that Iceland, which the Prime Minister visited the other day, has managed to negotiate a trade agreement with China and the EU has not?
I am not a trade specialist, but I fully accept that far fewer interests are involved when 28 member states are trying to negotiate with China, while with a country of 60-odd million—the UK—would have many more interests at stake than Iceland. If you listen to the Scotch whisky producers, they say that it is because of EU clout that they have access to Asian markets. They did not get this with the UK negotiating for them, but with the EU negotiating for them.
My Lords, as the noble Baroness, like other noble europhile Lords, is praying in aid the recent remarks from the other side of the Atlantic, may I ask her and her colleagues to remember that 15 years ago, in 2000, the International Trade Commission, which I think is the largest economic think tank in the world and advises the US Congress, came over to this country for a fortnight? It took every single department to pieces and concluded that the United Kingdom would then have been much better off had it left the European Union and joined NAFTA, and that the United States would been better off, too. Since then, the trading position between us and the United States makes that claim even stronger, while the position of the European Union has declined and will go on doing so. It sounds as though as these remarks from the United States should be left out of the arguments of those who wish to stay in the European Union.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for drawing a 15 year-old report to my attention. Unfortunately, I am not familiar with the International Trade Commission or its report. If he would care to send it to me, I would be more than pleased to read it. I think my point about living in the real world has been well made. The idea of the United States wanting us to join NAFTA is new to me.
In conclusion, it is essential to have these reports on withdrawal. In anticipating the ones on alternatives or the future relationship, I think they will become points of reference. We campaigners on both sides will try to make our point, but we have to give confidence to citizens and a point of reference to check our claims. These reports are essential.
My Lords, I should like to comment briefly on two contributions this evening that should not be left unanswered or uncommented on. One was a contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, which I shall come to in a moment. The other was the recent remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. He said that it was obviously absurd that the European Union should fix the level of retail deposit insurance. This is an important matter for financial stability. I put it to the noble Lord that there are extremely good reasons why there should not be a free for all in retail deposit insurance, and he should think about them carefully.
There are two such reasons. One is that if there is a free for all, there is a great temptation for individual states to compete by increasing the level of their guarantee, thereby attracting deposits from neighbouring states—or, as they would see it, competitive states. That is extremely dangerous because it leads to transferring risk from the banking system to a sovereign Government and when taken beyond a certain point, as happened dramatically in the case of Ireland just a few years ago, can produce a crisis of confidence in the credit rating of the sovereign state itself. That would be very foolish.
The other thing that it does is to introduce a moral hazard, when depositors find that in certain countries they face the chance of getting such a large level of guarantee on their deposit from the local sovereign state that they do not have to pay any attention at all to whom they are banking or placing their deposits with. That goes for sophisticated investors who are depositing hundreds of thousands, or millions, of dollars, pounds or euros. That sort of moral hazard is extremely dangerous and leads to lazy banking, and to banks being able to get away without satisfying their depositors that they are solidly and solvently managed—an extremely damaging thing for the stability of the financial system. I give way to the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, who I hope will take my comments seriously because they are genuinely important.
I do not take the noble Lord’s comments at all seriously. We are talking here about a guarantee of £75,000, which has nothing to do with people who are depositing millions of dollars around the world. Where I think he is right is that I can see the case for having a guarantee in a single currency zone. My point is that we are not in the euro, yet we are being told what to do with sterling.
My point is that if we had a free-for-all, it would start off at £75,000, which is roughly the equivalent of €100,000—that is why we have that figure. Some member state might well then be tempted to say “We will offer €150,000”, then somebody else would come back and say, “We will offer €180,000”. Then another would offer €250,000. There becomes a Dutch auction in these matters, which is very much in no one’s interest. This is an example of where the collective interest is much better served if individual member states do not adopt their own rules on this matter. I leave the point there. Although it is very important, I am prepared to continue with it in another context.
There could be economic advantages in doing that; equally, there are other advantages in having tax competition. I am rather in favour of the latter, as tax competition produces downward pressure on the level of taxes. A free-for-all in retail deposit insurance produces upward pressure on the guarantee and therefore on the liability of the member states extending it. The two things are diametrically opposed. I know that there are arguments in favour of unifying corporation tax rates but they do not persuade me. I do not imagine that they persuade the noble Lord either.
I come to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, who always speaks with great thought and wisdom on these matters, although I do not usually agree with him on European issues. He said something very depressing: he did not think that anybody—or very few people—would bother to read any reports produced on this matter and that people would take their decisions otherwise, perhaps by looking at the press. I have no illusions about this. I am very depressed and worried about this campaign, which could turn extremely unpleasant. I anticipate that a number of the large-selling newspapers, particularly the
Sun and the
, which does not sell very many—will adopt a very demagogic and emotive campaign, which will be rather subtle and indirect. It will use dog-whistle techniques but will really be all about foreigners, refugees and barbarians at the gate. I fear that people will be influenced by that sort of thing but I hope that it will not be a dominant number, or certainly not a majority.
We have a sophisticated democracy and an educated public, so we should not be too depressed or cynical about our fellow citizens. There must be literally millions of people in this country who will face the decision they will be asked to make in this referendum very conscious of its importance for the future of their country, their families and their communities. They will desperately want to have some clear advice and information from somewhere. If they go on to the internet they will have 5 million references and be completely paralysed, as we all are when we look up a matter which is the subject of substantial and wide-ranging controversy on the internet. It is utterly reasonable that they have a small, defined number of authoritative sources, some of which must be identified with the two campaigns but some of which should be identified with the Government.
We seem to be missing two essential points here. One is that the Government and Parliament are the servants of the public, not the other way round. It is our responsibility, and the Government’s responsibility, to provide such a source of material and information. Whether or not the elector chooses to bother with it at all would of course be his or her decision. The elector is sovereign but under no circumstances should we not fulfil our duty, which is to provide the opportunity for this important element in the decision that individual electors will need to take.
Does it not follow from what the noble Lord is saying that one way of reducing undue influence would be for both sides of the campaign to agree on a simple exhortation: make up your own mind?
I come now to my second point, which relates to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. A citizen of this country is entitled to think that the politicians who he or she pays for will do an honest job in a case like this, by not merely providing an opportunity for a referendum to take place but providing what we can by way of elements to enable that individual elector to take a decision.
I want to re-emphasise the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. Any Government who are half competent—or even a quarter competent—will, in circumstances like this, produce their own study of the cases for joining or leaving, along with the costs of leaving or not leaving and so forth. Any Government who were 10% competent would be going through those exercises and, as he said, given that those studies will have been undertaken they must not be kept under lock and key in Whitehall. The public in a democracy have a right to know to what conclusions the Government have come in their own studies. They have a right to have disclosed to them material information of that kind, which may be available in Whitehall or elsewhere in the interstices of government. On those two counts, it is absolutely essential that we do what we can to ensure that such reports are identified, undertaken and, above all, made available to the British public.
I wrote to the Treasury about the reduction in the guarantee to £75,000 to have the reason confirmed. I have had a letter back from the Treasury saying that it is doing its best to negotiate that it cannot go any lower than £75,000, so I wish it luck.
I very much agree with my noble friend Lord Higgins but, to be candid, for even wider reasons the exercise is unlikely to be of huge use. First, if you are to have papers about staying in, you have got to have papers about coming out. Secondly, and fundamentally, the issues that are so important are matters of judgment. We do not yet know what the agricultural arrangements may be or what trade agreements there may be with America and India, and so forth. You could take an educated guess but a factual paper must not have educated guesses in it. A whole lot of historic dead data about the EU one way and the other will, candidly, not excite anyone to read it in the slightest, but it is not the job of the Government to publish opinions. It is the job of the campaigning entities to express those expectations and opinions.
The whole point is that the individual campaigns will not have access to the material which the Government will have produced. It is essential that the public have access to that; if they cannot have access to it through the campaigns, the campaigns themselves will not know what material the Government have on the subject.
Most of the factual information is already there in various forms, so it would not have to be reprinted by a government department. The crucial point is that the campaigners will set out their expectations and judgment as to what will happen one way or the other. As the noble Lord pointed out, leadership in this situation one way or tother is likely to win the referendum campaign.
The proposals seemed to start by proposing that there should be a whole set of papers on either the advantages of staying in or the problems and risks of staying out. If we ended up with a fair and balanced covering of both sides, I think it would be pretty much a waste of time.
My Lords, the key to producing reports is who writes them. The answer is that the Civil Service writes them. Two things are wrong with that. First, the Government at the moment look as if they are going to advocate that we should stay in and the civil servants, if they are doing their job, will slew the reports in such a way that they advocate that we should stay in—so they are going to be biased and of little value for that reason.
The other point is that the EU is very bad at creating jobs. At the moment, it is looking at astronomically high levels of unemployment, particularly youth unemployment. There is one exception to that, which is creating jobs for civil servants. This makes the Civil Service even more biased than it might have been otherwise.
My Lords, we have had a long and comprehensive debate. The decision in front of the country will have a huge effect on its future. If members of the public are to have a say, it is absolutely right that they should have information available to them in order to make an informed decision. The Electoral Commission suggests that people want this information. They do not feel equipped to make the decision at the moment. That is why we are requesting these reports.
The Government’s silence on some of these matters is extremely concerning. It could be interpreted in two ways. Either the Government do not know the answers or they have not understood the question. I want to explain what is at stake because it is very important that we prepare now to inform our fellow citizens. When I talk about our fellow citizens, I mean citizens of the United Kingdom, but there are also implications for EU citizens. We have to understand that a decision to leave the EU would have an impact not just on UK citizens but on EU citizens as well.
First, it is vital that we do not underestimate the complexity of the legal situation that would arise if we were to leave. EU law is part of UK law and its adoption over more than 40 years has given UK citizens, companies and public authorities a vast array of rights and duties. We need to know what those rights and duties are and what being an EU citizen gives you. We need the public to understand that. Many thousands of EU provisions have become part of UK law, not just at central government level but in the devolved Administrations and at local government level. So repealing or amending EU laws would necessarily be a very complex and demanding process. How would the Government manage this process? What would they do? What would they retain? Would they repeal certain amendments or would they just take the whole lot, lock, stock and barrel and accept them into EU law? Would we have one Bill, as was suggested earlier, or would we have to change every single Bill that has been passed over the past 40 years that has any reference to the EU?
I do not understand the noble Baroness’s point. It is true that our law has been fashioned by the EU, but it is on the statute book. There is no need to do anything on day one after we have voted to leave the European Union. Surely she is presenting a problem that does not exist.
We will not need to do anything on day one, but we will certainly have to disentangle our relationship with the EU at some point in the future. That will take an army of administrators and legislators to sort that out at a time when the Government want to cut the number of civil servants. We need to confront this practical issue.
We are interested in providing and getting the public to see objective information. Regarding the practical consequences for individuals in the UK in the event of withdrawal, I have already asked the Government questions in relation to maintaining EU employment rights. I am still awaiting a reply. The questions concern social legislation in a huge number of areas including maternity, paternity, parental leave, annual rights, the rights of agency workers, protection of employees on the transfer of a business and anti-discrimination legislation. Will these be retained or will they go? Is there a risk element here or not? It is fair to ask these questions.
Similarly, people deserve to know the implications for EU legislation in the area of consumer protection, for example, on unsafe products, unfair practices and distance selling. We can buy things at the click of a switch today—the click of a mouse—from any of the EU member states and certain guarantees will come with that. Will they be respected in future?
What about the raft of EU environmental legislation? Will the Government retain EU standards for water quality and clean beaches? Presumably, UK citizens would no longer receive automatic health insurance if they go to other EU countries. All these issues carry a risk and have a question mark over them if we were to leave. It is absolutely right that the public are informed about that. We have had a long discussion on the huge implications for farmers. Of course they have the right to know. We perhaps will not know the consequences—how much the Government would make up for any loss that comes from leaving the EU—but farmers should be clear that there is a question of risk for them.
The same issue applies to structural funds, about which the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, talked very clearly. We know that we have been able to trust the EU in terms of giving us this money in the past. We have not necessarily been able to trust central government in London. It is important that people understand that sometimes we trust the EU to look after us in a way that the UK has not looked after us in the poorest parts of the United Kingdom.
When the noble Baroness talks about giving us this money, it is our money which the EU is giving back to us because we are substantial net contributors. Is she really suggesting that we cannot take decisions for ourselves as to how we could spend that money?
The noble Lord is absolutely right that we can take decisions; I am concerned about what those decisions will be. I have no clarity whatever that the money will go back into the UK coffers and then straight back to the farmers in the UK or the structural funds in the poorest areas of Britain. We have no clarity on that and it is absolutely right that we raise the question, particularly for those who are directly affected.
Turning to the amendment in my name, I ask what will happen to the citizens of Gibraltar. Spain would love to take the opportunity to leverage the whole situation of British exit to push its case for sovereignty over the island. What is the Government’s contingency plan if we were to leave? What would happen if Spain were to close the border? Would we send a fleet? Would we mount a Berlin-style airlift to support the island? The people of Gibraltar are very concerned with these questions.
Few would deny that membership of the EU and the single market brings huge advantages to the UK economy and to British businesses. Many other aspects of our national life have also benefited. Will the Government provide a precise and comprehensive report on the possible consequences of withdrawal? We are pleased that the Minister has said that she is in listening mode and that there may be a possibility of producing some kind of White Paper on the impact of withdrawal—and of remaining in the EU as well; I do not object to that. We would like to hear today a commitment that the Government will produce a White Paper and we would like to hear the timescale in which the Minister believes it will be possible to produce it. Much of the work has been done. The balance of competences review has done a lot of the spadework. It needs to be updated into a comprehensive look at the consequences. We believe that the failure to provide such information before a decision of this magnitude would be letting down the British people and shirking an essential responsibility of government.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords for their contributions to what has been an extensive and certainly an important debate today. This Bill sets the stage for one of the biggest decisions that the British public have been asked to make in a generation. It is absolutely right to say, therefore, that the British public should expect to be able to make an informed decision and to be provided with information about the possible consequences of the decision they take when they cast their vote.
The debates today give the Committee the opportunity to consider what information it is appropriate and/or necessary for the Government to provide at the conclusion of the negotiations for a reformed EU. As the Electoral Commission has recognised, it is the designated campaign organisations that will play a crucial role in providing such information. This is the established practice in the United Kingdom and is in line with the Council of Europe’s best practice guidance on referendums. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has argued, along with many other noble Lords, there may also be a role for the Government. That issue has been fully discussed today, and there are further matters relating to that in other groups that we will discuss later today.
Each of the amendments in this group creates a statutory requirement for the Secretary of State to publish a report no later than 12 weeks before the date of the referendum and to lay such reports before each
House of Parliament. Before I refer to the timeframe itself, in line with the normal practice in these circumstances, I should comment on the different content required in each report as set out in the amendments themselves.
Amendment 21, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, the noble Baronesses, Lady Morgan of Ely and Lady Smith of Newnham, and my noble friend Lord Bowness, requires the Government to publish a report that sets out information on the consequences of withdrawal from the European Union. The report must cover: the effect that withdrawal would have on the rights of individuals in the UK, and on the rights of UK and EU citizens living in the EU and UK respectively; the legislative consequences for each government department and the devolved Administrations; and the impact on social and environmental legislation, law enforcement, security and justice. Many noble Lords have intervened in other Members’ speeches with regard to these matters.
This has been a very useful opening salvo to the debates today on information, but I rather feel that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, will not be too surprised if I remark that his amendment is highly prescriptive. I know that he meant to set out a very good construct around which other noble Lords could contribute; he has achieved just that and I am grateful to him. As for the content of the amendment, the duties that it imposes are onerous. That is not necessarily a reason to not do this, but I am very mindful of what my noble friend Lord Higgins said when he posed the question of who these reports are meant to be for. That is what we need at the core of our deliberation. The public are educated and sophisticated, and those of us who are unelected take those who cast their votes for another place very seriously indeed. When we go on the doorstep, we listen to what they say. We are confident, as we should be, that they want to see clear, objective information, but the question to consider is how that will be best delivered. How will it be objective? As my noble friend Lord Higgins said: how will it be accessible? We do not want to overwhelm people with detail but want to enable them to make an informed decision.
Amendment 21 would also need to be carefully reworked before it could appear in the Bill. For example, the references to “European” or “United Kingdom citizens” and to “devolved jurisdictions” would need to be corrected. We would need to work out whether there was an intended distinction between the use of the terms “legislative” and “statutory”. We would also need to clarify what was intended by the term “social legislation”, which is at present so broad as to be unclear. The very broad nature of the examples that noble Lords gave showed the difficulty with the definition. We would also need to think carefully about which of the areas in question, such as environmental legislation, were devolved matters.
I know the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has used this as a valuable spur to debate, but I should put on the record why it would not be appropriate to accept the amendment, which appears to require detailed analysis of future discretionary changes to devolved legislation, without first consulting the devolved Administrations. I hope that noble Lords will accept that it would be inappropriate to commit at this stage, on behalf of four different Governments, to producing such broad analysis. To condense this into one report could be confusing to those who need to make a decision at the ballot box.
Amendment 27, tabled by my noble friends Lord Blencathra, Lord Hamilton and Lord Flight would create a statutory requirement for the Secretary of State to publish a report and lay it before both Houses of Parliament, 12 weeks before the date of the poll. Unlike Amendment 21, this report must set out the consequences for the United Kingdom of remaining in the European Union. The amendment has given the Committee a valuable opportunity to broaden the debate on what constitutes information appropriate for the Government to publish. In that respect, it assists the debate today. However, like Amendment 21, this is a highly prescriptive amendment that sets out six areas that the report must cover. These include the effect on the UK’s social security systems, its insolvency law and its place on the IMF if it were to remain in the European Union. Noble Lords will be aware that providing the level of detail required by this amendment on a wide range of policy areas could involve a high degree of speculation. We would all be cautious about that, I hope. Without a crystal ball—I do not have one to hand—I fear that we could struggle to anticipate future policy developments at EU level. I know, as I have heard it from all quarters around the Committee all afternoon, that noble Lords want to ensure that any information provided to the public is well founded and assists an informed decision.
Amendments 28 and 29, from the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and Amendment 30, from the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, focus on the consequences of a withdrawal from the EU on structural funds, support for agriculture and Gibraltar. Amendments 31 and 32, from the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, focus on the consequences on net migration of remaining in the EU and access to citizenship for non-EU citizens within member states. I will make two points with regard to all these amendments. These are highly specific obligations. The question we need to consider is whether every one of the requirements set out in these amendments represents the extent of the information that the general public would need from the Government or not. We come back to the question of what it is right for the Government to propose for the public—which includes us as voters—to be able to make a well-informed decision. Noble Lords clearly already have varied views on that, and we need to see how we take that forward to be able to come to some common conclusions at some stage.
I thank the noble Baroness for the attention she is giving this. If the Government were unable, after considering this matter, to give a commitment to bringing reports on structural funds and agriculture—which my two amendments address—would she rule out the right of the National Assembly for Wales to bring forward its own reports and its own interpretation of the situation?
My Lords, it would be wrong of me to give a commitment on that until I have come to the conclusion of what I may or may not be able to offer. I do not want to provide too much hope about what I am going to be able to offer, but I hope it will be seen to be constructive, which is how it is intended. I know the noble Lord makes a very serious point in his intervention. At the base of this, and what needs serious consideration, is what the Government should be providing and what should be provided by campaigning bodies.
I turn now to the 12-week minimum period imposed by each of the amendments in this group. The content required by the amendments, individually and in aggregate, is both extremely broad and very specific. Requiring that the Government supply this information 12 weeks before the referendum date may well have a significant impact on the date of the poll itself. That is an issue that the Committee, and then the House, will need to take into careful consideration when discussing these matters further, because anything connected to timing implications will need to be taken into account. I appreciate that noble Lords will have different views on the matter.
The Government have made it very clear that we are committed to delivering a referendum that is fair and is seen to be fair, but the 12-week timeframe imposed in these amendments risks jeopardising the legitimacy of the referendum. I am concerned that failure to deliver this breadth of information at least 12 weeks before a poll, once the date of the referendum had been agreed by both Houses through affirmative regulations, would leave us in breach of the law. The ambiguities that I have mentioned in some of the amendments could cause uncertainty and argument over whether an obligation has been fulfilled, and therefore cause potential legal risk. I know that that is not the outcome that noble Lords want. At this stage, therefore, we believe that to commit to an arbitrary deadline would be unwise.
Our approach is to engage in ongoing reform, to negotiate and then hold a referendum. We will work together with other countries to discuss and agree reforms, many of which will benefit the whole EU, before holding a referendum to ensure that the British people have the final and decisive say. Although the referendum is not considered to be binding—I have seen the report by the Select Committee on the Constitution—my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has made it clear that he will abide by the decision that the people make. As the Prime Minister has said, Britain would benefit from being in a reformed EU, but a reformed EU will also benefit from having Britain in it. As my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in June, the Government intend to publish an assessment of the merits of membership and of the risks of a lack of reform in the European Union, including the damage that could do to Britain’s interests.
Naturally, I heard the strong calls last week on Second Reading and again today for an in-depth assessment of the implications of a vote to leave or remain in the European Union. The Government will now give careful consideration to what we may be able to bring forward, by way of an amendment on Report, which would command the support of both Houses.
However, before I comment in more detail, I wish to listen carefully to the remaining arguments that will be made today on the provision of information. Three groups of amendments remain and it is important that I listen to the noble Lords who move them. Therefore, at this stage, I invite the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, to withdraw amendment 21. I also invite other noble Lords not to move the remaining amendments in this group when they are reached in the list in the usual way.
My Lords, I welcome all the contributions that were made today, even if some of them strayed into what is known as the ”Second Reading repeat” category. We heard many views expressed and I think we have made progress. I thank the Minister for her response to the debate—which was, as usual, thoughtful and considered—and for her willingness to take this all away and consider what sort of amendment the Government could introduce on Report. I would certainly not be so churlish as to either criticise or reject that.
I am a little puzzled by her recoiling in horror from any time factor to be associated with the provision of information. I was not quite sure whether she thought that 12 weeks was too long or too short. In any case, a time factor of some sort is pretty desirable; the risk otherwise is that there will be controversy about the material being produced too late. It would not be the first occasion on which the Government have arrived too late with material and it would be bad and contrary to the Government’s own interest if that were to happen in this case. So I hope the Minister will not exclude the possibility of a time limit when she considers all that has been said in this debate. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 21 withdrawn.
Moved by Lord Turnbull
22: After Clause 5, insert the following new Clause—
(1) The Secretary of State shall request the Office for Budget Responsibility to consider and report on the effect on the United Kingdom economy of withdrawal from the European Union.
(2) The report provided for by subsection (1) must be published, and laid before each House of Parliament, no later than 12 weeks prior to the appointed date of the referendum.”
I apologise for missing the earlier part of this debate; I was detained on other business in the House. I have heard enough, however, to convince me of the importance of providing an authoritative and objective analysis not just of what “in” looks like, but of what “out” would look like. I have also heard enough to convince me just how complex a task this is, but it is a task that we have to complete—we owe it to our electorate. I do not share the pessimism that not many people out there will want to read this: they may not read the actual reports, but they will certainly want to go into the discussion of them.
It can be argued that reporting on the impact to the economy, which is the subject of this amendment, would be subsumed in one or another of the amendments in the previous group, or in the analysis that the Minister has offered. I very much welcome the assurance that she has given us. This amendment is less about scope and more about who is best placed to provide an objective account, whether that is the Government, the campaigning groups or an independent entity. For many of the issues—including those listed by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, of residence, citizenship, employment and the various regulatory regimes which will replace EU legislation—answers can be provided only by the Government, as they are the only people who know the full complexities of them. However, for a report on the impact on the economy, I believe that we do have an alternative—we have created the Office for Budget Responsibility, which has developed a reputation for objectivity—and I think we could entrust this task to it.
There have been two major reports produced by Treasury officials—it was after I left the Treasury, but I am still very proud of them—the assessment of the five tests for entering into the euro, in 2003, and the implications for Scottish independence of the attempt to share a currency. Both were excellent pieces of work, objective and authoritative; and both, I believe, had a significant influence on the decisions that were made. However, in the case of a possible exit by the UK, I believe that political pressures will make it difficult to separate analysis and advocacy, to use the terms that my noble friend Lord Hannay has used, in any reports emanating from the Government. Special steps will need to be taken within Government, for the bits that they are doing, to separate out the people developing the advocacy part of it from the people doing the work.
In the case of the impact on the economy, when we have a body such as the Office for Budget Responsibility available, with a reputation for competence and independence, I believe that we should use it. I beg to move.
Amendment 23 (to Amendment 22)
Tabled by Lord Blencathra
23: After Clause 5, line 5, after “from” insert “and staying in”
I can be brief, my Lords, because the key issues of principle were thoroughly debated in the previous group of amendments—the key issue of principle for me being that if the Government were minded to go down the route of publishing a report setting out the dangers of leaving then there should also be a report on the consequences of staying in. I noted very carefully what my noble friend the Minister said. I congratulate her on winding up such a controversial and difficult debate. I look forward to seeing that amendment and hope that it will be impeccably neutral. She will have noticed that the Government would be stepping into a political quagmire if they went into the details set out in my amendment or even the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay.
The Office for Budget Responsibility describes itself as one of the,
“independent fiscal watchdogs around the world”.
It has five main roles: to produce a five-year forecast for the economy and public finances twice a year; to use its public finance forecast to judge the Government’s performance against their fiscal targets; to scrutinise the Treasury’s costing of tax and welfare spending measures; to assess the long-term sustainability of the public finances; and to assess the Government’s performance against the welfare cap. I am therefore not certain that the OBR has any real role in forecasting the consequences of leaving the EU, but again I make the point that if the Government are minded to accept the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, it should have a parallel duty to forecast the consequences of staying in the Union.
If the OBR is going to make such a report, I hope it will look at three little things as the EU continues its attempts to harmonise social security legislation—and there is talk about the need to change pension rules. In those circumstances the OBR should report on the financial consequences for British tax and welfare budgets. If we were to stay in, then it should report on the lost opportunities to utilise our £12 billion Union contribution, which would be completely at our own disposal if we were to leave. Since the Union, as I have said very boringly before, is in relative decline compared with the American and Asian economies, we should have a report on the dangers to the UK economy of being held back by the slow growth of the EU.
There are many other issues that I could add to that à la carte menu, but we do not need to go through them again tonight. However, I suspect that it is better for the credibility and independence of this fiscal watchdog that the OBR should not attempt to report on the consequences of either staying in or leaving. If it does one, though, it should do the other. I beg to move.
My Lords, I normally agree with the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, and I have the greatest respect for him and indeed the Treasury. He is right to say that the Office for Budget Responsibility has been a success. I would therefore be very concerned if we were to accept the amendment and taint the reputation of the OBR by giving it this impossible task. Perhaps the noble Lord could contradict me but if I were to take the Bank of England, for example, an organisation that has a formidable reputation, and I were to look at the forecasts it has made about the progress of the economy over the past 20 years—indeed, over most of my lifetime—the only thing that has been consistent about those forecasts is that they have been consistently wrong. The notion that this body called the Office for Budget Responsibility can look into its crystal ball—I am reminded of that character that used to appear on the National Lottery, Mystic Meg—and predict the future is asking a very great deal of it. As my noble friend Lord Blencathra has said, it is hard to see, given the existing responsibilities of the OBR, how it would be able to set about this task—with the necessary expertise, at any rate. As he listed its responsibilities, it seemed to me that the OBR has quite enough on its plate without adding to it.
I support my noble friend, though, and indeed my noble friends Lord Hamilton and Lord Flight, in the amendment that seeks to bring a balance to this. I am not going to repeat the arguments that we had in considering the previous amendments, but if you are walking in the woods and you see a bear trap, it is probably not a good idea to put your leg in it. None of the arguments that one hears about the EU is couched in terms of, “If we weren’t in it, we would want to join it”. That was what struck me about the Prime Minister’s remarks about Iceland and Norway over the weekend. No one in Iceland or Norway wishes to join the European Union.
My Lords, the Government of Norway have consistently had a large number of Ministers who wished to join. There are all sorts of reasons why a substantial chunk of its population does not agree. I myself was involved in discussions with the last Icelandic Government, who also wished to join. So “no one” is a mild exaggeration.
I do apologise to the noble Lord. He is still in ministerial mode; I was talking about the people. I know the people of Iceland extremely well; I have gone there every summer to fish for the past 12 years. I know exactly what has happened in Iceland. I note that the noble Lord also, in his typically selective choice of argument, talks about the last Government of Iceland, not the present one, whose Prime Minister himself made the point to our Prime Minister that they were perfectly happy outside the EU because they had all the fish and, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford, the opportunity to deal with their financial services crisis as they saw fit, which did not involve bailing out the bondholders and the bankers, and very successful they have been.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, distracts me from my bear trap.
My Lords, the very thought that the noble Lord would ever intervene on someone to distract them is something that I would not conceivably believe.
I have to say that the noble Lord is probably the only Member of this House who I think might possibly put his leg in the bear trap while it was still in the wood. No one is making the argument in this country, in Iceland or indeed in Norway that if we were outside the EU we should join now on the terms that we are already subject to. That is the point about the bear trap.
However, we are in the position where our leg is in a bear trap. The argument from the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, and from many of the people who have spoken today on these matters seems to be that it would just be too painful to take our leg out of the bear trap, and that the best thing is for us to stay where we are and bleed to death. I think we ought to consider what the benefits would be of taking our leg out of the bear trap, and that is what my noble friend Lord Blencathra’s amendment seeks to add to Amendment 22. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, wants to intervene, and I happily give way to him.
How kind of the noble Lord. Nothing was further from my mind than interrupting him in any way. I would like to get back to his Mystic Meg argument, which I am still trying to work out; my mind is very slow in these matters. That argument depends on the assumption that the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, would be asking the OBR to forecast the future course of the world economy, the European economy and the UK economy if we came out or if we stayed in. I do not think that that is the case. The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, asks that the OBR consider what would have changed—what the effect would be of coming out.
I myself would be happy to add to that, although I do not know if the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, would, the amendment suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, which seems to be perfectly reasonable. I follow his argument about staying in or coming out. The important bit would be: what would be different if we came out? The consequences of the differences is what one would be asking for. The Governor of the Bank of England addressed this question the other day, talking about what would have been different if we had not been in the single market for financial services. That is a perfectly reasonable question to ask. I would be happy to support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, and that in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, but I do not understand the Mystic Meg argument, advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, that somehow we are asking the impossible.
“report on the effect of the United Kingdom economy of withdrawal from the European Union”.
In order to do that one would need to take a view on what is going to happen to the euro and if there is someone in the Office for Budget Responsibility who knows the answer to that question, I have to tell them they could be a billionaire tomorrow.
Of course no one knows what is going to happen to the euro. I agree the probability is that it is not going to survive unless there is very substantial further integration within the European Union but no one knows to what extent that will be possible. For example one can look at the attitudes towards the problem of mass economic migration into the European Union and the chaos which the members of the European Union are in at the moment and their inability to agree. Does anyone in the Office for Budget Responsibility know how to predict the outcome of that matter?
The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, is expert at dealing with the European Union. I can remember as a Minister arriving at meetings and he had already prepared the compromise that we would accept and the press release which announced a great victory by Ministers over the European Union to be released before we had even got off the plane. I know that he believes very much in the opportunities for flexibility in matters of wording but the wording on this amendment is asking the Office for Budget Responsibility to do the impossible—to tell the future. In so doing they will almost certainly get it wrong, like the Bank of England and everyone else who tries to tell the future, and that will damage their constitution.
The bear trap metaphor is getting in the way of the thread of the noble Lord’s own logic. He has got lost in trying to demonstrate that this is either a job that no one should do or it is a job that should possibly be done, but not by the Office for Budget Responsibility. If it is the former, is it not the case that many people in the debate about the referendum are desperate for some sort of guidance on the two scenarios? Indeed the governor’s speech and what happened last week in Iceland are very relevant. Is the noble Lord saying that no one should do this job to the best of their ability, however difficult, or simply that the Office for Budget Responsibility should not do it?
I am saying that the Office for Budget Responsibility should not do it and I am saying that the point made half an hour ago by my noble friend Lord Flight is absolutely right. These are matters of judgment, and the people who should make the arguments are the people who are on either side of the campaigns. It seems to me, listening to arguments from the noble Lord and from others on his side, that they have got quite a lot of work to do if they are going to persuade the British people to vote to stay in the European Union. Whether or not staying in the European Union is in the best interests of our economy is a matter of judgment. Even in Greece it would appear that a majority of the voters still think that it is in their interests to be in the European Union and within the eurozone. I am very happy to leave that to the judgment of the British people in the referendum.
Unless I have got it completely wrong, the noble Lord is basically advancing the argument that Governments should not produce economic forecasts at all—they are a complete waste of time, they are always wrong so let us ditch them. However, he supports a Government who regularly produce economic forecasts at the time of the Budget. Those economic and fiscal forecasts are regularly reviewed by the Office for Budget Responsibility and I think we are all a bit the wiser for it. Of course it does not give you the answer to everything and like the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, I would be happy to support the addition by the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, but this dismissal of all forms of forecasting on the impact on the economy of staying or leaving is frankly to go back about 150 years in the practice of economic policy.
The noble Lord exaggerates to make his point. I am not arguing against economic forecasting. I am simply saying that the record on economic forecasting is not very good and the Bank of England is a classic example.
This is not about economic forecasting. This is about the effect on the United Kingdom’s economy of withdrawal from the European Union which is a huge issue. It is not just about the implications for the economy directly as a result of taxation or fiscal policy or matters of that kind. It is about the impact of immigration, it is about what happens in terms of the advantages that we would gain by being outside the European Union, our ability to negotiate our own trade agreements, our ability to be free of suffocating regulation, our ability to decide matters for ourselves, our ability to control our borders—all these things will have an impact on growth rates and the future of our economy. I am simply arguing that the Office for Budget Responsibility does not have the expertise or the ability to do that. I am delighted that the noble Lord supports my noble friend Lord Blencathra’s amendment looking at the other side of the equation, which is staying in.
I will repeat a point I made earlier. It is astonishing to me that we are members of the European Union and the arguments that we have heard from the Europhiles—the people who wish to remain in the European Union—have all been characterised in terms of the threats of leaving rather than the benefits which we have. That seems to indicate a degree of uncertainty.
I do not know who the noble Lord has been listening to about threats. It seems to me that the pro-European people are making a very modern argument for our membership of the European Union—a case which is far stronger than it was when we originally joined—that in this really dangerous world with chaos in Africa, fanaticism in the Middle East and rising nationalism in Russia, what we should be doing is sticking with our friends and acting as a united Europe.
We do not have to be in the European Union to stick with our friends, and NATO is a good example of that. I am not referring to the general debate, I am referring to the amendments—for example the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, to insert a new clause headed:
“Report on the consequences of the United Kingdom withdrawal from the European Union”,
but not to report on the benefits of being in the European Union.
May I just finish answering this point first? I am simply making the point that it is very startling that those who are most enthusiastic about the European Union wish to couch their arguments in terms of what it would be like if we left as opposed to why it is in our interests if we remain.
There is a very simple reason for that which is that most of the anti-European case that is put forward suggests that it is cost-free to come out of the European Union. That is why these arguments are being pressed; if you listen to the way a lot of people talk who favour withdrawal, they think it is cost-free. They assume we can negotiate anything we want. It is they who are not facing up to the realities of the world.
I have to say that cost-free would be a considerable improvement on the £8 billion net contribution that we are currently making because it is certainly not cost-free to remain in.
Will the noble Lord explain why he thinks that a report on the consequences of withdrawal is about fear rather than something that benefits people who want to remain in the European Union? To go back to his bear analogy, what if the vet comes along and suggests taking the bear’s leg out of the trap so that it is recovered, rejuvenated and much happier? Is that not an alternative reading of it?
The noble Baroness is now pulling my leg if she thinks that that argument has any substance. I am simply making the point that the whole thrust of the argument that we have had in terms of producing reports from those who wish us to stay in the European Union have been about “hanging on to nurse for fear of something worse”.
I do not know whether the noble Lord has noticed but the fact is that we are in the European Union now, so the question for the electorate is, “Shall we leave?”. The argument that he is just making would be very good if we were not in the European Union and the question was, “Shall we join?”. Then I would be required to try to demonstrate to him that there would be benefits. However, the question for this referendum is, “Shall we stay or shall we leave?”. That is the issue.
I entirely agree with the noble Lord about what the issue is. I will not repeat the same arguments, because I can see that the Whip is beginning to twitch and is thinking about the dinner hour.
Very briefly, on the logic of the noble Lord’s argumentation it seems to me that he should have tabled an amendment asking for a report on the benefits of membership, because he is saying that those of us who want to stay in wanted to put a negative spin on withdrawal—which I do not accept, because we want a factual report. However, turning that round, those people who want to leave should have forced or tried to force a report on the benefits of staying in, because they believe that that would show up that there are not benefits.
I would not ask for a report on the benefits of staying in, because it seems absolutely apparent that we are considerably disadvantaged by joining with an organisation which is unable to control its currency or borders, and which prevents us exercising our sovereign ability to control our borders and to ensure that we have the conditions in which enterprise can flourish. I look forward to David Cameron’s initiative in the European Union to discover whether the European Union itself realises how it is damaging member states in the Union. I cannot for the life of me imagine why the noble Baroness would want me to put down an amendment suggesting that we have a report on the benefits when so much damage is caused by the way in which the European Union is organised at present. I support my noble friend’s amendment.
The last 15 minutes have been very illuminating. We now have the position where the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, has concluded that we do not want any attempt to have this independent assessment because it is up to the two sides to fight it out as if we were in Madison Square Garden. I will quote him many times in the future on that basis. These people do not want any independent analysis—they just want a shouting match to see who can shout the loudest. That is exactly what he said, and that is my first point.
It is not what I said at all. I said that whether we stay or leave is a matter of judgment and opinion. The idea that the Office for Budget Responsibility can intervene in this matter is not sensible. In fact, it would be difficult for the Government, because I very much hope that at the end of the day collective responsibility will be suspended and that members of the Government will be able to campaign according to their own judgment. Therefore the idea that the Government or anyone else could produce an independent report is fantasy. Of course people must have the facts; I hope very much that people on both sides of the campaign will resist the kind of scaremongering which we have heard from people like the noble Lord—yes, indeed—who support that particular side of the argument. We have heard that 3 million jobs will be lost and other scare stories, which will simply turn off the voters. However, I do not believe that it is impossible for those on both sides of this argument to honestly put out arguments and facts and let the people decide.
It is quite often possible to summarise the general opinion of politics in this country, as a default position, as: “They just shout at each other and they don’t try to find the truth in the public interest”. This will be an historic decision for Britain, and the idea that we will not do our best to find any independent ground to give to the British people is quite extraordinary.
I was the person who, at Second Reading, first made this proposal and started this hare, or bear, running. That was done to meet the argument put forward by noble Lords such as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, that we must find out what the consequences would be of being out, because they on their side—and it is true that I am on one side, just as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, is on the other side—were saying that there will be absolutely no problem with being out, without any of the downsides; for example, that we will have all the benefits of EFTA. Of course, this weekend we now hear from the Prime Ministers of Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Greenland, the Faroe Islands and wherever that this is not the case. We have now got into the position where, this bear trap or whatever it is having been opened up, the noble Lord seems to be running away from the argument that his side started about a month ago, which is very interesting.
The only other way in which I guess we could have an independent analysis without it being done by the Office for Budget Responsibility would be to set up some new academic/ex-Whitehall or Civil Service commission, or something like that. It would not be easy to get agreement—as I think the noble Lord,
Lord Turnbull, said at the beginning—in that rather heated atmosphere on what such a body should be like. I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, has doubted that the credentials of the OBR as regards its degree of dispassionate analysis could be bettered. It now has a reputation, with some ex-Treasury officials in it, as a body which does not kowtow to the Treasury, which some people feared. However, it established its own independence and credibility at the same time, not like a parliamentary Select Committee with an eye for newspaper headlines wanting to find something extravagantly newsworthy to say. This is therefore about as good an attempt as will be made.
Finally, we do hear a red herring from time to time, which is of course that after the referendum, if it leads to exit, another negotiation would follow whereby tariffs would not go up against Britain, and that otherwise they would. All these existing problems would suddenly be revealed for analysis when we are out, not before we are out—before we have voted—but when we are going to go out they would have another negotiation. That particular fox, to change the animal metaphor, has been shot dead three times, and I should think it is pretty dead now.
My Lords, I will try to be very brief. I will start by saying that in the previous debate and at Second Reading my noble friend Lady Morgan made our position of support for the principle of reports and information quite clear. This comes back to the Electoral Commission’s submission that people want more information and informed debate. Clearly, we know that the debate will be focused on those who are committed to remaining in and those committed to leaving. However, the debate today highlights a problem we have with people who take a fixed position. I am one of those who believe that the Prime Minister is intent on negotiating progress within the European Union. I also believe that the European Union is open to constant reform. I do not see the date of the referendum as the date when everything stops, with it simply being a question of deciding, “It’s good now” or “It’s bad now”. The debate on reform is really important, which is why the Office for Budget Responsibility can have an important role to play.
The noble Lord, Lord Higgins, asked, “Who are these reports for?”. I could not agree with him more in asking that, but I think that they will make an important contribution and stop the debate deteriorating into one between those who simply want out at any cost and those who simply want in at any cost. The reform agenda must be very much at the forefront of the debate that we will have.
I think that the Office for Budget Responsibility is capable of doing the job. It produces reports on the Budget and is capable of producing a longer-term fiscal sustainability report on future trends and pressures. It is ideally suited to the job and I think that people will want to hear from it. There were debates in the other place about whether the Bank of England should or should not express an opinion. We support the independence of the Bank and it has been doing a good job. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, thinks that the Bank has got it wrong many times and asks, “Why should we listen to it now?”. However, I am also aware that when even a body like the Bank of England reports, the
Guardian says that its report shows that the EU provides a dynamic environment for economic growth, whereas the
Daily Telegraph said that the report has nothing to do with EU membership. So whatever the OBR produces, I have every confidence that the campaign to remain in the EU will say one thing and that the campaign to take Britain out will say something else. However, the British people deserve to understand the source of the information, which is why we will support both amendments.
My Lords, in moving Amendment 22, the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, has enabled the Committee to have a debate which goes to the heart of the question of who should be the author of a report regarding the effect upon the economy of the UK were there to be a decision by the British people at the referendum to leave the EU or remain in the EU. Of course, I notice that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, talks about withdrawal and that my noble friend’s amendment talks about remaining in, but Amendments 22 and 23 together have enabled an overall debate.
The request in both amendments goes beyond the remit of the OBR, which is set out in the Budget Responsibility and National Audit Act 2011. The OBR’s main duty is to monitor the sustainability of the public finances. Its role is to make economic and fiscal forecasts based on the policies that the Government plan to implement. Conducting analysis of hypothetical scenarios for the purpose of a referendum is simply beyond its scope. Indeed, the statutory basis of the OBR forbids it to consider the effects of alternative policies.
It may assist the Committee if at this point I refer briefly to the 2011 Act. The precise language under Section 5(3) is as follows:
“Where any Government policies are relevant to the performance of that duty, the Office … must have regard to those policies, but … may not consider what the effect of any alternative policies would be”.
The point on alternative policies is very clear. In the Government’s view, these amendments would indeed require the OBR to consider alternative policies, as I think has become clear during the debate.
As my noble friends Lord Blencathra and Lord Forsyth alluded to, we should consider a wider point. If the OBR were to report on the economic consequences of UK withdrawal, it would risk pulling the organisation into the political debate—something that the OBR was set up precisely to guard against—which could therefore undermine its reputation as an independent and objective institution.
I understand that the amendment was tabled as a spur to debate and it has helped us in that regard. As I advised noble Lords at the end of the debate on the previous group of amendments, we will now think carefully about the issue of public information and consider what we may be able to bring forward by way of an amendment on Report. At this stage, I therefore invite the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, to withdraw his amendment but, in the first instance, I urge my noble friend Lord Blencathra not to move Amendment 23, which is an amendment to Amendment 22.
My Lords, the purpose of the amendment was to draw attention not just to the question of information but to the validation of that information—the quality of it and the trust that people can put in it. One point on which I can agree with the noble Lords, Lord Forsyth and Lord Blencathra, is that the information should be symmetrical, but I fear that the way that the debate will go is that the Government will negotiate a series of changes and will want to come back and tell people that they are good and sufficient. So I think that we will hear rather more about the benefits of staying in and not enough about the effects—I will not say “dangers” or “fears”—of going out. Symmetry is the first principle and validation is the second. There may be objections to using the OBR but, whatever the Government produce, and I welcome this proposal, they will have to answer the question of how we make people believe that the analysis is authoritative and technical. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, wishes to intervene. The purpose of the analysis is to help people to make up their mind; it is not to offer them judgments.
I appreciate that people are thinking about the dinner break, but will the noble Lord just reflect on when we last tried this? It was when the Scottish Government produced their White Paper on the referendum. The assumption was that the oil price would be $110. Is he not concerned about that experience?
The noble Lord keeps using the word “forecast”. I do not see these as forecasts; they are analyses based on different assumptions, the purpose of which would be to draw out for people the complexity of the situation and the number of variables in play, and to draw attention to aspects that they may not have thought of. The idea that the OBR would produce a single forecast that could be falsified simply on the basis of one variable is wrong.
I return to the fact that there is to be a response from the Government. I think that we should wait for that but I hope that it will address how this work can be done by government, even if it does not use institutions outside government, in such a way that people can have the greatest faith in it.
Amendment 22 withdrawn.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.49 pm.