My Lords, along with Burke, I have always believed fundamentally in representative parliamentary democracy, and therefore I have always had severe doubts about referendums. Nothing in the debates that we have had this evening has convinced me otherwise. Indeed, that may turn out to be so in the context of the European Union as well.
The way in which this matter has been handled seems deeply disturbing. A deal is being put forward that is clearly grossly unfair, and I do not think that it would be right for any English Members of Parliament to go along with it. What is absolutely certain is that they ought to have a chance to debate the matter and vote on it, because then they could be held to account for the consequences of the deal which has now been done as a result of statements made during the referendum campaign and as a result of what I can only describe as the “morning after the night before” speech by the Prime Minister.
We have been pushed into a situation where things are being rushed through. There has been no discussion in the other place about the central feature of the deal. We are discussing it only now, on Report, with the dispensation that we can speak more than once and adopt a system of debate close to the Committee stage system, but without having the opportunity for a stand part debate, for example. The whole thing is being rushed through highly unsatisfactorily.
The House should be grateful to my noble friend Lord Forsyth, who has set out the arguments with extraordinary clarity. It ought to be obligatory reading for everyone in the House of Commons, and it is absolutely essential that they should have an opportunity to debate this matter, even at this late stage, so that they can be held accountable for the decision that is reached. I agree with every word that my noble friend said and with all the doubts expressed by every other speaker in this debate, and I very much hope that my noble friend will press his amendment to a Division. If need be, we may have to revert to other aspects of the matter at Third Reading.
We must take this opportunity to give the House of Commons a chance to debate something which is far more important than almost any other issue and of lasting importance, as my noble friend spelled out, in terms of the deal containing a veto relating to reconsideration of the issue in a few years’ time. We really must make sure that the House of Commons has a chance to debate this matter.