Quite a lot to read, but a good chuckle none-the-less . . .
European Union (Referendum) Bill — Second Reading – extracts
Hansard source (Citation: HL Deb, 10 January 2014, c1738)
Lord Liddle (Labour)
It is not really a Private Member’s Bill; it is a Conservative Party Bill for a Conservative Party purpose. That purpose is to try to create a semblance of unity in a party that is deeply divided on the question of the European Union and, at the same time, to convince voters tempted by UKIP not to follow down that path. Labour does not have these visceral internal divisions to manage. We are unambiguously a pro-European party.
Edward Heath refused a referendum in 1972; Margaret Thatcher pushed through the Single European Act without a question of a referendum; and John Major behaved similarly over Maastricht. It is true that David Cameron made a binding commitment to hold a referendum on the Lisbon treaty, but he then abandoned it once Lisbon was ratified in 2009, doubtless because he then believed that it would be damaging to his party in the 2010 general election if, as he put it, it was always “banging on about Europe”. What has changed since then? The truth is that all that has changed is internal Conservative division and the misreading by Conservative Back-Benchers—certainly if you read the poll of the noble Lord, Lord Ashcroft, it is a misreading—of the nature of the UKIP threat to their position.
Lord Hannay of Chiswick (Crossbench)
It is generally recognised as a convention of our unwritten constitution that our Parliament cannot and should not aim to bind the hands of its successors, but the sole purpose of this Bill is to do precisely that. It has no other purpose and will have no effect at all during the lifetime of this Parliament. Its object is to ensure that, whatever the outcome of the 2015 election, the die will have been cast. Once a precedent like that has been set, one wonders what there will be to stop any Government that can exercise a majority in the other place from pre-legislating commitments for their successor.
Only two years or so ago, when we dealt with the European Union Act 2011 and its 57 or so varieties of decision in the EU that would trigger a referendum in this country, we were assured with great intensity and certainty by the noble Lords, Lord Howell of Guildford and Lord Wallace of Saltaire, that once that Act was passed Britain would be at ease with its membership and there would be no question of needing any referendum outside the scope of that Act. What has happened in the two and a half years since then to justify reversing those assurances? It is not anything in Brussels, where no decision has been taken to trigger that Act. I suppose the answer must be the rise of UKIPand the attitude of a significant number of the Government’s supporters in another place who believe that, because they cannot secure a majority in Parliament for their objective of Britain withdrawing from the EU, some other means must be found.
Lord Radice (Labour)
In 1975, Mrs Thatcher, as she then was, said in her first parliamentary speech as leader of the Opposition, that, “the referendum is a tactical device to get over a split”, in the Labour Party. She continued: “The referendum’s true genesis” is, “a piece of thoughtless short-term brokerage in the Labour Party. One could say, with Mrs Thatcher, that Mr Cameron’s conversion to an “in or out” referendum, something which he did not have in his election manifesto, is a piece of short-term brokerage. We have heard some very impressive speeches already, but let us get down to basics. Under pressure from UKIP and his Eurosceptic Back-Benchers—that is where the pressure has come from—Mr Cameron has committed his party to a referendum, as he puts it in his Bloomberg speech—incidentally, notice the language he uses—whether to stay in on renegotiated terms of membership or to pull out altogether.
Lord Mandelson (Labour)
My message to the Government is: stop grandstanding to the UKIP gallery. If they are really serious about European reform, they have to go out and work for it and join others in achieving it. If the need or cause for a referendum arises in the future—if a new treaty involving fresh European integration or transfer of powers requires it—that will be the time to consider the proposition of holding a referendum.
Lord Garel-Jones (Conservative)
If the incoming Government is not Conservative or Conservative-led and is not committed to a referendum or enthusiastic about this Bill, all they need is a guillotine Motion and one day to dispose of it in the other place. Therefore, I ask myself: what is the point of all this? Is there, perhaps, a hidden agenda? Could it possibly be an effort to bounce the Labour Party into lining up behind the Conservatives on this matter, or perhaps an effort to attract potential UKIP voters?
Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay (Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, this is an utterly unnecessary, indeed otiose, Bill. There is no need for a referendum on Europe when there is a clear choice at the next general election. If you want to come out of Europe, you vote UKIP. If you want to stay in, you vote Liberal Democrat or Labour. If you do not know or do not care, you vote Conservative.
Lord Owen (Crossbench)
Personally, I do not have any particular wish to have a referendum in 2017. I agree very much with what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that that will not happen. There are juxtapositions of presidencies and general elections in Germany, which are crucial, and you would not opt to have it in 2017. So if it comes, it is more likely to be in 2016—but I would far prefer it to be at the end of this year or in 2015. I believe that what has happened has improved UKIP’s chances.
Lord Kinnock (Labour)
The Prime Minister has declared portentously: “It is time to settle this European question in British politics. In 2006, as a newly elected leader, he called on his party to concentrate on, “the things that most people care about”, and to stop “banging on about Europe”. I thought then that the obsessive introversion of the Europhobes was to be rebuffed, as it was by Margaret Thatcher and by John Major. Instead, Mr Cameron’s appeal to stop the “banging on” has been greeted daily by the war-drums of the unyielding Europhobes inside, and UKIP outside, his party, and to the detriment of our country, he has pranced to their rhythm.
Lord Willoughby de Broke (UKIP)
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, for introducing this important Bill. It has been a long time getting here, has it not? It is more than 20 years since we last debated an EU referendum, when there was a Motion to approve a referendum on the Maastricht treaty. I voted for it, but we were defeated, thanks largely to the very successful whipping of the then Conservative Chief Whip in this House, the noble Lord, Lord Hesketh—who, I am happy to say, has now seen the light and is a member of UKIP.
I have to say that I am still astonished and disappointed that it was successive Conservative Governments who started handing over the powers of Parliament and of the British people, without asking them, to Brussels. That was enthusiastically followed up by successive Labour Governments, who were cheered from the sidelines by the Liberal Democrats, for whom no surrender to Europe and Brussels is ever meek enough.
Many of the powers were given away, as I will tell noble Lords in a minute, without the British people ever being asked whether that was what they wanted. Treaty after treaty—Maastricht, Nice, Amsterdam, Lisbon—drained ever more power away from the British Parliament at Westminster and from the people of this country and channelled it to the unelected bureaucrats in Brussels. Very little that matters is now left to the Westminster Parliament, which has nothing at all to say about the economy, immigration, energy, trade, agriculture, fisheries and social policy.
During those 20 seemingly endless years, with endless debates about our membership of the EU, some of us were always against the handover of powers—the surrender to Brussels of the powers of Parliament and of the British people. However, in this House at least, we have always been outnumbered by the Europhile tendency—the Euro-grandees, who seem unable to see politics except through their Euro-prism. They accuse those who believe in parliamentary democracy in this country—the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, was at it today—of being “little Englanders”, of wrapping ourselves in the union jack and of wanting to turn back the clock. That is patronising rubbish. Why are they so blinded by Brussels and the desire for further integration that they are unable to see the truth?
After all, it is the Europhiles who got it wrong, not us, the “foam-flecked Europhobes”. It was the Europhiles who wanted us to join the euro. They said that if we did not we would be marginalised. However, the euro has not exactly been a shining example of political and fiscal success, has it? Just ask the millions of unemployed in France, Spain, Ireland, Portugal and Greece how they are getting on with the euro. It is not really very successful.
The Europhiles were badly wrong then and they are badly wrong now when they say that we will be marginalised and somehow turned into a pariah state if we were rash enough to leave the EU. As EU Employment Commissioner László Andor happily put it the other day, we will become the “nasty country” of Europe—that is, the nasty country that gives the EU £20 billion a year at the moment. We look forward to getting that back.
The Vice-President of the European Commission, Viviane Reding, could not have been blunter when she spoke in Athens the day before yesterday. She said: “We need to build a United States of Europe with the Commission as government”.
That is not an invention of Nigel Farage and UKIP’s “foam-flecked Europhobes”—it is straight from the apparatchik’s mouth. So we know what direction Europe is going in. I am grateful to Mr Andor and Ms Reding for reminding us that the EU is going one way and one way only, for reminding us how damaging and how humiliating our membership of this club is and for reminding us that the European project is all about rampant supranationalism, with a sneering disregard for national sovereignty.
This Bill will give the British people a chance to make their voice heard, and to vote on whether they wish to continue to be run from Brussels or whether it is time to throw off the shackles of the EU and to be a truly free nation with the ability to frame our own laws and decide our own destiny at last.
Lord Finkelstein (Conservative)
Is it not also one of our duties to accept the principle laid down in the manifesto of the governing parties? Surely it would be almost a breach of the Salisbury convention for us to veto the principle of an “in or out” referendum advanced so steadfastly and well by the Liberal Democrats at the most recent general election. The same principle should surely persuade noble Lords to embed this principle in legislation now. New though I am to these things, it seems to be in the best traditions of the House to act as a guarantor when previous referendum promises have been made and then ignored. There has been much talk of UKIP, but we all understand the politics here. We understand that the Labour Party promised a referendum on the European constitution. It won an election on that promise and then denied a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. With the best will in the world, that was a scandalous event that demands and requires this Bill.
Lord Richard (Labour)
The problem with the Bill is that it is patently inspired not by the issue but by the politics of the issue. Relations with Europe have proved toxic to the Conservative Party over the past 30 years, and the Bill is an attempt to do two things—first, to try and recoup some of the party’s losses to UKIP and, secondly, to try and wrong-foot the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party.
Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke (Labour)
The noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, in his very amusing speech, talked about leadership—it is not a sign of leadership to cower behind the, albeit elegant, coat-tails of a Back-Bencher to try to get a piece of legislation before this House because of fear of UKIP on the one hand or of what the noble Lord, Lord Garel-Jones, described as the Tea Party tendency in the Tory party on the other.
Lord Anderson of Swansea (Labour)
I am reminded of the noble Metternich, the great leader who, when news was brought to him of the death of his opposite number, the Russian ambassador, was alleged to have said, “What was his motive?”. We are quite entitled to ask of the Bill: what is the motive? What has changed the view of the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary over the past two years? Can it be anything other than the rise of UKIP? I congratulate the UKIP representative on the influence that the party has had on the Government.
Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes (Conservative)
We all know what the main issues have been—it is not a question of UKIP; these things have come up over and again—which have been disturbing to the general public and have never fully been explained. I remember that when we were on the Benches opposite there was a huge question of millions and millions of pounds, or rather euros, that had been spent or not spent and had vanished down some black hole. There never was a proper explanation.
Lord Whitty (Labour)
We have European elections coming up this year, the outcome of which may well determine—or, rather, the relative success of UKIP may well determine—the vehemence with which the Conservative Party approaches the general election; later on in the year, we will have a referendum in Scotland that will irretrievably determine the future of the United Kingdom; and with this Bill and the referendum in 2016 or 2017, we will be voting on something that will irretrievably determine the future geopolitical position and influence of the United Kingdom.
Lord Tomlinson (Labour)
My Lords, this is an inadequate Bill. However, it is worse than that because it is a grossly premature Bill and a shabby political manoeuvre to appease UKIP and Tory Back-Benchers in another place. It has nothing to do with the quality of governance but everything to do with appeasement. I hope that we treat this exactly as we would treat any other Private Member’s Bill. That means that we have 45 minutes.
Lord Davies of Stamford (Labour)
Only 18 months ago the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and other members of the Tory party in the Cabinet said that we should not have a referendum in this Parliament, giving all those reasons—uncertainty of the economy, and so on and so forth—why we should not do that. They were absolutely right about that. Why did they suddenly switch? We all know why—there has been a purely party politically orientated initiative to try to buy off the Eurosceptics in the Tory party and keep them quiet until after the election and to prevent Conservative voters slipping over to UKIP because UKIP is offering a referendum, so the Government thought that they had to offer one too.